30 January, 2011

Hugh Despenser Seizes Tonbridge Castle

A post about a peculiar piece of lawlessness in 1315 carried out by the man who later became Edward II's last great favourite...

Edward II's nephew Gilbert de Clare, earl of Gloucester, was killed at the battle of Bannockburn on 24 June 1314, aged twenty-three.  Gloucester, one of the greatest noblemen of the realm, left as his heirs his three sisters: Eleanor, born in 1292 and married to Hugh Despenser the Younger since May 1306; Margaret, born in 1293 or 1294 and widowed from Piers Gaveston in June 1312; and Elizabeth, born in 1295 and widowed from the earl of Ulster's son and heir John de Burgh in June 1313.  The division of Gloucester's vast inheritance in England, Wales and Ireland, which was always going to take a long time anyway, was delayed by the claims of his widow Maud - who received her dower, the customary third of her late husband's lands, on 5 December 1314 - to be pregnant, and also by confusion among various jurors of the inquisitions post mortem, who wrongly named Gloucester's sister Elizabeth as Isabel.  This apparently was a confusion with Isabel, the elder of Gloucester's much older half-sisters (the other being Joan, countess of Fife), neither of whom was one of Gloucester's rightful heirs. (To the annoyance of the widowed Maurice Berkeley, who married the rather elderly spinster Isabel de Clare in about 1316 presumably in an attempt to force himself into a share of the late earl's inheritance.)  Another reason for the long delay - the lands weren't shared out until November 1317 - was Edward II's need to marry off his two widowed nieces to men he trusted, which he duly did in April 1317 when Margaret and Elizabeth married Hugh Audley and Roger Damory.

In 1315, Hugh Despenser the Younger, husband of the eldest sister Eleanor de Clare, was a young man (about twenty-six or twenty-eight) with grand ambitions and a great need for money.  Although married to the king's eldest niece, he had little if any political influence; oddly, given Edward II's later infatuation with him, the king doesn't seem to have liked or trusted Hugh much at all before 1318.  Hugh was, to all extents and purposes, landless: his father Despenser the Elder granted him the revenues of half a dozen of his manors in Essex, Suffolk and Cambridgeshire sometime before February 1310, and that was about it.  Despite his lack of means, Hugh acknowledged on 17 April 1315 that he owed 'John Giffard of Weston, the elder' a whopping £2000, and must have been desperate to get his hands on his wife's share of her brother's rich inheritance.  Around the middle of May 1315, nearly eleven months after the earl of Gloucester's death when it must have become apparent to him that Gloucester was not going to leave a posthumous child, Hugh took matters into his own hands and set off for Tonbridge in Kent, one of the many castles and honours formerly belonging to Gloucester.

On 20 May 1315, Edward II, from Hadleigh in Essex, ordered Hugh Despenser "to surrender without delay to the king's escheator the castle and honour of Tunebrigge, which he has seized...".  Edward told his escheator, John Abel, "to go in person and take the said castle and honour into the king's hand," and ordered several men who were in Tonbridge Castle with Hugh - Sir John de Penrith, Sir John Haudlo, Sir Walter Haket and unnamed others - to surrender possession of it to Abel.  On the following day, 21 May, Edward issued a writ of privy seal to his council, asking them to "ordain speedy remedy and punishment for the outrage."  John Abel, the escheator, returned on the 22nd with the news that Hugh and his men had refused to hand Tonbridge Castle over to him: Abel "delivered the above writs to Hugh and John etc and demanded livery of the castle, which they altogether refused; and that in the presence of witnesses he placed his hands on the wicket by way of taking seisin, but that they were removed by the said Hugh and John etc, who raised the drawbridge, so that he could not enter the castle.  But in words he seized the castle, and he took the borough and the foreign lands of the honour into the king's hand without impediment."

This curious little incident in fact ended shortly afterwards, when Hugh and his men left the castle on Friday 23 May, and Edward told John Abel "to resume into the king's hand the castle and honour of Tonebrigg, late of Gilbert de Clare, earl of Gloucester and Hertford, deceased, tenant in chief, which Hugh le Despenser the younger of his own authority forcibly entered, the king having ordered him and others in the castle to deliver the same to the escheator and to be before the council at Westminster on this day of Friday to answer touching the premises and to do and receive what the court should decide, and Hugh having appeared in person and rendered the same to the king."

Hugh Despenser, as far as I can tell, wasn't punished for illegally seizing Tonbridge Castle, although on 6 July the sheriff of Kent was ordered to "distrain Robert de Haudle and John le Clerk by all their lands and goods to answer before the king and council on the morrow of St Margaret next for the seizing of the castle of Tonbrugge and other enormities."  Shortly after the seizure of Tonbridge, Edward II received Hugh's petition "asserting that the time had long passed and Maud late the wife of the said earl had not borne a child," and told Hugh, his wife and her sisters to appear before chancery also "on Monday the morrow of St Margaret next."  Natalie Fryde says in The Tyranny and Fall of Edward II 1321-1326 that "Despenser, with characteristic brutality, seized Tonbridge castle in Kent from her [Countess Maud]".  I don't know of any source which places Maud in the castle at the time that Hugh seized it - it wasn't one of the properties assigned to her in dower in December 1314 - and there is no evidence I've seen which says that Hugh took the castle violently and that anyone was physically hurt in his doing so (unless you count the escheator John Abel's hands being 'removed' from the 'wicket').  I'm not sure therefore why this is proof of Hugh Despenser's 'brutality', and Ms Fryde wrongly states that Hugh in June 1315 "allege[d] that he had taken the castle for the king."  In fact, the relevant entry on the Patent Roll (not the Close Roll as Ms Fryde's footnote says) says "Afterwards Hugh le Despenser the younger intruded on the castle, and subsequently restored it to the king."  Restoring a castle you've seized to the king on demand and taking a castle on the king's behalf - not the same thing.

