29 April, 2012

A Cowhouse, A New Bakehouse And A Dairy: Dower In 1317

I recently found this interestingly detailed entry on the Close Roll of 8 November 1317: assignation of dower to 'Margaret late the wife of Laurence de Tany' in the Hertfordshire manor of 'Estwyke' (i.e. Eastwick, just north of Harlow and not far from Stansted airport).  Laurence de Tany's effigy still exists; he and Margaret had no children and his heir was his sister, confusingly also named Margaret.  In his father Roger's inquisition post mortem of August 1301 - Roger was himself only in his early twenties at the time of his death - Laurence was said to be two years old, so must have been just eighteen when he died in the autumn of 1317.  Margaret the sister and heir performed homage and received livery of her lands on 24 December 1317 (Fine Rolls 1307-1319, p. 349); Margaret the widow received the following in Eastwick:

"A house called 'the new bakehouse', on the east side of the manor, lying east and west, and a house called 'the dairy' with two doors, lying before the said bakehouse, lying north and south, and a plot of land before these two houses, extending thence to the corner of the porch of the great hall and to the corner of the kitchen and to the garden enclosure; and a new stable with two doors within the inner gate of the manor and with a porch over the doors, of which stable one end is towards the outer gate and the other towards the kitchen; and a third of the barn, to wit one door of the same on the south with all the end of the barn towards towards the common way to the church of Estwyk; and a third of the cowhouse, to wit one door of the same on the east with all the end of the cowhouse from the door to the barn; and all the plot of land from the gate of the enclosure before the barn to the door of the same towards the common way on one side in length, and from the said door to the bottom of the ditch between the cowhouse and garden in breadth, extending the length of the said ditch on the other side from the garden behind the barn to the two parts of the cowhouse that remain to the heir [i.e. Margaret's sister-in-law]; and a small house near the gate on the east.  The inner and outer gates of the manor and the plot of land extending from the outer gate to the inner gate in length, and from the gate of the enclosure of the barn to the garden behind the kitchen and stable in breadth, and the plot of land from the inner gate of the manor to the plot before the bakehouse and dairy above assigned to her shall remain in common, so that she shall have free ingress and egress to all the houses and plots abovesaid by day and by night for all her things whensoever she pleases.

There are assigned to her one and a half acres of the garden called 'Isewellegardyn', one end of the one and a half acres begins near the gate of the manor and extends between the kitchen and the common way between the bakehouse and the enclosure of the garden to the field called 'Isewelleschote' on the east; and a third of the garden called 'Wynyard' and of the pasture called 'Roumore' in the same garden, which third contains two and a half acres lying near the field called 'Calstokstret'...[more details of lands assigned, snipped].  There are also assigned to her twenty-five acres of wood in the wood called 'le Perk', whereof one end abuts upon the way to the wood that belonged to W[...] le Parker on the south, and the other end abuts upon the field called 'Wydefordeleye' on the north, and one side near the lord's* wood in the west...There are also assigned to her the rents and services of five free tenants, to wit Robert de Geldeford, William le Frere, William de Westmulle, William de Theydon, and Simon Roche, who render yearly fifty-eight shillings and do suit of court. There are also assigned to her the rents, works and customs of Richard Bosse, customary-tenant in the same manor, of the yearly value of four shillings and four and a half pence; and three capons from certain tenements that John de Farnham and Roger Bataille, free tenants, hold, worth sixpence.  There are also assigned to her three messuages with twenty-two acres of arable land that Adam Saeles, Richard le Hunte and Peter le Hopare, villeins, held at one time, which are now in the hands of the lord on account of the default of the tenants, of the yearly value of thirteen shillings and eightpence...and two cottages that belonged to Matilda Coleman and John Cutbert, in the lord's hands for the above cause [default], which are not extended because they are decayed."

It ends by assigning to Margaret part of a fishery and rent from a water-mill, and "pleas and perquisites of court, fines, reliefs and heriots of all the tenants above assigned to her, of the yearly value of twenty pence.  [Calendar of Close Rolls 1313-1318, pp. 573-574]

* The lord of Eastwick in 1317 was Thomas Wake, brother of Margaret, future countess of Kent, who was still a minor and in Edward II's wardship.

I love this description of the manor; it's so detailed I feel like I could draw a diagram of it.  :-)

24 April, 2012

Something Of A Rant

But first: The words in the image below are part of Edward II's speech when he was forced to abdicate in January 1327, as recorded in the Flores Historiarum: "I greatly regret that I have so utterly failed my people, but I could not be other than I am."  The Flores was written in Latin, though anything Edward would have said - and whether or not he really said anything like the words ascribed to him here is anyone's guess - would have been in Anglo-Norman.  The design was made by my friend Tim.  Thanks for sharing and giving me permission to use it here, Tim!

