17 November, 2011

17 November 1326: The Execution Of The Earl Of Arundel

Today marks the 685th anniversary of the execution of Edmund Fitzalan, earl of Arundel, who was beheaded in Hereford with two other men, John Daniel and Robert de Micheldever, on the orders of his cousin Roger Mortimer and Isabella of France.  The pair's invasion force had arrived in England on 24 September, Hugh Despenser the Elder was executed in Bristol on 27 October, and although Mortimer, Isabella and their allies didn't yet know it, Hugh Despenser the Younger and Edward II himself had been captured in South Wales the day before Arundel's death.  Arundel and the other two men were captured in Shrewsbury by John Charlton, formerly Edward II's chamberlain who switched sides after his son and heir married one of Roger Mortimer's many daughters, and taken to the queen and her allies in Hereford.

Arundel was forty-one at the time of his death, born on 1 May 1285, and left a son and heir, Richard 'Copped Hat', who was about thirteen in 1326 and was destined to become one of the richest men in England in the entire fourteenth century, as well as several daughters and at least one younger son.  His widow Alice was granted £130 a year in March 1327 for the sustenance of herself and her children, perhaps at the request of her brother John de Warenne, earl of Surrey (Patent Rolls), who survived Edward II's downfall.

There had long been bad blood between the earl of Arundel and Roger Mortimer, who was his first cousin once removed (Arundel's paternal grandmother Isabella Mortimer was the sister of Roger's father Edmund).  Mortimer attacked and captured Arundel's castle at Clun during the Despenser War of 1321, and Arundel sent an indignant letter to to the "good and wise men and his dear and beloved bailiffs and the other burgesses and good men of the town of Shrewsbury" on 4 June 1321, regarding a sum of money which they were keeping for him and which he evidently suspected his cousin of wanting to steal: "...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 his two companions, John Daniel and Robert (not Thomas) de Micheldever, were not granted a trial but merely "beheaded at Hereford without judgement and without being arraigned," as a later petition of Micheldever's wife to parliament points out.  Arundel's main 'crimes' were being an ally of Edward II, marrying his son Richard to Hugh Despenser the Younger's daughter Isabel - which at least spared her the fate of three of her sisters, dumped into convents at Queen Isabella's behest weeks after their father's death - and being Roger Mortimer's rival for land and influence in the Marches.  Arundel's lands in North Wales and Shropshire were later granted to Mortimer; his castle and honour of Arundel in Sussex were given to Edward II's half-brother the earl of Kent; most of the treasure Arundel had stored in Chichester and London ended up in Queen Isabella's coffers.  The chronicler Adam Murimuth says that Arundel, Daniel and Micheldever were executed because Roger Mortimer hated them with a "perfect hatred" (perfecto odio).  As I wrote in my post about Daniel and Micheldever, I don't know what they had done to deserve Mortimer's loathing or to merit summary execution without trial.

The Lancastrian chronicler Henry Knighton, writing a few decades later, claims that the earl of Arundel did harm to Queen Isabella in some way, but that sounds like a much later justification for what amounted to the murder of a peer of the realm; there is nothing in any contemporary source that I've seen to confirm this.  Several chroniclers say that a similar accusation, that of 'insulting the queen', was thrown at Simon of Reading, who likewise was not given a trial, when he was executed with Hugh Despenser the Younger a week later - when exactly did 'insulting the queen' become a capital offence?  Another of Arundel's supposed crimes was condemning Thomas of Lancaster to death in March 1322, but the earl of Kent, one of Mortimer and Isabella's supporters and with them at Hereford, had also sat at Lancaster's trial and condemned him to death.  Apparently the hypocrisy of that didn't bother anyone.

According to the Chronicle of Lanercost, Arundel was "condemned to death in secret, as it were, and afterwards beheaded" (et quasi in occulto adjudicatus est morti, et postea decollatus), and the Llandaff chronicle, cited in Arundel's ODNB entry, says that the axe was wielded by a "worthless wretch" (villissimi ribaldi) and that it required twenty-two strokes to sever the poor man's head.  The Brut chronicle, who wrongly calls the earl 'Sir John of Arundel', says that he was beheaded for the simple reason that he was one of the Despensers' counsellors.  In the brave new world of 1326/27, during a revolution frequently said to have put an end to Edward II's tyranny, that was apparently all it took.


Susan Higginbotham said...

Poor Arundel. Thank you for reminding me why I dislike Mortimer and Isabella so much. Sometimes I'm in danger of mellowing over time!

Anerje said...

A ruthless, speedy act carried out by a merciless Mortimer.

Carla said...

Did this sort of thing play any role in Mortimer's eventual downfall, do you know? I should imagine it would have had at lest some of the aristocracy wondering whether a change of tyrant was really such a good idea after all, and what to do about it before it was their turn next...

Kathryn Warner said...

Susan, I couldn't agree more!

Anerje, exactly. :(

Carla: when the earl of Kent was judicially murdered in March 1330, this was the last straw for a lot of people. The way Mortimer and Isabella behaved basically rendered the entire revolution of 1326/27 pointless, until Edward III took over in October 1330.

Gabriele Campbell said...

Isn't that the way of most revolutions, to replace one sort of tyranny with another?

(Not that I think Edward II was a tyrant to begin with, his daddy was much worse.)