29 March, 2012

London Sheriffs Court Roll, 1320

The London sheriffs' court roll for 1320 has recently gone on British History Online, and here are some nice extracts from it...

Alice de Stockyngge accused John de Cornhulle, a surgeon, of trespass and theft: She claimed that on 'Wednesday before the feast of St. Barnabas the Apostle', 10 June 1320, John came to her at Fleet Street ('Fletestrete'), and declared that he would cure her "of an infirmity of the feet from which she was suffering, for the sum of half a mark, and applied diverse medicaments against the said infirmity."  Sadly, the medication failed to work, and as a result of it, Alice said that she "was within six days unable to put her feet to the ground and her malady became completely incurable."  On 23 June, she said that John "entered her house with force and arms and carried off a blanket, two sheets and a super-tunic worth 20 shillings....".  John indignantly denied the charged of trespass and theft, and also claimed that he had never undertaken to cure Alice's ailment and "did not infect her feet with his medicaments," but the jury found against him, and awarded Alice £30 16s 8d damages.

Hugh of Worcester complained that on 'Thursday before the feast of St. Margaret the Virgin, 14 Edward II', i.e. 18 July 1320, Benet of Feribi, chaplain, Henry of Farenbergh and Bartholomew le Cotiller came to his house in the parish of St Mildred in Poultry and carried off 'two escaped swans' against his will, to his damage of ten pounds.  The defendants claimed that they were legally entitled to enter Hugh's house and take the swans, as one Saloman le Cotiller had left ten marks in his will to pay for two chaplains celebrating Mass for his soul in the church of St Mildred, to be provided from the rent from the house where Hugh lived, and the amount had fallen into arrears and they were collecting it.  A jury was summoned to hear the case.

Items taken from Robet le Keu and his wife Margery as pledges for a debt of twenty-four shillings they owed to a woman named Emma, last name missing:  a chest,worth 18d; a chequer-board worth 12d; eight hard stockfish worth 8d; an old pot with two feet broken, worth 18d; an old brass pan holding two gallons, worth 6d; three old small pans, worth 12d; three [missing] of which two are broken, worth 18d; two [missing] of which one is broken, with a basin worth 9d; one little old iron pan worth 3d; one old and broken grid iron, worth 1d.

On 'Friday next before the feast of St Margaret the Virgin, 14 Edward II', 19 July 1320, John Clerk of the church of All Hallows Hay was accused of assaulting one Warin le White and was said to have "wounded him with a certain lute and inflicted other enormities upon him contrary to the peace and to the damage of the said Warin to the value of £40, as claimed by Warin."  On 18 September that year, a jury found him guilty and decided "that John is to be imprisoned until he makes satisfaction concerning these damages, and he is also to make fine to the lord king."

John of Bromptone, chaplain, complained that 'on the Tuesday called Hokeday' (?) in 1319, he had taken a knife and razor to the shop of Simon le Fourbour to be sharpened, and handed them to Robert, Simon's servant, and that Simon later refused to return the items.  Simon denied it.

I love this bit: "Gerard le Barber, Nicholas Hurle, Sabine of Hendone appear v. Richard of Redyngge in a plea of debt. The said Richard made default four times, and was attached by two chests and other household utensils."

John of Eye was charged with coming to the house of William of Toppesfelde in the parish of St Bride, Fleet Street, on 9 June 1319, "assaulting him and carrying off night firewood to the value of 100s."  The jury found him guilty and awarded William forty shillings damages, and John was committed to prison.

Alexander le Mazerer was convicted of stealing numerous items from William Broun, goldsmith, and others: four cups, valued by Thomas of St Botulph's and John of Caustone, goldsmiths, at 14s; a robe with a hood of murrey, for a woman, value 14s; two hoods of black stuff, 2s 6d; a woman's robe of green motley, with a cape, 16s; a red tunic, 6s; a green tunic, 6s; a blanket, 4s; a blanket, 18d; a carpet, 2 s. 6d; a blanket, 8d; a cooking vessel, a brass pot, a dish, value 9s; two copper mortar, 20s. 2d; a covelet of green cloth, furred with miniver, valued by Richard Lonekyn, Nicholas of Santone and John of Thorpe at 50s.

- And from the London Assize of Nuisance, also from British History Online:

Friday 9 August 1314: "The mayor and commonalty, by John Dode, chamberlain, complain that Walter le Benere has a house in the parish of St. Lawrence Jewry of which the stone wall extends from the outer gate of the Guildhall to the middle gate of the entrance of which part is ruinous, to the great danger of the passers-by, and although warned by the mayor he has not troubled to repair it. Judgment that he repair it within 40 days etc."