This year, which marks the 700th anniversary of the birth of Edward III, I feel like starting a new blog
feature called Who's Edward III's Father This Week?  A friend on Facebook told me the other day about a person of his acquaintance who thinks that Isabella conceived the future king with Sir Robert Holland, on the grounds that - get this - she and he were once supposedly 'in the same vicinity'.  What an utterly fabulous, well-thought-out and plausible theory.  Don't know about you, but I'm totally convinced.  In fact, Sir Robert Holland (whose grandsons, via his second son Thomas who secretly married Joan of Kent, were Richard II's half-brothers) was a close adherent and friend of Thomas, earl of Lancaster; Edward II wrote to Holland in November 1311 about an illness Lancaster was then suffering from.  Given the political situation in February/March 1312 when Edward III was conceived, when Edward II and Piers Gaveston were skulking in the north to avoid Lancaster and actually fled from him when he arrived in Tynemouth a few weeks later, anyone as close to the earl as Holland was is incredibly unlikely to have been anywhere near the queen.  Still, don't let that stand in the way of a good theory, eh?  It strikes me as odd, the way some people who otherwise seem to like and admire Isabella of France are so happy to trash her morals and accuse her of being willing to foist a child of non-royal blood onto the English throne.  You'd think they didn't understand the contemporary mindset or hadn't done any basic research at all or something. 

(Why does Blogger's formatting always go weird when I include an image in a post?)

Talking of trashing people, and referring to what I wrote at the end of my recent post about Hugh Despenser and Isabella, I had the misfortune recently to read part of a novel about Isabella and Roger Mortimer which really made my blood boil.  In it - besides the usual tediously predictable stuff about Edward II being a 'coward' and the useless whining pathetic fool and callous uncaring husband he always is in badly-written and researched melodrama - the author has Isabella claiming that Edward couldn't care less about their four children and can barely even remember their names, and that if anything happens to Isabella they'd be better off if he were dead too and they were orphans.  That just made me...I cannot believe...I literally have no words.  What a laughably blatant and obvious attempt to make Edward II even more unlikeable than he already is to readers of the novel.  No-one in the fourteenth century ever accused Edward of not caring about his children, unless you count the Brut chronicle, which repeats a rumour that in 1326 Edward wished to strangle his wife and eldest son to death.  The chronicle reports that when this rumour was repeated to Edward after his forced abdication - evidently he hadn't heard it before - he was so upset and horrified that he exclaimed "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."  (The Brut or the Chronicles of England, ed. F.W.D. Brie, vol. 1, pp. 252-253.)

Hideous, and I'm sure that no-one who actually knew Edward believed that he would have ever wished to kill his son, including Isabella and Edward III himself.  Edward II is generally accepted to have been a good and loving father, something even Alison Weir, who appears to despise him, admits.  It just makes me so furious that modern writers invent this hateful, hurtful nonsense about him (another novelist has him committing 'atrocities' in Wales and having Jewish merchants visiting England during his reign killed, for pity's sake).  How would they like it if someone made up crap like that about their families and people they care about?  "The writer's late grandfather was a cruel and neglectful husband who cared so little about his children he struggled even to remember their names. Conceiving his children was nothing more than a painful and unpleasant duty for him and he may not even have been their real father; he was a feeble drunken weakling; and his wife despised him and chose to punish him by committing adultery with another man who was much better and manlier than him in every way.  He was so evil that he had innocent people murdered for the sheer hell of it, and allowed his lover to rape his wife and torture anyone he felt like."  How would these writers who obviously adore the story of Isabella and Roger Mortimer feel if I wrote a novel or story and made out that Roger frequently beat up and raped his wife and treated her with utter contempt as nothing more than a brood mare, and that Isabella was a nasty, spiteful little madam who treated everyone she met like dirt and didn't give a damn about her children except as a means to manipulate her husband and make herself powerful?  After all, it would be reasonably easy - given that Roger had a dozen children and that Isabella did use her elder son as a means of striking against her husband in 1326, and sent her daughter Joan away to Scotland when she was only seven - to make these characterisations seem plausible and historically accurate to readers.  But I'd never do that, because there is absolutely no basis in fact for such portrayals and it would be an incredibly unsubtle way of making the pair unsympathetic to readers, with the equally unsubtle aim of making Edward II, who would naturally be a candidate for Father Of The Year and a loving tolerant husband who becomes a tragic, even saintly victim of his adulterous wife's cruel manipulations, look much better to readers by comparison.  True, you can't libel the dead.  True, historical fiction is, of course, fictional and shouldn't be taken as actual historical fact (though lots of people do just that).  But why invent and write nasty things about people who aren't around to defend themselves?  Such a shame that some writers can't give their characters depth and complexity without resorting to such obvious and lame devices as making Edward II an even worse father than he is a husband - and sheesh, they might as well just have him walk into the novel carrying a neon sign proclaiming 'I AM A HORRIBLE CHARACTER! HATE ME!!!'.

22 April, 2012

April Anniversaries

Some April anniversaries relating to Edward II:

28 April 1313: Edward orders the release of Isabel MacDuff, countess of Buchan, who had crowned Robert Bruce king of Scotland in 1306, into the custody of his kinsman Henry Beaumont.  This is the last mention of Isabel that I know of; she is not named among the Scottish hostages released after Bannockburn the following year.

