30 November, 2009

Sire Huge Le Despenser, Malefactors And Extortionists: Some Events Of November 1321

This post is a continuation of the one directly below (or here), and takes up the story of Edward II's actions in the autumn of 1321 which led to his campaign against the Contrariants - the Marcher lords who had destroyed the lands of Hugh Despenser and his father and forced them into exile, and their ally the earl of Lancaster, Edward's first cousin and greatest enemy.

Edward captured Leeds Castle in Kent after a short siege and hanged thirteen of the garrison, to punish its owner, his former steward Bartholomew Badlesmere, for joining the Contrariants - and almost certainly to provoke a war against them. The king returned to London in early November 1321, where he soon heard that another castle, Warwick, was being held against him by men described as 'Thomas Blaunfrounte and other malefactors'. This latest situation was probably related to Hugh Despenser the Elder - Edward had committed the custody of the lands and heir of the earl of Warwick who died in 1315, Despenser’s brother-in-law, to him, although he had previously promised Warwick that the executors of his will would have custody. This had been one of the complaints the Marcher lords aimed at the Despensers in August 1321 (and is an example of how Edward could easily go back on his word and thus was not to be trusted - although on the other hand, maybe he felt that a promise made to the man who abducted Piers Gaveston didn't have to be kept). Edward ordered the sheriff of Warwickshire and Sir John Pecche - a vitally important figure in the earl of Kent's conspiracy to free the supposedly dead Edward from Corfe Castle in 1330 - to take back Warwick Castle and arrest the men who held it, promising "the king will speedily come to assist" them if necessary. [1] (Bet that filled Pecche and the sheriff with buckets of confidence.)

By 12 November, Edward had heard that the earl of Lancaster was planning to hold an assembly at Doncaster, and forbade him to do so, also ordering the earl of Hereford, Roger Mortimer, the king's former favourites Roger Damory and Hugh Audley, and around a hundred other men, not to attend. Quite a lot of the men Edward forbade from attending the meeting were in fact his and/or the Despensers' allies, such as his half-brother the earl of Norfolk, his and Hugh Despenser the Younger's brother-in-law Ralph de Monthermer*, the earls of Arundel, Surrey, Atholl and Angus, John Somery, John Pecche, Fulk Fitzwarin, John Cromwell, Andrew Harclay, John St Amand, Ralph Basset, and Ralph Camoys. The Contrariants had counted the latter two men among the Despensers' "false and bad ministers" that August; Camoys and St Amand were also Despenser the Younger's brothers-in-law. [2] The fact that the earl of Lancaster had even invited such men to his assembly, men whose support he had no hope of gaining, is a measure of the weakness of his position; he had hoped that the northern barons, his usual allies or rather his subordinates, would help him, but they refused to defy the king. [3] Lancaster and his Marcher allies, despite Edward's prohibition, did meet on 29 November, though probably at Pontefract rather than Doncaster, and the Sempringham annalist says that "they were sworn together a second time to maintain that which they had commenced." [4] The Anonimalle chronicle says that after the executions at Leeds Castle, the earl of Hereford and other barons saw that Edward was "a man without mercy," and suspected him – correctly, as it turned out – of wanting to destroy them as he had others. [5]

* Monthermer was married firstly to Edward's sister Joan of Acre, who died in 1307, and secondly (in 1318) to Despenser's sister Isabel, widow of Gilbert de Clare, lord of Thomond and John, Lord Hastings.

Lancaster and his allies drew up a petition, the famous 'Doncaster Petition', which said that Hugh Despenser the Younger, amusingly called Sire Huge throughout, had been exiled "for diverse reasonable reasons" with the consent of the king himself and all the magnates in parliament. It accused Edward of placing Despenser under the care of the men of the Cinque Ports and supporting him in his piracy and various other predictable crimes, and included the usual predictable references to Edward's 'evil counsellors'. Sample text of petition: "And also, sire, in the place where the said Sire Huge is maintained by the said ports and other men of great number on the sea and on land and by the said evil counsellors, and also, by your power and the power of the said Sire Huge, ships are robbed on the sea, and the merchants coming towards the parts of England, to the great shame of the realm, and against the state of the crown, and to the great damage of the people" (my translation). They asked Edward to respond to the petition by 20 December. Edward, needless to say, had no intention of doing so, and informed Lancaster, in a letter surprisingly mild by his own usually excessively emotional standards, that imposing a deadline on him on to reform the affairs of his kingdom gave the impression that he was the earl’s subject, not vice versa. [6]

On 25 September and again on 28 November 1321, Edward II ordered Roger Damory and Hugh Audley to deliver Hugh Despenser the Younger's lands in Glamorgan and Gwynllwg into his own hands, as they had been commanded to do by parliament on 16 August. [7] Damory wrote to Edward with the pathetically lame excuse that "the custody of the said lands, etc, were delivered to him by the magnates of the realm and by the men of those parts, who would not permit him to make such delivery thereof, and that if he had done so they would have risen in war, because they understood that the aforesaid Hugh, who was exiled in parliament by the assent of the magnates, was staying in the realm..." Not surprisingly, Edward responded "which answer the king deems altogether insufficient and derisory" (one of my favourite quotations of the era). Audley, for his part, claimed not to have any of Despenser’s lands in his custody as Gwynllwg was part of his wife Margaret de Clare's inheritance (which Despenser had forced him to exchange for some English manors of lesser value), "which answer the king reputes as naught, especially as the said Hugh le Despenser was seised of the castle and lands aforesaid when the aforesaid Hugh Daudele and others begain to prosecute him." [8] It seems likely that Edward was deliberately provoking Damory and Audley in the knowledge that they would refuse to hand over Despenser's lands to him and give him another excuse to act against them and their allies. He seized Damory’s lands and goods in Essex, Suffolk and Hertfordshire, and Bartholomew Badlesmere's lands, goods and chattels everywhere, on 22 November. [9] The king’s former friends were now counted among his deadliest enemies. I find this extremely interesting; for a few years from late 1315 onwards, Edward II fell over himself to do absolutely everything he could for Roger Damory, even arranging his marriage to his niece Elizabeth de Clare, who was far above Damory by birth and rank and one of the richest people in the country to boot. Now that Hugh Despenser had risen in the king's favour, it seems that Roger Damory no longer existed as far as Edward was concerned.