Friday 4 February 1317:  "Hugh de Garton complains that the rainwater from John de Sudington's tenement in the parish of St. Peter the Less in Bradestrete falls upon his land and floods it, and that he has windows and other apertures in his party-walls overlooking his tenement. The defendant comes and says that he and all the tenants of the tenement in question have been seised of the easement of the fall of rainwater and the apertures from time out of mind."

Friday 1 December 1318: "Perambulation by the mayor, sheriffs and aldermen of the land of the dean and chapter of St. Paul's in the parish of St. Dunstan, on complaint of Thomas de Neusom, clerk of Sir Ralph de Monthermer, that because the tenement of the dean and chapter adjoining that of Ralph is not built up along the street, vagabonds crossing the tenement by night break down Ralph's party-walls and enter and do damage there. The dean and chapter do not come and are not represented. Judgment that they be compelled to build a wall on their property, along the street, to a height of 16 ft."

Friday 8 December 1318: "Assize of nuisance brought at the instance of Henry le Palmere, who complains that William de Hallyngburi has made a gutter upon a stone wall on his land in the parish of St. Michael de Paternostercherch into which he and his household throw water and all kinds of refuse, which flows out on to the plaintiff's land, so that his timber and all his other property are rotted; and that by reason of the same gutter he cannot build on his land adjoining the same wall; and that the defendant has made windows therein 16 ft. from the ground. The defendant says that the gutter has been in situ for sixty years, and was not therefore made by him, and he puts himself upon the view of the mayor and aldermen."

22 March, 2012

Women Of Edward II's Reign: Margaret Wake, Countess Of Kent

A post today about Margaret Wake, lady of Badenoch and countess of Kent, who married Edward II's half-brother and was the grandmother of Richard II.  Writing about women of the early fourteenth century is often an exercise in frustration as they appear so rarely in the records, but anyway, here's some information about Countess Margaret.  (And as it's 22 March, let me just quickly mention Earl Thomas of Lancaster's execution on this day in 1322.)

Margaret was born sometime in the mid to late 1290s as the only daughter of John, Lord Wake (d. 1300) and Joan Fiennes; her brother Thomas, their father's heir, was born in 1297 or 1298, and there was also a younger brother, John.  She must have been at least a couple of years older than her second husband Edmund, earl of Kent, as her first husband John was killed at the battle of Bannockburn in June 1314 leaving her with a small child or at least expecting one; Edmund wasn't even thirteen in June 1314 (born 5 August 1301).  Although the Wakes, who held lands in Cumberland and Lincolnshire, were not a particularly wealthy or influential baronial house, Margaret's ancestry was illustrious.  Through her paternal grandmother Hawise de Quincy, she was the great-great-granddaughter of Llywelyn the Great, prince of Wales, and his wife Joan, illegitimate daughter of King John.  Her mother Joan Fiennes was the sister of Roger Mortimer's mother Margaret (and the Fiennes sisters were first cousins of Edward II's brother-in-law Humphrey de Bohun, earl of Hereford); her grandfather William Fiennes was killed at the battle of Courtrai in 1302; her great-great-grandfather Jean de Brienne was emperor of Constantinople; her great-great-grandmother Berenguela was the sister of Edward II's grandfather Fernando III of Castile.

In about 1312, Margaret married John Comyn, only son and heir of John 'the Red Comyn', lord of Badenoch and one of the guardians of Scotland, killed in church by Robert Bruce in February 1306.  John (the younger) was born sometime in the 1290s; I've previously written a post about his sisters Joan and Elizabeth.  After their father's death, the three children were sent to live in England, where they all married and spent the rest of their lives.  Little is known of John Comyn, except that Edward II granted him some lands and that he fought at Bannockburn on Edward's side - hardly surprising, given that Robert Bruce had killed his father - and died there, any dreams he might have had of avenging his father's murder in ruins.  His lands and the lands of Edmund Comyn, who must have been a relative but I'm not familiar with the Comyn family tree, were taken into the king's hands a few weeks later on 1 August 1314.  [1]

John Comyn and Margaret Wake had one known child, a son Aymer, named (presumably) after John's maternal uncle Aymer de Valence, earl of Pembroke.  On 16 August 1314, Edward II granted three manors in Nottinghamshire, Northamptonshire and Berkshire, with a total annual income of almost 140 pounds a year, to "Margaret, late the wife of John Comyn son of John Comyn, who was lately killed whilst on the king's service in Scotland, for her sustenance and that of Aymer their son...".  On 26 May 1316, Edward made a grant to Margaret of 30 pounds a year from the Exchequer in place of one of the manors "in aid of her sustenance and expenses"; little Aymer is not mentioned, and had probably died by then.  [2]  A sad loss for Margaret.  The boy's death left his aunts Joan and Elizabeth Comyn as heirs to the Comyn holdings, their claim to the throne of Scotland, and their share of the inheritance of their childless uncle the earl of Pembroke.