28 April 1317: Wedding of Margaret de Clare and Hugh Audley at Windsor Castle, in Edward's presence.

27 April 1318: Edward writes to Pope John XXII asking his permission to found a house of Dominican nuns at Langley Priory, which he had founded in 1308. Sadly, nothing came of this until 1349, when Edward III finally established a sisters' house there. (Nice to see Edward III taking an interest in his father's foundation.)

25 April 1284: Birth of Edward II at Caernarfon.

25 April 1287: Birth of Roger Mortimer, lord of Wigmore and earl of March.

25 April 1295: Death of Edward's first cousin Sancho IV of Castile.

25 April 1309: Pope Clement V gives Edward an excellent twenty-fifth birthday present by agreeing to lift the excommunication on Piers Gaveston.

24 April 1316: Edward II asks the Dominicans of Toulouse to pray for him (something he did fairly often, also asking the Dominicans of Pamplona, Marseilles, Paris, Rouen, Citeaux, Florence, Venice, Barcelona and Vienna to say prayers "for the good estate" of himself, Queen Isabella and their children at various times over the years).

23 April 1307: Death of Edward's sister Joan of Acre, countess of Gloucester.

22 April 1355: Death of Edward's elder daughter Eleanor of Woodstock, dowager duchess of Gelderland, at the age of thirty-six.  Duchess Eleanor was buried at Deventer Abbey.  She left two sons: Duke Reinald III of Gelderland, then not quite twenty-two, and the future Duke Eduard of Gelderland, then nineteen.

20 April 1314: Pope Clement V, born Raymond Bertrand de Got, dies in Avignon, a month and two days after Jacques de Molay, last Grand Master of the Knights Templar, supposedly curses him from the flames of his execution pyre.

20 April 1315: Edward II holds a great banquet for the archbishop of Canterbury and most of the nobility at Westminster Hall, which is damaged by a fire shortly afterwards.

17 April 1290: At Amesbury Priory in Wiltshire, Gilbert 'the Red' de Clare, earl of Gloucester, signs an agreement with his soon-to-be father-in-law Edward I, acknowledging that after the king's death he will recognise Edward of Caernarfon (not quite six years old) as his liege lord, and, if Edward I dies without fathering more sons and Edward of Caernarfon dies without heirs of his body, then the king's eldest surviving daughter Eleanor will be rightful heir to the throne.

17 April 1306: Edward gives ten shillings each to the watchmen who rouse him from his bed and evacuate his household as flames swept through Windsor Castle.

17 April 1320: Pope John XXII canonises Thomas Cantilupe, bishop of Hereford, who had died in August 1282. This was due in part to the efforts of Edward II himself, who wrote to Clement V and John XXII half a dozen times between December 1307 and January 1319, asking them to canonise Cantilupe.

15 April 1318: Edward’s brother-in-law Philip V of France (who succeeded to the throne in November 1316) accepts Edward’s excuses for not travelling to France to perform homage for Gascony and Ponthieu and grants him permission to appoint envoys to do homage on his behalf, around the time of the Nativity of St John the Baptist, or 24 June. Edward manages to put off the dread moment of kneeling to another person until late June 1320.

15 April 1324: The final date by which Edward is meant to perform homage to yet another brother-in-law, Charles IV. His failure to do so precipitates the last great crisis of his reign.

15 April 1326: Edward II informs his kinsman Afonso IV of Portugal that his son Edward will be unable to marry Afonso's daughter Maria, as the Portuguese king has suggested, as the boy is betrothed to Leonor of Castile.  (And ultimately marries Philippa of Hainault.)

14 April 1322: Execution of Bartholomew, Lord Badlesmere, formerly steward of Edward II's household, who took part in the Contrariant rebellion against the king and was captured by Donald of Mar at one of the manors of his nephew the bishop of Lincoln.  Bartholomew is dragged the three miles from Canterbury to the crossroads at Blean, hanged, drawn and quartered - one of only three men I know of who suffered the traitor's death during Edward II's reign, the others being Sir Gilbert Middleton and Hugh Despenser the Younger (and the latter was not done at Edward's order, of course).  Poor man; no-one deserves to die like that.

13 April 1326: Edward tells the archbishop and prior of Canterbury and the abbot of St Augustine’s that "an invasion of the realm by aliens is threatened," i.e. his queen and Mortimer's invasion. 

10 April 1315: Edward passes legislation ordering the price of various basic foodstuffs to be fixed and regulated in an attempt to mitigate his subjects' misery during the Great Famine.

8 April 1314: Edward spends Easter Monday at Ely Cathedral, quizzing the monks as to their supposed possession of the body of St Alban when he'd just seen it in St Albans Abbey. Heh. "You know that my brothers of St Albans believe that they possess the body of the martyr. In this place the monks say that they have the body of the same saint. By God’s soul, I want to see in which place I ought chiefly to pay reverence to the remains of that holy body."

