31 January, 2012

Edward II Non-Fiction

 Today's post is about the five biographies of Edward II published in the twentieth and twenty-first centuries, and lists other non-fiction works about him.  The five biographies are:

Seymour Phillips, 2010.

- Seymour Phillips, Edward II (2010).  Part of the Yale English Monarchs series (W. Mark Ormrod's biography of Edward III, in the same series, was published recently), and a superb achievement likely to remain the standard work on Edward II's reign for many years.  Useful both for the reader who knows little about Edward's reign and for anyone with more knowledge of the era, and much more sympathetic to the king than accounts of him usually are, without whitewashing his many mistakes and character flaws.  There are great reviews here and here, and one by Professor Nigel Saul here.  (And a really dire, extremely ill-informed one here.)

- Roy Martin Haines, King Edward II: His Life, His Reign, and Its Aftermath, 1284-1330 (2003).  Also a scholarly, exhaustive look at Edward's life and reign, especially useful for its chapters on what was happening in Scotland, Ireland and Gascony at the time.  Perhaps not the best bet unless you already know a lot about the era, however, but a must-read for anyone seriously interested in Edward II.

Harold F. Hutchison, 1971.
- Mary Saaler, Edward II 1307-1327 (1997).  A small book of less than 150 pages to cover the period from 1284 to 1327, for a general audience.  There are a few interesting details in it I haven't seen elsewhere, such as Edward's owning falcons in the 1310s named Beaumont and Damory after his kinsman Henry Beaumont and friend Roger Damory, but there are also many inaccuracies, and overall I'd describe it as oddly disappointing and inadequate.

Caroline Bingham, 1973.
- Caroline Bingham, The Life and Times of Edward II (1973).  A gorgeously illustrated overview of Edward's life and reign, aimed at a general audience.  Although necessarily dated now, and states the red-hot poker death as fact, this is a really good place to start if you're interested in Edward II and his reign, and it treats him sympathetically and makes many insightful points.  Definitely recommended (as long as you take some of it with a pinch of salt!).

- Harold F. Hutchison, Edward II: The Pliant King (1971).  Another short overview of Edward's reign for general readers, also necessarily dated as it's over forty years old now, but a good little read to get you started.  The useful appendices cite some of the Ordinances of 1311 and several of Edward's extant letters of 1305, and the epilogue defends him against charges made against him in 1327 and ever since.

Other works of non-fiction about Edward II and his reign:
Mary Saaler, 1997

- Hilda Johnstone, Edward of Carnarvon 1284-1307 (1946).  Terrific examination of Edward II before his accession to the throne.  I love this one.

Roy Martin Haines, 2003.
- Natalie Fryde, The Tyranny and Fall of Edward II 1321-1326 (1979).  A much-used textbook, but not one I have much time for, I'm afraid; very useful in some aspects, especially Edward's finances, but full of errors, and ruined for me at least by Mrs Fryde's obvious dislike of Edward, which leads her into some unfair judgements on him.

- Gwilym Dodd and Anthony Musson, eds., The Reign of Edward II: New Perspectives (2006).  Superb collection of academic essays about aspects of Edward II's personality and reign, including his sexuality, his education and his foreign policy.

- James Conway Davies, The Baronial Opposition to Edward II: Its Character and Policy (1918).  Not for beginners.  :-)

- Roy Martin Haines, Death of a King: an account of the supposed escape and afterlife of Edward of Caernarvon, formerly Edward II, King of England, Lord of Ireland, Duke of Aquitaine (2002).  Aimed at a popular audience, in contrast to Professor Haines' other scholarly works, this slim volume provides a useful overview of the events and people involved in them after Edward's supposed death in 1327.  I strongly disagree with his opinions and evaluation of the earl of Kent's plot of 1330, however.

R. Perry, Edward the Second: Suddenly, at Berkeley (1988).  Very short - more of a pamphlet than a book, really - discussion of the plots to free Edward of Caernarfon in 1327, his supposed death, and its aftermath.

- Ian Mortimer, Medieval Intrigue: Decoding Royal Conspiracies (2010).  Includes Dr Mortimer's excellent article 'The Death of Edward II in Berkeley Castle', formerly published in the English Historical Review, as well as evaluations of the earl of Kent's plot and Edward III's relations with the Fieschi family in the 1330s, as they relate to Edward II's survival.

