25 April, 2010

Thomas of Lancaster And His Relationship With Edward II (2)

I'm sure you know what today is: Edward II's 726th birthday. Yes, my favourite king was born in Caernarfon on 25 April 1284. Hearty congratulations, Sire! Today, the second part (here's the first part) of my post about Edward's relationship with his first cousin and greatest enemy, formerly his ally, Earl Thomas of Lancaster. I've figured out that there are going to have to be three parts; there's an awful lot I want to say about these two men.

Edward and Thomas's relationship hit a low point in the summer of 1316: the two men met and had a furious row in York, and although Thomas was chosen as one of the godfathers of Edward and Isabella of France's second son John of Eltham, Thomas's great-nephew, he failed to attend the boy's christening, a gross insult to the king and queen. (I can't help wondering if Edward - criticised then and now for his closeness to his male favourites - felt a tad smug that he had fathered two legitimate sons while Thomas, in his late thirties in 1316 and a man who supposedly "defouled a great multitude of women," had none?) The author of the Flores Historiarum, whom I always think of as Not Edward II's Greatest Fan, claims that Edward armed himself against his cousin and that his fear of Thomas was the reason for his cancellation of the Scottish campaign that was meant to take place that summer. [1] Whether that's true or not, Edward was concerned enough about Thomas's hostility to summon Isabella to him in York after John of Eltham's birth, fearing for her safety. The queen travelled very fast: on 22 September 1316 she was at Buntingford in Hertfordshire, 175 miles from York, and must have been reunited with Edward soon after the 27th, as on that date, the king paid her messenger William Galayn a pound for informing him of her imminent arrival. [2]

In the spring of 1317 came the abduction - or whatever it was - of Thomas of Lancaster's wife Alice de Lacy from Canford in Dorset by household knights of John de Warenne, earl of Surrey. Rightly or wrongly, Thomas blamed Edward II and the three knights then high in the king's favour, Roger Damory, Hugh Audley and William Montacute. Whatever the truth of Thomas's allegations, it seems clear that Damory, Audley and Montacute were doing their best to hinder any reconciliation between the king and the earl, and at a meeting of the king's council at Clarendon in the spring of 1317, the three openly called Thomas a traitor. [3] Thomas sent letters to Edward to say that "he fears the deadly stratagems of certain persons who thrive under the protection of the royal court…they have already carried off the earl’s wife to his disgrace and shame." [4] Thomas asked Edward to expel the earl of Surrey, Damory, Audley and Montacute from court, and demanded "such satisfaction as he can get for the wrong done to him." He wrote to Edward to complain that his companions were "not suitable to stay beside you or in your service…but you have held them dearer than they ever were before...every day you give them of your substance, so that little or nothing remains to you." [5] To be fair, he did have a point: Damory, Audley and Montacute had no intention of allowing Lancaster to reduce their vast influence over Edward and therefore counselled the king to remain hostile to his cousin and "intrigued against the earl as best they could." The Flores calls them "men who stir up discord and many problems for the kingdom daily attending the lord king, continually supporting his arrogance and lawless designs." [6] Pope John XXII tried to heal the breach between the king and his cousin in 1317 and 1318, begging Edward not to allow any "backbiter or malicious flatterer" to bring about disunity between himself and Thomas, and to send away from court those men who offended the earl. The pope also asked Thomas to "separate himself" from those who displeased Edward and to reject "suggestions of whisperers and double-tongued men." [7]