Several things puzzle me about all this.  Firstly, why, of all the earl of Gloucester's former possessions, Hugh chose to seize Tonbridge.  Merely geographic proximity to where he happened to be when he decided to do it, or because, as this website says, the castle was "such a prize, such a symbol of power"?  The castle and honour of Tonbridge weren't granted to him and Eleanor in the land division of November 1317 anyway, but to her sister Margaret and Hugh Audley (and passed ultimately to their daughter Margaret Audley's Stafford descendants).  Secondly, what Hugh hoped to achieve by seizing the castle.  Did he think Edward would meekly let him keep it, or was he just trying to get the king's attention and force him to attend to the issue of the dowager countess of Gloucester's non-pregnancy?  And why did he hold it only for a few days?  And thirdly, two of the three knights named with Hugh as taking part in the seizure (excluding Sir John Haudlo, certainly a long-term Despenser adherent) had no connections to the Despenser family that I know of.  Sir John de Penrith came from Cumberland, far from the Midlands and the south-east where the Despenser lands lay, and Sir Walter Haket, knight of Worcestershire, was pardoned in 1318 as an adherent of Earl Thomas of Lancaster.  What was Hugh doing in the company of men who apparently had nothing to do with him or his family at any other time?

This little escapade availed Hugh Despenser nothing, and it was lucky for him that a) he wasn't punished and b) he didn't know at the time that he would have to wait another two and a half years before he and his wife would finally receive their lands and income.  At the Lincoln parliament of January/February 1316, the dowager countess Maud was still claiming to be pregnant by her late husband, and two royal justices told Hugh that "although the time for the birth of that child, which nature allows to be delayed and obstructed for various reasons, is still delayed, this ought not to prejudice the aforesaid pregnancy."  Marvellous stuff.


Calendar of Patent Rolls 1313-1317, pp. 306-307
Calendar of Fine Rolls 1307-1319, p. 248
Calendar of Inquisitions Post Mortem, vol. 5, pp. 325-354
Calendar of Inquisitions Miscellaneous 1308-1348, p. 20
Calendar of Close Rolls 1307-1313, p. 198; Ibid. 1313-1318, pp. 131-138, 222
The Parliament Rolls of Medieval England
Natalie Fryde, The Tyranny and Fall of Edward II 1321-1326, p. 33.

25 January, 2011

Wedding Preparations

Happy 703rd wedding anniversary today to Edward II and Isabella of France!  I've already written a post about their wedding, and here's one about some of the preparations made for the day.  Incidentally, an academic paper (PDF, pp. 10-11) by Dr Lisa Benz of the University of York recently concluded that Edward and Isabella's relationship "was conducted in a cooperative and mutually dependent manner despite its dysfunctional ending."  That whole 'poor little Isabella, long-suffering victim of her nasty husband' thing is becoming old hat.

Paul Doherty cites a chronicle which claims that Edward ended his campaign against Robert Bruce in the summer of 1307 prematurely because of, in Doherty's words, "his desire to marry the beautiful Princess as soon as possible."  [1]  To which I can only say, there is nothing in Edward II's life which would lead me to conclude that he would have been desperate to meet and marry an eleven (twelve?)-year-old girl, "beautiful Princess [sic]" or not, and it is far more likely that he broke off the campaign because he needed to return south to take over his government, attend parliament, arrange his wedding and his father's funeral, and so on.  Parliament met in October 1307, and granted Edward expenses for the wedding and the funeral.

Edward spent the first Christmas of his reign at Westminster, controversially appointed Piers Gaveston keeper of the realm in his absence on 26 December, and set off for Kent shortly afterwards, to prepare for his journey to France (where the wedding would take place, as Edward also had to swear homage to Philippe IV, his overlord, for his French lands).  He wrote to his soon-to-be father-in-law Philippe from Canterbury (Cantebir') on 30 December:

"To the very high, very excellent and very noble prince, our very dear lord and father, Ph' by the grace of GOD, king of France, Edward, by the same grace, king of England etc, greetings and all honours.
Sire, we have received your letters of credence which you sent us by Sir Mahy de Trie the younger, and Sir Maingot de Merk, your knights, bearers of these [letters]; and we have well understood what the said knights told us by their authority, and your requests, that is to say, that you;
Sire, have decided, for certain reasons, that your arrival and mine at Boulogne shall be postponed until Sunday the eve of Saint Vincent [21 January], so that you, Sire, and we shall arrive that same Sunday; and this accomplished, that the ceremony and wedding [esposailles] shall take place on the Wednesday next following [le Merkedi prechein suivant]:
And we make known to your lordship that, for the reasons touched on above, we well consent to this postponement, and we will be, with the help of GOD, at Boulogne on the said Sunday, in certain understanding that, this done, the ceremony and the wedding shall take place on the Wednesday next following, without further delay.
Very dear Sire, may our Lord have you in his keeping [Treschier sire, nostre Seignur vous eit en sa gard].  Given at Canterbury the 30th day of December." [2]