Works focusing on the personalities who shaped Edward II's reign and its aftermath:

J.R.S. Phillips, Aymer de Valence, earl of Pembroke 1307-1324: Baronial Politics in the Reign of Edward II (1972)

- J.R. Maddicott, Thomas of Lancaster 1307-1322: A Study in the Reign of Edward II (1970)

- Ian Mortimer, The Greatest Traitor: The Life of Sir Roger Mortimer, Ruler of England 1327 to 1330 (2003)

- J.S. Hamilton, Piers Gaveston, Earl of Cornwall 1307-1312: Politics and Patronage in the Reign of Edward II (1988)

- Pierre Chaplais, Piers Gaveston: Edward II's Adoptive Brother (1994)

- Mark Buck, Politics, Finance and the Church in the Reign of Edward II: Walter Stapeldon, Treasurer of England (1983)

- Roy Martin Haines, Archbishop John Stratford: Political Revolutionary and Champion of the Liberties of the English Church, ca. 1275/80-1348 (1986)

- Roy Martin Haines, The Church and Politics in Fourteenth-Century England: the Career of Adam Orleton, c. 1275-1345 (1978)

Jeffrey H. Denton, Robert Winchelsey and the Crown 1294-1313 (2002)

There's also Alison Weir's hagiography of Isabella of France (2005) and Paul Doherty's odd and error-strewn book Isabella and the Strange Death of Edward II (2003), neither of which I can recommend.  I should also mention several other more general works which I've found helpful and interesting (by no means an exhaustive list!):

- Michael Prestwich, The Three Edwards: War and State in England 1272-1377 (1980) and Plantagenet England 1225-1360 (2005)

- The Fourteenth Century England series, published every two years.

- Chris Given-Wilson, The English Nobility in the Later Middle Ages (1996)

- Antonia Gransden, Historical Writing in England II: c. 1307 to the Early Sixteenth Century (1982)

- K.B. McFarlane, The Nobility of Later Medieval England (1973)

- G.A. Holmes, The Estates of the Higher Nobility in Fourteenth-Century England (1957)

- May McKisack, The Fourteenth Century 1307-1399 (1959)

- Michael Hicks, Who’s Who in Late Medieval England, 1272-1485 (1991)

- Marc Morris, A Great and Terrible King: Edward I and the Forging of Britain (2008)

- Ian Mortimer, The Perfect King: The Life of Edward III (2006) and The Time-Traveller’s Guide to Medieval England (2008)

- W.M. Ormrod, Political Life in Medieval England 1300-1450 (1995)

- John Carmi Parsons, Eleanor of Castile: Queen and Society in Thirteenth-Century England (1995)

(Apologies if the formatting in this post is messed up, as it always seems to be in photo posts.)

27 January, 2012

Two of Edward II's Letters

Just a quick post today about two letters sent by Edward II.

The first dates perhaps to late 1311, shortly after Piers Gaveston was sent into his third exile, though it may also date to late 1321, when Hugh Despenser father and son were also perpetually exiled from England.  The letter was sent to the abbot of Glastonbury, and the king almost certainly sent it to numerous other high-ranking churchmen as well, though these letters have not survived.  Edward asked the abbot to search through his chronicles for information about people exiled from England during the reigns of his ancestors "and for what reasons and at what time, and by whom, and how, they had been recalled."  Evidently, he was searching for a precedent by which he could bring Piers Gaveston or the Despensers back from banishment.  The abbot of Glastonbury received Edward's letter at vespers on 2 January (presumably 1312, or 1322) and replied two days later, having obeyed his king's command with some haste.  He enclosed a few extracts from his chronicles, which dated from 1210 to 1289.  One of the precedents he found concerned William de Valence (died 1296), half-brother of Edward's grandfather Henry III and father of the earl of Pembroke of Edward's reign, exiled from England in 1258 and allowed to return in 1261.  Another dated back to 1210, when William de Braose was outlawed and exiled from England, though was allowed to return in the fourteenth regnal year of King John, May 1212 to May 1213.

Edward II's original letter no longer exists (the abbot's reply was fortunately copied into his register for posterity), and it's a shame that it cannot be dated more precisely.  Stones and Keil (see below for reference) state that the document is found in the same folio and in the same hand as letters of 1321/22, but the reference to William de Valence, who was a foreigner although half-brother of the king of England, would be more relevant to Piers Gaveston than the Despensers, who were Englishmen.  If the abbot was writing in 1322 about the Despensers, it perhaps seems odd that he doesn't mention the several returns from exile of Piers Gaveston himself, unless he was trying to be tactful - though neither does he mention the exile in 1305 and return in 1308 of Robert Winchelsey, archbishop of Canterbury.  Edward II had already revoked the Despensers' exile on 8 (Hugh the younger) and 25 (Hugh the elder) December 1321, though may later that month still have been searching for further justifications for doing so.  Without further information both dates remain plausible and possible.