Margaret Wake remained a widow for more than eleven years.  Her brother Thomas, a ward of Edward II, married Henry of Lancaster's eldest daughter Blanche in 1316, to the great annoyance of the king, who had planned to marry him to Piers Gaveston's daughter Joan.  There's very little I can say about Margaret during this period; at least her lack of wealth kept her safe from the rapacious Despensers, unlike her sister-in-law Elizabeth Comyn.  Somehow, in 1325, Margaret got to know the man who would become her second husband: Edward II's half-brother Edmund of Woodstock, earl of Kent, the king's lieutenant in Gascony during the War of St-Sardos.  It may be, as Penny Lawne has suggested, that Margaret accompanied Queen Isabella to France in March 1325 and stayed there with her for the next few months, and met Edmund this way.  [3]  Edmund, a king's son and brother, might have expected to make a better match than with a widow some years his senior who was not an heiress or from an especially influential family.  He turned twenty-four in August 1325 and had been earl of Kent since June 1321, and it's interesting to speculate whether Edward II - who, contrary to Edmund's modern and undeserved reputation for stupidity and gullibility, had always shown a lot of faith in his ability - had any bride in mind for him.  Edmund's elder brother Thomas had made a rather bizarre (by the standards of the era) marriage to the coroner of Norfolk's daughter Alice Hales, though at least in his case Edward II had entered into negotiations in 1320/21 for Thomas to marry King Jaime II of Aragon's daughter Maria, widow of Pedro of Castile.  (Unflatteringly for Thomas, Maria decided she'd rather take the veil.)  [4]

Given that Margaret Wake was Roger Mortimer's first cousin, and given also that Edmund supported Mortimer and Queen Isabella against Edward II in 1326, is it possible that Edmund was publicly allying himself with Mortimer and the queen by agreeing to marry her and that this was a reason for their marriage?  I doubt it.  Pope John XXII granted Kent a dispensation to marry "a woman related to him in the third or fourth degree"* on 6 October 1325.  [5]  This is a few weeks before the public association of Isabella of France and Mortimer and the queen's refusal to return to England, and if the papal dispensation was granted on 6 October, it must have been applied for at least a few weeks or months previously.  Roger Mortimer in the summer and autumn of 1325 was, whatever secret sympathies Edmund may (or may not) have harboured for him, an escaped traitor whom Edward II feared and despised, and this is too early for Kent to have associated himself with him against his half-brother, at least in public; it wasn't until February/March 1326 that he openly backed his sister-in-law Queen Isabella and her favourite.  No doubt the family connection helped then to strengthen the two men's alliance, but in the summer and autumn of 1325, it is most unlikely to have been Kent's primary motivation in marrying Margaret and may not have been a factor at all.  As Margaret had no lands beyond the dower she received from her marriage to John Comyn and Edmund therefore cannot have married her for her wealth and influence, that leaves us with a love match, as suggested by Penny Lawne.  Romantically, this would mean that both of Edward I's sons by Marguerite of France married women of their own choice for (apparently) love.  Awww.

* Margaret and Kent were second cousins twice removed via common descent from King John (Edmund's great-grandfather, Margaret's great-great-great-grandfather).  Margaret was also Edward II's second cousin twice removed through a different line as well as via the King John connection (King Alfonso IX of Leon and Berenguela of Castile were Edward's great-grandparents and Margaret's great-great-great-grandparents).

The St Paul's annalist says that Margaret and Edmund married around the time that Queen Isabella's uncle and the ancestor of the Valois dynasty, the prolific Charles of Valois, died, which was on 16 December 1325.  [6]  Edward II appears to have reacted to the marriage by temporarily taking Margaret's lands into his own hands - assuming she's the 'Margaret Comyn' in question, which seems likely - though he changed his mind and countermanded the order on 27 January 1326.  (I can't find the original order in the chancery rolls, but it can't have been much earlier than that.)  This would seem to indicate that Edmund and Margaret's marriage took place without Edward's knowledge and consent, though whether he interpreted it as Edmund moving into Roger Mortimer's camp is unclear.  The king confiscated his half-brother's lands on 24 March 1326, when it became evident that Edmund would not return from France as ordered.  [7]  In late September 1326, Edmund did return, with Isabella and Mortimer's invasion force and his young nephew the future Edward III.  Presumably Margaret travelled back from the continent somewhat later, when it was safer, especially as it is highly likely that she was heavily pregnant.  It probably goes without saying that we don't have the faintest idea what she thought about her brother-in-law's deposition and her nephew's accession, or about Edward's supposed murder.

