27 February, 2013

Alais of France, Edward II and the County of Ponthieu

If you've ever wondered how a fourteenth-century king of England (born in Wales) came to inherit a county in northern France from his Spanish mother - and be honest, this vexatious question has been keeping you awake at night, hasn't it? - here's everything you need to know.  ;-)

The county of Ponthieu no longer exists on the political map of France; it is part of the region of Picardy and is located in the modern départements of Somme and Pas-de-Calais.  Its main town is Abbeville and its former port (now inland) is Montreuil-sur-Mer.  In Edward II's time and before, it was a small county with a strategic importance beyond its size because it bordered Normandy.  The battle of Crécy in 1346 took place in Ponthieu, so Edward III was on home ground, as it were, having been granted the county by his father on 2 September 1325.

We're going to go back to 1195, when Alais (or Alix or Alys, etc) of France married Guillaume or William Talvas, count of Ponthieu.  Alais was the younger daughter of Louis VII of France and his second queen Constance of Castile, who died shortly after her birth on 4 October 1160; Alais's elder sister Marguerite married Henry the Young King, son of Henry II of England and Eleanor of Aquitaine, who had of course once been married to Alais and Marguerite's father Louis VII and had two daughters with him.  (I wonder how many married couples in history have had half-siblings in common.)  Anyway, Alais was betrothed for many years to Henry the Young King's brother Richard Lionheart, but he refused to marry her and in 1195 finally sent her back to her younger half-brother Philip Augustus, king of France, on the (spurious?) grounds that she had borne a child to his father Henry II.  Philip immediately arranged Alais's marriage to William, count of Ponthieu, and the couple married on 20 August 1195.  Alais was then a few weeks short of thirty-five, William a youth of probably sixteen.  He was the great-great-grandson of the notorious Robert de Bellême, a Norman baron who also owned lands in England and was imprisoned by Henry I in the early 1100s having committed all kinds of atrocities in Normandy; Robert's wife Agnes was the heiress of Ponthieu.  A previous count of Ponthieu, Guy, Robert de Bellême's father-in-law, played a small but vital role in English history in the 1060s, when he imprisoned a shipwrecked Harold Godwinson and delivered him to Duke William of Normandy, later the Conqueror.

It is likely that Philip Augustus was hoping or expecting that Alais and William's marriage would remain childless so that he could gain control of Ponthieu, but a daughter, Marie, was born to the couple sometime between 1197 and 1199 when Alais was in her late thirties and William still probably under twenty (Marie's date of birth is sometimes given as April 1199).  Marie was their only child, or at least their only child who survived to adulthood, and was thus the heir to Ponthieu when Count William died in 1221 (the date of Alais of France's death is unfortunately not recorded; I hope she found some happiness with her much younger husband after being publicly humiliated by her long-term fiancé).  Marie married Simon de Dammartin, count of Aumale, and had probably seven children, of whom four daughters lived to adulthood.  Marie and Simon's eldest surviving child, who was born in about 1216 to 1220 and was heiress to Ponthieu, was Jeanne de Dammartin, who is usually known as Joan of Ponthieu in English.  In 1235 Joan was betrothed to Henry III of England, who hoped to use Ponthieu as a springboard to regain control of the duchy of Normandy, which his father King John had lost to the French in 1204.  The regent and queen mother of France, Blanche of Castile, would not allow that, however, and threatened to invade Ponthieu if the marriage went ahead.  Henry III married Eleanor of Provence instead, and Countess Joan married Queen Blanche's nephew the widowed King Fernando III of Castile and Leon in 1237.  Henry III and Eleanor of Provence, and Fernando III and Joan of Ponthieu, are Edward II's grandparents.

Joan's father Simon de Dammartin died in 1239, having lived long enough to see his eldest daughter become queen of Castile and Leon, and her mother Marie, Alais of France's child, in 1251.  Joan became countess of Ponthieu in her own right (one major difference between inheritance law in France and England is apparent here: in France the eldest daughter inherited everything, whereas in England the inheritance would have been divided equally among the sisters, the law of primogeniture applying only to males).  Joan's husband Fernando III had had ten children with his first queen Elisabeth or Beatriz of Swabia - granddaughter of two emperors, the Holy Roman Emperor Frederick Barbarossa and the Byzantine emperor Isaac Angelos - and with Joan he had five more.  Two, Juan and Ximen, died in infancy.  The others were Fernando, who was born in 1238 or 1239; Leonor (or Eleanor), born probably in late 1241; and Luis, born before 31 March 1243.  These children were the great-grandchildren of Alais of France and William Talvas.

