23 June, 2012

Edward II And His Relationship With His Children

I'm becoming perturbed at a notion I've seen repeated several times recently - in two badly-written and barely-researched novels and various online articles - that Edward II 'ignored' his children and didn't care about them, to the point where he could hardly even remember their names and was unwilling to pay their expenses.  Where the hell does this notion come from?  And why do some people think, as I was informed in a blog comment and an email, that there's actually some historical evidence for it?  I can't imagine, but it's time to put this idiocy to rest right now.  The promised 'evidence', incidentally, was not forthcoming.  Now there's a surprise.  In fact, no historian or non-fiction writer of the last 700 years has ever, to my knowledge, argued that Edward II was a negligent parent; even Alison Weir, who appears to despise him, admits that he was a "good and loving father."  Neither did anyone in his own time claim that he was cruel to or did not love or was in any way neglectful of his children and his responsibilities towards them.  So, therefore, to anyone who is perpetuating this nonsense about him: just stop it.  To anyone who's read this rubbish somewhere and is wondering if there's any truth in it: no, there certainly isn't.  (You know, I am so damn sick of people inventing this kind of nasty, hateful nonsense to make Edward more unsympathetic or unlikeable to their readers.  How would you like it if you were accused of being a bad, unloving and neglectful parent when in fact you adore your children and would do anything for them?  It would hurt, wouldn't it?  Why are you saying it about Edward II then?)

See also here and here for my previous posts about Edward II and Isabella of France's four children (Edward III, born November 1312; John of Eltham, born August 1316 (Johan in contemporary spelling); Eleanor of Woodstock, born June 1318 (Alianore or Alienora); Joan (Johane) of the Tower, born July 1321).  Firstly I should point out that we're talking about 700 years ago and there really isn't very much evidence for anyone's personal relationship with anyone else, sadly; personal letters are practically non-existent, diaries actually are non-existent.  Secondly, we have to remember that familial norms of 700 years ago were different, and that Edward II was a medieval king, not a modern hands-on father.  This is so obvious it shouldn't even need pointing out, but unfortunately it does to some people.

Edward II was twenty-eight when his son and heir the future Edward III was born at Windsor on 13 November 1312.  (He might have become a father much sooner, but had to wait for Isabella, who was sixteen when their son was conceived, to be old enough to bear children.  Actually, he had become a father much sooner: his illegitimate son Adam was born sometime before 1310.)  The Vita Edwardi Secundi and the St Albans chronicler both say that the boy's birth "much lessened the grief which had inflicted the king on Piers' death," [1] which, given how much and for how long Edward had loved Piers Gaveston, is significant.  Edward granted the enormous sum of eighty pounds annually to Isabella's steward John Launge and his wife Joan, "on account of his bringing to the king the news of the birth of Edward his first-born son," on 16 December.  [2]  As Edward II was actually at Windsor at the time of the birth, this can hardly have been an onerous task for John Launge, and eighty pounds a year gave him and his wife a higher income than some knights.  Edward of Windsor was only eleven days old when his father granted him the entire earldom of Chester on 24 November, an earldom for which Edward of Caernarfon himself had had to wait until he was almost seventeen to receive from Edward I.  [3]  As Ian Mortimer points out in his biography of Edward III, "The king's [Edward II's] instinct was to shower those whom he loved with presents, and so he immediately ordered that the baby be raised to the front rank of the peerage."  [4]  Further grants of lands were made to the boy over the next few years, and he was also given a large household of his own.  This, of course, was entirely expected and normal for the heir to the throne, and it would have been an insult to the boy if he hadn't.