Edward asked his household and friends for advice about his cousin: "You see how the earl of Lancaster has not come to parliament. You see how he scorns to obey our commands. How does it seem to you?" Some replied "Let the king pursue and take his despiser, and when he is taken put him in prison or exile him." Others responded "It is no small matter to take the earl of Lancaster. The Scots will support him, and a great part of Wales; it is better to proceed another way, and treat beforehand of a form of agreement." [8] In the interests of trying to preserve the fragile peace, Edward summoned a council meeting to Westminster for 15 April 1317, inviting Lancaster and his confidant, Sir Robert Holland. However, the two men failed to turn up, and Edward himself arrived three days late, which hardly implies any great enthusiasm on his part to meet his cousin. He did send envoys to Thomas on 21 April and 29 May, probably at the urging of his more moderate counsellors – but to no avail. [9] Edward or his advisers made another attempt to meet and come to terms with Lancaster, and he and members of Edward’s council were summoned to a meeting to begin at Nottingham on 18 July 1317. [10] Roger Damory, Hugh Audley and William Montacute were not summoned, but attended anyway. Edward arrived at Nottingham on 16 July and stayed there for three weeks, but once again, Thomas failed to turn up. On the 21st, Edward sent him a letter, repeating the summons and remonstrating with him for holding private assemblies and for employing an unusual number of armed retainers, "whence the people are considerably frightened." Thomas in turn accused Edward of failing to obey the Ordinances of 1311, as he often did, and of keeping people at court who should have been removed and bestowing lavish gifts on them. [11] He refused to meet Edward unless Damory, Audley, Montacute and the earl of Surrey left court, and Edward refused once again to send them away. It seemed that the two men would never be reconciled. Lancaster spent most of his time at his favourite residence of Pontefract and was by now almost completely isolated politically, but far too powerful for Edward to ignore, thanks to his vast wealth and his five earldoms; "By the size of his patrimony you may assess his influence," comments the Vita Edwardi Secundi.

Edward and Isabella left Nottingham and the failed council meeting on 7 August 1317, and travelled to York. The king was forced to stay as far to the east of Pontefract, Thomas's stronghold, as possible: the most direct route would have taken him right through the town, but Thomas had blocked his way by placing armed guards on the roads and bridges south of York. [12] Edward was, understandably, furious that one of his subjects would dare to impede his progress through his own kingdom, and brought it up four and a half years later as one of the charges against Thomas at his trial. [13] Before Edward’s arrival in York, he did, however, send envoys to Pontefract to negotiate with Thomas, to try to make peace so that the latest planned Scottish campaign could proceed. The envoys included the archbishops of Canterbury and Dublin, five bishops, and the earls of Pembroke and Hereford, their aim to persuade the king and the earl to meet face-to-face and resolve their difficulties; "a love-day without the clash of arms," as the Vita puts it. Unfortunately, Thomas claimed to have heard a rumour that if he came to Edward’s presence, the king would "either have his head or consign him to prison," and, whether that was true or not, refused to meet Edward. Thomas also accused Roger Damory and William Montacute of trying to kill him, and claimed to have intercepted letters from Edward II to Scotland, inviting the Scots to help kill him. [14]

Fortunately, however, at the instigation of two cardinals who had recently arrived in the country – they were with the king at York in September 1318 – a date was finally set for a meeting between Edward and Thomas, although it was postponed. For now, at least, Edward agreed to take no hostile action against Thomas and his adherents, and Thomas agreed to attend the next parliament, due to be held at Lincoln in January 1318. On 26 September 1317, Edward granted a safe-conduct for "our dear and faithful cousin" Thomas, and his adherents, to travel to Lincoln the following January. [15] Finally, Edward dismissed most of his soldiers, Thomas removed his guards from the roads and bridges south of York, and at the beginning of October 1317, Edward left York to return to London. The road through Pontefract was now clear, but instead of doing the sensible thing and ignoring Thomas, Edward took it into his head, despite his promise a few days earlier not to take action against his cousin, to command his men to take up arms and attack him. Apparently one of Edward’s friends – most likely Roger Damory – had persuaded him, in his own selfish interests, that the earl posed a threat to Edward and that he should attack him first. Fortunately for the stability of his kingdom, Edward, who was incapable of distinguishing between good and bad advice and who tended to believe and act on whatever the last person had told him, informed the earl of Pembroke beforehand what he was intending to do. He said "I have been told that the earl of Lancaster is lying in ambush, and is diligently preparing to catch us all by surprise." [16] Pembroke fortunately still retained some influence over the king and managed to convince Edward that this was not in fact the case, and the party returned to London with no further incidents – despite the fact that Thomas did his utmost to make matters worse by leading his men out to the top of the castle ditch and jeering at Edward as he and his retinue travelled past. [17] Edward was naturally incensed at this appalling rudeness, and he was not the kind of man to forgive and forget an insult; in March 1322, it was another of the charges he raised against Thomas at his trial.