Edmund, earl of Kent and Margaret Wake were married from about mid-December 1325 to 19 March 1330 and had four children, of whom one was born nineteen days after Edmund's execution:

1) Edmund, the elder son, probably born in late 1326, died as a child in the early 1330s.
2) Margaret, the elder daughter, presumably born in 1327 (unless perhaps she was Edmund's twin).  She married the Gascon nobleman Amanieu d'Albret and died childless at an uncertain date, at any rate before her brother John in 1352.
3) Joan, the younger daughter, born in September 1328 and her father's ultimate heir.  This is the famous Joan of Kent, who was married to Sir Thomas Holland and the earl of Salisbury's son at the same time, and who later married Edward III's eldest son and became the mother of Richard II.  Died August 1385.
4) John, the younger son, born posthumously on 7 April 1330; married Queen Philippa's niece Elisabeth or Isabel of Jülich; died childless December 1352, leaving his sister Joan, his only surviving sibling, as his and their father's heir.

Margaret must have spent much of the period of Isabella and Mortimer's regime pregnant.  In 1329 and 1330, her husband plotted with many others to free the former Edward II from captivity at Corfe Castle - the plot I have a lot to say about - and was beheaded for treason in Winchester on 19 March 1330, leaving Margaret at least eight months pregnant and with three children under four.  Five days before Edmund's execution, Queen Isabella and Roger Mortimer ordered her to be imprisoned at Salisbury Castle; "the countess is to be accompanied on the way by only two damsels and her children."  The day after Edmund's execution, the pair, having perhaps been informed that Margaret - Mortimer's first cousin - was heavily pregnant and unable to travel the seventy miles from Arundel to Salisbury, allowed her to remain at Arundel.  They ordered Roger atte Asshe, keeper of Arundel Castle and the earl of Kent's other lands and manors which had all been taken into the king's hands, to pay Margaret a mark a day for the sustenance of herself, her children and the two attendants they had allowed her.  Margaret gave birth to her son on 7 April.  Several entries in the chancery rolls reveal Isabella and Mortimer's preoccupation with having her "jewels and other goods" brought to them, and they ordered two men "to enquire as to jewels and other goods of the countess taken away," just in case she had tried to cheat them of anything.  [8]

Margaret must have been delighted when her nephew by marriage Edward III overthrew Mortimer and Isabella a few months later.  At the November 1330 parliament, the incredibly eventful one when Mortimer was sentenced to death, Edward II's supposed murderers were named and Lord Berkeley made his intriguing statement that he hadn't known of Edward's death till the present parliament, Margaret and her elder son, four-year-old Edmund, presented petitions.  Margaret's read:
"To our lord the king, if it pleases him, his liege, Margaret, countess of Kent, prays for herself and for her children [ Margarete countesse de Kent, pur lui et pur ses enfauntz]: that of his grace he be willing to cause to come before him in his present parliament at Westminster the record and the process by which your uncle and her good lord my lord Edmund, late earl of Kent was put to death, considering, among other things, if it pleases you, that Sir Roger de Mortimer, late earl of March acknowledged at his death before the people that the said earl was wrongfully killed...".

The petition was granted and the judgement against Earl Edmund of a few months previously was duly reversed.  What I find really funny about the response to Margaret and her son's petitions is the constant repetition that Edward II had been dead in March 1330 and that therefore it had been impossible for Edmund and his allies to free him: "...caused the same earl to understand that the Lord Edward, late king of England, the father of our present lord the king, and brother of the said earl, was alive, when he had been dead for a long time.  And they did this to encourage him to purchase the release of his said brother, as if it had been possible to do this"; "...willing to purchase the easement and the release of his same brother, which release was impossible to secure all that time seeing as he was already dead, as is said above"; "he had knowingly wished the said release to the prejudice of the king our present lord, which was completely impossible as is said above"; "...caused the said earl of Kent, who is dead, to understand that our lord the king the father of our present lord the king was alive when he was dead, and for that reason it had been impossible to have secured or purchased his release".

Countess Margaret's brother Thomas, who had fled from England in March 1330 having taken part in the earl of Kent's plot to free Edward of Caernarfon, died childless on 30 May 1349, perhaps of the plague; his widow Blanche of Lancaster lived until 1380, and his eventual heir would be his niece Joan of Kent.  Margaret succeeded briefly to the Wake lands before dying on 29 September 1349, in her early fifties, having lived long enough to see her daughter Joan cause a great scandal by being married to William Montacute and Thomas Holland at the same time.  Margaret outlived two husbands and at least two of her children (Aymer Comyn and Edmund of Kent, and perhaps also her elder daughter Margaret).  She has many modern descendants via her daughter Joan's sons Thomas and John Holland, half-brothers of Richard II.