Edward and Isabella's second son John was born at Eltham in Kent on 15 August 1316, and perhaps named in honour of the new pope, John XXII.  Edward was 250 miles away in Yorkshire at the time, meeting his cousin Earl Thomas of Lancaster; John was his only child for whose birth he wasn't somewhere close by.  The king had shown his concern for Isabella's comfort during her pregnancy by paying twenty pounds to John Fleg, horse dealer of London, for a bay horse "to carry the litter of the lady the queen" and paying Vannus Ballardi of the Lucca banking firm the Ballardi almost four pounds for pieces of silk and gold tissue and flame-coloured silk to make cushions for Isabella’s carriage, so that she could travel in greater comfort. [5] Edward gave £100 to Isabella’s steward Eubulo Montibus, who rode from Eltham to York to bring him the happy news, and the St Albans chronicler comments on Edward’s joy at the birth of his son. He had heard the news from Montibus by 24 August, on which date he asked the Dominicans of York to say prayers for himself, "Queen Isabella our very dear consort, Edward of Windsor our eldest son, and John of Eltham our youngest son, especially on account of John." Edward had a piece of Turkey cloth and a piece of cloth-of-gold delivered to Eltham, to cover the font in the chapel during John's baptism, and ordered Isabella's tailor Stephen de Falaise to make her a robe from five pieces of white velvet for her churching ceremony. [6]  John appears to have joined the household of his older brother the heir to the throne, and in later years - I'm not sure when - was granted his own household under the command of his first cousin Eleanor (née de Clare) Despenser, who remained in charge until late 1326.  Paul Doherty, a harsh critic of Edward II and just about everything he ever did, and the inventor of what I sometimes call the 'OMG Edward II totally stole Isabella's children from her OMG!!!' theory, calls Eleanor in his rather bizarre book Isabella and the Strange Death of Edward II merely "Eleanor de Spencer [sic], Hugh the Younger's wife." It's interesting to note how he neglects to point out that she was also Edward I's eldest granddaughter, the daughter of Gilbert 'the Red' de Clare, earl of Gloucester (d. 1295), in his day arguably the greatest nobleman in England, and a mother of at least nine children. Eleanor was thus of extremely high birth and an entirely appropriate person to be in charge of the household of the second in line to the throne (who was her own first cousin, albeit twenty-four years younger).

Edward II was at Woodstock with Isabella when their first daughter Eleanor was born on 18 June 1318, and the king's wardrobe accounts record a payment of 500 marks to "Lady Isabella, queen of England, of the king's gift, for the feast of her purification after the birth of Lady Alienora her daughter." The little girl soon joined the household of her elder brothers, under the care of a nurse named Joan du Bois. [7]  The king and queen's youngest child Joan was born in the Tower of London on 5 July 1321; Edward, then somewhere in London or Westminster, granted Robert Staunton a respite of eighty pounds on a debt of £180 he owed to the Exchequer, "in consideration of his services to queen Isabella, and of his bringing news of her delivery of Joan, the king's daughter." [8]   Edward arrived at the Tower on 8 July and stayed with Isabella and their newborn daughter for six days, removing the constable, John Cromwell, from his post, as the Tower was in a rather dilapidated state and rainwater had come in through the roof onto the queen's bed while she was in labour.  Edward later set up a household for Eleanor and Joan under the overall command of Hugh Despenser the Younger's sister Isabel, Lady Hastings; the girls' governess (mestresse) was Joan Jermy, sister of Edward's sister-in-law Alice Hales, countess of Norfolk. Isabel Hastings was married to Ralph de Monthermer, who had previously been married to Edward II's sister Joan of Acre and was therefore the girls' uncle. And thus, three more entirely appropriate people looked after the king and queen's children. There is nothing at all to suggest, incidentally, that Edward II cruelly and spitefully 'removed' his children from Isabella's care in 1324, as a few modern writers claim (I'll be looking at this in more detail in a future post). The king wrote to his daughters, then living at Marlborough Castle, on 26 July 1326, and no doubt on other occasions too, but the record of those letters happens to survive (Edward gave a messenger five shillings to ride from Sheen to Marlborough "to his daughters, with letters from the king"). He arranged excellent marriages, which didn't go ahead owing to his deposition, for Eleanor and Joan with King Alfonso XI of Castile and the future King Pedro IV of Aragon.

