23 September, 2011

Blog Break And Pics

Wigmore Castle, Herefordshire, which belonged to Roger Mortimer.
 I'm off on my holidays again, so won't be able to update the blog for a while - in the meantime, there are hundreds of old posts to read, linked in the sidebar.  :-)  See you soon!
Wigmore Castle.
Inner bailey of Berkeley Castle, Gloucestershire.

19 September, 2011


Some of my favourite extracts from letters of Edward II's era...

- Hugh Despenser the Younger to Sir John Inge, sheriff of Glamorgan, on 21 March 1321:

"Regarding that which you have heard, that the earl of Hereford is even more gloomy and thoughtful than usual, it is no wonder if he is, as he has turned his countenance against his liege lord, who has given him so many goods and honours, that he might well have much to think about" (avoir grant pensee, literally 'have great thinking').

The earl of Hereford was Humphrey de Bohun, widower of Edward II's sister Elizabeth (died May 1316).

- Hugh to Inge again, fifteen days previously; you can practically hear him sighing with exasperation:

"We have already so often sent letters on this subject in the past that we are quite tired of it, and we inform you that we will send no further instructions about it until we have need to write in answer to your letters, and therefore the instructions we have given before this must suffice."

- Edmund, earl of Arundel, to the "good and wise men and his dear and beloved bailiffs and the other burgesses and good men of the town of Shrewsbury" (bones gents et sages et ses chiers et bien amiez les bailiffs et lez autres burgoys et bone gent de la vile de Salopesbir) during the Despenser War on 4 June 1321, regarding a sum of money which they were keeping for him and which he evidently suspected his cousin Roger Mortimer of Wigmore of wanting to steal:

"And we beg you as friends, and charge you on pain of all that you are able to forfeit to the king, as well as our friendship, that you should keep safely for our use the money which you have received in our lord's [Edward II's] town, for we do not under any circumstances intend that our cousin of Mortimer, who is so close to us in blood [nostre cousin de mortemer qe nous est si pres de saunk], should do us such a great injury, which we have in no way merited."

Arundel and Mortimer, who were almost the same age (born on 1 May 1285 and 25 April 1287 respectively) were first cousins once removed: Arundel was the son of Richard Fitzalan, earl of Arundel (1267-1302), himself the son of Isabella Mortimer, elder sister of Roger Mortimer's father Edmund.

- Arnaud Caillau of Gascony to Edward II in March 1325, during the War of Saint-Sardos, perturbed because he had only had one letter from the king since leaving England the previous summer:

Mon cuer est en grant penssement, literally, 'My heart is in great thinking'.

This letter ended:

"May our Lord increase your honour and and grant you a good and long life, and give you vengeance over all your enemies, wherever they may be."

A similar ending, from Arnaud to Hugh Despenser the Younger in November 1324:

"I pray to God, who is all-powerful, that he increase your honour daily, and guard you from all evils, and multiply your goods, and give you vengeance over all your enemies."

- Hugh Despenser the Younger to Edward II's half-brother the earl of Kent in September 1324:

"And truly, sire, there is no other reason that the ships arrived late with you, except that a strong wind was against them, which we cannot divert by our own command."

- Eighteen-year-old Duke John III of Brabant to Edward II, his uncle, in May 1319.  In late March and early April 1319, Edward had asked Pope John XXII to "proceed with severity against the Scots," and also sent letters to his nephew, to Robert of Bethune, count of Flanders, and to the towns of Bruges, Dunkirk, Mechlin, Ypres and others, asking them not to allow any Scots into their territory or to trade with them.