7 April 1323: Edward orders an inquiry into the recent near-escape of several Contrariants from Wallingford Castle.

4 April 1284: Death of Edward's uncle Alfonso XI of Castile, exactly three weeks before Edward was born.

4 April 1311: An anonymous letter-writer says that "a secret illness troubles [Piers Gaveston] much, compelling him to take short journeys."

3 April 1311: Birth of Edward's niece Margaret de Bohun, future countess of Devon.

3 April 1327: Custody of the former King Edward II is transferred from his cousin Earl Henry of Lancaster at Kenilworth Castle to Thomas, Lord Berkeley, Sir John Maltravers and Sir Thomas Gurney at Berkeley Castle.

2 April 1318: Robert Bruce seizes the port of Berwick-upon-Tweed, following several unsuccessful attempts.  Edward's efforts to take it back the following year end in embarrassing failure and it remains in Scottish hands until Edward III recaptures it in July 1333.

1 April 1312: Edward pretends in a letter to his father-in-law Philip IV of France that he is hurrying to Berwick-upon-Tweed, which Robert Bruce is currently besieging, when he is in fact far too concerned with Piers Gaveston's safety to do any such thing.  He fails to mention that his own men are holding the Scottish border against him to prevent him sending Piers there.  

15 April, 2012

Did Hugh Despenser the Younger Rape Isabella of France?

Almost certainly not.  The notion that Hugh may indeed have raped or otherwise sexually assaulted Queen Isabella has become so entrenched in some people's minds over the last few years, however, that an Amazon review of my friend Susan Higginbotham's novel about Hugh's wife Eleanor criticises the novel for not including it.  What's the evidence that he ever did such a vile thing?

Basically there isn't any, except modern speculation.  The first reference to it appears to be found in (as a friend on Twitter reminded me) Susan Howatch's 1974 novel Cashelmara, which is set in nineteenth-century Ireland but is a re-telling of Edward II's story, with the king renamed Patrick de Salis, Isabella Sarah Marriott, Piers Gaveston Derry Stranahan, Hugh Despenser Hugh MacGowan, and Roger Mortimer Maxwell Drummond.  I love the novel, though it's a touch melodramatic in places, and the scene where Edward/Patrick and Hugh both rape Isabella/Sarah is really disturbing.  Going somewhat off-topic here, there are some odd notions about Edward II's sexuality in fiction, not least the popular one that he can't have fathered his children.  Apart from this, the one that probably irritates me most appears in Maurice Druon's The She-Wolf of France (La Louve de France in the French original), a novel I loathed - I still get occasional comments and emails from Druon fans irate at my review of it - wherein Isabella states that Edward, ummmm, needed help from Hugh Despenser in order to be able to perform with her to conceive their children.  As three of their four children were born before Edward's close relationship with Hugh began, this isn't terribly likely.

Paul Doherty's 2003 non-fiction work Isabella and the Strange Death of Edward II contains a longish discussion about Edward and Isabella's sex life, which goes on for several pages (pp. 100-102), and discusses the contemporary (albeit not found in any English source) rumour that Edward II had an affair with his niece Eleanor de Clare, Hugh Despenser's wife.  Rather than leaving it there, Doherty goes on to speculate about possible 'wife-swapping' involving Hugh Despenser and Isabella, and states "I suspect that Edward may have tried to pressure Isabella into accepting an open marriage in which de Spencer [i.e. Hugh Despenser the Younger] wished to play a part...Wife-swapping is not a phenomenon solely reserved for the twentieth or twenty-first centuries."  Ummmmm, OK then.  He further speculates "De Spencer's sexual harassment of her would also explain Isabella's conduct with Mortimer.  Because of de Spencer's 'intrusion', she may have regarded her marriage as null and void.  If her husband insisted on playing the pander and allowing his favourite into her bed, why shouldn't Isabella choose for herself...?".  This is fantasy piled on fantasy without a shred of evidence, and I find the bit about Isabella regarding her marriage as 'null and void' particularly silly.  The (dreadful) prologue* of Doherty's (otherwise pretty good) 2005 novel The Cup of Ghosts has Hugh Despenser's "heart bubbling with lust to possess Isabella."  Given the way Doherty writes Isabella, it's hard to imagine how he thinks anyone of the era wasn't bubbling with lust to possess her, but I digress.

* Which contains such gems as Edward III being described as "screaming, his foam-flecked lips curling like those of a snarling dog" as though he was some kind of maniac, Isabella asking to be buried "next to Mortimer, like a bride beside her lover!", a myth Doherty insists on repeating in his novels, and the statement that Isabella "tore her husband from his throne. She locked him in Berkeley Castle, sealing him up like some rabid animal...".  What the hell???