Edward's actions during Isabella's pregnancies indicate how concerned he was about her well-being and that of their children, and I'm going to point out again here that the oft-repeated story that he 'abandoned' her at Tynemouth when she was pregnant with Edward III in May 1312 is a total myth, as Isabella's own surviving household account of 1312 proves.  See also Seymour Phillips, Edward II (2010), p. 203: "Contrary to the report in Trokelowe's chronicle, written at St Albans, the pregnant Isabella was not abandoned at Tynemouth; instead she left there with her husband on 5 May and accompanied him to Scarborough before returning to York on 17 May."  As Professor Phillips points out in a footnote, Trokelowe confuses events of 1312 with those of 1322, another occasion when Isabella was in Tynemouth and caught behind Scottish lines.  Not that this is ever going to stop fans of the Victim!Isabella school of thought repeating it solemnly as fact, however.  I imagine they can even think of something to find fault with in Edward's concern for his pregnant queen; no doubt in their minds, it proves that he was only interested in her as a 'brood mare' or some such nonsense.  If we try to look at the details we know about Edward II and Isabella of France's family life objectively or with sympathy towards Edward, rather than with the assumption that he was a cruel neglectful horrid husband and father to his long-suffering wife and children, a touching picture emerges of the king's delight in his children, his concern for their and Isabella's health and well-being, his treating his children with the respect to which royal children were entitled by granting them lands and their own households and servants, arranging good marriages for them and frequently ordering prayers to be said for them and his wife.  Not least, his actions demonstrate his total certainty that his children were indeed his. 

I have no idea how Edward of Windsor, the future Edward III, felt about Edward II as he was growing up. It's hard to imagine that he could have felt much pride in his father's rule. The boy's childhood was punctuated by his father's failures, problems and errors, such as Bannockburn when he was only nineteen months old, the endless conflict with the powerful earl of Lancaster, the loss of Berwick, the Contrariant rebellion of 1321, the disastrous Scots campaign of 1322, the unsuccessful war with France in 1324/25, the domination of the Despensers, and so on. Edward III's attitude to his father may have been very similar to his grandfather Edward I's attitude to his inept father Henry III: whatever his determination to be a better ruler and warrior and to avoid making Henry's mistakes, there is no doubt that Edward I loved Henry as a father, enjoyed a very close relationship with him and mourned him sincerely when he died. Edward of Windsor's probable embarrassment and shame at his father's misrule and his concern that Edward II was destroying his inheritance, does not necessarily mean that their personal relationship as father and son was an unhappy or not a close one. Edward II's younger children John, Eleanor and Joan were very young, only ten, eight and five, at the time of his deposition.  There is no reason whatsoever to suppose that they did not love their father or that he did not love them or care about them.

Edward II's relationship with Edward of Windsor became much more difficult and fraught in late 1325 and 1326, when Isabella chose to use the boy (then thirteen) as a weapon against her husband. It's unfortunate that much of what we know about Edward II's relationship with his son comes from the period when the latter was being held in France, whether with his consent or not is impossible to say.  Edward II sent three letters to his 'fair son' (Beaufitz) which are full of his distress, fear and anger that his beloved son had been taken from him and was being used against him, and that a marriage was being arranged for him to which Edward (the king) had not consented.  On 19 June 1326, a furious and distraught Edward ended his final letter to his son, who must also have been distraught to read it, with a threat: "...if the king find him contrary or disobedient hereafter to his will, he will ordain in such wise that Edward [of Windsor] shall feel it all the days of his life, and that all other sons shall take example thereby of disobeying their lords and fathers."  After September 1325, father and son would never see each other again, and I find it so sad that this is the last known contact between them.  In their rush to praise Isabella for her cleverness and bravery in detaining her son in France and using him as a figurehead in the invasion of England, very few commentators stop to consider the tragic personal consequences of this act: the destruction of Edward II and Edward III's relationship.  But hey, it's only Edward II, the useless snivelling gay king whom most people despise and who probably didn't even father the boy anyway, so who cares?   And it's Isabella, the patron saint of medieval feminist empowerment, so her actions are seen as brave and wonderful.  I'm struggling to imagine another woman who could destroy the personal relationship of her husband and son as completely as Isabella did, another woman who could hold her adolescent son hostage in another country to prevent him returning to his father - or who at the very least forced him to choose between his father and her - and ensure that the two could never meet or ever enjoy the same closeness again, and be lauded for it as Isabella usually is.