"Very dear uncle, we have well understood your letters which you sent us regarding Robert Bruce, and about his adherents and companions, and about the wrongs they have done to you and to my lord the king [Edward I] your father and my grandfather, on whom GOD have mercy, in Scotland, and also in your kingdom of England; which wrongs, damage, defiance and outrages that they have done to you and still do strike us dumb and weigh heavily upon our heart."  (Foedera 1307-1327)

- Isabella of France to Walter Reynolds, archbishop of Canterbury, on 5 February 1326, about her husband Edward II:

"My very dear and very sweet lord and friend" (Mon treschier et tresdouche seignut et amy): how Isabella referred to Edward
"And certainly we desire above all else, save God and the salvation of our soul, to be in the company of our said lord [Edward] and to live and die there."


- Pierre Chaplais, ed., The War of Saint-Sardos (1323-1325): Gascon Correspondence and Diplomatic Documents
- Seymour Phillips, Edward II
- Foedera 1307-1327
- W.H. Stevenson, 'A Letter of the Younger Despenser on the Eve of the Barons' Rebellion, 21 March 1321', English Historical Review, 12 (1897)
J. Goronwy Edwards, Calendar of Ancient Correspondence Concerning Wales
- The National Archives, Arundell Deeds, 215/1

11 September, 2011

Was Edward II Trying To Annul His Marriage In 1325?

Almost certainly not, and here's why.

The Lanercost chronicler, a monk living in a convent near the Scottish border, claims that in 1325 Hugh Despenser the Younger "was exerting himself at the pope's court to procure divorce between the king of England and the queen, and in furtherance of this business there sent to the court a certain man of religion, acting irreligiously, by name Thomas Dunheved, with an appointed colleague, and a certain secular priest named Master Robert de Baldock."  (Yes, the same Thomas Dunheved, Dominican friar, who temporarily freed the former king from Berkeley Castle in the summer of 1327.)  The St Paul's annalist repeats the rumour that Edward was trying to annul his marriage to Isabella and that Dunheved was involved in this. [1]

This statement in two chronicles is often repeated as fact in modeern books, as yet another grievance Isabella had against her husband Edward II, along with supposedly 'removing' her children from her (rather than just setting up households for them in normal fashion), confiscating her lands and giving her a much smaller income to live on (he did do that), and so on.  Let's look at this logically.  Why exactly would Edward II have wanted to annul his marriage to Isabella?  What benefits could he have gained from it?  Precisely none.  He would, however, have suffered a whole pile of negative consequences.  Edward was at war with Isabella's brother Charles IV of France from the autumn of 1323 (although military action did not begin until the summer of 1324) until a peace treaty was signed in June 1325.  As Edward's biographer Seymour Phillips points out, "An attempted divorce in the conditions of 1325 would have been political madness, since it would have meant the repudiation of all agreements between England and France, which Edward and Isabella's marriage had been intended to strengthen, and would have plunged England into an immediate war with France" (shortly after peace had finally been established between the two countries).  [2]  Even during Edward's war with Isabella's brother, over Gascony, there is no reason to suppose that he considered annulment, or that it would have gained him anything.  The only possible grounds Edward could have had for an annulment of his marriage in 1325 was consanguinity, as he and Isabella were second cousins once removed.  They had been granted a papal dispensation for this, however.  An annulment would have meant that their marriage had never been valid in the first place (as a marriage then could not simply be ended, in the way we understand divorce), which would have made Edward and Isabella's children illegitimate.  Edward II spent much of 1325 negotiating marriages for three of their children with the royal houses of Spain.  Why on earth would he have risked making them illegitimate?

No proof of the two chroniclers' statement that Edward was trying to annul his marriage in 1325 has ever been discovered in the Vatican archives, nor is there any evidence that he ever wrote to the pope regarding this matter.  He did send Thomas Dunheved to Pope John XXII in Avignon in 1325, it's true - but to complain about Alexander Bicknor, the archbishop of Dublin, whom Edward held responsible for his half-brother the earl of Kent's surrender at La Réole in September 1324, and who was not afraid to make his intense dislike of Hugh Despenser the Younger obvious and public.  (Bicknor boasted that were he not a cleric, he would challenge Despenser to a duel.)  John XXII, who made Dunheved a papal chaplain while he was visiting the papal court, wrote to Edward II in October 1325: "To the king, whose letters sent by Thomas Dunhevede, a Friar Preacher, the pope has received.  The matter touching Alexander, archbishop of Dublin, cannot be heard in camera, but must be laid before the consistory...".  [3]  The Lanercost chronicler says that Edward also sent Robert Baldock to the pope regarding an annulment of his marriage. Baldock was chancellor of England from August 1323 until October 1326, after Isabella and Mortimer's invasion [4], and did not leave the country, to my knowledge.

