01 August, 2010

A Welsh/Scottish Plot To Free Edward Of Caernarfon In 1327

In August 1327, Sir Edward of Caernarfon, formerly King Edward II, was being held in captivity at Berkeley Castle in Gloucestershire, having been forced to abdicate his throne to his fourteen-year-old son Edward III the previous January. Edward must have been in despair in 1327; he had lost everything, his throne, his freedom, his children, whom he wasn't allowed to see, and his beloved Hugh Despenser, grotesquely executed in November 1326. Although it's hard to deny that Edward had brought most of his misfortunes on himself, it's easy to feel sympathy for him; whatever wrongs he had committed, he was certainly paying for them and then some. The former king was not, however, entirely friendless: in June or July 1327, a gang of men led by the Dunheved brothers managed, at least temporarily, to free him (more information about the men involved here and here). And another plot to free Edward from Berkeley was hatched late that summer by a group of Welsh men, and was betrayed to William Shalford, Roger Mortimer's deputy justiciar of North Wales, shortly before 14 September.

Unfortunately it's impossible to say for certain what the aims of this Welsh plot were - merely to free Edward and hide him somewhere in Wales or abroad, or to attempt a political coup? - how far it had advanced, or how well-equipped and organised the men were (or not). What little is known about it comes from a handful of entries in the chancery rolls, and the records of King's Bench in 1331, when one of the 1327 plotters, Hywel ap Gruffydd, accused William Shalford of complicity in Edward II's murder.

The ringleaders of the 1327 plot were two men who had long been staunchly loyal to Edward II: Sir Gruffydd Llywd (also known as Gruffydd ap Rhys) of North Wales, lord of Dinorwig and Tregarnedd, sheriff of Anglesey and Merioneth, and his kinsman Sir Rhys ap Gruffydd of South Wales, lord of Narberth and sheriff of Carmarthen. There are numerous records throughout Edward II's reign demonstrating how much responsibility and trust the king placed in these two men; he appointed them to search for Roger Mortimer after his escape from the Tower in August 1323, for example, and both men played key roles in Edward's campaign against the Marcher lords in 1321/22. Rhys ap Gruffydd remained loyal to Edward until the very end, and was one of the men Edward sent as an envoy to his wife Isabella on 10 November 1326, a few days before his capture. [1] Edward II was rather popular in Wales, the land of his birth, even long after his death; in the late fourteenth century, the (English, admittedly) chronicler Thomas Walsingham wrote "the Welsh in a wonderful manner cherished and esteemed him, and, as far as they were able, stood by him grieving over his adversities both in life and in his death, and composing mournful songs about him in the language of their country, the memory of which lingers to the present time, and which neither the dread of punishment nor the passage of time has destroyed." [2]

So who were the other men involved in the Welsh plot to free Edward from Berkeley? Sometime before 26 October 1327, thirteen men were imprisoned at Caernarfon Castle (spelling of their names as it appears on the Close Roll): Gruffydd Llywd ('Griffin ap Rees'); Madoc Loithe; Griffin ap Howel; Jorverth ap Griffith; David Vagh'; Llywelin ap Ken'; David ap Ath'; Welim ap Phelif'; Howel ap Luspa; Ken ap Griffith; Ath' ap Eignon; Howel ap Griffith and Jorverth his brother. [3] The Close Roll entry doesn't specify what they had done - not that we would really expect it to - but is merely an order to the justiciar of North Wales, i.e. an order from Roger Mortimer to himself, to have the men "lately taken at Kaernarvan Castle and imprisoned there, to be released by mainprise or for hostages to be delivered to him [Mortimer] for them..." It wasn't until 1331 that the reasons for this imprisonment were made public (see below). These thirteen were prominent men: J.B. Smith has pointed out that "[a]n examination of the names leaves no doubt that the men concerned represented a very powerful force in the community of North Wales. It is at the same time clear that men of South Wales were also deeply implicated." [4] Although the writ of 26 October ordered the release of the men, Gruffydd Llywd at least remained in prison for eighteen months, according to a petition he presented after Mortimer and Isabella's downfall (qil ad este enprisone atort et saunz desert, et puis detenu en la prisone nostre seignur le Roi par un an et demy; "that he had been imprisoned wrongfully and undeservedly, and then detained in our lord the king's prison for one and a half years.") [5] Sir Rhys ap Gruffydd fled to Scotland with some of his co-plotters, who are named on the Patent Roll as (original spelling) Morgan Thloyt ap Rees Kethin; Howelin ap Griffith ap Howel; Herbert de Ferrers; Griffin Waghan ap Griffith ap Gronou; David Vaghan ap David ap Yevan; Howelin Wachel ap Howel and William Hire. [6]