These letters of Edward II, and his letters sent at the same time to his rebellious queen and her brother, have often been used by writers as evidence that he was weak, feeble, unmanly; the contempt with which his emotive and anguished phrases have been dissected and sneered at in certain quarters is truly remarkable to me.  (Or it would be, if I weren't so used to the utter contempt in which many writers hold Edward.)  I'm not sure really what the correct and appropriate way would be for someone to react and feel and write in emotionally painful and difficult circumstances where he feels that he is losing his own child, and that the child has been forced to choose between his parents and is being deliberately used as a weapon against his father. (I'm sure Edward's detractors would themselves have written much more manly, strong, virile and unequivocally heterosexual letters in this horrible situation. Or you know, whatever.  Stiff upper lip and all that, what what?)

I have a personal interest in all this, admittedly; I care very much about Edward II and it genuinely hurts and upsets me when people accuse him without any evidence whatsoever of being a bad uncaring father.  Say all you want about him being an inadequate military leader and ruler, he deserves it, but don't make up such horribly personal insulting things about him.  Simply being a bad king doesn't mean he was bad at everything and a total failure in all his personal relationships.  Even if he was a bad husband - which isn't nearly as obviously true as a lot of people seem to think - this doesn't automatically make him a bad father.  It really doesn't.


1) Johannis de Trokelowe et Henrici de Blaneforde Chronica et Annales, ed. H. T. Riley, pp. 79-80; Vita Edwardi Secundi, ed. N. Denholm-Young, p. 36.
2) Calendar of Patent Rolls 1307-1313, pp. 516, 519.
3) Calendar of Charter Rolls 1300-1326, p. 202.
4) Ian Mortimer, The Perfect King: The Life of Edward III, Father of the English Nation, p. 23.
5) Frederick Devon, Issues of the Exchequer: Being A Collection of Payments Made Out of His Majesty’s Revenue from King Henry III to King Henry VI Inclusive, p. 131; Thomas Stapleton, 'A Brief Summary of the Wardrobe Accounts of the tenth, eleventh, and fourteenth years of King Edward the Second', Archaeologia, 26 (1836), pp. 342-343.
6) Stapleton, 'Brief Summary', p. 320 (Montibus and baptism); Trokelowe, ed. Riley, p. 95; Close Rolls 1313-1318, p. 430 (prayers).
7) Stapleton, 'Brief Summary', p. 337 (purification); Calendar of Fine Rolls 1307-1319, p. 389 (household); Patent Rolls 1327-1330, p. 163 (nurse).
8) Patent Rolls 1321-1324, p. 23.


Brian Wainwright said...

Great post! There is no evidence Edward was a bad father by the standards of his time, as you have clearly demonstrated.

Kathryn Warner said...

Thanks, Brian! Glad you liked the post.

Anonymous said...

Great post! However, there have been a some who accuse Isabella of being a neglectful mom, so I think that accusations of bad parenting are thrown "willy nilly" against which of the two the accuser dislikes most. Also, I am not sure if the breach between Edward II and his eldest son lasted very long; Edward III refused the crown unless Edward II consented ... and (if certain ideas about an escape are accepted), the one person Edward II contacted was his son.


Kathryn Warner said...

Thank you, Esther! Yes, accusing Isabella of being a neglectful mother is also unfair. I do wish people wouldn't write such things. Good point too about Edward III refusing the crown unless he knew his father consented. I should also have mentioned William le Galeys in the post, Edward III possibly meeting his father in Germany in 1338.

Anerje said...

I've read one of those novels - and it was just too ridiculous for words. There's no evidence of Edward neglecting and mistreating his children. When you think of Edward II's childhood - hardly seeing his parents as a very young child, losing his mother and then his having a very dominating father - I'm sure he would not have wanted the same for his children.

Kathryn Warner said...

So true, Anerje!

Carla said...

Great post. At least people who read the novels you mention and then go looking for information about Edward II and his relationship with his children have the chance of ending up here and being able to see the actual evidence.

Kathryn Warner said...

Thanks, Carla! Yes, I really hope that some people at least look for proper information and find this post.

David said...

Great post, especially the examination of the relationship between Edward II and his eldest son - I've often wondered about that, to what extent Edward III was ashamed of his father, and if that was the reason for the relentless military aggression and deliberately conventional 'kingly' image that characterised his reign: making up for Ed II's failures etc.