[E.L.G. Stones and I.J.E. Keil, 'Edward II and the Abbot of Glastonbury: A New Case of Historical Evidence Solicited from Monasteries', Archives, 12 (1976), pp. 176-82.  See also Chris Given-Wilson, Chronicles: The Writing of History in Medieval England (2004), pp. 73-74, 229.]

The second letter was written on 20 November 1311 to Sir Robert Holland, adherent and - apparently - friend of Edward's first cousin and enemy Thomas, earl of Lancaster (and about whom I'm intending to write a blog post sometime).  The letter reads:

"Edward by the grace of God king of England, lord of Ireland and duke of Aquitaine, to our dear and faithful Sir Robert de Holand, greetings.  We make known to you that we are very joyous and pleased about the good news we have heard concerning the improvement in our dear cousin and faithful subject Thomas, earl of Lancaster, and that he will soon be able to ride in comfort.  And we send you word and dearly pray that, as soon as he is comfortable and able to ride without hurt to his body, you should ask him to be so good as to hasten to us at our parliament and that you yourself should kindly come in his company to our said parliament if you can, for love of us.  Given under our privy seal at Westminster on the twentieth day of November in the fifth year of our reign."

There's something about this letter that really appeals to me, perhaps because the sentiments of care and concern in it must surely have been so opposed to what Edward really felt about his cousin, one of the men who had just mandated Piers Gaveston's exile yet again.  It's also interesting for the insight into Thomas of Lancaster's physical condition at the time - was he ill, or had he had some kind of accident?  Somehow I can just imagine Edward gritting his teeth and clenching his fists over this letter.  :-)

[Cited in George Osborne Sayles, The functions of the medieval Parliament of England (revised edition, 1988), p. 302.]

22 January, 2012

Stay Away From The King, You Gascons

I was looking recently at the Ordinances, a list of forty-one reforms of the king's household and of the kingdom in general, which were imposed on Edward II in the autumn of 1311.  (If anyone's interested in the election of the twenty-one Lords Ordainer in 1310, their preparation of the Ordinances and the political background to it all, there are thorough accounts in Seymour Phillips' 2010 biography of Edward and in Roy Martin Haines' 2003 biography of him, as well as in James Conway Davies' Baronial Opposition to Edward II.)  The twentieth Ordinance, which caused Edward the most anguish, mandated the perpetual exile of Piers Gaveston from England, Ireland, Gascony and other lands ruled by the king; this is the only Ordinance cited in full by the Vita Edwardi Secundi, on the grounds that it was "more welcome to many than the rest." [1]

The Ordinances were published on 27 September 1311 in the churchyard of St Paul's, London, and on 11 October were sent out to the sheriffs to be published in every county.  Further Ordinances were issued sometime later, probably in late November [2], which, as the Vita says, "declared that Piers' friends and partisans should leave the court under penalty of imprisonment, lest they should stir up the king to recall Piers once more."  Edward II, fuming, snarled that the Ordainers were treating him like an idiot and that he could not believe that "the ordering of his whole house should depend upon the will of another," and declared somewhat hyperbolically that "he was not allowed to keep even one member of his household at his own wish."  [3]

In this post, I'm going to take a look at some of the men ordered to be sent away from Edward II in late November 1311.  There were twenty-seven named altogether, and Piers Gaveston's biographer Jeffrey Hamilton has worked out that eighteen of them had connections to Piers.  [4]  One Ordinance explicitly states that all of Piers' relatives should be removed from the king's presence (Item qe tout le linage Pieres Gavastone soit entiorement ouste du roi).  The men I want to focus on are Bourgeois de Tilh and his son Arnaud (Borgois de Tille et seon filz), who (Arnaud) had been appointed marshall of the king's exchequer around Michaelmas 1311 [5], and Bertrand Caillau "and his brother and those of Gascony who are in their company in the parts of Cornwall" (Bertran Kaillon et seon frere et ceux de Gascoigne qe sunt en lur compaignie en les parties de Cornewaille).  The pages from the London Annals which names the men can be seen here and here, in the original French.