After the meeting with the earl of Lancaster at Pontefract, the Marcher lords returned to the west of England and Wales with a great armed force. [10] They must have realised that Edward would come after them, to avenge himself on the men who had not only attacked his friends but killed, assaulted and robbed his subjects and ousted them from their homes - the Marchers' attacks of May 1321 may have been aimed at the Despensers, but it was the innocent and the poor who suffered most, as numerous petitions and inquisitions attest - held castles against him, and had stolen from him personally, "because they had taken for their own use and wasted the goods of the exiles, which ought rather to have gone to the treasury," as the Vita Edwardi Secundi says. [11] In November and December 1321, the Marchers reverted to their appalling behaviour of a few months earlier, and began extorting money and stealing goods from those who could least afford it. Roger Mortimer, the one who later became Isabella of France's favourite, and his followers seized wheat, grain, livestock and other goods worth more than £140 from villagers in Herefordshire, while Maurice, Lord Berkeley demanded that the inhabitants of Lydney in Gloucestershire send him three pounds to support the rebels, or he would burn the village. Not surprisingly, the unfortunate villagers gave him the money. [12] Henry Lynet, one of Roger Damory’s adherents, attacked a Gloucestershire manor belonging to Peter Montfort because Montfort refused to join the Contrariants, while other men travelled through Gloucestershire seizing goods and chattels from villagers and selling them to raise money. [13] A group of John, Lord Mowbray's adherents stole provisions worth forty pounds from a boat belonging to the merchant John Kygge of Grantham on 25 November 1321; Mowbray had, a few months earlier, stolen livestock, goods and chattels from the villagers of Laughton-en-le-Morthern in Yorkshire, and even robbed the church. [14] Roger Mortimer's uncle Roger Mortimer of Chirk "violently ejected" William la Zouche from his manor of Elmley Lovett and stole goods worth 100 marks from him, because Zouche refused, despite Chirk's threats, to join the rebels. [15]

On 30 November 1321, the day after the meeting at Pontefract, Edward II began to make preparations for a campaign in the west against the Contrariants, despite the winter season - I find it most interesting to compare the alacrity with which he set off against the men who had dared to hurt his beloved Hugh Despenser, even in the dead of winter, to his frequent postponement and cancellation of Scottish campaigns. But then, Edward always did demonstrate energy and ability when his favourites were threatened, even if he couldn't be bothered the rest of the time. He sent out writs to all the sheriffs of England to order knights and squires of their county to muster at Cirencester in Gloucestershire on 13 December "to set out with the king for the correction of the oppressions of his people in diverse counties," and also ordered the sheriffs of Gloucestershire, Wiltshire, Oxfordshire and Buckinghamshire to raise all footmen between sixteen and sixty. [16] On 6 and 7 December Edward ordered Oliver Ingham and Robert Lewer to arrest Roger Damory, Hugh Audley, Bartholomew Badlesmere and others, and seize their lands and goods. [17] Isabella of France, supporting her husband, allowed Edward to give custody of her castles at Devizes and Marlborough to Ingham and Lewer. [18] Edward issued a safe-conduct for Hugh Despenser the Younger to return to England on 8 December, "in pursuance of his petition that the judgement of exile and disherison lately passed upon him by certain magnates contains errors and should be annulled." The same safe-conduct was issued to Hugh Despenser the Elder on Christmas Day, and Edward ordered his sheriffs to publicise the safe-conducts and ensure that they were observed. [19]

Edward spent the first few days of December 1321 at Westminster and Isleworth. He sent a letter on the 10th to the treasurer, Walter de Norwich, asking him to "provide sixteen pieces of cloth for the apparelling of ourselves and our dear companion, also furs, against the next feast of Christmas." ('Our dear companion' means Isabella, not Hugh Despenser.) He also ordered more cloth and linen for Isabella and her damsels and "other things of which we stand in need, against the great feast," and paid £115 for the items. [20] He then travelled through Berkshire and Wiltshire to Cirencester, where he arrived on 20 December, a week after he had ordered his army to muster, accompanied by the earls of Kent, Norfolk, Pembroke, Richmond, Surrey, Arundel, Atholl and Angus, and additionally, according to the Vita Edwardi Secundi, "many powerful barons…promised to lend aid to the lord king and to avenge the wrong done to him in so far as in them lay." [21] In the next post, I'll take a look at what happened next!


1) Calendar of Close Rolls 1318-1323, p. 503.
2) Cal Close Rolls 1318-1323, pp. 505-506; Foedera, Conventiones, Litterae et Cujuscunque Acta Publica, vol. II, i, p. 459.
3) J. R. Maddicott, Thomas of Lancaster 1307-1322: A Study in the Reign of Edward II, p. 300.

4) Le livere de reis de Brittanie e Le livere de reis de Engleterre, ed. J. Glover, p. 339.
5) The Anonimalle Chronicle 1307-41, from Brotherton Collection MS 29, ed. W. R. Childs and J. Taylor, p. 104.
6) Maddicott, Thomas of Lancaster, p. 304; G. L. Haskins, ‘The Doncaster Petition of 1321’, English Historical Review, 53 (1938), pp. 483-484.
7) Calendar of Fine Rolls 1319-1327, p. 70.
8) Cal Close Rolls 1318-1323, pp. 402, 408.
9) Cal Fine Rolls 1319-1327, p. 80; Calendar of Patent Rolls 1321-1324, p. 37.

10) Livere de reis, p. 339.
11) Vita Edwardi Secundi Monachi Cuiusdam Malmesberiensis, ed. N. Denholm-Young, p. 116.
12) Scott L. Waugh, ‘The Profits of Violence: the Minor Gentry in the Rebellion of 1321-22 in Gloucestershire and Herefordshire’, Speculum, 52 (1977), pp. 849-850.
13) Calendar of Inquisitions Miscellaneous 1308-1348, pp. 144-145; Waugh, ‘Profits of Violence’, p. 850.
14) The National Archives SC8/6/289, SC 8/7/301.
15) Cal Close Rolls 1318-1323, p. 582; TNA SC 8/234/11682, 11683 and 11684.

16) Cal Close Rolls 1318-1323, p. 508; Cal Pat Rolls 1321-1324, pp. 39, 44.
17) Cal Pat Rolls 1321-1324, p. 40.
18) Cal Pat Rolls 1321-1324, p. 40.
19) Cal Pat Rolls 1321-1324, p. 45.
20) James Orchard Halliwell, ed., Letters of the Kings of England, now first collected from royal archives, and other authentic sources, private as well as public, vol. 1, pp. 23-24.
21) Vita Edwardi Secundi, p. 117.

24 November, 2009

The Siege of Leeds Castle, 1321

In a recent post, I wrote about Edward II's actions in the autumn of 1321, when at the very least he condoned the piracy of his favourite Hugh Despenser and may even have been implicated in an attack on Southampton by the men of the Cinque Ports. This post and the next take up the story from that point, charting Edward's determination that Hugh Despenser and his father would not remain long in the exile imposed on them by the Marcher lords and their allies in August 1321 (from now on, I'll refer to the king and Despenser's enemies of 1321/22 as the 'Contrariants', as Edward took to calling them in early 1322, as it's easier) and Edward's war against some of his barons.

It seems highly likely that Edward met Hugh Despenser at least once during the royal favourite's exile, probably to plan their next moves against the Contrariants and bring Despenser and his father back. It is possible, though of course not certain, that Queen Isabella was a party to their plotting; she was a very loyal ally of her husband in the autumn of 1321, as demonstrated by Edward granting her custody of the great seal between 3 and 24 August, and again between 23 October and 5 November. [1] Although Isabella hated the Despensers and had pleaded with Edward on her knees to agree to their exile - a gesture which allowed Edward to save face, given that he had no choice but to agree or face deposition - she also hated seeing her husband's royal powers and privileges eroded. Some writers of a few decades ago claimed that Isabella's relationship with Roger Mortimer began around this time, but this is nonsense, based on misdating the birth of her youngest child Joan of the Tower from July 1321 to July 1322, when Mortimer was already a prisoner in the Tower. Given that Mortimer was opposing her husband at this time and she herself was loyally supporting him, it is doubtful that the pair even met.