Edward reached Dover on 13 January 1308, having already:

- ordered the mayor and sheriffs of London to provide and deliver "a ship for the king’s tents" in which his retinue would sleep once they reached France.
- sent Geoffrey le Taillur to Sandwich to purchase "cords in the said town for the king's tents."
- sent his baker William Hathewy ahead to Boulogne "to make preparations for the reception of the king."
- ordered William le Portour to find "300 boards of the longest to be found for making tables."
- told the constable of Dover Castle to hire ten "good leaden cauldrons" in Faversham, ten in Dover and twenty in Sandwich, and have them sent to William le Portour with a "small ship" to transport them to France and eight men "to journey over sea with the above cauldrons."  The constable was to "inform the owners of the said cauldrons that the king will satisfy them for any damages sustained as soon as the cauldrons are brought back from the king's service."
-  sent his clerk Robert de Doncaster to Surrey and Sussex "to purvey a ship-load of hay and five thousand horse-shoes and nails, and also a ship to transport the same to Boulogne," and also sent Robert to Kent "to purchase hay, oats, etc. for the passage of the king and his company beyond sea."
- sent three men to the same three counties to buy corn, and " oxen, swine, sheep and other live beasts."
- ordered vast amounts of timber and charcoal to be sent to Boulogne.
- told the sheriff of Kent to provide four sawyers, twelve carpenters and six charcoal-burners, with all necessary tools and equipment.
- sent Reginald Berardi of the Italian banking firm the Frescobaldi to Boulogne with 500 marks in silver "to make provision against the king's arrival there."  [3]

And so on, and so forth; this really brings home what a huge logistical operation it was to transport the king and his large retinue overseas. Edward spent his last few days as a single man at the priory of St Martin with some of the men who were to accompany him to France, including his cousin the earl of Pembroke, brother-in-law the earl of Hereford, nephew-in-law the earl of Surrey, and friend and ally Anthony Bek, bishop of Durham and patriarch of Jerusalem.  Meanwhile, Philippe IV was ensuring that his only surviving daughter (Isabella's elder sisters Marguerite and Blanche died in infancy) was kitted out luxuriously for her new life in England: an inventory of the clothes, jewels, crowns, furniture, linen and so on which 'Madame Isabella of France, queen of England' (madame yzabel de France Royne d'Angleterre) would take with her has fortuitously survived.  The goods were worth more than 20,000 pounds of Paris in total (I think there were four pounds of Paris to one pound sterling) and included a crown worth 750 pounds, a circlet of gold and precious stones worth 400 pounds, and three chaplets with rubies and emeralds worth a total of 255 pounds. [4]

Edward's letter to Philippe IV of 30 December cited above says that he intended to arrive in Boulogne on Sunday 21 January, and marry Isabella on the 24th.  In fact, he sailed from Dover to Wissant on 22 January, travelled to Boulogne on the 23rd, and married Isabella on the 25th.  Paul Doherty suggests that Edward, "engrossed with Gaveston," may have arrived late deliberately (and also accuses Piers, bizarrely, of taking "great pleasure" in deliberately summoning the noblemen and women who were to welcome Edward and Isabella on their return to England a few days too early and making them wait around in the cold). [5]  This was, however, the Channel, in the depths of winter, in the fourteenth century, and it is far more likely that bad weather and rough seas had delayed Edward.  There is no reason at all, except a wish to interpret every single thing Edward II ever did in the most negative and critical light possible (and ohhh, don't a lot of commentators love doing that?), to think that Edward arrived a couple of days late on purpose and intended any insult to his future queen, her father or France in general.  Nor is there any reason to think that anyone at the time did assume he'd arrived late intentionally and take it as an insult.


1) Paul Doherty, Isabella and the Strange Death of Edward II, p. 44.
2) Foedera 1307-1327, p. 25 (my translation).
3)  Calendar of Close Rolls 1307-1313, pp. 7-9, 16-17; Calendar of Patent Rolls 1307-1313, pp. 13-16.
4) W.E. Rhodes, 'The Inventory of the Jewels and Wardrobe of Queen Isabella (1307-8)', English Historical Review, 12 (1897), pp. 517-521.
5) Doherty, Strange Death, pp. 43-45.

20 January, 2011

It's That Man Again! Some Primary Sources Relating To A Certain Gascon Nobleman

Another post about Piers Gaveston, this one looking at some of the primary sources relating to his second exile from England in 1308.

Parliament met in the monks' refectory of Westminster Abbey shortly after Edward II's coronation on 25 February 1308, and according to the chronicles of Walter of Guisborough and the Annales Paulini  - there is no official parliamentary record - demanded Piers' exile.  Edward refused, and left Westminster with Piers and spent Easter preparing for war against his magnates* at Windsor Castle, fortifying it as a stronghold where his beloved could remain in safety.  As a further precaution, Edward ordered the nearby bridges at Staines and Kingston to be dismantled, which must have caused the locals considerable annoyance and inconvenience, and switched the custody of key royal castles to men he could trust, among them Hugh Despenser the Elder, John Haudlo, William Latimer and Piers Gaveston himself.

* Or most of them, rather; his cousin Thomas of Lancaster, later his greatest enemy and the man who had Piers Gaveston killed in 1312, was on his side at this point, and was rewarded by being appointed steward of England on 9 May 1308.