In early October 1317, Thomas seized Knaresborough Castle in Yorkshire, which his retainer John Lilburn didn’t surrender to the king until January 1318, and by the beginning of November had also forcibly gained possession of Alton Castle in Staffordshire. Knaresborough had formerly belonged to Piers Gaveston, Alton to Theobald Verdon, but far more importantly as far Thomas was concerned, Roger Damory was the custodian of both. Edward ineffectually sent out orders to various sheriffs to retake the castles and commanded Thomas to "desist completely from these proceedings." Not only did Thomas fail to obey, he "with a multitude of armed men, besieged and captured diverse castles" in Yorkshire which belonged to the earl of Surrey: Sandal, Conisborough and Wakefield. Thomas also ejected Maud Nerford, Surrey's mistress, from her property in Wakefield, and by the beginning of 1318 had taken firm control over Surrey's Yorkshire lands. [18] In an attempt to placate his cousin and persuade him to give the castles back, Edward told him "the king is prepared to do justice in his court concerning the things that the earl has to prosecute" against Edward’s friends, and paid Alexander Bicknor, the English archbishop of Dublin, forty pounds for travelling to Pontefract to talk to Lancaster. [19] The conflict between Surrey and Thomas continued unabated in 1318: Thomas now turned his attention to Surrey’s lands in Shropshire and Wales, and Edward issued an order forbidding "his attempting anything in breach of the king’s peace." In July 1318, Edward summoned a meeting of his great council at Northampton, and he and Isabella left Woodstock to travel there on 27 June, only nine days after she had given birth to their daughter, Eleanor. Thomas of Lancaster did not attend the meeting, and the Vita says that the earl of Surrey, Roger Damory, Hugh Audley, William Montacute and both Hugh Despensers arrived at Northampton "in great strength, so that you would have thought they had not come to parliament, but to battle." The author gives this as the reason for Thomas's non-attendance, as "he counted all the aforenamed as his deadly enemies." [20]

Since April 1318, a group of barons and prelates had been negotiating with the earl of Lancaster, and trying to persuade Edward and his cousin to overcome their hostility to each other. On 8 June, they came to a preliminary agreement: Edward would uphold the hated Ordinances, govern by the counsel of his magnates, and conciliate Thomas, who was threatened with sanctions if he continued to hold armed assemblies. Thomas's violence and lawlessness were thus condoned, as he was too powerful for the king to ignore and his co-operation with Edward was essential if England was ever to find peace. Although Thomas declared that he did not trust Edward’s safe-conducts, he did eventually consent to meet the king, and on 7 August 1318 the two men exchanged the kiss of peace in a field between Loughborough and Leicester. Edward gave his cousin a fine palfrey "in recognition of his great love" of Thomas. (Hmmmm.) A formal agreement, the Treaty of Leake, was signed in the town of Leake near Loughborough two days later. [21]

So by late 1318, the relationship between Edward II and the earl of Lancaster was about as good as anyone could have hoped for, and in September 1319 Thomas actually co-operated with the king and took part in the siege of Berwick. But the actions of Edward's latest and most powerful favourite were soon to cause the relationship to deteriorate once more, and this time, it would result in execution...Coming soon!


1) Flores Historiarum, vol. III, ed H. T. Riley, pp. 176-177.
2) Calendar of Patent Rolls 1313-1317, p. 621; Thomas Stapleton, 'A Brief Summary of the Wardrobe Accounts of the tenth, eleventh, and fourteenth years of King Edward the Second', Archaeologia, 26 (1836), p. 320.
3) Flores, p. 178; J.R.S. Phillips, Aymer de Valence, earl of Pembroke 1307-1324: Baronial Politics in the Reign of Edward II, p. 119.
4) Vita Edwardi Secundi, ed. N. Denholm-Young, p. 80.
5) G.O. Sayles, The Functions of the Medieval Parliament, pp. 336-337.
6) Vita, p. 87; Flores, pp. 176-177.
7) Calendar of Papal Letters 1305-1341, pp. 415, 431, 434, 438-439, 444.
8) Vita, pp. 80-81.
9) Phillips, Valence, pp. 119-120.