Doherty's theory that Hugh Despenser sexually assaulted or harassed Queen Isabella is based solely on several letters Edward II sent to Isabella and her brother Charles IV in late 1325 and early 1326, after she had refused to return to England.  One letter says "The king knows for truth, and she knows, that Hugh has always procured her all the honour with the king that he could, and no evil or villainy was done to her...".  To Charles IV, Edward wrote that he "wishes the king of France to know that he could never perceive that Hugh, privately or openly, in word or deed, or in countenance, did not behave himself on all points towards the queen as he ought to have done to his lady."  Doherty assumes this means that some 'evil or villainy' was done to Isabella.  Her letters to Edward do not survive, only his replies, so possibly she had indeed complained to her husband about some 'evil' done to her by Hugh - although Doherty doesn't mention Edward's claim that the queen had sent several "loving letters" to Hugh while she was in France, or a letter of the queen which does survive (see below).  He argues that Isabella "had levelled allegations of a very serious nature against de Spencer.  If it was simply the seizure of her estates and household, or a clash over political and administrative issues, this would be apparent.  Instead, the king himself does not wish to spell out what de Spencer allegedly said or did to Isabella which she in turn, had reported to the French court.  In my view, Edward is referring to some sexual misconduct, which Isabella found offensive and disgusting."  In fact it's far more likely that - as discussed below - Isabella had claimed that her life was in danger from Hugh Despenser, not that he had committed any 'sexual misconduct' against her.  This is something that Edward II would have been equally reluctant to 'spell out' to Isabella's powerful brother.  We shouldn't forget either that Edward's messenger may have transmitted more details orally, details which Edward may not have been willing to commit to a written letter.

This supposed sexual misconduct, in Doherty's view, would explain "her elder son's adherence to her as well as the sustained support she received from both the papacy and the English hierarchy."  Isabella's son was only thirteen and not operating under his own agency; Edward of Windsor was essential to Isabella and Roger Mortimer's plans to invade England and they would not have allowed him to return to England and his father even if he wanted to (and whether he did or not is impossible to say).  It is most unlikely that Pope John XXII was supporting Isabella over Edward II - whatever his private sympathies may have been, the pope could hardly be seen to condone a wife refusing to return to her lord husband and her marital duties - and in fact appears to have been doing his best to reconcile the couple and avert war between them.  As for the support Isabella received in England in 1326/27, this is amply explained by Edward II's gross incompetence, his excessive favouritism towards the Despensers at the expense of his royal kinsmen the earls of Norfolk, Kent and Leicester (i.e. Henry of Lancaster) and others, his greed and barely legal land-grabbing, his callous treatment of many of the Contrariants who took part in the 1321/22 rebellion and their families, his numerous military failures, and so on and so forth.  Are we supposed to believe that the English nobility and episcopate knew that Hugh Despenser had sexually assaulted the queen and that this is the sole or main reason why so many of them supported her against Hugh and Edward?  I find that argument very unconvincing.

Alison Weir's 2005 book Isabella, She-Wolf of France, Queen of England, takes up Paul Doherty's theory and runs with it (pp. 148-150).  She cites a letter sent by Isabella to Edward on 5 February 1326, which (unlike the queen's earlier letter(s) to which Edward II responded) still survives, and which says, according to Weir, that Hugh "wished to dishonour her by every possible means".  Weir says "The words 'by every possible means', whilst they perhaps refer to to Despenser's vicious campaign to discredit Isabella, the disrespectful and injurious way in which he was to treat her, and his possible homosexual relationship* with her husband, are also suggestive of some serious sexual misconduct towards the Queen herself with the intent of humiliating and intimidating her.  Had Hugh thrust himself into her marriage bed, with Edward's connivance, or even raped her?  It is not beyond the bounds of possibility, considering his cruelty towards other women."

* The words 'homosexual relationship' really irritate me.  Why is it necessary to call it that when neither Weir nor anyone else would write about Isabella and Roger Mortimer's 'heterosexual relationship'?  Why not just say 'sexual relationship'?

Notice here that Alison Weir goes further than Paul Doherty, who writes of 'sexual misconduct' and 'sexual harassment' but never uses the word rape.  'It is not beyond the bounds of possibility', she says: weasel words that could be used in support of absolutely anything.  Isabella and Roger Mortimer imprisoned eighteen children in Chester Castle as hostages for the good behaviour of the townspeople in 1327 [Close Rolls 1327-1330, pp. 169, 187-188], had three of Hugh Despenser the Younger's daughters (the eldest of whom was about ten) forcibly veiled as nuns shortly after his execution, and had the earl of Kent's three infant children imprisoned with their mother at the time of Kent's execution in 1330.  Maybe Isabella and Roger ate babies.  It is not beyond the bounds of possibility, considering their cruelty towards other children.  The words of their Chester Castle order are suggestive of some serious misconduct towards children with the intent of humiliating and eating them.  I mean, you know, if we're going to accuse people of extremely serious crimes on remarkably flimsy evidence.