1) Here's my translation of a letter Piers wrote (or rather, his scribe did) to his retainer Sir Robert Darcy on 1 April 1308, at his castle of Wallingford, where Edward spent several days on the way from Westminster to Windsor.  It's one of the very few letters Piers wrote which still exists.  (Note: The 'we' and 'us' are conventional, not Piers using the royal plural; Easter Sunday fell on 14 April that year; Edward II's itinerary shows that he had left Wallingford on 30 March and arrived at Windsor, via Caversham, the following day.)
"Piers Gaveston, earl of Cornwall [Piers de Gavaston counte de Cornewayle], to our very dear and beloved bachelor Sir Robert Darcy, greetings and very dear affection.  Know that we have very well understood your kind letters which you sent us, by which we have understood that you are certain of having 20 armed men, some of them knights, some squires, and 100 footmen, and other people of whom you are certain.  Know that it is our wish that you remain occupied with this business, and we ask you especially to do it with all your power, as in this matter we have placed our trust in you entirely.  But we ask that you will come to us this next Easter at Windsor [Wyndelesoures], and do not leave us, for love of us [pur lamur de nous].  Regarding that which you have asked us, that we would be pleased to request our lord the king [nostre seynur le rei] for the custody and the marriage of the son and heir of Sir Joh' Moriet*, who is dead, know that Sir Hugh Despenser [sire Hue le Espenser, the Elder] asked for them three days before your letter came to me, and the king granted them to others, but inform us as soon as you can, should you discover anything you wish for yourself, and we will take pains that you will have it, as far as we are capable and able.  May our lord keep you.  Given at Wallingford, the first day of April."  (Cited in the original French in J.R. Maddicott, Thomas of Lancaster 1307-1322: A Study in the Reign of Edward II, p. 335.)

* Sir John Meriet, one of the men knighted with the future Edward II in May 1306, died shortly before 16 March 1308.  Edward granted custody of his son John (aged ten or eleven) and his lands in Somerset and Lincolnshire, and the marriage of his widow, to Sir Ingelram Berenger, household knight and close associate of Hugh Despenser the Elder: Calendar of Fine Rolls 1307-1319, p. 19; Calendar of Patent Rolls 1307-1313, pp. 94, 133; Calendar of Inquisitions Post Mortem, vol. 5, pp. 27-28.  The last part of Piers' letter is especially interesting because it demonstrates the great esteem in which Edward II held Despenser the Elder, one of the few magnates on his side at this juncture - the king didn't withdraw his offer to grant wardship of Meriet's heir to one of Despenser's retainers even when Piers Gaveston wanted it for one of his.  It's also interesting for the insight into royal patronage, to see Despenser using his closeness to the king to ask for a favour for one of his most loyal associates (and why not?).

2) These are the second and third articles of the famous Homage et serment declaration which the anti-Piers magnates, led by the earl of Lincoln, presented to Edward II on 30 April 1308, the day he returned to Westminster from Windsor.  (Two days late for parliament, which should have begun on the 28th; this would certainly not be the last time Edward arrived late for parliament.)  Notice how they pointedly didn't use Piers' name:

"As regards the person who is talked about [la persone dount home parle, i.e. Piers], the people ought to judge him as one not to be suffered because he disinherits the crown and, as far as he is able, impoverishes it.  By his counsel he withdraws the king from the counsel of his realm and puts discord between the king and his people, and he draws to himself the allegiance of men by as stringent an oath as does the king, thereby making himself the peer of the king and so enfeebling the crown, for by means of the property of the crown he has gathered to himself and put under his control the power of the crown, so that by his evil deeds it lies solely with him to determine whether the crown should be destroyed and he himself made sovereign of the realm in treason towards his liege lord and the crown, contrary to his fealty.

Since the lord king has undertaken to maintain him against all men on every point, entirely without regard to right reason, as behoves the king, he cannot be judged or attainted by an action brought according to law, and therefore, seeing that he is a robber of the people and a traitor to his liege lord and his realm, the people rate him as a man attainted and judged, and pray the king that, since he is bound by his coronation oath to keep the laws that the people shall choose, he will accept and execute the award of the people."  (Cited and translated in English Historical Documents, vol. iii: 1189-1327, ed. Harry Rothwell, pp. 525-526.)

3) Edward finally gave in, and on 18 May 1308 agreed to banish Piers:

"Edward, by the grace of God king of England, lord of Ireland and duke of Aquitaine, to all those who see or hear these letters, greetings.  We make known to you that between this day and the day that Sir Piers Gaveston [monsire Pieres de Gavaston] must leave our realm, that is, the morrow of the Nativity of St John the Baptist next [25 June], we will not do anything, nor suffer anything to be done, as far as within us lies, by which the departure of this same Piers [meisme celui Peres] might be impeded or delayed in any way, according to the counsel given to us by the prelates, earls and barons of our realm, with which we have agreed.  In witness of this, we have made these open letters.  Given at Westminster, the eighteenth day of May, in the first year of our reign."  (My translation; given in French in Foedera 1307-1327, p. 44, and Annales Londonienses 1195-1330, in W. Stubbs, ed., Chronicles of the Reigns of Edward I and Edward II, vol. 1, p. 154.)