1) Calendar of Fine Rolls 1307-1319, p. 206.
2) Calendar of Patent Rolls 1313-1317, pp. 164, 657.
3) Penny Lawne, 'Edmund of Woodstock (1301-1330): A Study of Personal Loyalty', in C. Given-Wilson, ed., Fourteenth Century England VI (2010), pp. 37-38.
4) Pierre Chaplais, English Medieval Diplomatic Practice, part 1, vol. 1, pp. 64-66.
5) Calendar of Papal Letters 1305-1341, p. 246.
6) Annales Paulini 1307-1340, in W. Stubbs, ed., Chronicles of the Reigns of Edward I and Edward II, volume 1, Rolls Series, 76, p. 310.
7) Calendar of Chancery Warrants 1244-1326, p. 573; Calendar of Close Rolls 1323-1327, p. 464.
8) Cal Pat Rolls 1327-1330, p. 499; Cal Close Rolls 1330-1333, p. 14.

16 March, 2012

Edward II's Bad Press

Some of the harsh judgements passed on Edward II by historians of the nineteenth and early twentieth centuries:

"A more complete ninny than Edward II has seldom occupied a throne. He was indeed a man of commanding presence — tall, strongly built, and very handsome — but his kingly figure was not yoked with a kingly intellect or will. He had no taste and no capacity for kingship, except in the mere matter of military parade and Court ceremony. He preferred to ride a horse, row a boat, dig a pit or thatch a barn, get up masques, and patronise playwrights, try his hand at farming and horse- breeding, to the work of government. As recreations these pursuits might do credit to a great ruler, but when they are the chief occupations of a monarch who cannot rule, they betoken the trifler and the pitiful incapable.": J. Mackinnon, History of Edward III (1900).

"[B]rutal and brainless athlete...incompetent, idle, frivolous and incurious": T.F. Tout, 'The Captivity and Death of Edward of Carnarvon' (1934).  Tout does allow that Edward was "not, I suspect, exceptionally vicious or depraved."  Gosh.

"A scatter-brained wastrel": Ibid.

"A weakling and a fool": May McKisack, The Fourteenth Century 1307-1399 (1959).

"Weak-willed and frivolous": T.F Tout, The Place of the Reign of Edward II in English History (1914).

"A coward and a trifler": Tout again, in Edward the First.

"He has no high aims, no policy beyond the cunning of unscrupulous selfishness.  He has no kingly pride or sense of duty, no industry or shame or piety...vulgar pomp, heartless extravagance, lavish improvidence, selfish indolence make him a fit centre of an intriguing court.  He does no good to anyone": William Stubbs, A Constitutional History of England (1875).  In fairness, Stubbs also describes Edward III as "unscrupulous, selfish, extravagant, and ostentatious.  His obligations as a king sat very lightly on him."

And a much older and particularly unpleasant judgement on poor Edward: "Of four sons which he [Edward I] had by his wife Queen Eleanor, three of them died in his own lifetime, who were worthy to have outlived him; and the fourth outlived him, who was worthy never to have been born": Richard Baker, A Chronicle to the Kings of England (1643).  That one makes me furious.

Not entirely on-topic, but I had a good giggle at this page, which starts badly (by claiming that the centuries-later story of Edward I deceiving the Welsh by presenting to them a 'prince who could speak no English' is true) and gets worse (by suggesting that "Some doubt could be raised as to whether King Edward II was the genetic father of Prince Edward", AGH!!!). There's also a list of Edward II's supposed bad points, among which are included:

- Flaunted his homosexuality
- Enjoyed good food and wine
- Enjoyed fine, expensive but elegant, showy, bizarre clothes & jewellry- Liked acting or 'theatricals'
- Patron of writers and players
- Enjoyed poetry and wrote some.
- Played kettle drums, loved music & had a troupe of Genoese musicians [2 trumpeters, harpist, horn player and a drummer.]
- With Gaveston he enjoyed jesters, jugglers, actors and singers.
- Collected books on French romances and legends.

It had honestly never occurred to me before that being a patron of writers, enjoying poetry and music, and collecting books could actually be considered bad things. Perhaps the writer means that such cultured hobbies were out of place in a king of the fourteenth century and that they distracted Edward from the real business of making war and killing lots of people. If so, this should really have been stated more clearly. I also wonder about the 'flaunting his homosexuality' bit. There's an awful lot I could say about that particular statement, but I'll limit myself to wondering whether 'flaunting his heterosexuality' would have been considered a bad thing, or even worthy of comment.