The plan which Edward and Despenser conceived, probably while they were meeting in secret at Harwich or Portchester, centred around Bartholomew Badlesmere. Badlesmere was an important baron of the era who had once served in the retinue of Edward II's nephew the earl of Gloucester, and was accused of abandoning the young earl to his death at the battle of Bannockburn; a contemporary Latin poem condemns him as "the traitorous man, Bartholomew" and "the representative of Judas," and says "Because he refused to come to his master’s support, this traitor has deserved to be put to the rack." [2] His wife Margaret de Clare was Gloucester's first cousin (and was rescued by Hugh Despenser when taken hostage at Cheshunt in 1319). Badlesmere subsequently became an ally of the earl of Pembroke and an important member of the group of men mediating between the king and the earl of Lancaster in the mid to late 1310s, whom an earlier generation of historians called the Middle Party. He became Edward II's household steward in 1318, around the same time that Hugh Despenser became chamberlain. In the summer of 1321, Edward sent Badlesmere north to spy on a meeting between the earl of Lancaster and the Marcher lords; Badlesmere subsequently switched sides and joined them. [3] The reasons for this are unclear, but he had family connections to two of the Contrariants: his daughter Elizabeth was married to Roger Mortimer's eldest son Edmund, and his wife Margaret was the aunt of Roger, Lord Clifford (who would be executed in York in March 1322). Badlesmere was probably also angry and resentful at the dominance at court of his former ally Hugh Despenser, and in addition it appears that he had hoped to become earl of Kent, hopes that were dashed in the summer of 1321 when Edward II bestowed the earldom on the younger of his half-brothers, Edmund of Woodstock.

Badlesmere's switching sides proved to be as astonishingly unwise move on his part and was to have tragic consequences for himself and his family. Edward thereafter detested him for his treachery, and the earl of Lancaster loathed him already; a letter sent to Edward II from Newcastle on 27 February 1321, probably by Hugh Despenser's ally Robert Baldock, warned the king that "great ambushes are set for Bartholomew de Badlesmere in the south and in the north against his coming," and these ambushes were most likely Lancaster's. Why Lancaster loathed Badlesmere is unclear, but then, Lancaster loathed lots of people (see Susan Higginbotham's hilarious name badge post, where Lancaster's slogan is, very appropriately, I Don't Like You). Possibly, it was merely because Badlesmere had become Edward's household steward without Lancaster's consent and Lancaster, as hereditary steward of England, thought he had the right to make the appointment. Whatever the reasons, the Vita Edwardi Secundi says "the earl hated this Bartholomew, and laid many trespasses at his door, for which he adjudged him worthy of perpetual imprisonment or at least exile." [3]

Evidently, what happened in the early autumn of 1321 is that Edward II asked Isabella to set off on pilgrimage to Canterbury, and on her way back to London, to ask for a night's accommodation at Leeds Castle, which belonged to Badlesmere. In fact, the usual route from Canterbury to London went through northern Kent, via Gravesend, Rochester and Dartford, and nowhere near Leeds. Whether Isabella knew that Edward had ulterior motives is uncertain, but she probably did, given the enormous trust Edward placed in her at this time. Badlesmere was with the Contrariants at Oxford, having put his Kent castles in a state of defence, but his wife was in residence at Leeds. It seems likely that Edward hoped she would refuse to allow Isabella entry, given the current political climate, which would be a gross insult to the royal family and would give Edward an excuse to attack the castle.

Badlesmere's position as a landowner in Kent isolated him geographically from his allies in the Welsh Marches and the south-west of England, whereas Edward II's supporters, such as his half-brother the earl of Kent, his cousin the earl of Pembroke, his nephew-in-law the earl of Surrey, and the earl of Arundel, were strong in Kent and the south-east. Thanks to the family connections between the Contrariants and Badlesmere, they would probably feel honour-bound to come to his aid and would thus be in armed rebellion against the king. Edward and Hugh Despenser must have known that the earl of Lancaster detested Badlesmere, and gambled that the powerful magnate would not help him. In addition, although Lancaster and Isabella were not allies, she was his niece and queen of England, and he could hardly be seen to defend a man who had insulted her. In this way, Edward could divide and conquer his enemies, and pick them off piecemeal - a clever tactic, and also a necessary one given Edward's perpetual shortage of money.

The plan went off brilliantly. Sometime between 2 and 13 October 1321, Queen Isabella approached Leeds Castle with a military escort, and Lady Badlesmere fell into the trap by refusing to admit her and announcing that the queen must seek accommodation elsewhere. [4] Isabella ordered her escort to force an entry into the castle, and the garrison opened up a volley of arrows at them, killing six. Edward feigned outrage at the insult to his consort, when in fact he must have been delighted that all had gone according to plan, and began to prepare an attack on Leeds: on 16 and 17 October, to "punish the disobedience and contempt against the queen," he ordered the sheriffs of Kent, Surrey, Sussex, Hampshire and Essex to muster knights and footmen "with horses and arms and as much power as possible" at Leeds on 23 October, and sent the earls of Pembroke and Richmond and the Scottish earl of Atholl as an advance guard. (The earl of Atholl was David de Strathbogie, whose father John had been executed by Edward I in November 1306, yet who remained loyal to Edward II.) The city of London sent 500 men to the siege, and Edward ordered his sheriffs to proclaim that "the king is not going to the said castle by reason of any war or disturbance in the realm." [5] This was, shall we say, not entirely the truth.

Edward arrived at Leeds on 26 October, and ordered his hunting dogs sent to him three days later. [6] His half-brothers the earls of Norfolk and Kent, whom the Vita Edwardi Secundi describes as "active soldiers considering their age" – they were now twenty and twenty-one and finally old enough to play a role in Edward's reign – joined the siege, as did the earls of Surrey and Arundel. With Pembroke and Richmond, this represented all the English earls alive in 1321 except the Contrariants Lancaster and Hereford, the obscure Oxford who played no role whatsoever in Edward's reign, and the king's son Chester, the future Edward III, who was not yet nine.