Queen Joan was widowed on 30 May 1252 when Fernando III died in Seville, still only in her early or mid-thirties, and returned to her native Ponthieu in October 1254 following a dispute with her stepson Alfonso X over her dower lands, shortly before her twelve or thirteen-year-old daughter infanta doña Leonor married the future Edward I of England.  Joan married secondly John de Nesle, lord of Falvy, and died on 16 March 1279 at the age of about sixty.  Her granddaughter Joan of Acre, Edward I and Eleanor of Castile's second surviving daughter, had been living with her in Ponthieu, and returned to England on her grandmother's death.  Joan's sons Fernando and Luis both predeceased her, so that her only living child in 1279 was her daughter, the twelfth of Fernando III's fifteen children, Eleanor of Castile, queen of England.  On 21 March, five days after Joan's death, an entry on the Patent Roll gives "[p]ower to Edmund, earl of Lancaster and count of Champagne, the king's brother, and John de Brittannia, earl of Richmond, to exact from Philip [III], king of France, the king's kinsman, the county of Ponthieu, which by the death of Joan, queen of Castile and countess of Ponthieu, falls by hereditary right to Eleanor, the king's consort."  [1]  And thus the Spanish infanta and queen of England, lady of Ireland and duchess of Aquitaine succeeded as countess of Ponthieu in her own right.

Fernando of Castile, Eleanor's elder brother, had married Laure de Montfort, niece of the famous Simon de Montfort, earl of Leicester, brother-in-law of Henry III of England.  They had a son, John of Ponthieu, who was born around 1264, around the time his father died.  Eleanor's younger brother Luis, lord of Marchena, married Juana Gomez, lady of Gatón, but had no children when he died sometime in the mid to late 1270s.  So at the time of Queen Joan's death in 1279, rightful posession of Ponthieu came down to either her daughter, Queen Eleanor, or her grandson, John of Ponthieu (whose fate it ultimately was to be one of the many French noblemen killed at the battle of Courtrai in July 1302).  The daughter was preferred, though John of Ponthieu did inherit the county of Aumale, which had belonged to his grandfather Simon de Dammartin, and received 14,000 livres in compensation for Ponthieu from his aunt Eleanor in 1281.  A daughter taking precedence over a grandson was not unusual in France at this time: Mahaut (1268-1329), daughter of Robert II, count of Artois, inherited the county on the death of her father in 1302 in preference to her nephew Robert (1287-1342), son of her dead brother, who spent many years unsuccessfully battling her for the county.

On Queen Eleanor's death on 28 November 1290, the county of Ponthieu passed by right to her only surviving son Edward of Caernarfon, then aged six.  On 3 February 1291, envoys were appointed on behalf of "Edward, the king's son, lord of Ponthieu, with the consent and authority of the king as his guardian" to pay homage to Philip IV of France on his behalf, and on 21 June Edward I made a "[g]rant to Edmund [of Lancaster, his brother], the king's kinsman, of the county of Ponthieu during the minority of Edward, the king's son and heir."  [2]  Edward of Caernarfon lost his county from 1294 to 1299 when his father was at war with Philip IV and Philip seized English-owned lands in France, but in the Treaty of Montreuil of June 1299 - the same treaty which mooted his future marriage to Philip's daughter Isabella - it was given back to him.

Edward II remained count of Ponthieu until 2 September 1325, when he granted the county to his twelve-year-old son Edward of Windsor prior to sending him to France to pay homage for it and Gascony (i.e., what remained of the duchy of Aquitaine, which he inherited from his father Edward I and his great-great-grandmother Eleanor of Aquitaine) to Charles IV.  And thus it came about that a Welsh-born king of England inherited lands in northern France from his Spanish mother, and thus it also came about that the discarded and humiliated fiancée Alais of France became as much an ancestor of the English royal house as Henry II and Eleanor of Aquitaine are.  She was Edward II's great-great-grandmother.  Richard Lionheart's brother King John was Edward's great-grandfather.


1) Calendar of Patent Rolls 1272-1281, p. 306; Hilda Johnstone, 'The County of Ponthieu 1272-1307', English Historical Review, 29 (1914), p. 437.
2) Patent Rolls 1281-1292, pp. 420, 435; Johnstone, 'County of Ponthieu', p. 447.