Piers (with his wife Margaret de Clare) sailed from Bristol on or shortly after the deadline of 25 June to take up his position as lieutenant of Ireland, with a parting gift of 1180 marks from the infatuated king.*  Edward saw him off - he was in Bristol from 22 June to 2 July - and appointed Piers' elder brother Arnaud-Guilhem de Marsan seneschal of the Agenais (roughly, the modern French département of Lot-et-Garonneon 27 June.**  While in Bristol, on 1 July 1308, Edward remembered or was reminded that in six days it would be the first anniversary of his father's death, and wrote to his chancellor John Langton, bishop of Chichester: "As next Sunday, 7 July, will be the anniversary of the king's father, and the king wishes that the service for his soul on that day shall be done so well and solemnly on all points that nothing shall fail and it shall be to the king's honour; the king prays the chancellor dearly to be at the said service at Westminster, both at the Saturday before at placebo and dirige and on the Sunday at mass, and to take pains with the other bishops and the treasurer, who will be there, that the service be well ordered."  ***  Edward himself, however, was in Reading on 6/7 July, forty miles from Westminster.

[* C 81/60/249.
** Calendar of Chancery Warrants 1244-1326, p. 275.
*** Chancery Warrants, p. 276.]

4) And finally, three chroniclers give their verdict on Piers Gaveston...

"For the magnates of the land hated him, because he alone found favour in the king's eyes and lorded it over them like a second king, to whom all were subject and none equal.  Almost all the land hated him too, great and small, even the old, and foretold ill of him; whence his name was reviled far and wide.  Nor could the king's affection be alienated from Piers, for the more he was told, in attempts to damp his ardour, the greater grew the king's love and tenderness towards Piers...Piers remained a man of big ideas, haughty and puffed-up...For, scornfully rolling his upraised eyes in pride and in abuse, he looked down upon all with pompous and supercilious countenance...he scarcely ever condescended disdainfully to notice the magnates of the land, to whom he could not be necessary, yet whose help he needed.  And indeed the superciliousness which he affected would have been unbearable enough in a king’s son."  (Vita Edwardi Secundi, ed. N. Denholm-Young, pp. 1-2, 16.)

"Piers became very magnificent, liberal, and well-bred in manner, but haughty and supercilious in debate, whereat some of the great men of the realm took deep offence."  (Scalacronica: The Reigns of Edward I, Edward II and Edward III as Recorded by Sir Thomas Gray of Heton, knight, ed. Herbert Maxwell, p. 50.)
 "...confident he had been confirmed for life in his earldom, albeit he was an alien and had been preferred to so great dignity solely by the king's favour, [Piers] had now grown so insolent as to despise all the nobles of the land."  (The Chronicle of Lanercost 1272-1346, ed. Herbert Maxwell, p. 194.)

17 January, 2011

William Montacute, Another Royal Favourite (2)

Second and final part (first part) of my post about Sir William Montacute, one of the three great 'favourites' of Edward II in the middle years of his reign.

It was in 1316 that William, who had recently distinguished himself on the campaign against Llywelyn Bren in South Wales, really came to prominence.  On 20 August that year, the king granted him the marriage of Joan de Verdon, eldest daughter and co-heiress of her recently-deceased father Theobald, and William arranged Joan's marriage to his eldest son John.  (Theobald de Verdon's widow, Edward II's niece Elizabeth de Burgh, was in fact pregnant, though Edward couldn't have known that at the time, and gave birth in March 1317 to another daughter, so Joan remained an heiress.)  On or around 18 November, Edward appointed William steward of the royal household, replacing John Cromwell, and in January 1317 William contracted to serve Edward for life, in return for an annual salary of 200 marks.  [1]  As William was already married, he could not compete with his fellow royal 'favourites' Roger Damory and Hugh Audley for the two greatest prizes at Edward II's disposal in 1316/17, the hands in marriage of his nieces Margaret (de Clare) Gaveston and Elizabeth (de Clare) de Burgh, though the marriage of his son John to one of the Verdon heiresses was a sign of great royal favour.  

The appointment as steward gave William constant access to the king, which translated into a great deal of political influence.  William was, with Roger Damory and Hugh Audley, said by the Flores Historiarum to be "worse than Piers" (Gaveston), and was also said to be deliberately preventing the king from reaching an accord with his powerful cousin the earl of Lancaster for his own selfish ends (see my posts on Damory and Audley for more details).  William and the others actually admitted this in June 1318, during the negotiations which were soon to lead to the Treaty of Leake between Edward and Lancaster; they acknowledged that Lancaster had refused to come to the king and make his peace "by reason of us" (par encheson de nous).  [2]  In July 1318, Lancaster accused William, and Roger Damory, of trying to kill him. [3] Was that true, or only Lancaster's paranoia?  It's hard to say, but clearly William, Damory and Hugh Audley were widely seen as Lancaster's enemies and as standing in the way of the very necessary reconciliation between the two most powerful men in the country.  The Vita Edwardi Secundi points out in July 1318, when Lancaster failed to attend a meeting of the king's council in Northampton, that the earl refused to attend because he "counted all the aforenamed [the three favourites, the two Hugh Despensers and the earl of Surrey] as his deadly enemies...[who] intrigued against the earl as best they could."  [4]