And I am really not a fan of meaningless rhetorical questions like Weir's "Did Hugh thrust himself into her marriage bed...?" and Paul Doherty's "Did de Spencer, who, after Boroughbridge, was given virtually everything else, demand Isabella as well?"  Because yeah, obviously there's no difference at all between Edward giving him lots of other people's lands and giving him sexual access to the royal person of his queen.  The 'cruelty to other women' Weir mentions means (presumably) Hugh's alleged torture of Lady Baret, a story I doubt the veracity of, his imprisonment of Elizabeth Comyn until she handed over some of her lands to him, and his threat to Alice de Lacy that she would be burned alive unless she gave him and his father some of her lands.  Nasty, very nasty, but not in themselves evidence that he was a rapist.

Seymour Phillips (Edward II, 2010, p. 491) cites and translates much of the queen's letter to her husband of 5 February 1326: Isabella wrote that Hugh "wished to dishonour us by [all means in] his power" and that she had hidden her dislike of him for a long time in order to escape danger (Hughe...nous voudrait deshonurer a son poiar...nous layoms dissimule longtemps pur le peril eschuver).  This danger is explicitly stated later as being danger to the queen's life, this being the reason Isabella did not dare to return to "the company of our said lord," i.e. Edward, and that this danger caused her so much grief that she could write no more of it (nous ne pourroms retourner en la compagnie de noster dit seignur saunz nous mestre en peril de mort dount nous sumes en plus graves meschief qe escrivre ne poems; Isabella had also written a few lines earlier that she wished above all else, after God and the salvation of her soul, to return to Edward's company and live and die there, estre en la compaignie de nostre dit seignur et vivre et morir en icele, and had called her husband "our very dear and very sweet lord and friend," nostre treschier et tresdouche seignur et amy).  Notice that the letter says Hugh wished to dishonour Isabella a son poiar, literally 'by (or through) his power' in the sense of 'with all his power', not exactly 'by every possible means' as Weir cites it.  There's no hint in the letter of any kind of sexual assault carried out or threatened by Hugh Despenser, though it's interesting to speculate in which ways Isabella felt her life to be in danger from him.

This section of Weir's book, incidentally, puts forward the notion that Edward II in 1322 was "being promiscuous with low-born men", who were, she claims, paid "substantial sums" of money to spend time "in his company", which she describes as "hush money".  Sadly for this salacious theory, the men she names were in fact members of Edward's household, and the supposed 'hush money' was merely - oh dear - their wages.  Weir also claims that Hugh Despenser's influence over Edward "was rooted in a perverted sexual dominance" - needless to say, Roger Mortimer's later presumed sexual dominance over Isabella is not 'perverted' - and that Edward's relationship with Hugh was an "insult" to Isabella's "femininity".  Ohhhhhkaaaaay.

The charges against Hugh Despenser at his trial in Hereford in November 1326 include: that he counselled Edward to leave Isabella in peril of her life at Tynemouth in 1322; that he procured discord between the king and queen; that he persuaded Edward to 'oust' her from her lands in 1324; that he had her sent to France in 1325 'meanly, against the dignity of her estate'; that he tried to bribe French courtiers to have her and her son Edward of Windsor 'destroyed'.  No mention is made of any kind of physical or sexual assault on the queen.  Not that Isabella would necessarily have wanted such an awful experience shouted out in public, of course, but one wonders how all the 'English hierarchy' in 1326 knew of the sexual assault Hugh Despenser supposedly inflicted on Isabella and yet not a trace of it has come down to us in any source.  You'd think a chronicler or several would at least hint at it.  Perhaps Hugh's attempts to bribe someone in France to - presumably - have Isabella killed are the source of her claims that her life was in danger from him.

 Of course, there's no way of proving that Hugh Despenser didn't rape or otherwise sexually assault Isabella, but there's no reason to think that he did, or that he had any sexual interest in her.  Before accusing someone of such a serious and awful crime, we should have more evidence than assumptions by a couple of modern writers that his 'dishonour' of the queen might possibly, perhaps, maybe, have meant something sexual.  Hugh behaved extremely unpleasantly in many ways, but whatever his track record there is no evidence that he was a rapist, and just because he is so often written nowadays as a one-dimensional cartoonish moustache-twirling villain is no excuse to ascribe serious sexual crimes to him just because an unpleasant person 'might' have committed them.  I've noticed a trend in some modern historical fiction to make certain characters highly unsympathetic to the reader by having them commit sexual offences: William, Lord Hastings is written as a rapist and killer of young girls in one novel which portrays the future Richard III, who had Hastings executed without trial in 1483, as not far removed from a saint; the earl of Buchan (d. 1308) is a rapist and beater of his wife Isobel MacDuff, who has what the author obviously considers a deeply romantic affair with Robert Bruce; John Morton, close ally and chancellor of Henry VII, is said to have a taste for young boys.  It's bad enough in fiction to see the posthumous reputations of people who really lived trashed in a blatant attempt to make their opponents more sympathetic and 'tragic' to readers.  I don't want to see it in non-fiction too.

12 April, 2012

Novel Review: The Vows Of The Peacock

Author, Alice Walworth Graham; published in 1955 by Eyre and Spottiswoode.