I'm speculating, but I wonder if Rhys and the others went to Scotland in the company of the adherents of Donald, earl of Mar, Robert Bruce's nephew and one of Edward II's closest friends and allies; it was said in the summer of 1327 that Donald's supporters "lately went to Scotland in the company of Dunald de Mar, a rebel, and have returned to do what mischief they can to the king and his realm" (and presumably took themselves off to Scotland again afterwards). Donald of Mar had - like Rhys ap Gruffydd, whom he must have known very well as they were both members of Edward's chamber staff - loyally remained with Edward II until shortly before his capture in November 1326, then fled to the homeland he had barely visited for twenty years. Donald, usually called "the king [Edward III]'s enemy and rebel" after Edward II's deposition, was in the north of England in the summer of 1327 leading one of his uncle Bruce's armies against the new regime, but several of his adherents gathered in the Marches, near both Berkeley and the Welsh border, "to do and procure the doing of what evils they can against the king and his subjects." In short, this meant trying to aid Edward of Caernarfon; the Lanercost chronicler says that Donald "returned to Scotland after the capture of the king, hoping to rescue him from captivity and restore him to his kingdom, as formerly, by the help of the Scots and of certain adherents whom the deposed king still had in England." [7]

Roger Mortimer and Isabella evidently perceived Donald of Mar, nephew of the king of Scots, an earl and a man whose loyalty to the former king was unwavering, as a threat; they ordered the arrest of two of his adherents in Staffordshire in August 1327 merely for sending letters to him, ordered the arrest of several of his other adherents for making 'mischief', and on 14 July told the justice of Chester - Sir Richard Damory, brother of Edward II's former favourite Roger - to keep Richard le Brun, former mayor of Chester, "safely in the king’s prison" for adherence to Donald. (It's interesting to note in this context that the Dunheved brothers and several of their allies, men willing to risk imprisonment, exile and death for Edward of Caernarfon's sake, were in Chester in early June 1327, and Damory was ordered to arrest and imprison them.) [8] Mortimer and Isabella were evidently also keen to see Rhys ap Gruffydd back from Scotland and under their watchful eye, and in February and April 1328 offered him pardons for "disobedience to the king's command to come to him, putting himself beyond the king's power, and adhering to the Scots" three times. The Welshmen who had fled with him were also offered pardons, though only once. [9] Rhys, however, although he demonstrated great loyalty to Edward III for many years after the young king seized power, was not interested in returning to an England and Wales ruled by the dowager queen and her favourite.

Donald, earl of Mar, Sir Rhys ap Gruffydd and Gruffydd Llywd's son Ieuan were also involved in the earl of Kent's plot to rescue the supposedly dead Edward of Caernarfon from Corfe Castle in 1330, and their opposition to Isabella and Mortimer continued even after Kent's execution that March: Adam Murimuth says they were planning an invasion of England, Donald from Scotland and Rhys, with other men hostile to Roger Mortimer and Isabella, from Brabant, whose Duke Jan III was Edward's nephew. The impending invasion forced Isabella and Mortimer to array knights and men-at-arms up and down the country "to set out against certain contrariants and rebels who lately withdrew secretly from the realm and who have assembled a multitude of armed men in parts beyond the sea and have prepared ships of war and other things and who propose entering the realm to aggrieve the king and his people." Mortimer, now justiciar of the whole of Wales (to which position he had appointed himself for life) ordered himself on 8 August 1330 to "arrest and imprison all those of Wales whom he finds to be adhering or consenting to Rhys ap Griffyn...as Rhys is charged with adhering to Edmund de Wodestok, late earl of Kent, and has gone to parts beyond sea without the king's licence, and proposes to enter the realm with certain other enemies with a multitude of armed men, and the king understands that many in Wales, both relations of Rhys and others, are of his confederacy and alliance." [10] I'm afraid I can't help but smile at the fact that Mortimer and Isabella were now facing the same fate, armed invasion against their unpopular regime, that they themselves had inflicted on Edward II, though ultimately it never went ahead and it was Edward III who overthrew them a few weeks later.

Returning to the plot of August/September 1327, somehow William Shalford, Roger Mortimer's deputy justiciar of Wales, got to hear about it, and informed Mortimer. In 1331, Hywel ap Gruffydd accused Shalford "of counselling and encompassing the death of Sir Edward, father of our present lord the king, whom God absolve, who was feloniously and treacherously killed and murdered...on the Monday next after the Nativity of Our Lady in the first year of the reign of our lord the present king [14 September 1327], whom God absolve, at Rhosyr (Newborough) on Anglesey, this same William ordained and had a letter made, and sent it to Sir Roger Mortimer at Abergavenny, in which letter was stated that Sir Rhys ap Gruffydd and others of his faction were assembling their power in North Wales and South Wales [en Northgales et en Southgales], with the assent of some of the magnates of the land of England, to forcibly deliver the said Sir Edward, father of our said lord the king, who was then detained in Berkeley Castle; and he gave him to understand by the said letter that if the said Sir Edward was delivered in any manner, that the said Sir Roger and all his followers would die an evil death, and be completely destroyed. Whereupon the said William, treacherously, as a traitor, by the said letter counselled the said Sir Roger that he should ordain such a remedy regarding the aforesaid things that neither the said Sir Rhys, nor anyone else of England or Wales, would ever think of making his [Edward II's] deliverance." [11] (My translation.)