To cut a very, very long story short, William's influence on the king was preventing accord between Edward and his powerful cousin, and could not be allowed to continue.  After the signing of the Treaty of Leake and the 'kiss of peace' between Edward and Lancaster, William was removed from his post as steward of the royal household and replaced by Bartholomew, Lord Badlesmere, and was appointed steward of Gascony instead on 20 November 1318, replacing Antonio di Pessagno of Genoa. [5]  Although this appointment was a great honour, it was also - and certainly William knew that it was - intended to keep him well away from Edward and to prevent him exercising any influence over the king. (One historian has described this excellently as William being "kicked upstairs," but unfortunately I can't find the reference at the moment.  I think it was Seymour Phillips, possibly in his article in the BIHR about the 'Middle Party' and the Treaty of Leake negotiations.)  Understandably, perhaps, William was in no great rush to leave to take up his new job: he and his household were still in England on 5 March 1319. [6]

William lasted less than a year in his new position, and died in mid or late October 1319 (his date of death is sometimes given as 18 October, but I don't know the source for that), probably aged forty or thereabouts, and was buried in Gascony.  He was survived by his widow Elizabeth de Montfort, sons William, Simon and Edward, and half a dozen or so daughters - among them a future earl, a future bishop, two abbesses and a prioress.  Edward II - who, I assume, mourned the sudden passing of a close friend - had heard of William's death by 6 November, on which date he ordered the escheator to take William's lands in Somerset, Dorset, Devon, Lincolnshire, Norfolk, Oxfordshire, Buckinghamshire and Hertfordshire into his own hands.  William's eldest surviving son William was still under-age and became a royal ward, and was called a 'king's yeoman' in May 1321 when Edward granted him "wardship of two parts of the lands late of his said father..." (a favour, as William was still under-age, and received the rest of his inheritance on turning twenty-one). [7]  He accompanied Edward II to France in June 1320, when the king had to pay homage to his brother-in-law Philip V, and remained close to Edward during the rebellion of 1321/22, being appointed mainpernor for the rebel Edward de Stredelynge.  [8]

It's interesting to speculate what would have happened had Sir William Montacute (the elder) remained in England and survived past 1319: would he have turned against the king, infatuated with Hugh Despenser the Younger, as his fellow 'favourites' Roger Damory and Hugh Audley did in 1321, or remained loyal, as his son did?  At any rate, his friendship with and loyalty to Edward II and his son's friendship with and loyalty to Edward's son Edward III - one wonders how successful the young king's coup against Roger Mortimer in October 1330 would have been without the younger William - were to make the Montacutes one of the most prominent families in England in the fourteenth century.


1) Calendar of Patent Rolls 1313-1317, pp. 535, 609; T.F. Tout, The Place of the Reign of Edward II in English History, second edition, p. 315.
2) Flores Historiarum, ed. H.R. Luard, vol. iii, p. 178; J.R.S. Phillips, Aymer de Valence, Earl of Pembroke 1307-1324: Baronial Politics in the Reign of Edward II, p. 164.
3) Phillips, Aymer de Valence, p. 131; J. R. Maddicott, Thomas of Lancaster 1307-1322: A Study in the Reign of Edward II, p. 224.
4) Vita Edwardi Secundi, ed. N. Denholm-Young, p. 87.
5) Foedera 1307-1327, p. 377; Patent Rolls 1317-1321, pp. 243, 257.
6) Patent Rolls 1317-1321, pp. 311, 312, 314.
7) Calendar of Fine Rolls 1319-1327, pp. 7, 56.
8) Patent Rolls 1317-1321, p. 452; Fine Rolls 1319-1327, p. 293.

13 January, 2011

Great News

The second part of my William Montacute post is coming soon, as soon as I get round to writing it!  I'm feeling lethargic and unmotivated at the moment and can't get myself into gear to do any research and writing.  Typical January feeling...

But anyway - I'd like to share some great news!  My article 'The Adherents of Edmund of Woodstock, Earl of Kent, in March 1330' has been accepted for publication in the English Historical Review, and will appear probably late this year or in early 2012.  Kent was beheaded for treason against his nephew Edward III on 19 March 1330, aged twenty-eight, after he admitted plotting to free his half-brother the former Edward II from captivity, two and a half years after Edward's supposed death at Berkeley Castle on 21 September 1327.  It is often assumed that Kent had been tricked into trying to rescue a dead man to provide an excuse for Isabella of France and Roger Mortimer to execute him - which explanation either ignores altogether the men who supported Kent in his plot, or dismisses them as a few friars and a handful of others with grievances against Isabella and Mortimer's rule who did not truly believe in Edward II's survival.  (Although the archbishop of York, William Melton, certainly did, and told the mayor of London in January 1330 that "my liege lord Edward of Caernarfon is alive and in good health of body.")  In fact, around seventy men can be demonstrated to have supported Kent, and in my article, I've provided backgrounds and allegiances for almost all of them, showing that the majority had been close to Edward II and had shown great loyalty to him before, during and after the revolution of 1326/27.  Kent's adherents in 1330 included two Scottish earls (Mar, Robert Bruce's nephew, and Buchan, Henry Beaumont), Welsh knights, a former chamberlain of North Wales and a former keeper of the peace in Berkshire, the earl of Warwick's stepfather, a glover, a cellarer and a mercer, Edward II's tailor, the Dunheved brothers, and the notorious gang leader Malcolm Musard. I hope the article goes some way to destroying the often-repeated myth that Kent only believed Edward was still alive in 1330 because he was 'stupid'.  He wasn't.