Bertrand Caillau was, almost certainly, Piers Gaveston's first cousin: Piers' mother's sister Miramonde de Marsan married Pierre Caillau (died 1280), mayor of Bordeaux, and they had at least two sons, Pierre, also mayor of Bordeaux, and one named Bertrand, presumably the man named in the Ordinance.  [8]  Jeffrey Hamilton calls Bertrand Piers' 'nephew', which seems improbable; Bertrand was an adult and active on Piers' behalf in 1311/12, and can hardly have had an uncle (Piers) who was himself not yet thirty in 1311, unless perhaps Piers had a much older sister or half-sister who had also married into the Caillau family.  Whatever the exact relationship of the two men, Bertrand was devoted to Piers: he borrowed over 3000 gold florins to plead Piers' cause, and was imprisoned by Edward II's father-in-law Philip IV of France to prevent him travelling to the pope in Avignon on Piers' behalf.  [9]  The name and identity of Bertrand's brother (the Ordinance spoke of "Bertrand Caillau and his brother") is uncertain, though is unlikely to have been the Pierre mentioned above, who was mayor of Bordeaux from 1308 to 1310.  Perhaps it was Arnaud Caillau, of whom I have written before, a man who remained staunchly loyal to Edward II until the very end of his reign and who served him in both Gascony (he was, among other positions, keeper of the island of Oléron) and England.  He's a man who deserves his own blog post sometime, actually.  There are lots of references to Bertrand in various primary sources: he was accused of the death of a man named Reymon de Savynak in Gascony in 1311 and granted custody of the lands late of Thomas Audley by Piers Gaveston in 1308, for instance.

The reference to the men of Gascony who were in the company of the Caillau brothers in Cornwall presumably means something which happened in the spring of 1312, not long after Piers Gaveston's return to England for a third time.  Piers, perhaps believing that he might be sent yet again into exile if his enemies caught him, ordered his steward in Cornwall to deliver £853 to his retainers Bertrand Assailit and Berduk or Bernard de Marsan, presumably to take abroad with him if necessary.  Marsan and Assailit were captured near Plymouth in a ship called La Grace Deu de Fauwy and imprisoned by William Martin, one of the men who had been sent to search for Piers in the west country the previous autumn - not everyone believed that Piers had in fact left the country - carrying 1000 marks (£666) and 129 pieces of tin.  Edward II, claiming that the money was his and that Marsan and Assailit were going to Gascony on his affairs, ineffectually ordered William Martin to release them (Martin responded to the first order by committing Bertrand "to harder imprisonment").  [10]  Berduk or Bernard de Marsan must have been another relative of Piers, Marsan being the name of Piers' mother Claramonde and his elder brother Arnaud-Guilhem.  In June 1319, Edward II compensated Bertrand Assailit and his brother Ramon for their expenses incurred "in the defence of the king's rights" in France.  [11]

Bourgeois de Tilh was another close ally of Piers Gaveston, and, as Pierre Chaplais has pointed out, came from Tilh in the Landes in Gascony, close to Piers' family seat of Gabaston.  His son Arnaud was appointed marshal of the exchequer around Michaelmas 1311 at the expense of the earl of Lancaster's retainer Nicholas Segrave, most likely at Piers' request - yet another reason for the powerful earl to dislike Piers.  [12]  Bourgeois, whose name appears in contemporary documents as Burgeys or Burgesius de Till or similiar, was a valet of the king's household for many years, until at least July 1322.  In December 1308, he rather bizarrely accused Robert Winchelsey, archbishop of Canterbury, and John Salmon, bishop of Norwich, of stealing "corn, animals and other goods" which had belonged to the late Master Arnald Lupi de Tillio, presumably a relative, in Norfolk.  [13]  The Tallifer de Tillio or Talhefer de Tilh who appears in a few entries on the calendared rolls in Edward II's reign as a king's valet may have been another relative, as was maybe the 'Fortener Burgeys de Tille' also named as a king's valet in August 1318.  [14]  Piers Gaveston had a brother named Fortaner, which may perhaps point to a family connection between the Gavestons and Tilhs (though this is pure speculation).  Bertruc de Tilh, sergeant-at-arms, was granted lands in Bédorède in the Landes in the third year of Edward III's reign (January 1329 to January 1330), for his "good service" to Edward II; in his petition asking for lands, Bertruc stated that he had been in Edward's service for eighteen years.  [15]  

Also named in the additional Ordinances to be sent away from Edward II in late 1311 were the thuggish Robert Lewer; Edward's chamberlain John Charlton, who was to join the Contrariants against Edward in 1321/22; Robert Darcy, to whom Piers wrote a letter in April 1308; and 'all the Basques' (touz les Bascles).  Rather intriguingly, Darcy, Sir Edmund Bacon - to whose keeping some of Piers' lands were given in December 1311 after his third exile [6] - and unnamed others were said to have set out from court with the intent to attack, of all people, Hugh Despenser the Younger (sir Huwe le Despencer le fiiz) [7] who at this time appears to have been opposed to his father, a staunch royalist, and to Edward II, his uncle by marriage.  It's unlikely that many if any of the men ordered to be 'ousted' from court in fact did stay away from Edward for very long, as is shown by an examination of their later careers.