The usual, or one might even say clichéd, interpretation of all this is that William Shalford's letter inspired Roger Mortimer to order Edward of Caernarfon's murder in order to protect himself and his position; Shalford's letter goes on to say that Mortimer sent William Ockley to Berkeley Castle with the letter, and certainly Ockley was convicted of Edward II's murder in the parliament of November 1330. Edward's fate in 1327, however, and the bizarrely implausible timing of Shalford writing a letter on Anglesey on 14 September, Mortimer in Abergavenny making the decision to murder Edward, sending William Ockley to Berkeley, Edward of Caernarfon being murdered on 21 September and Edward III hearing the news of his father's death in Lincoln on 23 September - that is, a journey of close to 400 miles in nine days, Rhosyr to Abergavenny to Berkeley to Lincoln, crossing the Menai Strait, riding through most of a sparsely-populated, mountainous country, crossing the Severn to Berkeley, riding across a large part of England, in nine days - are topics for another day. I've wittered on enough anyway, and I hope this post has gone some way to demonstrating that Edward of Caernarfon was not completely abandoned and friendless after his deposition. William Shalford's statement (via Edward's ally Hywel ap Gruffydd several years later, admittedly) that Rhys ap Gruffydd and his allies had the "assent of some of the magnates of the land of England," assent dascuns des grantz de la terre Dengleterre, in their plot to free Edward is interesting, no? Even if that is not true, the 1327 plot of the Dunheveds and their allies was also said by a more disinterested observer, the Pauline annalist, to have had the support of "certain magnates." [12] Edward may have lost the support of very many of his subjects in 1326/27; but he was not alone.


1) Calendar of Patent Rolls 1321-1324, p. 335 (their names are spelt Res Apgriffit and Griffin Apres); Cal Pat Rolls 1324-1327, p. 336; J.B. Smith, 'Edward II and the Allegiance of Wales', Welsh History Review, 8 (1976), pp. 159-161.
2) Historia Anglicana Thomas Walsingham, ed. H.T. Riley, vol. 1, p. 83.
3) Calendar of Close Rolls 1327-1330, p. 182.
4) Smith, 'Edward II and the Allegiance of Wales', p. 167.
5) J.G. Edwards, 'Sir Gruffydd Llywd', English Historical Review, 30 (1915), pp. 596-598; Calendar of Ancient Petitions 319/E388.
6) Cal Pat Rolls 1327-1330, pp. 272-273.
7) Gesta Edwardi de Carnarvon Auctore Canonico Bridlingtoniensi, in W. Stubbs, ed., Chronicles of the Reigns of Edward I and Edward II, vol. 2, p. 96; The Chronicle of Lanercost 1272-1346, ed. H. Maxwell, pp. 256-577; Scalacronica: The Reigns of Edward I, Edward II and Edward III as recorded by Sir Thomas Gray, ed. H. Maxwell, p. 73; Cal Close Rolls 1327-1330, p. 212; Cal Pat Rolls 1327-1330, pp. 139, 180, 183, 191, 258. For the record, Donald of Mar's named adherents were: Ralph Chopcok; Ralph Lightred; Adam le Parker; John de Lodyngton; Richard de Egremond; John Lespicer; Stephen Morel; Thomas atte Wall; William de Seint More; William Skakeloc; William and John de Makeseye.
8) Cal Close Rolls 1327-1330, pp. 142, 157, 212; Cal Pat Rolls 1327-1330, pp. 139, 153, 183.
9) Cal Pat Rolls 1327-1330, pp. 238, 242, 256.
10) Adae Murimuth Continuatio Chronicarum, ed. E. M. Thompson, pp. 255-257; Cal Close Rolls 1330-1333, pp. 51, 147, 151; Cal Pat Rolls 1327-1330, pp. 544, 563, 570-572; Calendar of Fine Rolls 1327-1337, pp. 169-170.
11) T.F. Tout, 'The Captivity and Death of Edward of Carnarvon', Collected Papers of Thomas Frederick Tout, vol. iii, pp. 184-185.
12) Annales Paulini 1307-1340, in W. Stubbs, ed., Chronicles of the Reigns of Edward I and Edward II, vol. 1, p. 337.


Ragged Staff said...