The novel is narrated in the first person by Elisabeth (spelt with a 's' for some reason) Beauchamp, one of the daughters of Guy Beauchamp, earl of Warwick - the man who abducted Piers Gaveston in June 1312 - and Alice Toeni.  Elisabeth is selected in early 1308 to be one of the companions of Isabella, the new queen of England, when she (Elisabeth) is said to be a little younger than the queen and eleven years old, which would place her birth in 1296 or early 1297. The immediate problem with this is that Earl Guy and Alice didn't actually marry until 1309; Alice's first husband Thomas Leyburne, father of her daughter Juliana, died in the summer of 1307.  So the choice of narrator is somewhat odd.  Perhaps fifty-odd years ago it was assumed that Guy and Alice's marriage had taken place much earlier than it did.  Anyway, it gives the author a narrator close to Isabella and Edward II who can see and report on the events and personalities of his reign, though (as sometimes happens when writers choose first-person narrators, especially female ones) events are often reported to her afterwards rather than her experiencing them personally, which can make the narrative seem distant and uninvolving, particularly when the battle of Bannockburn and Edward III's arrest of Roger Mortimer in 1330 are explained to Elisabeth at rather tedious length after they happen.

The novel is extremely descriptive and contains little action; it's a pretty traditional re-telling of Edward II's reign, beginning with Isabella's arrival in England in 1308 and ending - as Edward II novels almost invariably do - with the arrest of Roger Mortimer in October 1330.  The novel's title refers to Edward and Isabella's long visit to the court of her father Philip IV in 1313, when the royals swore vows to, variously, go on pilgrimage to the Holy Land, defeat Robert Bruce once and for all, promote good relations between England and France, and so forth.  Much of the novel is about Elisabeth's marriage to Thomas Astley, and it often feels as though the real story is happening elsewhere while she talks about feasts and hunts and spending time with her in-laws and the endless minutiae of her daily life.  (The couple didn't actually marry until the 1330s, and at least one of their children lived into the 1400s.)  Piers Gaveston barely appears, except to sneer at the queen and Elisabeth in very sneery fashion, and is described as 'graceless' and 'of low birth', which doesn't sound like the Piers I know.  The narrative moves so fast that one minute we're in 1308, then suddenly it's 1312 and Piers is dead, then we're in 1314 and Edward loses at Bannockburn, and a few pages later it's suddenly 1321.  Edward II is at first described as extremely handsome, but he soon 'loses his youth' and gains a 'thickened' body and features, and is kind of gross and overweight.  (Yes, the sporty athletic Edward II who spent a lot of time outdoors swimming and digging and so on.)  He's contrasted unfavourably with the very manly and wonderful Roger Mortimer, with whom Elisabeth is obsessed, who is often talked about in the narrative off doing very manly and wonderful things in Ireland and elsewhere while Edward II drinks and behaves pettishly and very little else.  Isabella is a far more complex character than her husband, depicted sympathetically though not uncritically.  She despises her husband - not surprising, given the way Walworth Graham has written Edward as astonishingly dislikeable - and falls madly in love or lust with Mortimer.  In this novel, you can see why, and they're described several times as lions, fierce, 'snarling and snatching'.  Edward, Hugh Despenser, Piers Gaveston, Thomas of Lancaster, in fact all the characters apart from Isabella, Roger Mortimer and the weirdly too-old Elisabeth Beauchamp, are enigmas, barely characterised beyond the absolute basics.

Vows of the Peacock is another of those novels that have to describe Isabella's beauty constantly, which gets really dull (at least for me).  None of the other women, except Elisabeth herself, are attractive: Piers Gaveston's wife Margaret de Clare, for instance, is called 'blowsy' and 'florid' in 1308, with breasts that are already starting to sag.  Poor Margaret, fourteen years old and already looking like a forty-year-old.  Her sister Eleanor is a barely even one-dimensional 'sheep of a woman', and - groooooooooooan - Edward II arranges her marriage to Hugh Despenser in or after 1321 (it's hard to get a sense of the correct date in the narrative), a mere fifteen years too late.  Walworth Graham appears confused about the age of the de Clare siblings, and says that the earl of Gloucester was not yet eighteen at the time of his death at Bannockburn - actually he was twenty-three - and yet describes his sister Margaret as already middle-aged shortly after her marriage to Piers a few years earlier.  The novel is reasonably accurate historically, although Edward II's sister Joan of Acre is still alive at the time of her daughter Margaret's marriage to Piers, and Margaret's second marriage to Hugh Audley has already taken place in 1313, four years too early.  Henry of Lancaster's wife Maud Chaworth appears unaware that she is Hugh Despenser the Younger's half-sister, while Henry himself and his brother Thomas are unaware that they are Isabella's uncles.  (In fairness, a lot of writers have missed that, including someone who gained her doctorate writing about Isabella.)  Did the English nobility in the 1300s really still think of themselves as solely 'Norman' and the rest of the English as 'Saxons', and the English language as 'barbarous'?