10) Calendar of Close Rolls 1313-1318, p. 482; Foedera 1307-1327, p. 335.

11) Gesta Edwardi de Carnarvon Auctore Canonico Bridlingtoniensi, in W. Stubbs, ed., Chronicles of the Reigns of Edward I and Edward II, vol. 2, pp. 50-52; Adae Murimuth Continuatio Chronicarum, ed. E. M. Thompson, pp. 271-276.

12) Phillips, Valence, p. 125.

13) Foedera 1307-1327, p. 479.

14) Vita, p. 81; Phillips, Valence, p. 131; J.R. Maddicott, Thomas of Lancaster 1307-1322: A Study in the Reign of Edward II, p. 224.

15) Foedera 1307-1327, p. 343.

16) Vita, pp. 81-82.

17) Flores, pp. 180-181; Maddicott, Lancaster, p. 210.
18) Calendar of Fine Rolls 1307-1319, pp. 346-347; Foedera 1307-1327, pp. 345-346; Close Rolls 1313-1318, p. 575.
19) Close Rolls 1313-1318, p. 575; Stapleton, 'Brief Summary', p. 332.
20) Vita, p. 87.

21) Foedera 1307-1327, p. 370; Close Rolls 1318-1323, pp.112-114; Maddicott, Lancaster, pp. 213-229; Phillips, Valence, pp. 136-177; R.M. Haines, King Edward II, pp. 109-117.

(I have no idea why Blogger has decided to put random spaces in my notes. Stupid thing.)


Elizabeth said...

This is going to sound like a silly question, but was Thomas of Lancaster known as a handsome man? The only reason I ask is that maybe some of the hostility had its roots in Thomas' looks (men can be funny creatures sometimes) and his abilities as a commander of men - these prized ideals of manhood might have been a threat to Edward II? A lot of people don't put much credence in psychology, but I think in instances like these where the distrust and hate grew until there was essentially only room for one of these men in England points to a feeling of envy that festered over time. Just a guess...
Thanks for the in-depth post! Look forward to part three :-D

Kathryn Warner said...

Not a silly question at all, Elizabeth! As far as I know, the only thing known about Thomas's appearance is that he was "slim and of good size," meaning tall (to be expected of Ed I's nephew, I suppose!) I'd love to know what he looked like and whether he much resembled his cousin Ed II. Love your idea of the envy and hatred growing...and yes, it really did become an 'England isn't big enough for the both of us' situation. (And an 'I'm going to kill you in revenge for Piers, you git' situation too, of course. ;)

Anonymous said...

I think the trouble began after the death of Henry de Lacy, earl of Lincoln in 1311. He seems to have been a calming influence between Edward and Thomas, who was his son-in-law. I'm sure if he had lived longer things would have been different.

Anerje said...

Great post! and yes, 2 posts wouldn't do this fascinating relationship justice. I think Edward was pretty smart to ask the barons their opinion on Lancaster's behaviour. It made him seem to listen to his barons and perhaps isolate Lancaster. Good point about wondering how lancaster must have felt towards his 'weak' cousin fathering sons. I think Lancaster saw himself as Edward's equal, and it was his right to rule alongside him instead of Piers and Despencer. Can't wait for part 3 - and am preparing some 'cyber snowballs' in anticipation:>

Anerje said...

Any idea why Piers called him 'the fiddler/the churl'? Obviously a lack of grace for the latter - but what about the former?

Gabriele Campbell said...