At Oxford, Badlesmere begged the Contrariants to take their armies and relieve the siege of Leeds, which put them in a very awkward position. Badlesmere was their ally, yet the men who had been so willing to destroy the Despensers' lands a few months before were reluctant to take up arms against their king, and probably also reluctant to help a man who had until so recently been an ally of Hugh Despenser. Neither were they willing to be seen to acknowledge Badlesmere’s insult of the queen, and two chroniclers do say that they refused to go to the aid of the Leeds garrison out of respect for Isabella. [7] And the earl of Lancaster also played into Edward’s hands, as Edward and Despenser had no doubt predicted he would: he sent the Contrariants a letter, ordering them to not to aid the detested Badlesmere. [8]

The Contrariants moved to Kingston-on-Thames, where on 27 October Edward's allies the archbishop of Canterbury, the bishops of London and Rochester, and the earl of Pembroke negotiated with them. Edward later accused the Contrariants of "stealing the king’s goods" at Kingston and elsewhere. [9] Badlesmere proposed that the king raise the siege and let the situation be dealt with in the next parliament, but it was too late: Leeds surrendered on 31 October, only five days after Edward had arrived there, and thirteen members of the garrison were drawn and hanged shortly afterwards. The men executed are named on the Fine Roll as Walter Colpeper, Roger de Coumbe, Richard Prat, Thomas and Richard de Chidecroft, Robert de Bromere, Roger de Rokayle, Nicholas de Bradefeld, Adam le Wayte, Robert de Cheigny, Richard Brisynge, Simon de Tyerst and William Colyn. [10]

Men had never been executed within living memory for holding a castle against the king, and Edward's father and grandfather Henry III and Edward I had not executed the men who held Kenilworth against them in the 1260s, for instance. Neither did Edward II execute the men, named as 'Thomas Blaunfrounte and other malefactors', who held Warwick Castle against him in November 1321. [11] Still, the executions were not entirely unprecedented: King Stephen hanged nearly a hundred of the Shrewsbury Castle garrison for holding out against him in 1138. Edward's actions in 1321 shocked many, although the author of the Vita Edwardi Secundi, usually no fan of the king, approved of his actions for once, describing the Leeds garrison as "robbers, homicides, and traitors" and stating that "just as no one can build castles in the land without the king’s licence, so it is wrong to defend castles in the kingdom against the king." [12] Edward began preparing for a campaign against the Contrariants in November.

Lady Badlesmere, née Margaret de Clare, with her young children and her husband's adult nephew Bartholomew Burghersh, were imprisoned at Dover Castle and afterwards at the Tower of London. Margaret, presumably with her children, was released a year later; Bartholomew Burghersh remained imprisoned until the arrival of Isabella and Roger Mortimer's invasion in the autumn of 1326. [13] As for Bartholomew Badlesmere himself, Edward II's friend the earl of Mar discovered him hiding at one of the manors of his nephew the bishop of Lincoln, Henry Burghersh, after the battle of Boroughbridge in March 1322, and took him to Canterbury for the grotesque execution ordered for him by the vengeful king. Edward did at least show some leniency towards Badlesmere's other supporters, however: on his return to London after the siege of Leeds Castle, he sent a Daniel de Bengham to Kent to order the justices to abandon their trial. [14]

And so Edward II, on behalf of his beloved favourite Hugh Despenser - it's the 683rd anniversary of his execution today, by the way - provoked a war against a number of his own barons which would end a few months later with the executions of twenty-two men and many dozens more imprisoned or exiled. In the next posts, I'll take a look at the king's campaign of 1321/22.


1) Calendar of Close Rolls 1318-1323, pp. 477-478.
2) T. Wright, The Political Songs of England, pp. 263-264.
3) J. Goronwy Edwards, ed., Calendar of Ancient Correspondence Concerning Wales, pp. 180-181; J. R. Maddicott, Thomas of Lancaster 1307-1322: A Study in the Reign of Edward II, p. 264; Vita Edwardi Secundi Monachi Cuiusdam Malmesberiensis, ed. N. Denholm-Young, p. 116. 4) Annales Paulini 1307-1340, in W. Stubbs, ed., Chronicles of the Reigns of Edward I and Edward II, volume 1, p. 299; Alison Weir, Isabella, She-Wolf of France, Queen of England, p. 133.
5) Calendar of Patent Rolls 1321-1324, p. 29; Cal Close Rolls 1313-1318, p. 504; Calendar of Letter-Books of London 1314-1337, p. 155.
6) The National Archives E 403/196.
7) Scalacronica: The Reigns of Edward I, Edward II and Edward III as Recorded by Sir Thomas Gray of Heton, knight, ed. Herbert Maxwell, p. 67; Adae Murimuth Continuatio Chronicarum, ed. E. M. Thompson, p. 34.
8) Vita Edwardi Secundi, p. 116; The Anonimalle Chronicle 1307-41, from Brotherton Collection MS 29, ed. W. R. Childs and J. Taylor, p. 102.
9) Annales Paulini, p. 299; Anonimalle, p. 102; Cal Close Rolls 1318-1323, p. 516.
10) Calendar of Fine Rolls 1319-1327, p. 76; Annales Paulini, p. 299; Anonimalle, p. 102.
11) Cal Close Rolls 1318-1323, p. 503; Cal Pat Rolls 1321-1324, p. 59.
12) Vita Edwardi Secundi, p. 116.
13) Cal Close Rolls 1318-1323, pp. 604, 627; Cal Close Rolls 1323-1327, pp. 46, 48, 236; Croniques de London, ed. J. G. Aungier, p. 54.
14) Roy Martin Haines, King Edward II: His Life, His Reign, and Its Aftermath, 1284-1330, p. 133.

21 November, 2009

Photos and Floods

Until I finish my next proper post, about Edward II's siege of Leeds Castle in the autumn of 1321, here are some pretty random photos of various places and things, most of which have sod-all to do with Edward II. Unfortunately I've been too busy at work lately to be able to devote much time to the blog, and also, distracted and upset by news of the terrible flooding in Cumbria, where I come from. Apparently the county has seen the heaviest rainfall in Britain since they started recording it in the early 1700s - over a foot in 24 hours - and lots more rain is forecast in the next few days. Fortunately, both my parents live on high ground and are unaffected, though streets only about a quarter of a mile from my mum's house have been evacuated. The main street of Cockermouth, fifty miles to the north, is under eight feet of water. My dad took this pic of the flooding, half a mile from his house:

Ulverston, Cumbria (in the distance), during happier, drier times earlier this year, with some of the Cumbrian mountains in the background. This is the place I call home. Historical fact: Sir Lawrence de Cornwall, who died between 1274 and 1285 and is believed to have been one of the illegitimate sons of Edward II's great-uncle Richard of Cornwall (Henry III's brother) owned lands in Ulverston including a manor house named Neville Hall. Nowadays the police station occupies the site of the hall.

Gloucester Cathedral, where Edward II is buried.

Hugh Despenser the Younger's tomb, Tewkesbury Abbey.

St Mary's Church, Deerhurst, Gloucestershire, founded around the year 800.

The plain building on the left of this pic is Odda's Chapel, also in Deerhurst, completed around 1056. The farmhouse adjoining it dates from Tudor times.

Conwy, town walls and castle.

The Merchant Adventurers' Hall, York, built between 1357 and 1361.

Part of Wigmore Castle, Herefordshire, seat of Roger Mortimer.

Clifford's Tower, York, named after Roger, Lord Clifford, executed there by Edward II in March 1322.

Furness Abbey, Barrow-in-Furness, Cumbria, founded 1127. Which would of course look soooooo much better if I'd actually bothered to get out of the car and take a proper photograph that didn't include the railings.

Messing around with the sepia function on my camera: the castles of Rhuddlan, Beaumaris and Caernarfon.

Red sky over the Karlstadt area of Düsseldorf, Germany.

Two pics of the village of Bardsea, near Ulverston, with Morecambe Bay and the Pennines visible in the pic with the rhododendron bushes.

Flowers at Lower Brockhampton, a moated manor house of the late fourteenth century in Worcestershire.