Vows of the Peacock overall is a reasonably good read if you find a copy, though the narrative manages at once to be too slow and endlessly descriptive, and too fast, by skating over most of the major events of the reign.  There's a great deal about daily life in the fourteenth century, which some readers will certainly enjoy, though anyone looking for an in-depth historical study and character-driven fiction will probably be disappointed.

04 April, 2012

Edward II's 'Favourites': A Comparative Study

I was just thinking recently about what a dangerous occupation it was to be beloved of Edward II.  Of the five men who can be said to have been the king's 'favourites' - Piers Gaveston, Roger Damory, Hugh Audley, William Montacute, Hugh Despenser the Younger - only one survived the reign.

- Piers Gaveston, earl of Cornwall (c. 1281/83 - 19 June 1312)

A member of the future Edward II's household from 1300, or perhaps even as early as 1298 when Edward was only fourteen, Piers was without doubt the great love of Edward's life, and the king was still remembering him in prayers at the end of his reign.  (Whatever Edward II's many faults, he was loyal to those he loved.)  Edward's actions in recalling Piers from exile no fewer than three times, particularly in late 1311, seem politically foolish and exasperated many at the time, but clearly stemmed from a deep love and a need to have Piers near him.  Piers was beheaded and run through with a sword at Blacklow Hill, Warwickshire on 19 June 1312, at the instigation of the earl of Lancaster.  He left a legitimate daughter, Joan, by Edward's niece Margaret de Clare, who died around the time of her thirteenth birthday in January 1325, and an illegitimate daughter Amy, who married and had children.

 - Sir Roger Damory (c. late 1270s/early 1280s - 12 March 1322).

Roger rose in the king's favour in late 1315, and numerous grants of lands, income, appointments and wardships in 1316 and 1317 track Edward's growing infatuation with the Oxfordshire/Buckinghamshire knight, which culminated in his marriage to Edward's wealthy niece Elizabeth.  He was highly influential at court until Hugh Despenser the Younger displaced him in the king's affections, and subsequently joined the Contrariant rebellion against Edward in 1321/22.  Roger Damory died at Tutbury on 12 March* 1322 from wounds sustained while fighting against Edward's army; the king's beloved friend (or whatever he was to Edward) ending up dead in rebellion against him.  What a story!  See also Hannah's post about his trial and death.  Roger left one legitimate child, Elizabeth, who married John, Lord Bardolf and had children.

(* The date of Roger's death is usually given, including in the Oxford Dictionary of National Biography, as 13 or 14 March 1322, but his widow Elizabeth de Burgh commemorated his death on 12 March every year by giving food to the poor: Frances Underhill, For Her Good Estate: The Life of Elizabeth de Burgh, p. 30.) 

- Hugh Audley, later earl of Gloucester (c. 1289/93 - 10 November 1347)

The only favourite of the king to survive the reign, Hugh thrived in Edward III's, being made earl of Gloucester in 1337.  A close(ish) relative of Roger Mortimer, Hugh joined the king's household in late 1311 and rose in his favour in 1316, being rewarded with the other great prize at Edward II's disposal, marriage to Piers Gaveston's widow Margaret.  It seems that Edward was not nearly as infatuated with Hugh as he was with Roger Damory, but still Hugh rose much higher than his rank and birth would ordinarily lead one to expect.  Hugh also joined the Contrariant rebellion and might well have been executed, except that his wife Margaret pleaded for his life, and he thus survived the reign.  Hugh and Margaret's daughter Margaret had five children by her husband Ralph Stafford, via whom Hugh is the ancestor of - oooh, pretty well everyone.

- Sir William Montacute (c. late 1270s - mid-October 1319)

Not entirely a 'favourite' in the sense that the other men were, perhaps, but William was also a great influence at court from about 1316 to 1318 and was named in various chronicles in the same breath as Roger Damory and Hugh Audley (collectively they were deemed 'worse than Piers').  He was knighted with Edward in 1306, and had known the king for a long time.  Edward couldn't reward him with the marriage of a niece as William was already married to Elizabeth de Montfort, and in fact William was the only one of the five 'favourites' not married to a de Clare sister.  He was sent away from the king in 1318 to be steward of Gascony, in what was officially a promotion but was really intended to remove him from Edward's court, and died there in autumn 1319, of natural causes as far as I know.  His son and heir William thrived in Edward III's reign, being the king's closest friend and made earl of Salisbury.

- Hugh Despenser the Younger, lord of Glamorgan (c. 1287/90 - 4 November 1326)

What else can I say about Hugh, haha.  He and Edward II must have known each other for many years, as Hugh was knighted with Edward in 1306 and married his niece Eleanor de Clare a few days later, and his grandfather the earl of Warwick had been a friend of Edward I.  There is no indication that Edward cared at all about Hugh or even noticed him much until after parliament appointed him the king's chamberlain in 1318, but once he and Hugh had become close in and after 1319, Hugh remained firmly in the king's favour until his grotesque execution on the orders of Isabella of France and Roger Mortimer on 24 November 1326.  He left at least nine children, three of whom suffered from Isabella's spiteful vindictiveness by being forcibly veiled as nuns a few weeks after Hugh's death.