Oooops, I moved some of this post around and now two of the footnote numbers are in the wrong place.  :-)  The notes are correct, they're just in rather the wrong order in the text.  :-)


1) Vita Edwardi Secundi, ed. N. Denholm-Young, pp. 19-20.
2) J.R. Maddicott, Thomas of Lancaster 1307-1322: A Study in the Reign of Edward II, p. 117; T.F. Tout, Chapters in the Administrative History of Mediaeval England, vol. 2, pp 195-198.  These Ordinances are cited (in French) in Annales Londonienses 1195-1330, in W. Stubbs, ed., Chronicles of the Reigns of Edward I and Edward II, vol. 1, pp. 198-202.  The original forty-one Ordinances are cited in full, in English and the French original, in Statutes of the Realm, vol. 1, pp. 157-168.
3) Vita, p. 21.
4) J.S. Hamilton, Piers Gaveston, Earl of Cornwall 1307-1312: Politics and Patronage in the Reign of Edward II, pp. 94, 163 note 10.
5) Pierre Chaplais, Piers Gaveston, Edward II's Adoptive Brother, p. 70.
6) Calendar of Fine Rolls 1307-1319, p. 117; Calendar of Patent Rolls 1307-1313, p. 429.
7) Annales Londonienses, p. 200.
8) Malcolm Vale, The Origins of the Hundred Years War: The Angevin Legacy 1250-1340, p. 280.
9) Hamilton, Piers Gaveston, p. 88.
10) Calendar of Close Rolls 1307-1313, pp. 417, 461, 582; Cal Pat Rolls 1307-1313, pp. 417, 465, 484; The National Archives SC 8/286/14296; Hamilton, Piers Gaveston, p. 94.
11) Gascon Rolls, online.
12) Chaplais, Piers Gaveston, p. 70; Hamilton, Piers Gaveston, pp. 88-89; Maddicott, Thomas of Lancaster, p. 118.
13) Cal Pat Rolls 1307-1313, pp. 126-128, 170; Cal Pat Rolls 1321-1324, p. 181.
14) Cal Close Rolls 1318-1323, p. 10.
15) Gascon Rolls, online.

19 January, 2012

Law And Order Again

 A few interesting entries I found in the Calendar of Inquisitions Miscellaneous from when Edward of Caernarfon was a boy.  I wrote a similar post here.

Inq. taken in Shropshire on 30 June 1289:

"John de Quertubus of Scottes Acton killed Hugh de Weston, chaplain, in self-defence. On Christmas Day 16 Edward I [1287] after sunset there were some men singing outside a tavern kept by Richard son of William of Skottesacton in the town.  And Hugh came by the door immensely drunk, and quarrelled with the singers.  Now John was standing by, singing, and Hugh hated him a little because he sang well, and desired the love of certain women who were standing by in a field and whom Hugh much affected.  So Hugh took a naked sword in his hand and ran at John, striking him once, twice, thrice, on the head, and nearly cutting off two fingers of his left hand.  And John went on his knees, and raised his hands asking God's peace and the king's, and then ran into a corner near the street under a stone wall.  And Hugh ran after him and tried to kill him, so he drew his knife and wounded Hugh in the chest, killing him instantly."

I love the description of the women 'standing by in a field', after dark, on Christmas Day.  What on earth were they doing?

Inq. taken in Herefordshire on 9 July 1289:

"John le Blount of Letton killed Walter de Bredwardyn in self-defence.  Walter assaulted John with a long knife in the cellar of Miles Pichard at Staundon and struck him cutting all his robe against his belly, wounding him and preventing him from getting out of the cellar."

Inq. taken in Middlesex, undated:

"On Friday St Gregory's Day 16 Edward I [12 March 1290] after nine o'clock, a sow, which belonged to Nicholas le Keu of Westminster, entered the house of Geoffrey de la Paneterye while Lucy the wife of Geoffrey was looking for milk for her son Simon, dragged the child forth from its cradle and killed him.  Death by misadventure."

That's interesting, as in 1318 John of Powderham claimed to be the real son of Edward I, who had been attacked by a sow in his cradle and replaced with a peasant boy, i.e. Edward II.

Inq. taken in Derbyshire on 16 March 1290:

"John de Longgeley came to the house of William de Loggeforde in Yiveleye about midnight and almost drew away the bolt of the door.  He was seen by a small boy, who shut the door and summoned Henry son of William de Loggeforde, who rose from bed and took his sword in his hand.  He heard someone breaking a window in the closet like a robber.  He went to the window and found half the body of a man through it.  He asked who it was and on receiving no answer to his question he severed John's jugular vein with his sword.  No-one procured the slaying.  Henry killed John in self-defence."