Medieval keys, from an exhibition at Helmsley Castle, Yorkshire.

Part of Edward II's chamber account of 1325 (in French), now at the Society of Antiquaries in London.

And finally, blog searches from this week:

- Richard II is an idiot blog
- kin edwards who ate the most roaches Those first two are my particular favourites.
- Edward VI's sex life
- photo of leicester castle in 1340
- hot poker sodomy
- hughpenis
- anal hot simony
- what was the ,am's nickname i.e. edward the confessor and why
- why did king edward II and III visited porchester because
- Gaveston as tragic villain
- dear daphne bannockburn news Dear Daphne, I have just humiliatingly lost the battle of Bannockburn to Robert Bruce. What the heck do I do now? Love, Edward II.
- words that explain red hot poker How about 'red', 'hot' and 'poker'?
- richard ii death horn poker
- 1 1313 wild meadow support

For some reason, I've been getting tons of really sexually explicit and, ummmm, fetishistic search terms this week that I'd blush to repeat here. Please, this is not a porn blog, people!

15 November, 2009

Edward II's Mysterious Movements In September 1321

A post about Edward II's somewhat mysterious journeys around Kent and Essex in the late summer and autumn of 1321, encompassing piracy and an attack on Southampton in which the king himself may have been implicated.

In the Westminster parliament of August 1321, the Marcher lords and their allies, who had recently devastated the lands of Edward II's favourite Hugh Despenser and his father in Wales and England, forced Edward to consent to the permanent exile and disinheritance of both Despensers. The two men were ordered to leave England by the feast of the Beheading of St John the Baptist at the latest, that is, 29 August 1321, and only via the port of Dover. [1] Hugh Despenser the Elder, according to the Anonimalle and Brut chronicles, departed from England immediately leaving his retinue behind, and both chronicles say that he "cursed the time that ever he begot Sir Hugh his son, and said that for him he had lost England." [2] Piers Gaveston had also been ordered to leave England via Dover for his third exile almost exactly ten years earlier - events were repeating themselves, thanks to Edward II's complete inability to learn anything from his past mistakes or to show any sense whatsoever.

Hugh Despenser the Younger, on the other hand, didn't leave England as such; Edward II placed him under the protection of the men of the Cinque Ports, and Despenser, never a man to sit around when there was money to be made, became a pirate or 'sea monster' in the English Channel, where he was "master of the seas, their merchandise and chattels, and no ship got through unharmed." Despenser attacked two great ships off Sandwich, killed their crew, and took for himself the riches he found - £40,000 according to various chronicles, or £60,000 according to a charge against him at his trial in 1326. [3] Edward II officially pardoned Despenser for his piracy in June 1325, on the frankly laughable grounds that "while he was exiled by diverse magnates of the realm, contrariants against the king, he through fear of death adhered to diverse malefactors at sea and on land, and stayed with them to save his life, while they perpetrated depredations and other crimes." [4] Oh please. Despenser was also pardoned "for all trespasses as well of the time of Edward I as of the present king," which makes me wonder what he'd been up to in Edward I's reign, given that he was probably only in his late teens when Edward died. (Helping his mum steal deer from Odiham park, maybe?) Edward II ignored a letter sent to him by Pope John XXII in May 1322, which asked him to make restitution to the merchants whose vessels and merchandise had been "despoiled by the king’s subjects in the port of Sandwich" - which may have meant Despenser, though tactfully the pope did not mention his name - and it fell to his son Edward III to finally make reparations in 1336. [5]

Edward II's itinerary shows that he left Westminster on 27 August 1321, five days after parliament ended. The Rochester chronicler states that he accompanied Hugh Despenser to Dover, but although it is almost certain that Despenser went to Kent with Edward, there is no evidence that either man went to Dover at this time. [6] Edward in fact travelled through northern Kent, via Dartford, Rochester and Faversham, to Minster on the isle of Thanet. He arrived at Minster on 4 September, having taken eight days to cover the distance of roughly seventy miles from Westminster - so evidently wasn't exactly rushing to get Hugh Despenser out of the country before the 29 August deadline, then. (Minster-in-Thanet is five miles from Ramsgate, six from Margate and nine from Sandwich.)

Edward's movements in September 1321 are rather mysterious. From various sources, this is what I can piece together of his whereabouts:

- he was at Minster-in-Thanet, or nearby Sandwich (one of the Cinque Ports), from 4 to 8 September. On the 6th, Edward ordered that Hugh Despenser the Younger's parkers and foresters at Hanley and Tewkesbury be paid their wages, which suggests that Despenser was still with him and had reminded him. [7]

- from 9 to 11 September, Edward’s wardrobe department was at 'Northmuth', a port on the coast of Kent between Herne Bay and Margate which has now dried up. As far as I can tell, though, Edward himself was still at Minster on 9 and 10 September.

- on 11 September, Edward was at or near Harwich in Essex.

- on 12 September, he was back at Minster in Kent.

- on 13 September, he was at Harwich again.

- from 14 to 23 September, Edward was at Harwich, Shotley and Hadleigh. Shotley is just across the estuary of the River Stour from Harwich; Hadleigh (the Suffolk one, not the Essex one) is a few miles inland from Harwich and Shotley, and just two miles from Kersey, one of Hugh Despenser the Younger's manors. [8]

Harwich is about 125 miles by land from Minster-in-Thanet, so of course it is impossible for Edward to have ridden from one place to the other from one day to the next - meaning that he must have travelled by sea, a considerably shorter journey. The usually well-informed and reliable royal clerk and chronicler Adam Murimuth, who knew Edward well, says that he travelled with Hugh Despenser around Harwich at this time, plotting revenge on the Marcher lords and others who had sent Despenser into exile. [9] Given that that the king appears to have sent most of his household away from him - which does give the impression that he was up to something - and that he began a campaign against the Marchers in December 1321, this is plausible.

From 12 to 22 September, Edward’s wardrobe department was at Rochester and Gravesend in Kent, while he himself remained in or in the vicinity of Harwich. The wardrobe returned to Westminster on 23 September, and on the 25th, the king arrived back there also. By this point, Hugh Despenser must have left his company and had perhaps begun his piratical career. The king stayed at Westminster and at the Tower of London until 1 October, then set off for Portchester, on the coast of Hampshire near Portsmouth; he arrived there on 4 October (three days to cover the 75 miles) and stayed for eight days before returning to London. It's possible that Edward had arranged to meet Hugh Despenser in secret again at Portchester, to discuss their next moves against their enemies, as Despenser was charged at his 1326 trial with returning to England illegally during his exile - although this may also refer to the fact that he was almost certainly still in Kent with Edward after the deadline for his exile had passed.

It is also possible that Hugh Despenser’s crimes of 1321 encompassed more than piracy, and even that Edward II himself was involved in an unpleasant piece of lawlessness against his own subjects. Robert Batail of Winchelsea, baron of the Cinque Ports and one of Edward's admirals, attacked Southampton on 30 September and and again on 1 October 1321. A petition dating to between 1327 and 1330, presented to Edward III by 'his liege men of Southampton', claims that Batail and his men burnt and stole their ships, chattels, merchandise and goods to a loss of £8000 "in conspiracy with Hugh le Despenser the son," who accused the townspeople of supporting the earl of Lancaster - an ally of the Marcher lords, Edward II's first cousin and greatest enemy - against the king.