Kathryn Warner said...

Thanks, David! Yes, I'd really love to know how Edward III felt about his father and to what extent his actions were a reaction to Ed II's failures.

Gabriele Campbell said...

Some people. *shakes head* Of all the English kings a know something about I can most likely imagine Edward to let little Ed ride on his shoulders and play with him (and the other kids).

Gabriele Campbell said...

Some people. *shakes head* Of all the English kings I know something about, I can most likely imagine Edward letting little Ed ride on his shoulders and play with him (and the other kids).

Philip Terzian said...

Well done, with the added virtue of being true!

Philip Terzian said...

Well done -- and with the added virtue of being true!

Kathryn Warner said...

Thanks, Philip!

MRats said...

I skipped ahead to this post because it's a subject close to my heart. I've always believed that Edward was a good father and I knew that you would provide the facts to validate my view.

But, to vary on the words of the Oracle in "The Matrix", Seymour Phillips really baked my noodle with the following revelation: "Contrary to the report in Trokelowe's chronicle, written at St Albans, the pregnant Isabella was not abandoned at Tynemouth; instead she left there with her husband on 5 May and accompanied him to Scarborough before returning to York on 17 May."

Now, I'm delighted Isabella went with Edward and Piers to Scarborough, but surely the author meant she ARRIVED at York on May 17th. Piers surrendered only two days later. Surely it would have been mentioned in the chronicles if the Queen had crossed the "siege line" to leave the castle? When Edward departed in the effort to muster forces, did Isabella stay behind with Piers? With that in mind, it would astound me that anyone could ever have thought that Piers and Isabella clashed over Edward. It would appear they were a tightly knit trio, to be sure. Was she truly there and did she leave at so late a time?

And that brings me to a more serious thought. As you know I look at Edward's relationships with men differently than most of my fellow readers. (Credit Harold Hutchison's "Edward II".) But if I'm wrong, and Edward did have a succession of male lovers, we've seen how he could transfer his affections. To MY mind, he was only turning from his old friends to a new one who might be just the wicked genius he needed to get his long-awaited revenge. But that may not be correct. You've mentioned how his favoritism toward Hugh the Younger put an end to his alliances--whatever their nature--with Hugh D'Audley and Roger D'Amory. If the three men were more than friends to Edward, do you suppose, and I shudder to even write the words, that Edward abandoned Piers for Isabella?

Please, when you have a moment, send a message of comfort. I beg you to thump me for ever allowing such a thought to enter my mind!

Kathryn Warner said...

Hi MRats! :) I looked at the timing of May 1312 when researching this post: http://edwardthesecond.blogspot.co.uk/2012/11/demolishing-myths-about-edward-ii-part.html It's not entirely clear where Isabella was, but she either she travelled with Ed and Piers and then with Ed to York, or went overland and met Ed at York. I'm sure she wasn't in Scarborough Castle with Piers, though I do believe her relationship with him was much better than most modern writers assume.

I'm also certain that Edward didn't abandon Piers for Isabella :) I think all four of them (inc Marg de Clare) got on fine. He didn't start a relationship, whatever the nature of it was, with Roger Damory until at least early 1315, even late 1315, so a few years after Piers' death. I don't think there's any question of Ed transferring his affections. He adored Piers and no-one took his place. It may have been Piers' funeral in early Jan 1315 which enabled Ed in some ways to 'move on'.

MRats said...

I humbly kiss your toes in gratitude for taking the time to offer words of comfort.

Looking at it my way--or rather Harold Hutchison's--there's no reason to believe that Edward ever gave Piers up for anyone. I believe that Edward loved Isabella romantically and not just out of duty, but Piers always remained first in his heart. Nevertheless panic ensues when I take into consideration the fact that I could be wrong.

Anerje wrote in a post that she thought Edward waited to bury Piers because he couldn't bring himself to let go. I've also read that Edward wanted to exact his revenge before laying Piers to rest. It's been so long, I don't recall the source, but I believe there's truth to both theories.