Inq. taken in Cumberland on 19 May 1293:

"William son of Patrick and his wife came from Penreth very drunk on Tuesday after Whitsunday 5 Edward I [18 May 1277] by the high road to Laysonby; and Alexander son of John de la Chapele, who was breaking stones in a quarry near the road to build his father's house, heard the woman cry out and ran up, and supposing it to be a case of rape, struck William over the reins with a shovel so that he died the same night.  He did not intend to kill William, but only to prevent him ravishing the woman, whom he did not suppose to be his wife."

Inq. taken in Westmorland on 29 June 1293:

"Richard le Fraunceys, clerk, is of good fame and conversation."

That's it.  :-)

Ing. taken in Kent on 13 October 1300:

"Nicholas le Bret on St Lambert's Day 27 Edward I [17 September 1299] was upon a piece of his own land which he had sown with beans...when there appeared Hamon le Bret his brother suddenly, carrying an iron-shod fork in his hand.  He attacked Nicholas on his own land, saying "Flee, robber, or you will die," and with the fork pursued Nicholas for a furlong as far as a ditch filled with water of the breadth of twenty-five feet, which Nicholas could not cross.  As he would have been killed or drowned he unsheathed a misericorde and while defending himself he struck Hamon on the breast and the latter died the same day."

Inq. taken in Bedfordshire on 8 November 1300:

"Henry Bateman and William de Gamelingey were playing in the house of John le Mareschal in Eton at a game called penyperche on Thursday in Whitsun week 28 Edward I [2 June 1300].  A strife arose between them outside John's door.  When withdrawing from the tavern William caught Henry by the hair and afterwards took him firmly by the throat so that Henry could free himself only by drawing his knife.  Reynold Elys, Henry's kinsman in the third degree, heard of the strife between the two men as he sat at tavern in John's house and ran to them to aid Henry, who did not perceive him as he came in haste.  Reynold by misadventure dashed violently upon the unsheathed knife and received a wound in the right shoulder, from which he died.  His death was due to misadventure and not to malice."

Inq. taken in Lancashire on 6 February 1301:

"Adam son of Henry the clerk and William son of Alan de Bradefeld sat in William's house in the town of Lathum on Sunday before the Annunciation 27 Edward I [22 March 1299].  A strife arose between them regarding the allocation of a cow.  Adam feared William, arose and went out.  William followed him with an iron fork and pursued him between a hedge and a marle-pit.  Adam turned around and wished to go another way and William struck him upon the back with the fork.  Adam to escape death hit William with a stick of alder-wood upon the head and he fell to the ground.  Adam, seeing him prostate, took to flight.  Before and after the deed Adam was of good fame."

14 January, 2012

William Melton's Letter

14 January marks the anniversary of an extremely important letter written by William Melton, archbishop of York, almost certainly in 1330 (though 1329 is also possible).  Addressing his kinsman Simon Swanland, a draper and then mayor of London, he emphasises the need for secrecy before informing Swanland that he has "certain news of our liege lord Edward of Caernarfon, that he is alive and in good health of body in a safe place, by his own wish" (in the French original, nous avoms certeins noueles de nostre seignur lige Edward de Karnarvan qil est en vie et en bone sancte de corps en enseur leu a sa volonte demeign).  Melton goes on to ask Swanland to purchase some items for Edward, mostly clothing, boots and cushions, and asks the mayor how he can procure "a great sum of money for the said lord" (grant somme dargent pur le dir seignur) because he wishes to help him.  This is hardly a surprise; William Melton had long been a friend and supporter of Edward II, whose household he had joined in or before 1297 when the future king was thirteen.  Melton bravely spoke out against Edward's deposition in the parliament of January 1327 - the bishop of Rochester, who joined him, was beaten up for doing so - and refused to attend Edward III's coronation shortly afterwards.  He was far more, however, than a mere royal sycophant, and was known in his lifetime as a pious yet very able man of integrity and compassion.  The Lanercost chronicler says "although he was one of the king’s courtiers, he led a religious and honourable life," and the Vita Edwardi Secundi says he was "a courtier faithful in everything committed to him" who remained honourable despite the venality of the royal court where he lived so long.  [1]  Edward III restored Melton to his position as treasurer of England within days of Roger Mortimer's execution on 29 November 1330; the young king recognised his worth and appreciated his abilities.