The petition also claims that Edward II "sent the community of Southampton to Portchester Castle, and imprisoned them there, and made them swear not to bring any suit against the people of the Cinque Ports, promising to make good their losses; which he did not do." [10] Given that Edward had placed Despenser under the care of the men of the Cinque Ports - he wrote to them on 27 November 1322 to thank them for "keeping him [Despenser] amongst them from the manifold toils prepared for him by reason of his service to the king, and for honouring the said Hugh in many ways" - and that he arrived at Portchester four days after the attack, his and Despenser's involvement does seem possible. [11]

On the other hand, the Annales Paulini, which records the incident, does not mention Despenser's involvement, let alone the king's, and Edward had on 18 August and again on 28 August 1321 forbidden men of the Ports from attacking Southampton, Weymouth and other towns because "great dissension has lately arisen between the barons of the Cinque Ports and the men and mariners of the western parts, and that homicides, depredations, burning of ships and other damages have resulted." [12] And also, in the early years of Edward III's reign and especially before Isabella and Mortimer's fall, it was politic to blame the Despensers for absolutely everything that had gone wrong in the last few years.

On the other hand again, Robert Batail of Winchelsea and his men were staunch allies of Edward II in 1321/22; they attacked two ships which belonged (or which they claimed belonged) to Roger Damory, formerly Edward's great court favourite and now firmly on the side of the king's baronial enemies. [13] And rather oddly, Edward wrote on 1 March 1322, near the end of his successful campaign against the Marchers, to the barons, bailiffs and sailors of Winchelsea to say that they should "bear in mind how the king began what he has now done in part by their counsel lately given to the king on the water, when they promised that they would go by water in the king's assistance whenever he went by land." [14] Evidently the Rochester chronicler picked up on this fact, as he says that the barons of the Cinque Ports advised Edward to lead an army against the Marchers while they themselves attacked ports loyal to the king's enemies - which does tie in with the petition of the late 1320s regarding the attack on Southampton by the barons and sailors of Winchelsea.

I don't know when else Edward would have met the sailors of Winchelsea on the water to take their advice regarding a possible campaign against the Marchers, as he wasn't anywhere near the place between May 1321 and March 1322 that I can make out. Winchelsea, in Sussex, is 90 miles from Portchester in Hampshire, 50 miles from Minster-in-Thanet in Kent and 135 miles from Harwich in Essex. In early May 1322, Edward pardoned Robert Batail and his associates Stephen and Robert Alard "for all offences committed on land, or sea." [15] That Batail, the Alards and other men of Winchelsea and Dover may - may - have been among those who went pirating with Hugh Despenser is indicated by an entry on the patent roll of December 1323, which says that they attacked a merchant ship and "took the ship with the goods in her into the port of Sandwich, and divided the goods and carried them away." This entry states that, ironically, the merchant "ran towards Sandwich to take refuge from pirates." [16]

So was the king of England genuinely implicated in this attack on his own subjects in Southampton? I honestly don't know, but I think it's apparent that Edward didn't give a damn about the men Hugh Despenser attacked at sea and probably killed, only about Despenser himself. I'll end this post with a quotation of Edward II as recorded by the Rochester chronicler William Dene, an associate of the bishop of Rochester, which makes the king's attitude to the events of 1321 perfectly clear: on the day parliament forced him to agree to the Despensers' exile, he retired to his chamber, "anxious and sad." The next morning at breakfast, he invited Hamo Hethe, bishop of Rochester, to his table, and whispered to him that the Despensers had been condemned unjustly. Hethe replied consolingly that Edward could "amend the defeat." Edward responded that he "would within half a year make such an amend that the whole world would hear of it and tremble." [17]


1) Calendar of Close Rolls 1318-1323, p. 494; The Parliament Rolls of Medieval England, ed. Chris Given-Wilson et al, July/August 1321 parliament.
2) The Brut or the Chronicles of England, ed. F. W. D. Brie, vol. 1, p. 214; The Anonimalle Chronicle 1307-41, from Brotherton Collection MS 29, ed. W. R. Childs and J. Taylor, p. 100.
3) Vita Edwardi Secundi Monachi Cuiusdam Malmesberiensis, ed. N. Denholm-Young, pp. 115-116, for the quotations. Despenser’s piracy is described in several other chronicles, Brut, Anonimalle, Croniques de London, Annales Paulini, Trokelowe, Flores Historiarum, Scalacronica, etc.
4) Calendar of Patent Rolls 1324-1327, p. 130.
5) Calendar of Entries in the Papal Registers relating to Great Britain and Ireland: Papal Letters, Volume II: 1305-1341, p. 449.
6) Historia Roffensis, cited in Roy Martin Haines, King Edward II: His Life, His Reign, and Its Aftermath, 1284-1330, p. 129.
7) Cal Close Rolls 1318-1323, p. 400.
8) Elizabeth Hallam, The Itinerary of Edward II and His Household 1307-1328, p. 216; Cal Close Rolls 1318-1323, pp. 400-402, 495-497; Cal Pat Rolls 1321-1324, pp. 14, 23-26; Calendar of Fine Rolls 1319-1327, p. 71; Foedera, II, i, p. 456, etc.
9) Adae Murimuth Continuatio Chronicarum, ed. E. M. Thompson, p. 33.
10) The National Archives SC 8/17/833.
11) Cal Close Rolls 1318-1323, p. 507, for the letter.
12) Annales Paulini 1307-1340, in W. Stubbs, ed., Chronicles of the Reigns of Edward I and Edward II, vol. 1, p. 298; Cal Close Rolls 1318-1323, pp. 486, 490.
13) TNA SC 8/7/327, SC 8/40/1970.
14) Cal Close Rolls 1318-1323, p. 524.
15) Cal Pat Rolls 1321-1324, p. 107.
16) Cal Pat Rolls 1321-1324, p. 385.
17) Historia Roffensis, cited in Parliament Rolls, introduction to the July/August 1321 parliament.

09 November, 2009

A Verray Parfit Gentil Knyght: Henry of Grosmont, Duke of Lancaster (3)

The third and final part of my biography of Henry of Grosmont, duke of Lancaster. Part one is here, and part two here. Oh, and you can see a manuscript illustration of Henry here.

In December 1351, Henry requested permission from Edward III to go on crusade to Prussia, saying that he and his men were to go "mainly at their own expense, against the Prussians, enemies of the Christian faith." [Calendar of Patent Rolls] Little is known of Henry's crusade, unfortunately, except that he reached Stettin (Szczecin), on the Baltic Sea in modern Poland. When in Cologne on his way back, Henry challenged Otto, duke of Brunswick to a duel, claiming that the duke had intended to ambush him during the crusade, and received permission from Edward III to travel to Paris "to excuse himself in respect of things wickedly laid to his charge by the duke of Brunswyk." King Jean II of France, however, stopped the duel at the last moment, insisting that the reasons for the quarrel were insufficient to justify fighting between two such great men. Jean offered Henry any such gift as he might desire; Henry, in an act typical of the man he was, selected a thorn from the Crown of Thorns, one of the French king's collection of precious relics. (Edward III, I assume, already had one of these, as Edward II certainly did.)