As for other chroniclers, the very well-informed author of the Vita Edwardi Secundi does not mention an intended annulment.  Neither does the royal clerk and chronicler Adam Murimuth, who knew the royal couple well and who visited the papal court in 1324.  Neither does the author of the Flores Historiarum, who loathed Edward and who would have jumped on a chance to condemn him for humiliating his wife in this fashion. Neither does any other chronicler, even Jean Froissart, who a few decades later invented a tale of Isabella secretly fleeing to France from Winchelsea with her son in 1325, to escape from Edward's mistreatment of her (in fact she departed from Dover with a large retinue and, of course, Edward's full knowledge and consent).  When Thomas Dunheved wrote to Edward II on 7 October 1325, he did not mention an annulment.  [5]  Edward was debating with his counsellors, by the end of 1324, the possibility of sending Queen Isabella to France to negotiate with her brother, and she departed for her homeland the following March.  Why then would he suddenly decide to annul his marriage to her?  It wasn't until late 1325 that it became apparent that the queen did not intend to return to England.  Isabella herself wrote to her husband from France on 5 February 1326, addressing him as "our very dear and very sweet lord and friend" (nostre treschier et tresdouche seignur et amy) and informing him that although she wished nothing more than to return to his company and live and die with him, she did not dare, because of her fear of Hugh Despenser.  Isabella did not mention that Edward was trying to annul their marriage; neither did any letters her brother Charles IV sent to Edward around this time or earlier (and Charles would have been utterly furious at this horrendous insult to his sister).  [6]  At Hugh Despenser's trial in November 1326, he was not accused of attempting to procure an annulment of Edward and Isabella's marriage.  Why would Isabella not charge him with this, if he had done it?  It was the gravest and most humiliating crime Despenser could have committed against her.

The Lanercost chronicler in his convent in the far north and writing a decade or more later, although an invaluable source for events in Scotland and Scottish raids in the north of England, knew little of what was going on at court in the 1320s, while the Pauline annalist was merely reporting a rumour he had heard (ut vulgariter dicebatur), not stating it as definitive truth.  Plenty of rumours were flying around England in 1325/26, including one reported in the Brut that Edward II intended to strangle his wife and his son Edward of Windsor to death.  Edward was, apparently, informed of this after his deposition, and was - as any normal human being would be when accused of something as monstrous as wishing to murder his own child - deeply upset and horrified ("God knows, I thought it never, and now I would that I were dead!  So would God that I were!  For then were all my sorrow passed.")  [7]  Just because rumours existed does not automatically make them true, and it's a shame that writers continue to declare as fact that Edward was trying to divorce his wife without considering the ample evidence that he was doing no such thing, and without considering the logical implications and consequences of this act.  It does fit so nicely into the popular Victim!Isabella school of thought, though, doesn't it?  Precisely why Edward would have wanted to annul his marriage to the queen in 1325 and what he would have gained from it in exchange for taking such a huge risk is never actually explained; his supposed nastiness and neglect of the queen and the nastiness of Hugh Despenser appears to be enough reason.  Alison Weir claims in her biography of Isabella that "Lanercost's statement is to some extent corroborated by the fact that Dunheved was sent to the papal Curia on secret business at this time," but fails to notice the papal letter which demonstrates that Dunheved delivered Edward's letters regarding the archbishop of Dublin to the pope, and somehow confuses Thomas with his secular brother Stephen (as Lanercost clearly and correctly refers to the Dunheved brother in question as Thomas, I can't help but wonder how carefully she looked at the sources).  Of course, it's entirely possible that Thomas Dunheved discussed other matters with the pope on the king's behalf, but we have no evidence, besides a rumour repeated in two chronicles, that an annulment of the king and queen's marriage was one of them.

