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.


Jules Frusher said...

Great analysis of these frustratingly vague events. I've always wondered where the money from the attacks on the dromonds went. My theory is that some of it, at least, went into Edward's war chest to fund his fight against the contrariants. As for the Cinque ports, it seemed that they watched Edward's back and he watched theirs (or at least turned a blind eye to some of their activities).

Would you like me to have a go at a map for you by the way?

Susan Higginbotham said...

That's fascinating! Hate to think how much work this post took!

Kathryn Warner said...

Susan: hmm, rather a lot - it's just as well I love Edward. :-)

Lady D: nah, it's OK, thanks - it would be really time-consuming for you, and there's always Google maps if people want to check locations.

I doubt actually that much if any of the money - and it's such an incredibly huge amount it seems like a gross exaggeration to me - went on the Marcher campaign, as Ed was so desperately short of cash he was having to borrow it from merchants as he went through the Marches.

Gabriele Campbell said...

See what you and Lady D have done, lol? Instead of being rightfully outraged at Hugh's activities, I'm more like, serves the barons right that he turned pirate. :)

Carla said...

Some very murky goings-on, by the sound of it. Must have been a right bundle of laughs for the traders in the Channel while all this was going on.

Kathryn Warner said...

Gabriele: YAY, result! :-)

Carla: yes, good point - if the French and Flemish pirates didn't get you, the king of England's chamberlain would!

Anerje said...

Meticulous research Alianore! Hardly Pirates of the Carribean, but makes fascinating reading. Would be great to know just how much Ed was involved.

Kathryn Warner said...

Thanks, Anerje! I'd love to know to what extent Ed was involved, too.

炒米粉Ken said...
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