Henry somehow found the time from his successful military and diplomatic career in 1354 to compose the Livre de Seyntz Medicines or Book of Holy Medicines, a religious treatise in French which takes as its central metaphor the image of Christ the divine physician and his assistant the Douce Dame treating Henry, the wounded penitent; the seven deadly sins have breached seven wounds in his ears, eyes, nose, mouth, feet, hands and heart. Henry compares his heart to a foxes' hole where sins hide and come out by night, and also compares it to a market, with the devil as the lord of the market collecting his dues, prises and customs. His mouth festers where his sins issue forth; confession cleanses it. And so on. Much of Henry's character is revealed in the treatise, as I've written in the previous posts about him, and he had a considerable amount of literary skill, using examples from his own life to demonstrate his points: comparing sins entering his body and soul to a castle's walls being breached, for example.

Henry wrote near the end of his treatise "if the French is not good, I must be excused, because I am English and not much accustomed to French" (si le franceis ne soit pas bon, jeo doie estre escusee, pur ceo qe jeo sui engleis et n’ai pas moelt hauntee le franceis). Obviously this was a literary device to demonstrate Henry's modesty, as his French was completely fluent, even cultured. He also wrote - accurately or not - that he taught himself to write later in life, and described himself at the end of the Livre as "a poor foolish sinner who calls himself Ertsacnal Edcud Irneh," that is, Henri duc de Lancastre written backwards. Here's an article about the Livre, which, I'm delighted to see, Dr Catherine Batt is currently translating into English.

His military and diplomatic career continued throughout the 1350s, and according to the Scalacronica chronicle of Sir Thomas Gray, he was wounded at a great jousting tournament in 1358: "While he was jousting with one knight, another one crossed and wounded him with his lance very dangerously in the side, from which he recovered." In November 1360, Edward III spoke of "his very great affection for the duke." [Cal Pat Rolls]

In June 1359, the pope granted Henry, regarding the indult previously granted that his chaplains should give him and his wife Isabella Beaumont plenary remission at the time of their death, an extension "to another wife, if he takes one after the death of Isabella." [Calendar of Papal Letters 1342-1362]. This sounds as though Isabella was then dying; although it was once believed that she outlived him, this was based on a misreading of Henry's will, where the reference to ma dame dame Isabell, 'my lady, Lady Isabella', almost certainly means Edward III's eldest daughter Isabella of Woodstock, who may have been Henry's goddaughter, not his wife Duchess Isabella. (Men in the fourteenth century referred to their wives as ma compaigne, not ma dame.) Brad Verity, in an article for the Foundation for Medieval Genealogy, believes that Duchess Isabella died in 1359 or 1360, a year or two before her husband, a theory considerably strengthened by the facts that she was not appointed one of the executors of his will and that there is no record of her being granted her widow's dower.

The pope's reference to another wife also perhaps indicates that Henry, who in 1359 was close to fifty and whose daughter Blanche had just married Edward III's third son John of Gaunt, still hadn't given up hope of fathering a son and heir by another woman. The statutes of the collegiate church Henry founded in Leicester in the mid-1350s also indicate that he still hoped to have a son: "...after the duke's death to his heir, if he be a male; otherwise, if the heritage of the said duke happens to be divided among females..." ['Mercy Gramercy' thesis]

Henry of Grosmont died at Leicester Castle on 23 March 1361, in his early fifties. Contemporary chroniclers stated that he died of the plague, which returned to England that year, but as Henry wrote his will eight days before his death, this seems unlikely, and he had in fact been ill at least since the New Year and acutely ill since early March. He was buried in the Collegiate Church of the Annunciation of Our Lady in the Newarke at Leicester, which he had founded; his father Henry, earl of Lancaster had previously founded the hospital to which Henry attached his foundation, and was also buried there. (Sadly, the Newarke was demolished in the sixteenth century.) Henry's sisters Blanche, Maud, Eleanor and Mary outlived him, and Henry appointed the eldest, Blanche, Lady Wake, as one of the executors of his will.

Henry of Grosmont enjoyed a stellar career, and perhaps it was only within his family that he was not entirely successful. As I wrote in the first post, his relationship with his wife seems not to have been particularly successful, happy or fulfilling, and his failure to father a son must have distressed him. He left two daughters, who both died in their twenties: Maud, married firstly to little Ralph Stafford and secondly to William von Wittelsbach, count of Hainault and Holland and duke of Bavaria-Straubing, son of the Holy Roman Emperor Ludwig IV and nephew of Edward III's queen, Philippa; and Blanche, who married Edward III's son John of Gaunt in May 1359. The unfortunate Maud died childless in April 1362, having endured a hopelessly awful marriage - her husband went insane in 1357 and had to be confined for the remaining thirty-plus years of his life - with the result that Blanche, who only lived until 1368 herself, carried the entire Lancastrian inheritance to John of Gaunt. Genealogist Douglas Richardson demonstrated recently that Henry also left an illegitimate daughter, Juliane, who married William Dannet of Leicester sometime before 1380, had two sons, and was still alive in 1407. For a man who by his own admission in the Livre made love with numerous women, the wonder is that Henry didn't father more out-of-wedlock children, though perhaps he did and their existence has never been discovered.

Henry was already a grandfather when he died, Blanche and John of Gaunt's eldest child Philippa, future queen of Portugal, having been born in March 1360. Henry was also the grandfather of King Henry IV, who was named after him, and of Elizabeth, duchess of Exeter and countess of Huntingdon, who married Richard II's half-brother. His great-grandchildren included the kings of Portugal and England, the queen of Sweden, Denmark and Norway, the duchess of Burgundy, the dukes of Coimbra, Clarence, Bedford and Gloucester, the great explorer Henry the Navigator, duke of Viseu, and the Saint Prince Fernando.

The title of my posts about Henry comes from Geoffrey Chaucer's description of the knight in his Canterbury Tales, and although there's no way to prove that Henry was the role model for Chaucer's knight, it wouldn't surprise me in the least if he was and if Chaucer had read and thoroughly appreciated Henry's Livre. I love this man so much I'm thinking of starting a Henry of Grosmont Appreciation Society.