Edward is no Barbarossa, I'm sorry to say. Except for the favourites going in between, the situation is not so different from the one of Barbarossa and Heinrich the Lion (complete with not attending royal summons and closing gates) but Heinrich ended up in exile pretty soon because dear old Red Beard put his fist down and said, I'm the King. :)

Ed obviously said that with a question mark. :)

Louis X said...

Happy birthday to our dear brother!

I've very much enjoyed this post, and look forward to the next one. (Oh, and Kai wishes me to point out that the jeering from the castle walls made him think of the French taunter in Monty Python and the Holy Grail...whatever that is.) :)

Kate Plantagenet said...

How easily I can see both sides of the story! Two stubborn hot heads (can't imagine where they got that from...!) circling each other...wanting to trust...but unable to take that leap. Silly Lancaster. He could have been great.

Susan Morgan said...

I'm wondering what you mean by the "abduction" of Alice de Lacy in 1317. She and Thomas were together nearly 23 years and childless… does that mean the marriage was bad. Did she fall for Surrey or one of his men? And what became of her (more for that third installment...)

Kathryn Warner said...

Elizabeth, that's a good point! Thanks.

Anerje: thank you! Looking forward to the cyber snowballs. ;) I'm not sure about the 'fiddler' - a ref to the way Thomas dressed, like a minstrel in some way, maybe? Not sure...

Gabriele: that's interesting about the parallels between Barbarossa and his cousin, and Edward and his. Ed: "Um, yeah, I'm, like, king. Kind of. Aren't I??" :-)

Louis: thank you, and hope you enjoyed the cake Edward sent you! Oh, and your mother was a hamster and your father smelt of elderberries. Hehehehe...:-)

Kate: very true! Thomas had so many advantages, of birth and wealth, and threw them away.

Susan, I wrote a post about Alice a few years ago: http://edwardthesecond.blogspot.com/2007/01/abandonment-and-abduction-eventful-life.html
A very odd situation, to be sure! She outlived Thomas by many years, though, and died in 1348 when she was almost 67. Elizabeth Ashworth, who left a comment here, knows a lot about Alice and her family.

Brian Wainwright said...

It is actually quite difficult for any king to deal with a cousin who is both powerful and aggressive. It generally comes down to exile or death (for the cousin) or deposition (for the king.) My impression of Thomas is that he never even *tried* to work with Edward. Is that fair, or too simplistic?

Kathryn Warner said...

Brian, I think it's interesting to see the parallels between Edward II and Thomas, and Richard II and his first cousin Lancaster a few decades later. I think it's fair to say actually that Thomas seems to have been deliberately obstructive towards Edward just for the sake of it, at least sometimes (though some of it was certainly Ed's fault too). By 1318, Thomas was politically isolated and most of the barons were sick of him, contrary to the notion of a few decades ago that he was the leader of the opposition to the king.

Undine said...

About Gaveston nicknaming Lancaster "The Fiddler"--Thomas Costain, in his book "The Three Edwards," claimed it was because "that man of dull wit had arrayed himself in a rather outlandish attempt to follow the latest fashions."

Costain's books are fun to read, but I know they're not considered particularly scholarly. Still, I suppose it's as good an explanation as any. (I take it Gaveston's quip was one of those "you had to have been there..." sort of jokes.)

Louis X said...

Ah, Kathryn, do tell Edward that I am grateful for the cake, and that it was so delicious, I was not able to share even a crumb of it with my brothers!

We French are so very good at the taunting, non? Silly English kaaaaa-niggits! Pbbbfbth! *insert fit of giggling here* XD

Kathryn Warner said...

Undine, good point about having to be there! Piers' other nicknames are fairly self-explanatory, like Lincoln being 'Mr Burst-Belly', and most probably the reasons for choosing 'fiddler' were obvious to contemporaries. I like Costain's books too, as entertainment, though the inaccuracies and speculations stated as fact make my teeth ache! ;)

Mon cher roi, I am so glad to hear that you enjoyed the birthday cake! My rather, ummm, extremely large portion has gone straight to my hips, sadly. ;) Yes, you French are spectacularly good at taunting. I'm also giggling at the memory of that scene...;)