Interesting post, Kathryn, as usual! I'm learning a lot more about this time than I ever thought I wanted to know. Excellent work!

Kathryn Warner said...

Thank you, Ragged Staff! I'm really glad you liked the post!

Susan Higginbotham said...

It's good to think that Edward wasn't bereft of friends during this period. Nice post!

Kathryn Warner said...

Thanks, Susan! It's great to see that Edward still had a lot of support, isn't it?

Clement Glen said...

I never realised there were two plots to rescue poor Ed!

Many thanks for another fascinating post Kathryn. You really bring his times back to life!

Kathryn Warner said...

Thank you, Clement! I'm really keen to write about these plots to free Edward and make them better known - the men who risked and suffered so much for him deserve to be remembered, I think!

Clement Glen said...

You are right Kathryn.It is so important to learn more about those times and get as fuller picture as possible.

I have learnt so much from reading your blog and website, thank you.

Gabriele Campbell said...

Yes, it's nice to know that Edward had still friends, and I think people like Donald of Mar and Rhys ap Gruffudd acted out of genuine friendship. Some others may have joined when they realised they exchanged the devil for beelzebub with Isa and Mort, and the devil you know may have been preferable. :)

I actually buy the 9 day journey. When Tiberius learned his brother had been fatally injured in Germania, he made the way from Milan, across the Alpes and along the Rhine, and then from Mainz to Göttingen in 4 days (that last part still takes 3 hours by ICE). Sure, he had Roman relais along the Rhine and probably in the Raetian part of the Alpes as well, but it was still quite a feat - eating on horseback, taking a litter only twice for 3-4 hours to get some sleep, then galloping through Germania with no other escort but a guide. He reached his brother still alive.

Kathryn Warner said...

Thank you, Clement! I'm really glad to hear that.

Gabriele, I agree - Donald of Mar gave up so much, his earldom, income, political influence and position close to the Scottish throne, to stay with Ed, and of course didn't have to try to help him in 1327, unless he really wanted to.

It's not just the distance that I find implausible; a messenger (or several) galloped 310 miles in 4 days to tell Ed II that his father was dead in 1307, for instance, although that was in early July when the days are much longer and the roads more likely to be dry, and the route from Carlisle to London was straightforward and on decent roads. What I find bizarre about this one in 1327 is that it allowed the people involved no thinking time at all to make major decisions like reacting to a plot and deciding to kill the former king, and also involved riding through Mid Wales, which even today is sparsely populated without too many roads. I don't get how it's possible for a rider to have reached Mortimer from Newborough to Abergavenny, which is 170 miles even by the most direct modern route (and the messenger must presumably have had to ride around the mountains of Snowdonia which would have added to the journey time), then for Mortimer to send Ockley to Berkeley, another 60 miles or more, and then for Edward's custodians to decide what to do and how they were going to kill him, from 14 to 21 September. Hmmm...no, that doesn't add up at all to me.

Gabriele Campbell said...

Well, the Alpine passes and the way from Mainz into the middle of Germania Magna weren't exactly Roman roads, either. The one thing I wonder is where Tiberius got fresh horses once he left the Rhine - looks like some Germans were willing to aid him which says a few things about Germania in 9 BC. He rode during the night as well, btw.

I really have to look up how many miles that are.

Heh, and nothing helps with making decisions like time issues. Our politicians have too much time and only mess up. ;)

Carla said...

Edward II seems to have had some quality that could inspire great loyalty in some people (and an equal and opposite enmity in others). Even if there was an element of self-interest, in that he could presumably be expected to be extremely grateful to his rescuers if they succeeded, there was also a very great element of risk. The plot to rescue him is one of the most interesting aspects of the whole Edward II saga to me.

With regard to the timing problem, what's your interpretation?

Kathryn Warner said...

Gabriele, you're absolutely right - it's just that combined with all the weirdnesses relating to Edward's 'death', I find it very hard to believe in this journey. ;-)

Carla, Edward does seem to have inspired polarised feelings in people, doesn't he? You're surely right that self-interest played a part - they could expect to be richly rewarded by the grateful Edward - but I strongly doubt that's the whole story, as someone once emailed me to claim; some people have a really hard time believing that anyone actually liked Edward II! As with Kent's plot in 1330, many of the men who worked on Edward's behalf in 1327 were those who'd known him best.

Re the timing - it may simply be that Hywel, three and a half years later, got the date of Shalford's letter wrong, so I probably shouldn't make TOO much of this - I tend to think that, combined with all the other strange events of the autumn of 1327, it casts doubt on the traditional narrative of Edward's murder.

Anerje said...

Just catching up on this interesting post. You can always trust us Welsh to cause trouble:> I'm sure there was a mixture of self-interest and loyalty in this atempt to free Edward.