Finally, and definitely off-topically, today is the 690th anniversary of the battle of Boroughbridge, where Andrew Harclay, sheriff of Cumberland, defeated the earls of Hereford and Lancaster.  See here for the Battlefields Resource Centre's pages about the battle, and here for my post on the aftermath of the battle and the possessions of the fleeing Contrariants seized by Edward II's household.  Oh, and here for the dishonesty of some modern writers in misquoting the Vita Edwardi Secundi's account of the battle and its aftermath.

13 March, 2012

Blog Visitors

I hadn't checked my blog visitor map for absolutely ages until a couple of days ago, and was thrilled to see all the readers I've had, from all over the world!

The top twenty countries my blog visitors come from are, in order:

United States
United Kingdom
Russian Federation
New Zealand
South Africa

I can't help noticing from the map that I've never had any blog visitors from Madagascar, Siberia or most of Central Africa.  Hmph.  :-)  Great to see that I've had a fair few readers in South America and Asia, though.

Since 2008, the blog has had almost 350,000 page views.  Between 150 and 230 people visit the blog every day.  My Facebook page about Edward has almost 800 fans now.

I happened to do Google searches for Edward II's friends Sir Roger Damory and Donald, earl of Mar recently, and found that the top results for them are my blog (I have the top three results for Damory!).  It's also third on Google's results for Piers Gaveston, with my friend Anerje's blog just behind, yay.

My blog is usually the third result on Google for Edward II himself, behind the Wikipedia page for him and the Wiki page for Christopher Marlowe's play about him.  (Occasionally, it comes fourth or fifth behind the Internet Movie Database page for Derek Jarman's 1991 film 'Edward II', the brief page about him on Britannia.com, or an E-Notes page about the Marlowe play.)  It usually comes second, third or fourth for anyone else of Edward's reign I've written about, yippee.

A big resounding THANK YOU to all my readers, whether you're regulars or occasional visitors or one of the many hundreds of people who find my article explaining why William Wallace couldn't have been Edward III's father after watching Braveheart when it's on television yet again.  :-)  I've been writing this blog for the best part of six and a half years now, since 3 December 2005.  Here's to the next six and more years of the Edward II blog, and lots more 'myth-squidging' as someone on Tumblr (linking to the blog) so nicely described it a couple of days ago.  :-)

09 March, 2012

The Marriages Of The Two Hugh Despensers

Hugh Despenser the Elder, created earl of Winchester by Edward II in 1322, was probably the only man of rank who remained completely loyal to Edward from the beginning to the end of his reign.  He was destined to end his long life executed by Roger Mortimer and Isabella of France at Bristol on 27 October 1326, his head taken afterwards on a spear to adorn the walls of Winchester Castle and his body fed to dogs.  Hugh was sixty-five at the time of this grotesque fate, born on 1 March 1261.  [1]  His father Sir Hugh Despenser, justiciar of England and a staunch supporter of Simon de Montfort, was killed at the battle of Evesham in August 1265 fighting against the future Edward I, but luckily for the four-year-old boy's future, his maternal grandfather Sir Philip Basset, who lived until 1271, was a royalist baron and a personal friend of Henry III's brother Richard of Cornwall.  Hugh's widowed mother Aline, Philip Basset's only child and heir, married secondly Roger Bigod (born c. 1245), earl of Norfolk, and died in early April 1281.  (It's interesting to note that even during her second marriage, Aline continued to use the name 'Despenser', even though her second husband was of a higher rank than her first; anyone who thinks the Despensers were nobodies, please take note.)  The Bigod earls' biographer Marc Morris relates an interesting story whereby Roger Bigod attempted to wrest control of his late wife's inheritance out of his stepson's hands by pretending that Aline had borne him a child, who had taken a breath before dying.  A living child meant, by the contemporary custom known as the 'courtesy of England', that Earl Roger would have gained a life interest in his wife's entire estate.  Hugh Despenser vigorously contested the claim, and Roger was forced to drop it.  [2]  (He died childless in 1306, having married secondly the count of Holland and Hainault's daughter Alicia; his patrimony passed eventually to Edward II's half-brother Thomas of Brotherton.)