I'm very grateful to Ian Mortimer for giving me advice on the article, and talking of Ian, he's had some wonderful news too: his Time Traveller's Guide to Medieval England was the best-selling non-fiction history book of 2010.  Many congratulations to Ian!  If you haven't read his Medieval Intrigue: Decoding Royal Conspiracies yet, you should: it contains a great article on the earl of Kent's plot of 1330, as well as Ian's important article 'The Death of Edward II in Berkeley Castle' originally published in the English Historical Review.  More info on Ian's website.  Finally for today, I'll just point out that I'm named in the acknowledgements of both books.  :-)

06 January, 2011

William Montacute, Another Royal Favourite (1)

Happy New Year, everyone!  Today, the first part of a post about Sir William Montacute (the name is also often spelt Montagu or Montague), a friend and adviser of Edward II who was steward of the royal household from 1316 to 1318 and steward of Gascony from 1318 to his death in 1319.  William was, with Roger Damory and Hugh Audley, one of the triumvirate of 'favourites' who wielded a great deal of influence at Edward II's court in the middle years of his reign.  His namesake son and heir, a close friend of Edward III, became earl of Salisbury in 1337.  William (the elder, died 1319) was the great-grandfather of John Montacute, earl of Salisbury, executed in 1400 after attempting to restore Richard II to the throne, and the great-great-great-grandfather of Alice Montacute (died 1362), whose husband Richard Neville, earl of Salisbury, was executed after the battle of Wakefield in December 1460.

William Montacute's date of birth is unknown, and is, not terribly helpfully, estimated at anywhere between 1265 and 1285.  I'd put it roughly in the middle of that range, maybe sometime between 1275 and 1280.  (The ODNB puts it at c. 1285, but that strikes me as too late given that William was almost certainly a father by 1300 and that he was old enough to act as his father's attorney in October 1302.)  [1]  William married Elizabeth, daughter of Sir Peter or Piers de Montfort of Beaudesert, Worcestershire (died 1287), and Maud de la Mare; Elizabeth's grandfather, also Peter de Montfort, was killed fighting with Simon de Montfort, earl of Leicester, at the battle of Evesham in 1265, though apparently the families were not related or only very distantly.  William himself was the son of Sir Simon Montacute, a landowner in Somerset first summoned to parliament in 1299, almost certainly by Simon's first wife Hawise St Amand, and had to wait a long time to receive his inheritance: Simon lived until September 1317.  The Montacute family came to England with William the Conqueror and were settled in Somerset by 1086.

William Montacute and Elizabeth de Montfort had four sons:

1) John Montacute, the eldest, born at the end of the 1200s or beginning of the 1300s.  In Edward II's presence at Windsor on 28 April 1317, the same day Margaret Gaveston married Hugh Audley, John married Joan de Verdon (born August 1303), niece of Roger Mortimer and stepdaughter of Edward II's niece Elizabeth de Burgh.  Sadly, John died shortly afterwards, and was buried in Lincoln Cathedral on 14 August 1317.  Edward II paid forty clerks to pray for his soul and thirteen widows to watch over his body.  The king arrived at Lincoln three days after the funeral, and gave generous alms at the masses celebrated in the cathedral for the repose of John’s soul.  [2]  Edward seems to have been particularly affected by John's death; perhaps this is a sign of his great affection for John's father, or grief at the sudden death of a promising young man so recently married, or both.

2) William Montacute, his father's heir after John's death and born between 1301 and 1303; he was said to be seventeen or eighteen in May 1320, and was granted part of his inheritance in May 1321 although still under-age and the rest on 21 February 1323.  [3]  William Jr was a close personal friend of Edward III (ten or so years his junior), was instrumental in the arrest of Roger Mortimer in October 1330, was rewarded with the earldom of Salisbury in 1337, and died in January 1344.  William married Katherine Grandisson in about 1327 and had half a dozen children, including his heir, yet another William (1328-1397); Elizabeth, wife of Hugh Despenser the Younger's son and heir Hugh; Philippa, countess of March, wife of Roger Mortimer's namesake grandson and heir; John, who married Thomas de Monthermer's daughter and heiress Margaret; and Sybil, who married Edmund Fitzalan, disinherited grandson and namesake of the earl of Arundel executed in November 1326.

3) Simon Montacute, born in 1303 or 1304 (he was said to be in his fifteenth year and a student at Oxford in letters sent by Edward II to Pope John XXII on 28 November 1318 [4]), bishop of Worcester 1333, bishop of Ely 1337, died June 1345.

4) Edward Montacute, died July 1361, who was probably named in honour of Edward I or II and who married Alice of Norfolk, younger daughter and co-heiress of Edward II's half-brother Thomas of Brotherton, earl of Norfolk.  In about 1351, Edward beat up his wife so badly she died of her injuries.  His punishment for this atrocious act?  None whatsoever.

William Montacute and Elizabeth de Montfort also had at least seven daughters: Maud (died 1352), one of the many royal and noble women of the Middle Ages to be elected abbess of Barking; Isabel (died 1358), who succeeded her sister as abbess of Barking (their niece, Edward Montacute's daughter Maud, became abbess in 1377); Elizabeth, prioress of Haliwell; Hawise, who married Sir (Roger?) Bavent; Katherine, who married Sir William Carrington; Alice, who married Ralph, Lord Daubeney; Mary, who married Sir Richard Cogan.  Elizabeth de Montfort outlived her husband by many years, and died in 1354.  On 8 June 1322, two years and eight months after William's death, she was pardoned, in exchange for a payment of £200, for marrying Sir Thomas Furnival without royal licence.  [5]  Thomas's first wife was Hugh Despenser the Elder's sister Joan, and in 1318 his son and heir Thomas married Joan de Verdon, teenaged widow of Elizabeth de Montfort's son John Montacute.  William Montacute, Elizabeth and their son William, earl of Salisbury are the main characters in Juliet Dymoke's confusingly-named (but pretty good) 1979 novel The Lion of Mortimer.