Even when I try to look at it from all sides, I never worry that Edward left Piers for Roger or any other man. When he and Piers were apart they seem to have turned to women for comfort. Adam's conception appears to have taken place when Edward I removed Piers from the Prince's household. Joan Gaveston was conceived--if I remember right--during the campaign against the Scots. That's not to say that neither could have happened while Edward and Piers were together. Isabella became pregnant while they were all under the same roof. But it looks as though Edward and Piers were apart on the two previous occasions.

I should just stay true to my own beliefs, since I'm too hard-wired after all these years to change them. But I respect the views of others, especially since I'm the odd one out. Am I forgiven?

Kathryn Warner said...

Quite a few 14thc chroniclers, including the Vita Edwardi Secundi, claim that Edward wanted revenge for Piers before burying him. I also think there's truth in both notions.

I'd so love to know when Adam was conceived, and Piers' illegitimate daughter Amie. Quite possibly, both in 1307 when Piers was exiled for a while. Yes, Joan Gaveston was conceived in about April 1311 when Piers and Margaret were in or around Perth and Edward and Isabella in Berwick.

Definitely forgiven - nothing to be forgiven for :) :) x

Nadine Le Danois said...

Dear Kathryn and all others, who have written here!

I hope,that it is not too late to write another post here. I have just taken a big interest in the lives of Edward II, Piers Gaveston (and Isabella) - beeing danish, I had not heard about neither of them until recently.

Dear Kathryn, I am SO very pleased, that I found this webside of yours, so thank you, for all your hard work and for sharing it!
I am so glad to find out, that You and others see at Edward II, Piers and Isabella the same way, as I do. I am looking forward to read your book.

Also I would add, that I have had accurately the same thoughts as "MRats" about the nature of Edwards relationships to Piers, Isabella, and other men, as well as your thoughts about, when the children were conceived.
Additionally, I think it's interesting, that Isabella gets pregnant with the baby-Edward III a couple of months after the birth of Piers' daugther. Maybe Edward thought it was time for him to be a father too,(and Isabella was now old enough to bear a child). I believe, that maybe Edward talked about it with Piers, and that Edward spent "adulttime" with Isabella, eventhough it is my understanding, that they (Edward and Piers) were under the same roof? I guess, Edward and Piers must have needed each other particularly much in that periode of time shortly after Piers had been avay banished from England. - I hope this makes sense - my english is not as well as I would wish.
As I see Edward, he was a man with a big enough heart to love both Piers and Isabella, though Piers was his favorite, and was a very good husbond to Isabella for mostpart of their marriage - and a good father too.

I have three questions for you, Kathryn. I hope you have time to answer.
1. I know of cause, as you have written elsewhere, that a king in the 14. century could not be a hands-on-father, as today, but - do you know how often and for how long Edward saw his children?
2. I would so much like to read the letters Edward wrote to his eldest son, and all the other letters that might excist. Do you know, where it is possible to read them? - In a book fairly commom?
3.I would like to read much more about Edward II and Piers Gaveston, especially Vitae Edwardi secundi, but it is a bit hard for me to find out, wich books are worth reading - and get them here to Denmark, so if you could give me-3-5 titles for example of the best? (Of cause I will get your book first:) - I hope it is not to much to ask of you.

And just another thought: You write several places, that Edward was not good at beeing king (actually, that he was very bad at it) - when you consider, that:
He was just 23 years old, when he became king, and had a father, who may not have had the time to give him enough knowledge about beeing king, (and Edward I seemed to have been quite strickt).
That Edward II inherited England with 60.000 pounds in debt.
That he may not have been the best warlord, but the scots caused his father a lot of problems too, and the scottish geography and Robert Bruce was a hard combination in which to win a war.
And finally the fact, that he had to manouver with the negative-minded barons, who critisized him for everything (including the Famine), and I do believe, that it was especially difficult for Edward, because of the fact that the rich, powerful Thomas of Lancaster was so much against Edward and Piers. All things considered, I do not think, that many could have done a better job. And Edward had one big weak point: His love for Piers, and Edwards fear of being "outed", or that Piers would be banished.

I am sorry for my poor english, it is hard to expresse myself precisely, I hope you understand.
Once again, tank you so much for having created this webpage, I am full of admiration of your work!