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.


Gabriele Campbell said...

Makes you wonder what exactly were the problems between William (and Damory and Audley) and Lancaster.

Anerje said...

William, to me, appears to be the less well-known of Edward's favs. It is intriguing, as you say, to think what would have happened had he lived - which side would he have been on? Was there any jockeying for favour between Damory, Audley and Montacute?

Kathryn Warner said...

Gabriele, I think William and the others just did their best, or rather their worst, to prevent any reconciliation between Ed and Lanc (and possibly even made it worse), because Lanc, if reconciled to the king, would have them removed from court.

Thanks, Anerje! I love those 'what ifs'! Yes, I'm sure there was a lot of jockeying for power, and plenty more when the younger Despenser began his rise at court, but unfortunately it's not visible in the sources (but would make great fiction...! :)

Susan Higginbotham said...

I'm so glad he left his son behind after his death to help Edward III oust Mortimer!

Kathryn Warner said...

Hehe, me too, Susan! ;-)