Hugh was twenty when his mother Countess Aline died, and on 28 May 1281, a few weeks after her death, Edward I granted his marriage to William Beauchamp, earl of Warwick.  On 2 April 1282, shortly after he came of age (i.e. twenty-one), Hugh bought his marriage from Warwick for 1600 marks.  [3]  Though no-one could have known it then, his future wife was Warwick's daughter Isabel, who exactly two months before this purchase had given birth to her eldest child, Maud Chaworth, by her husband Patrick.  Patrick died in July 1283 leaving Maud, his only child, as his heir, and by 2 March 1297 she had married Edward I's nephew Henry of Lancaster (younger brother of Thomas).  [4]  At an uncertain date, probably in 1286, Hugh Despenser and Isabel Beauchamp married without a royal licence, for which they were fined 2000 marks by the king (Edward acquitted them of the payment in November 1287, but by then they had already paid almost £1000 of it).  [5]

I've seen Hugh Despenser the Elder called a nobody, a mere humble knight of no great background; one book even states, incredibly, that Hugh and his son were "not members of a baronial family," a jaw-dropping statement.  Hugh the Elder was stepson of the earl of Norfolk and son-in-law of the earl of Warwick.  Given that his father had died in rebellion against the Crown, he'd done remarkably well for himself, and, his marriage without royal licence notwithstanding, was high in Edward I's favour.  He and Isabel Beauchamp had six children: Hugh, Philip, Aline, Isabel, Margaret and Elizabeth, who were via their elder half-sister Maud Chaworth brothers- and sisters-in-law of Edward I's nephew Henry of Lancaster, whose own half-sister Jeanne was queen of Navarre in her own right and queen of France by marriage.  In 1306, Edward I demonstrated his appreciation of Hugh Despenser the Elder's loyalty and abilities by arranging the marriage of Hugh's heir Hugh the Younger to his eldest granddaughter Eleanor de Clare - further evidence, if it were needed, that the claim that the Despensers were not a baronial family is utter nonsense.  Their wedding took place in the king's presence at Westminster on 26 May 1306, the day after Eleanor's first cousin Jeanne de Bar married the earl of Surrey and four days after Hugh, Surrey and many others were knighted with Edward of Caernarfon.

Eleanor was thirteen and a half at the time of her marriage (born in October or November 1292), Hugh probably between sixteen and nineteen (his date of birth is unknown, somewhere between 1287 and 1290).   Somewhat confusingly, an entry on the Patent Roll of 14 June 1306 talks of a "[g]rant to Hugh le Despenser, son of Hugh le Despenser, between whom and Eleanor daughter of Gilbert, sometime earl of Gloucester and Hertford, the king's niece [actually granddaughter], a marriage is contracted, with the king's and the said Hugh's assent...".  [6]  From other evidence, however - gifts from Edward I to Eleanor and his hiring of minstrels to play at the wedding, and the chronicle of Pierre Langtoft - it is apparent that the couple had already married some weeks before.

Isabel Beauchamp died on or shortly before 30 May 1306, on which date the escheator was ordered to take into the king's hands "the lands which Isabel late the wife of Hugh le Despenser, deceased, held with Hugh in chief in frank marriage of the gift of William de Bello Campo [Beauchamp], earl of Warwick, deceased."  [7]  That week in late May 1306 must have been a strange one for Hugh the Younger: he was made a knight and got married, but lost his mother.  As with almost all women of the era, Isabel is a shadowy figure about whom little is known.  Something of her personality emerges in a petition presented at the beginning of Edward III's reign, when William de Odyham complained that the younger Hugh had removed him from his job as parker of Odiham Castle in Hampshire because Odyham had once "levied hue and cry upon Isabel the said Hugh's mother, who was taking five bucks in the park without warrant." [8]

Hugh Despenser the Elder never remarried and remained a widower for a little over twenty years.  Hugh the Younger and Eleanor de Clare were married for almost exactly the same period, and had at least ten children together.  One of the two Hughs was most probably the father of Nicholas de Litlyngton, abbot of Westminster from 1362 to 1386 (see Susan Higginbotham's post).  Hugh the Elder seems not to have been on good terms during Edward II's reign with his brother-in-law Guy Beauchamp, earl of Warwick, the man who in 1312 abducted Piers Gaveston, of whom Hugh was a staunch supporter.


1) Calendar of Inquisitions Post Mortem, vol. 2, nos. 101, 389; Calendar of Fine Rolls 1272-1307, pp. 149, 152.
2) Marc Morris, The Bigod Earls of Norfolk in the Thirteenth Century (2005), p. 125.
3) Calendar of Patent Rolls 1272-1281, p. 439; Calendar of Close Rolls 1279-1288, p. 184.
4) Cal Pat Rolls 1292-1301, p. 239.
5) Cal Close Rolls 1279-1288, p. 462; Martyn Lawrence, 'Rise of a Royal Favourite: the Early Career of Hugh Despenser the Elder', in Gwilym Dodd and Anthony Musson, eds., The Reign of Edward II: New Perspectives (2006), p. 208.
6) Cal Pat Rolls 1301-1307, p. 443.
7) Cal Fine Rolls 1272-1307, p. 538.
8) Calendar of Inquisitions Miscellaneous (Chancery) 1308-1348, no. 988; The National Archives SC 8/160/7986

04 March, 2012

Brief Biographies: The Fisher Family

Just a quick post today (I've had an eye injury and haven't been able to come online for a while) about a family who served Edward II: the Fishers.