20 February, 2013

The Paternity of Edward I Revisited

Firstly, I'd just like to say a big 'thank you very much' to David Crowther at The History of England (see also here, here and here) for this fantastic mention of me and my blog: "Then there's a quite amazing blog, Edward II by Kathryn Warner. Slightly chippy it must be said, but brilliantly written, incredibly comprehensive and easy to find whatever information you want. The best history blog I have come across by some distance."  I'm blushing!  How very kind!  And I think the 'slightly chippy' comment is entirely fair and reasonable. :)

Some months ago, I wrote a blog post about the, to me, deeply irritating tendency in modern historical fiction to portray numerous medieval kings of England as not really the sons of their fathers.  The post focused particularly on a series of four novels about Simon de Montfort, the earl of Leicester killed at the battle of Evesham in 1265, which portray him as the real father of King Edward I, who was in reality his nephew by marriage.  My friend Sarah has also written two great posts about this, here and here.

As I've said before, if the author's theory about Edward I's parentage was confined to the pages of her novels and clearly just fictional, I'd roll my eyes a lot and sigh in exasperation and let it be, but she's been posting all over the internet - on her website and blog, Facebook, Amazon and numerous guest posts on blogs - that her 'discovery' that Edward I was Simon de Montfort's son and not Henry III's has a strong foundation in fact.  In fairness, she's never stated that it's certain truth, which would be difficult without having been present in Eleanor of Provence's bedchamber nine months before Edward I's birth in June 1239, but on the basis that she's presenting it as an entirely plausible and probable version of history, I think it's perfectly reasonable for me and others to judge her novel and in particular this theory against the standards the author has claimed for it; she has not said her novel is fiction based loosely on real people, but that it's historically accurate and that her theory of Edward I's paternity has historical validity.  Sarah reports that she frequently gets blog searches looking for something like 'Simon de Montfort was Edward I's father' in much the same way that I get searches for 'William Wallace was Edward III's father'.  Lately I've been digging through the thirteenth-century chancery rolls again with regard to this matter and found some information, which I present here.

The author's theory that Simon de Montfort, earl of Leicester was Edward I's father hinges on the fact that Henry III and presumably his queen Eleanor of Provence were staying at Kenilworth Castle between 9 and 15 September (according to the author) 1238, a little over nine months before the birth of their eldest child Edward on 17 June 1239.  The author has repeated on her website, in the 'Historical Context' section of her first novel, on Amazon and Facebook and elsewhere that Kenilworth in September 1238 was Simon de Montfort's 'home'.  It wasn't.  The author claims to have more than thirty years' experience of reading primary sources relating to the era she writes about, so it's odd that she's never noticed Kenilworth wasn't granted to Montfort until 13 February 1244 (Calendar of Patent Rolls 1232-1247, p. 419), and even then he was only appointed warden of the castle: "The like [appointment during pleasure] of S. earl of Leicester to the custody of the castle of Kenilleworth".  Henry III did not grant Kenilworth Castle to Simon outright, as his own possession, until 9 November 1253 (Patent Rolls 1247-1258, p. 250): "Grant to Simon de Monte Forti, earl of Leicester, and Eleanor his wife, of the manor of Odiham and the castle of Kenillewurth for the lives of both or either of them."  (Henry had granted Kenilworth to his sister Countess Eleanor in her own right, not to her and Simon, on 9 January 1248: "Grant to her of the castle of Kenillewurth to keep for her life."  Patent Rolls 1247-1258, p. 5.)

An entry on the Fine Roll of February 1241 (membrane 25/802), an order from the king, states that one Philip de Lacelles "is to keep Kenilworth Castle" as its warden, so clearly Kenilworth was still a royal castle then; ditto April 1242, when Gilbert de Segrave replaced Lacelles (Patent Rolls 1232-1247, pp. 280, 284).  On the Patent Roll of 7 April 1242 (Ibid., p. 294), we find an acknowledgement by Segrave that he "has received from the king the castle of Kenillewuth to keep in his fealty, during pleasure, in this form, to wit, that he will surrender it to none but the king during his life, and in case of the king's death during the said custody to none but Queen Eleanor to the use of the king's heir, and in case she cannot come personally, to none but one of the queen's uncles not of the fealty of the king of France, to the use of the said heir."  (That is, the future Edward I, then aged two years and ten months.)  This makes it absolutely, completely certain that Kenilworth Castle was still in the possession of King Henry III in 1242 and that at this time he intended it to pass eventually to his son the future Edward I - he changed his mind in 1248 and gave it to his sister, as noted above - and it definitely did not belong to Montfort then.  Montfort replaced Segrave as custodian of the castle in February 1244, as also noted above.  The famous chronicler Matthew Paris does say that while Simon de Montfort was away from England in 1238 - he returned from Italy on 14 October, St Calixtus's day - his wife Eleanor "lay concealed, in a state of pregnancy, at Kenilworth castle", where she gave birth to their eldest child Henry in Advent (ed. J.A. Giles, pp. 124, 139, 155).  Presumably Henry III was accommodating his sister at Kenilworth as a guest, in much the same way as his grandson Edward II accommodated his favourite niece Eleanor Despenser at his palace of Sheen in late 1325 when she was pregnant; Eleanor is named in the king's chamber account on 2 December as then staying at the palace, and gave birth, almost certainly at Sheen, on or before the 19th.  Evidently, then as now, people liked to invite close relatives they were very fond of to stay at their homes.  The warden of Kenilworth Castle in 1238, as far as I can tell, was William de Lucy, who was appointed by the king on 24 April 1236 (Fine Rolls, membrane 20/243).