I believe that it is virtually certain that Edward II was not intending to annul his marriage in 1325; he had no reason to do so, and the consequences would have been disastrous for him, his children and his kingdom.  Having said that, it is just possible that he was considering this course of action in the summer of 1326, by which time he knew that Isabella was going to betroth their son to the count of Hainault's daughter without his consent and invade his kingdom with an army.  It's perhaps hardly surprising if he then decided that an annulment would solve his problems, and that even making his children illegitimate would be worth it.  I hasten to add there is no real evidence that he was planning to ask the pope for an annulment: again, there are no documents in either the Vatican or England to confirm it.  Edward met the bishop of Rochester, his ally Hamo Hethe, at Boxley Down in Kent in June 1326, and he and Hugh Despenser the Younger rode with the bishop back to Rochester.  Edward asked Hethe if it were true that there had once been a queen who had disobeyed her husband and had therefore been deposed from her royal dignity.  Hethe was having none of it, and retorted that whoever had told the king this had given him very bad advice.  [8]  This does sound as if perhaps Edward was then considering the possibility of annulment.  This may be confirmed by two letters Edward sent to his son in 1326, then in France with Isabella (whether willingly or not).  The first, written on 18 March, orders the thirteen-year-old not to marry without his father's consent, and to obey Edward "under pain of forfeiting all that he may to the king...".  The second, written on 19 June, ends with the words "if the king find him contrary or disobedient hereafter to his will, by what counsel soever it may be, he will ordain in such wise that Edward [of Windsor] shall feel it all the days of his life, and that all other sons shall take example thereby of disobeying their lords and fathers."  [9]

Do these letters, and Edward's remark to the bishop of Rochester, imply that Edward was now indeed considering an annulment of his marriage?  I don't know, and if Edward did think along these lines, he took no action, and it's highly doubtful that the pope would have consented to annul his marriage anyway.  If they do imply this, it must be noted that this was months after Isabella had defied Edward and refused to return to him, and was planning an invasion of his kingdom.  However justified her actions may have been, seen from Edward's perspective it's hardly surprising that he was furious with her and (perhaps unfairly, given how young the boy was) with his son, even to the extent that he was willing to infuriate Isabella's brother Charles IV by annulling the marriage and willing to disinherit his son and thereby avert the threat to himself by making the boy illegitimate.  If an annulment of Edward II and Isabella of France's marriage was ever on the cards, it was a consequence of Isabella's actions against her husband, not a cause of them.


1) The Chronicle of Lanercost 1272-1346, ed. Herbert Maxwell, p. 249; Annales Paulini 1307-1340, in  W. Stubbs, ed., Chronicles of the Reigns of Edward I and Edward II, volume 1, p. 337.
2) Seymour Phillips, Edward II, p. 483 note. 169.
3) Calendar of Papal Letters 1305-1341, pp. 474, 479.
4) T.F. Tout, The Place of the Reign of Edward II in English History, p. 327.
5) F.D. Blackley, 'Isabella and the Bishop of Exeter', in T. A. Sandqvist and M. R. Powicke, eds., Essays in Medieval History Presented to Bertie Wilkinson, p. 226.
6) Isabella's letter is cited in Phillips, Edward II, p. 491.  For Charles IV's correspondence with Edward II in the 1320s, see Pierre Chaplais, ed., The War of Saint-Sardos (1323-1325): Gascon Correspondence and Diplomatic Documents.
7) The Brut or the Chronicles of England, ed. F. W. D. Brie, volume 1, pp. 252-253.
8) Roy Martin Haines, 'Bishops and politics in the reign of Edward II: Hamo de Hethe, Henry Wharton, and the 'Historia Roffensis'', Journal of Ecclesiastical History, 44 (1993), pp. 605-606.
9) Calendar of Close Rolls 1323-1327, pp. 576-578.