This extremely important statement that Edward II was in fact still alive more than two years after his funeral in Gloucester has not received the attention and serious scholarly analysis it deserves, except in Ian Mortimer's Medieval Intrigue, where it is cited in full (in English), properly analysed in the context of other events of 1330 (the earl of Kent's plot to free Edward II from Corfe Castle), and given due weight as a significant historical document.  Seymour Phillips' otherwise superb 2010 biography of Edward II doesn't even mention it, and Roy Martin Haines' 2009 article about the letter in the English Historical Review [2] states with certainty that Melton was "misled" and "easily convinced, or should one say deceived?" into believing that Edward II was alive and fails even to consider the possibility that Melton's statement was true.  Frankly, I find this bizarre.  As Ian Mortimer points out, if a man of Melton's calibre believed that Edward II was still alive in 1330, and went as far as buying clothes and other items for him, and was willing to commit all this to writing despite the enormous risks, it is entirely plausible that Edward II was still alive.  As I say in my article on the earl of Kent's adherents, numerous other men appear to have also believed that Edward was alive in 1330.  One of them was the earl of Mar, who told Melton that he would bring an army of 40,000 men to England when instructed by the archbishop in order to aid Edward II's release [3] - a lot of soldiers to free a dead man, one might think.

Rather than just blithely assuming that Melton must have been wrong or ignoring his letter altogether, it would be great if historians of the era actually engaged with it and presented proper arguments against it.  We have a clear statement, by a man who knew Edward II, Queen Isabella, Roger Mortimer and the earl of Kent well and who cannot lightly be dismissed as a gullible fool in the way that Kent so often unfairly has been, that Edward II was still alive after his funeral.  Let's at least debate the possibility that he was correct.  In the meantime, I'm going to raise a glass to William Melton today, to a brave and loyal man doing everything he could to help a friend.


1) ; H. Maxwell. ed., The Chronicle of Lanercost 1272-1346 (1913), p. 217; N. Denholm-Young, ed., Vita Edwardi Secundi Monachi Cuiusdam Malmesberiensis, (1957), p. 139.
2) R.M. Haines, ‘Sumptuous Apparel for a Royal Prisoner: Archbishop Melton’s Letter, 14 January 1330’, English Historical Review, cxxiv (2009), pp. 885-894.
3) Phillips, Edward II, p. 567; Mortimer, Medieval Intrigue, p. 161.

09 January, 2012

The Curious Case Of Lady Baret

Some years ago, I wrote a post translating the charges against Hugh Despenser the Younger at his trial in Hereford in November 1326.  One of the many charges, and certainly the most horrific one, is this:

"And after the deaths of their barons, you pursued widowed ladies such as my lady Baret, and as a tyrant you had her beaten by your mercenaries [or rascals, or menials: ribaldes]** and shamefully had her arms and legs broken against the order of chivalry and contrary to law and reason, by which the good lady is forever more driven mad and lost [la bone dame est touz iours afole et perdue]."

[** that part is often mistranslated as 'making her the butt of his ribaldry']

This horrible accusation is frequently repeated as certain fact in secondary sources, and often used as evidence that Hugh Despenser was some kind of violent abusive misogynist and sadist who therefore thoroughly deserved his drawn-out and excruciatingly painful death.  (The notion that Hugh raped Queen Isabella, which is purely an invention of her modern biographers, is also sometimes repeated in this context, as is Hugh's reprehensible imprisonment of the earl of Pembroke's niece Elizabeth Comyn, which did indeed happen - though there is nothing to suggest that Elizabeth was physically ill-treated, and Hugh's aim was to coerce her into signing over part of her large inheritance to him and marrying his eldest son.)

Did Hugh indeed order this inhuman and astonishingly brutal treatment of Lady Baret?  Who was Lady Baret anyway?  Natalie Fryde's The Tyranny and Fall of Edward II 1321-1326 - which states as certain fact (p. 117) that the lady was tortured and driven out of her mind by Hugh - identifies her as "probably the widow of Stephen Baret of Swansea."  This is most likely correct.  Fryde says "We do not know to what end these injuries were perpetrated," though a desire to take over her or her late husband's lands seems by far the likeliest reason, given what we know of the Despensers.  This page states "The Lady Baret, widow of a Knight who fought against the crown at the battle of Boroughbridge was tortured and all her limbs broken before she gave up her lands to him [Hugh Despenser the Younger]."

