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.


Jules Frusher said...

Great post on this pivotal event - the beginning of the road to Boroughbridge. Edward was, politically, right to have had those men at Leeds castle executed in order to ensure that others would be deterred from holding castles against him. Still a horrible way to go though.

Clement Glen said...

Another detailed and informative post Alianore.

I live just a few miles from Leeds Castle in Kent, it is often described as the most beautiful castle in the world. The ancient castle is surrounded by a wide moat and absolutely stunning scenery. I am sure your readers would enjoy a visit.

Paul said...

It's no wonder the men at Leeds couldn't defend the castle: 3 Richards, 2 Rogers and 2 Roberts were involved.

Adam: "Rob, the East wall is under attack"

Roger de Coumbe: "Did you say Rog?"

A: "No Rob, Robert"

Robert de Bromere: "You want me?"

A, screaming: "No, de Chidecroft"

Thomas de Chidecroft: "Someone need help?"

A surrenders himself

Richard Prat: "Yes, I do"

T: "Richard?"

2 other men pop their heads up: "What?"

.....and on.....

Susan Higginbotham said...

Enjoyed the post! I'd love to see Leeds Castle one of these days.

Kathryn Warner said...

Thanks, all! Clement, you're so lucky to live near Leeds - I've never been there, but I'd love to. Paul, that's brilliant!! :-)

Paul said...

I went to Leeds during my Uni days when I earned money driving a van making deliveries. One happened to be in the area so I thought I'd stop by.....

It was about 4/5 hours later when I realised I still had a delivery to make and had to go. The place got me in almost as much trouble as the Roberts and Rogers but it was worth it. Spectacular place.

Kathryn Warner said...

Hope you had a great time there, Paul - I can see that Leeds is the kind of place it would be extremely difficult to leave.

Gabriele Campbell said...

Maybe the executed men were those - or some of those - who shot arrows at Isa's escort, and Ed took that a wee bit personal. ;)

Kathryn Warner said...

Great idea, Gabriele!

炒米粉Ken said...
This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.
ES said...

Great post. Thanks.

Link to "Tournament of Wallingford" don't works.

Kathryn Warner said...

Fixed! It had two https in the address. Thanks for letting me know!

Kathryn Warner said...

Fixed! It had two https in the address. Thanks for letting me know!