04 September, 2011

The Despensers In Chronicles

What some fourteenth-century chroniclers wrote about Hugh Despenser the Younger (c. 1287/90 - 24 November 1326) and his father Hugh the Elder (1 March 1261 - 27 October 1326).


"...the great men had ill will against him [Edward II] for his cruelty and the debauched life which he led, and on account of the said Hugh [the Younger], whom at that time he loved and entirely trusted."

It's interesting to note that Sir Thomas Gray or Grey, author of the Scalacronica, fails to point out anywhere that his father of the same name served in the retinue of Hugh Despenser the Younger for years.  As late as March 1326, there's an entry in Edward II's chamber journal saying that the royal favourite had given Grey 200 marks because "Sir Hugh Despenser the son desired above all else that the said Sir Thomas remained with him all his life" (mons' Hughe le Despenser le fitz qe desirast sur toute rien qe le dit mons' Thomas demoerast ouesqe lui a toute sa vie).

Vita Edwardi Secundi

On Hugh the Elder in the mid-1310s, following a discussion of Edward II's reconciliation with the barons who had killed Piers Gaveston: "...and as for the other friends of the king matters were arranged as the king willed; but Hugh Despenser [the Elder] could find no favour.  Let him beware of the earl of Lancaster and leave the country if he wishes to escape.  The whole land has turned to hatred of him.  Few would mourn his downfall.  As an unjust official he did harm to many; he disinherited many magnates and rich men.  Would that he might lose what he has thus acquired, that he might be punished in his crime."

On Hugh the Elder again in 1325: "...he was hated by everyone and even by the king's son."

On both men in 1321: "Hugh [the Younger] was accused of being too greedy and thus unsuitable to be with the king; he was accused of evil counsel; of conspiracy and falsehood; of being a destroyer of the people, a disinheritor of the crown, an enemy of king and kingdom.  All these things the barons alleged against Hugh, and persistently accused father and son alike of these enormities...the brutal and greedy father had in the past wronged many, and promoted the excommunication of many...it was right that the son should share in the paternal guilt.  According to some the malice of the son outweighed the father's harshness."

On Hugh the Younger in general after he became Edward's favourite: "confident of the royal favour, he did everything at his own discretion, snatched at everything, did not bow to the authority of anyone whomsoever."


On Hugh the Younger: "...Sir Hugh Despenser the younger, who was, as it were, the king of England's right eye, and, after the death of Piers de Gavestoun, his chief counsellor against the earls and barons...a most avaricious man..."

Geoffrey le Baker

Hugh the Younger was "another king, or more accurately ruler of the king…in the manner of Gaveston, so presumptuous that he frequently kept certain nobles from speaking to the king.  Moreover, when the king, out of his magnanimity, was preoccupied with many people addressing him about their affairs, Despenser threw back answers, not those asked for but to the contrary, pretending them to be to the king’s advantage."


Hugh the Younger "kept so the king’s chamber [as Edward's chamberlain], that no man might speak with the king…all men had of him scorn and despite; and the king himself would not be governed by no manner of man, but only by his father and by him."


On Hugh the Younger: "no man could approach the king without the consent of the said Sir Hugh"; it also calls him haughty, arrogant, greedy, evil and "more inclined to wrongdoing than any other man."

Robert of Avesbury, Vita et Mors Edwardi Secundi, Flores Historiarum

The first two say that Hugh the Younger was another king in England, and the Vita et Mors, referring to Hugh the Elder, comments that there were three kings of England.  The Flores comments that Hugh led Edward around like a cat with a straw.

Jean Froissart 

On Hugh the Younger: "Without him nothing was done and through him everything was done, and the king trusted him more than everyone...he was a heretic and a sodomite, even, it was said, with the king."