Sir Stephen Baret was, almost certainly, executed with other Contrariants in the spring of 1322, most probably in Swansea.  Only three chronicles mention his execution, and he was not, for some reason, named in the November 1326 judgement on the younger Despenser, as the other men executed in 1322 were.  An entry on the Patent Roll of 28 April 1322, however, is a commission to four men (one of them Sir John Inge, a close associate of Hugh Despenser) to "render judgment upon Stephen Baret, a traitor, at Swaneseye [Swansea]."  [1]  Other men named in these commissions to receive judgement were all executed.

The Lady Baret supposedly tortured on Despenser's orders was most probably Stephen's widow (though might, perhaps, have been his mother).  The couple had no children: Stephen's heir was his brother David, who in February 1327 petitioned the young Edward III for the restoration of his inheritance.  A clerk named Stephen Baret, perhaps David's son, who was one of the guardians of the "temporalities of the bishopric of Worcester" and the attorney of the bishop of St David's, is mentioned in February 1327 and March 1334.  [2]  Stephen (the Contrariant of 1322) held lands on the Gower peninsula in South Wales, which Edward II granted to the younger Despenser in October 1320, to the huge annoyance of the Marcher lords (it led to the Despenser War the following May).  According to the inquisition post mortem of Sir Guy Brian in August 1307, Stephen had "1 carucate land called Cralond" in Carmarthenshire, for which he paid a pound of wax and twelve pence annually.  [3]  A man named Richard Wroth was sent to arrest Stephen Baret in Gower on 16 February 1322, though in fact he was taken prisoner in Yorkshire sometime after the battle of Boroughbridge on 16 March by the constable of Knaresborough Castle (and must have been among those who threw away all his possessions in an attempt to flee, as he was "taken bare)".  [4]  According to a c. 1322 petition by the people of the Yorkshire village of Laughton-en-le-MorthenStephen had gone to the village in late 1321 or thereabouts with John, Lord Mowbray and Sir Jocelyn Deyville (both also executed in 1322) with eighty men at arms and four hundred foot soldiers.  The men robbed the village and its church of livestock and goods, and took them all to the Isle of Axholme, which belonged to Mowbray.  [5]

I have been unable to discover anything very much about Stephen Baret's wife, except that her name was Joan de Gynes and she inherited three manors in Leicestershire, Suffolk and Staffordshire from her mother Isabel de Mandeville.  [6]  According to an inquisition of July 1324, these three manors - named as Moteshale, Dadelyngton and Herliston - were then in Edward II's hands, not Hugh Despenser's.  [7]  It is unclear from the entry whether Joan was still alive at the time of the inquisition; it begins "Stephen Baret, sometime knight, and Joan late his wife, on the day of his forfeiture, jointly held the manor of Moteshale...".  If Hugh did indeed have Joan tortured for her lands, he didn't hold them for long.  It doesn't seem likely that he had her tortured to gain Stephen's minor holdings on the Gower peninsula, either.

What is significant is that the record of the charges against Hugh Despenser the Younger in November 1326 is the only source for the claim that he had Lady Baret tortured - and the charges against him are, as Professor May McKisack once so eloquently put it, "an ingenious tissue of facts and fiction," with a strong emphasis on 'fiction'.  No fourteenth-century chronicler mentions the alleged torture.  There are no petitions or commissions or inquisitions or anything else to confirm that it ever happened.  The charge perhaps sounds too specific to have been completely invented, yet it is extremely odd that neither Joan - if she was still alive - nor any of her family or friends later petitioned Edward III for restitution, and even stranger that no contemporary or later chronicler noticed such a horrific act.  They might have ignored the torture of a lowborn woman, but never, surely, a highborn one.  I'd expect to see indignant and horrified condemnations of such brutality against a defenceless noble widow somewhere, but there's nothing.  Whatever happened between Despenser and Joan Baret, the story of her broken limbs and insanity is likely to be, at best, a gross exaggeration at a time when all the ills of the 1320s were being heaped on one man's head.  Whatever wrongs Hugh committed, and it's undeniable that he committed many, it seems rather unfair to assume that the story of his torturing a woman into insanity is certain gospel truth when it only appears in one document containing dubious, and some laughably inaccurate, accusations against a detested royal favourite.


1) Calendar of Patent Rolls 1321-1324, p. 149.
2) Calendar of Close Rolls 1327-1330, pp. 25, 61; Cal Pat Rolls 1327-1330, p. 14; Calendar of Fine Rolls 1327-1337, p. 319.
3) Calendar of Inquisitions Post Mortem 1307-1327, p. 32.
4) Cal Pat Rolls 1321-1324, p. 77; Calendar of Inquisitions Miscellaneous 1308-1348, p. 131.
5) The National Archives SC 8/7/301.
6) Cal Inq Misc, pp. 200-201.
7) Ibid.