William was named as a 'king's yeoman' in 1302 and 1303 and took part in Edward I's Scottish campaigns of the early 1300s - in March 1303, he was appointed to "supervise the shipping for the Scots war" - and was one of the men knighted with the future Edward II at Westminster on 22 May 1306.  [6]  In the early years of Edward II's reign, William's father Simon was more prominent than he was, and Edward appointed Simon constable of Beaumaris Castle on Anglesey on 1 March 1309.  On 18 December 1311, William Montacute was one of the knights - with, among others, Edward II's brother-in-law Ralph de Monthermer, William le Latimer, John Cromwell and Hugh Audley Sr - who acted as mainpernors for his father, then imprisoned at Windsor Castle for "diverse felonies and trespasses."  This is probably explained by an entry on the Patent Roll of 2 April 1313, which pardons Simon, on account of good service to Edward I and II, "for his attempt to occupy the land of Man to the king's disinheritance."  [7]  Three months previously, William Montacute had been appointed constable of Berkhamsted Castle, then held by Edward II's stepmother Queen Marguerite; the king was then switching the custody of key castles to men he trusted, two days after he was forced to consent to Piers Gaveston's third exile.  [8]

William, by then a knight of the royal household, accompanied Edward II and Queen Isabella on their trip to France in the summer of 1313 and seems to have been on pretty good terms with the king around this time, to judge by the number of requests and petitions granted 'on the information of William de Monte Acuto'. [9]  He was keeper of the vital port of Berwick-on-Tweed in the eighth year of Edward II's reign, 1314/15, but it was after 1315 that his closeness to and influence over Edward really becomes apparent.  William was an excellent soldier: according to the Vita Edwardi Secundi, he commanded the royal cavalry, and on or shortly after 12 November 1315, Edward II sent him to liberate Maud, Lady Clifford, taken prisoner at Barnard Castle by John the Irishman.  William had returned to court at Clipstone by 6 December, "having made the rescue aforesaid."  (Maud Clifford, romantically, subsequently married Sir Robert de Welle, another of her rescuers.)  [10]  In February 1316, taking 150 men-at-arms and 2000 footmen with him, William was one of the knights Edward sent on the campaign against Llywelyn Bren, and the king received a letter from William on or shortly before 11 March informing him of the campaign's progress.  William told Edward that "your bailiff of Gloucester has served you falsely, for where he should have brought 100 footmen he only brought us 48...".  He described the men the bailiff had brought as "worthless rascals" (raskaille de nyent) and, a man of prompt action looking out for the king's best interests, told Edward that he had handed the bailiff over to the sheriff, "till your will be known."  He informed Edward shortly before 24 March that he and the rest of the royal army "came to the Black Mountain, which is a little from the castle of Kayrfily [Caerphilly]...and we went to the end of the mountain a good three leagues from the roads and took the mountain and passed along it among all their force and Lewelyn and a great part of his host took to flight and those who stayed were soon dead and discomfited, and then we went to the castle and garnished it sufficiently with people and victuals and took the lady* out of the castle with us...".  (Rather too many 'ands' and not enough commas in that sentence, William.)  After Llywelyn's surrender, William was one of the three men appointed to "take fines and ransoms from all those who rose in insurrection with Llewellyn Bren," and the only man ordered to "receive into the king's peace" all those who had risen.  [11]

[* 'the lady' = Maud de Clare née de Burgh, daughter of the earl of Ulster, sister-in-law of Robert Bruce and widow of Edward II's nephew the earl of Gloucester, who had the misfortune to be in Caerphilly Castle when Llywelyn attacked it; she was then pretending to be pregnant by her late husband, to the great annoyance of Hugh Despenser the Younger.]

William was rewarded for his loyalty to Edward II later in 1316, and became a dominant political figure at the king's court and an enemy of the earl of Lancaster...lots more about this coming soon, in the second part of the post!


1) Calendar of Patent Rolls 1301-1307, p. 67.
2) 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. 339.
3) Oxford Dictionary of National Biography.
4) Foedera 1307-1327, pp. 379-380.
5) Calendar of Fine Rolls 1319-1327, p. 133.
6) Cal Pat Rolls 1301-1307, p. 128; Calendar of Close Rolls 1301-1307, p. 92; Calendar of Chancery Warrants 1244-1326, pp. 175, 206, 213; Constance Bullock-Davies, Menestrellorum Multitudo: Minstrels at a Royal Feast, p. 186.
7) Cal Pat Rolls 1307-1313, p. 102 (Beaumaris); Cal Close Rolls 1307-1313, p. 389 (mainpernors); Cal Pat Rolls 1307-1313, p. 565 (pardon).
8) Cal Fine Rolls 1307-1319, p. 103.
9) Cal Pat Rolls 1307-1313, pp. 502-504, 572, 575, 579.
10) Vita Edwardi Secundi, ed. N. Denholm-Young, p. 68; Cal Close Rolls 1323-1327, pp. 440-441.
11) Cal Chancery Warrants 1244-1326, pp. 437, 439-440; Cal Pat Rolls 1313-1317, pp. 384, 433, 444; Cal Fine Rolls 1307-1319, p. 274.