The author, as well as stating definitively that the king and queen were at Kenilworth from 9 to 15 September 1238 which may or may not be true, claims in her first novel that the Patent Rolls have 'large lacunae' from 30 August to 12 September that year, and that this, combined with (supposedly) other missing entries from the Charter and Liberate Rolls and other sources for these days, means that there was 'a deliberate concealment of the king's location in early September'.  Actually the Patent Rolls 1232-1247, pp. 231-233, would appear to record Henry III's presence at the following: Winchester on 31 August 1238; Kingsclere on 2 September; Woodstock on 4, 5, 6, 8 and 9 September; Kenilworth on the 15th; Coventry on the 17th.  As 'deliberate concealments' of the king's whereabouts go, this is not particularly impressive.  According to the author, "[t]he seemingly coordinated absence of information for the period from August 30 to September 6 suggests intent.  I offer it as yet another piece in the circumstantial evidence of the queen's visit to Kenilworth in September 1238, and the resulting birth of Edward nine months later" and also "[b]oth King Henry and Edward I would have had good reason to want evidence of the queen's stay at Kenilworth destroyed."  Errrm.  I found Henry at Winchester, Kingsclere and Woodstock on those dates in about two minutes.  30 August to 6 September 1238 would be a very early conception for a baby born on 17 June 1239, so I'm not sure why anyone would want to hide the king's whereabouts between those dates anyway.  The Rolls only very rarely record where the queen was, and we don't know for certain that she accompanied her husband to Kenilworth in September 1238, though it's very probable that she did.  We certainly don't know that Simon de Montfort was there with the royal couple, and it's extremely unlikely that he was; if Matthew Paris is correct, he only returned to England a month later in mid-October 1238.  All of this seems a remarkably thin basis for insisting that Queen Eleanor and Montfort were certainly together at Kenilworth and most probably had relations that resulted in the birth of Edward I the following June.  And if Henry III was at Kenilworth, which he certainly was, and his sister was there too, how could their respective spouses have committed adultery together without them or anyone else noticing?  Royal lack of privacy in the Middle Ages and all that?

'Kenilworth was Montfort's home'.  Nope, not in September 1238, nor for a long time afterwards.  The Patent Roll citation is wrong (should be p. 233).

The author has also claimed that "A Pipe Roll entry in November 1238 concerned a payment to a physician who guaranteed that if the Queen and King drank an herbal tisane and prayed at the tomb of Saint Edward the queen's barrenness would be cured...seven months later the Queen was reported (by Matthew Paris) to have given birth to a remarkably strapping infant, clearly not puny and premature. Christened Edward for the saint who worked this miraculous birth, that child would reign as Edward I, King of England."   According to her, this is proof that Eleanor had deceived the king and that Simon de Montfort and not he was the father of her child.  Maybe I'm just being thick and obtuse, but I really don't get the logic of this.  In November 1238, Queen Eleanor was only a few weeks along in her pregnancy and perhaps hadn't yet realised she was pregnant, hence her asking a physician for help.  Or perhaps the visit to the physician for his tisane had taken place months earlier and the payment only now recorded.  At any rate, it seems to me a decidedly odd basis for assuming that Henry III was not the father of his son Edward I.  Clearly Henry III was not infertile or incapable, as his and Eleanor's next child Margaret, future queen of Scotland, was born a mere fifteen months after Edward in September 1240, with Beatrice following in June 1242 and Edmund in January 1245 (and the little girl Katherine, who died young, after a long gap in November 1253).