Edmund Fisher, Fissher, Fisshere or Fyssher, whose first name almost always appears on record as the diminutive 'Monde' - Edmund in the early fourteenth century was spelt 'Esmon' or 'Edmon' - was a valet of Edward II's chamber by February 1323 and probably a lot earlier, but unfortunately few of Edward's chamber accounts survive.  That month, he was given a gift of five shillings by the king (paie a Monde Fissher vadlet de la chambre de doun le Roi v s).  He often appears in Edward's extant chamber accounts of the 1320s doing errands for the king, usually called 'valet of the king's chamber', and in January 1326 'the king's fisherman', as per his name, given three shillings by Edward to buy himself fishing boots (botes p' lewe, literally 'boots for the water').

Monde's son Wille was also a member of Edward II's household, and appears in the records as a page of the king's chamber and later as a huntsman.  What I love is that he is almost always called Litel Wille, Little Will.   (Edward also had servants called Litel Colle, Little Colin, and Grete Hobbe, Big Rob.  So cute.)  Although Edward's chamber accounts were written in French, the nickname was always written in English, Litel or Lytle, not Petit, although I have seen it once in Latin, Parvo Willelmo.  The name Fisher always appears in English too, not in French (le Peschour, it would have been).

In November 1322, Edward gave Litel Wille and another page of his chamber, Wille de Donestaple, nine pence to buy themselves shoes, and in August 1325 the two young men and two others received money from him to buy themselves robes.  From October 1325 to January 1326, 'Lyttle Wille' was sent to Somerset and Dorset with Richard Beauchamp 'the king's huntsman', six other men, forty-one 'coursing hounds' and eleven greyhounds, for which he was paid seven pence a day, a very generous amount for a young man of his rank.  In late April 1326, 'Litel Wille Fyssher, page of the king's chamber' was given a gift of five shillings "for what he did when the king mounted his horse."  (Unfortunately, whatever he did is not specified.)  Edward was leaving Kenilworth Castle in Warwickshire that day, and Litel Wille was forced to remain behind, ill; presumably the five shillings was at least partly intended in aid of any expenses he incurred while not travelling with the court.

Monde Fisher's wife, Wille's mother, named Isabelle or Sibille for short, first appears in Edward II's chamber account in the autumn of 1325, receiving a gift of five shillings in exchange for sending him fish.  On 1 April 1326, Edward sent 'Esmon le Fisshere' to the priory of Coventry on his retirement; it was a usual and frequent occurrence for kings to send their former servants to a convent to receive sustenance there for the rest of their lives when they retired.  Monde was still with the king at Sturry in Kent on 12 June, however, when Edward gave ten shillings to "Monde Fissher, one of the valets of the king's chamber, remaining ill at the said Sturry."  Edward departed that day for Leeds Castle, leaving Litel Wille behind with a gift of two shillings to help look after his father, but sadly Monde "was called to God" (fust a dieu commande) the next day.  Edward gave twelve pence to "Peres, boy of Monde Fissher" who came to inform him of Monde's death.

Edward met Monde's widow Sibille while travelling between Sheen and Byfleet on 2 July.  He gave her a gift of twenty shillings (a pound), and also gave ten shillings to her and Monde's daughter Joan ('Johane' in contemporary spelling), his chamber account noting that the money was given to the women in his presence.  On 25 July, Edward encountered Sibille (her name this time recorded as 'Isabell') again, also when travelling between Sheen and Byfleet - this was the day he met a man named John de Walton who gave him a bucket of fish and who "sang before the king" - and she gave him and his niece Eleanor Despenser, travelling with him, a present of loach.  He gave her five shillings in return.

This is the last instance I can find of Edward II's association with the Fisher family, though Litel Wille was named as one of Edward III's huntsmen in 1330.  I hope he thrived.  I'm so fond of him.  :-)  I like the glimpse into the lives of some of the lower-ranked people who served Edward and how he looked after them, and also into contemporary nicknames - Monde, Wille, Sibille.  Finally, it's interesting to see that Monde, who really was a fisherman, had the name Fisher, and that his son Wille bore the same name, despite not being a fisherman to the best of my knowledge.  He wasn't called 'Hunter' or 'Page' or 'of the Chamber' or 'of Byfleet' or anything else which might have served to identify him and distinguish him from other men named Wille.  Are we seeing part of the evolution of fixed English surnames here?


The National Archives E 101/379/17
Society of Antiquities Library MS 122
Calendar of Memoranda Rolls Michaelmas 1326-Michaelmas 1327
Calendar of Close Rolls 1323-1327