Kenneth Fowler, The King's Lieutenant: Henry of Grosmont, First Duke of Lancaster 1310-1361 (1969)

W. M. Ormrod, 'Henry of Lancaster [Henry of Grosmont], first duke of Lancaster (c. 1310-1361)', Oxford Dictionary of National Biography

Ian Mortimer, The Perfect King: The Life of Edward III (2006); The Fears of Henry IV: The Life of England's Self-Made King (2007); The Time-Traveller's Guide to Medieval England (2008)

Le Livre de Seyntz Medicines

Patrick Ball, ''Mercy Gramercy': A Study of Henry of Grosmont' (BA thesis, University of Tasmania, 2007) (available online as PDF file)

Calendar of Patent Rolls 1330-1364

A Collection of all the wills, now known to be extant, of the kings and queens of England, vol. 1

Calendar of Papal Letters 1342-1362

Brad Verity, 'The First English Duchess: Isabel de Beaumont, c. 1318- c. 1359', Foundation for Medieval Genealogy Michael Prestwich, Plantagenet England 1225-1360 (2005)

02 November, 2009

A Verray Parfit Gentil Knyght: Henry of Grosmont, Duke of Lancaster (2)

At long last, here's the second part of my article about the really very excellent and remarkably attractive Henry of Grosmont, first duke of Lancaster, Edward II's kinsman. The first part is here. Just a quick recap of who Henry was, as it's been so long since I wrote the first post: he was born in about 1310, only son and heir of Henry, earl of Lancaster - first cousin of Edward II and uncle of Isabella of France - and Maud Chaworth, was the first duke of Lancaster and only the second duke (after Edward III's eldest son) in English history, died in 1361, and was the grandfather of King Henry IV and Philippa, queen of Portugal. Much is known of his personality, thanks to a devotional treatise he wrote in 1354, the Livre de Seyntz Medicines.

It was in the 1340s that Henry of Grosmont's brilliant career really took off, though he may not have guessed it at the beginning of the decade, when he was imprisoned as a hostage in the Low Countries - twice! - for Edward III. Not that Henry's imprisonment was particularly onerous, of course; he received five marks a day for his expenses and was allowed to attend a joust in early December 1340. Henry was back again in England by early October 1341, and a few weeks later celebrated Christmas by leading a joust in Scotland where the participants agreed not to wear protective clothing, which is frankly insane. Hardly surprisingly, two English knights were killed, and Henry himself badly wounded William Douglas, lord of Liddesdale. Unlike his cousin Edward II, but very much like his cousin Edward III, Henry was a highly enthusiastic jouster. He attended, among many others, the tournament of Northampton in 1342 where his brother-in-law John, Lord Beaumont, was killed, the great tournament of Windsor in 1344, and arranged his own later in 1344 to celebrate the wedding of his little daughter Maud to Ralph Stafford, young son of Ralph Stafford and Margaret Audley and grandson of Hugh Audley and Margaret de Clare; young Ralph left Maud a tiny widow in 1348. At the tournament of Eltham in 1348, Edward III gave Henry "a hood of white cloth embroidered with men dancing in blue habits, buttoned in the front with large pearls." [1]

Henry went to Spain in 1343 with William Montacute, earl of Salisbury and another close friend of Edward III, to negotiate a marriage alliance with one of Edward's daughters to the son of Alfonso XI of Castile (he of whom Edward II in 1325 made the excellent description quoted on the sidebar on the left). Needless to say, Henry took the opportunity for a little light crusading, and rode off to Algeciras, then in the hands of the Moors, at such a gallop that only four of his attendants were able to keep up with him. The Castilians greeted him enthusiastically, and evidently he made an excellent impression on them - as he was to do to just about everyone. In 1345, Henry was appointed lieutenant of Gascony, a position he held for eighteen months, with the wide-ranging powers of a vice-regent, and won stunning victories over the French at Bergerac and Auberoche; he received something like 50,000 pounds in ransoms from captured knights and noblemen, a staggeringly enormous sum and five or sx times Henry's own annual income - and he was one of the richest men in England. The fortune enabled him to rebuild the Savoy Palace in London into one of the most luxurious residences in England (it passed to his son-in-law John of Gaunt and was destroyed in the uprising of 1381).

Between Henry's victories of Bergerac and Auberoche, on 22 September 1345, his father Earl Henry of Lancaster died at the age of about sixty-four, and Henry succeeded to the inheritance: the earldoms of Lancaster and Leicester in addition to the earldom of Derby he already held, and much else besides. Edward III also granted Henry the French lordship of Bergerac with the unprecedented right to mint coins in his own name. From his many lands and lordships in England, Wales and France, plus the spoils of his incredibly successful military career, Henry enjoyed almost unlimited wealth. Evidently, though, his wealth and fame didn't go too much to his head; chronicler Jean Froissart comments on Henry's kindness and courtesy, especially towards women, and he had excellent relations with the town of Leicester, which appears to have been the favourite of his countless castles and residences. The townspeople of Leicester brought him, on one of the occasions when he returned from military success in France, salmon and lampreys from Gloucester.

Henry's castle at Leicester contained a daunsyngchambre, and by his own account in his Livre de Seyntz Medicines, he enjoyed dancing and thought he was pretty good at it. He had the fourteenth-century nobleman's conventional love of hunting and the joust, and being English, he liked getting drunk: he drank wine "to put myself and my friends out of our senses, for it is a good feeling to be merry" and over-indulged at feasts so that his legs were "neither so good nor so ready to bring me away as they were to get me there." A sensual man, he admitted how much he enjoyed the rings on his fingers, his shoes and his armour, and liked rich food, well-spiced with strong spices, salmon being his particular favourite. All that good living had its inevitable effect: Henry was suffering from gout by the 1350s. He also wrote in the Livre that he liked the sound of barking hounds and the song of the nightingale, explained why he loved expensive scarlet cloth* - "I have coveted the cloth more for its scent than for other reasons" - and loved the smell of roses, violets, musk and lily of the valley. In a pleasantly erotic passage, he admitted that he took "great delight" in the fragrance of "certain women" - the high-born ones, that is, though he thought the low-born ones were more sexually responsive. He did not mention his wife Isabella Beaumont even once in the text.

* in the fourteenth century, a fine and expensive woollen cloth, not the colour.

Henry was also capable of recognising and admitting to his less admirable qualities, such as recoiling from the smell of poor and sick people; grudging that leftovers from his feasts should be given to the poor; listening to trivial gossip and reading trivial books (livres de nient); bragging about his relationships and being lecherous, though he didn't reproach himself for committing adultery; being vainglorious and just plain vain; and - this is my favourite one - finding it hard to get up in the morning when he should have been enthusiastic to rise and serve God.

In 1348, Henry was appointed as the second Knight of the Garter behind Edward III's eldest son Edward of Woodstock, prince of Wales (the Black Prince). Already one of the king's most able and successful military commanders during the Hundred Years War, Henry fought in the naval battle of Winchelsea - also called the battle of Les Espagnols sur Mer, 'The Spanish on the Sea' - against Castile on 29 August 1350, and saved the lives of Edward of Woodstock and his future son-in-law, ten-year-old John of Gaunt, when their ship was rammed. On 6 March 1351, Edward III created Henry the first duke of Lancaster, and "granted to the duke that for his life he shall have within the same county his chancery and writs under a seal to be deputed for the office of chancellor, his justices for pleas of the crown and pleas of common law, and cognisance of the same, and execution of such writs by his ministers and all other liberties and royal rights pertaining to an earl palatine." [2] Until Richard II's reign, the only other English dukes were Edward III's sons, an indication of the extremely high regard in which Edward held his kinsman.

That'll have to do for today - I'll post the third and final part of the article soon!


1) Kenneth Fowler, The King's Lieutenant: Henry of Grosmont, First Duke of Lancaster 1310-1361, p. 104.
2) Calendar of Patent Rolls 1350-1354, p. 60.