The author's speculation about Edward I's paternity is also based on a deliberate alteration of Matthew Paris's account of Eleanor of Provence's churching in August 1239 following Edward's birth.  At this event, Henry III furiously accused Simon de Montfort of seducing his (Henry's) sister Eleanor - they had married early the previous year - which the author constructs as Henry actually wishing to accuse Montfort of seducing his wife, but at the last moment realising he needed an heir and therefore substituting the word 'sister'.  This tale involves the archbishop of Canterbury hearing the queen's first confession for many months and immediately breaking the sacred seal of confidentiality and telling the king that she had committed adultery with Montfort.  It makes perfect psychological sense to me, though not to the author who is evidently baffled that Henry would raise an issue which had supposedly been resolved many months earlier, that the king might at first have been pleased with the romance of his sister's love marriage, then belatedly realised, and become angry and upset when he did so, that her marriage could and should have been used to benefit England in a political alliance with another country (Henry's other sisters Joan and Isabella were married to the king of Scotland and the Holy Roman Emperor).  And it is hardly unknown for an argument to be seemingly resolved and finished only for one party to start feeling aggrieved again hours or days or weeks or months later and revive the argument, which is what Henry seems, to me, to have done here.  I don't know all that much about Henry's personality, but his grandson Edward II often let his heart rule his head and let his emotions get the better of him, in ways that might also seem puzzling to people more level-headed and less prone to intense, seemingly contradictory feelings.  As a very emotional person myself, I really don't see how Henry III's behaviour at his queen's churching is so inexplicable that we have to start inventing daft theories to make sense of it.

So to sum up, for the author to claim that Kenilworth Castle was Simon de Montfort's 'home' in September 1238, a massive fifteen years before it was actually granted to him outright and more than five years before he was even appointed its custodian, is wildly inaccurate; when the king was there nine months before the birth of his eldest son, it was still a royal castle. There is absolutely no reason whatsoever therefore to suppose that Simon de Montfort was anywhere near Queen Eleanor at the time she conceived Edward I.  OK, fine, if a writer still wants to make up a fictional tale that her hero was the true father of a king of England, that's her prerogative, but she shouldn't pretend that this story has any basis whatsoever in fact.  When one examines the Patent and Fine Rolls of the 1230s to 1250s, any notion that Kenilworth Castle belonged to Simon de Montfort at the time Henry III and presumably Queen Eleanor stayed there in September 1238 simply melts away, taking with it any and all foundation of the author's oft-repeated theory that Montfort fathered Edward I.  Let me reiterate that if this theory was to be found solely within the pages of her novels, I wouldn't have dedicated anywhere near as much space to demolishing it, but because she has so often claimed in so many places online that her theory has historical validity and has often written 'Simon de Montfort was probably the father of Edward I' as though it's a factual statement, I felt I had to alert readers who might otherwise believe there is evidence supporting it to its complete lack of foundation.  We're talking about Edward II's grandparents, after all.  I have a strong personal interest.

The author also claims that there was much gossip current in the thirteenth century to the effect that Montfort was Edward I's father.  I am unaware of any evidence for this.  She thinks that Henry III and Eleanor of Provence's second son Edmund, earl of Lancaster (1245-1296) actually was Henry's son.  If Edmund really had been Henry's only true son, this would have given him and his son and heir Thomas (c. 1278-1322) a very strong claim to the English throne.  Edmund was totally loyal to his brother Edward I all his life, but his son Thomas of Lancaster was a thorn in the side of his cousin Edward II (Edward I's son) for almost a decade and a half; the two men battled for control of the English government for much of the 1310s, and Edward ended up having Thomas beheaded for treason in 1322. Given the endless hostility between the king and his wealthy, powerful cousin, if Thomas had had even the slightest inkling that his uncle Edward I was not really of royal birth and his father Edmund was, he most certainly would gleefully have used this fact against Edward II as much and as often as he could. As the holder of five earldoms and the richest man in England, Thomas had an enormously strong power base, many of whom would most likely have supported him had he decided to make a bid for the throne on the basis that Edward II, grandson of Simon de Montfort and not of Henry III, had no claim to it.  The fact that Thomas never did any such thing nor ever even hinted at his uncle's non-royal paternity demonstrates that he had simply never heard this supposed gossip about Edward I being fathered by Montfort.  Are we supposed to believe that a lot of people knew or guessed that Edmund of Lancaster was Henry III's only true son, but this never reached the ears of Edmund's own son? Nonsense.  The slur of not being of royal birth was never thrown at Edward I either at any time during his long life, not even during his crisis with his barons of 1297/98.  Why would his enemies have not used this supposed 'gossip' if they'd ever heard of it?

Say what?
As for the mad claim that 'for 700 years it was a hanging crime' to speak Simon de Montfort's name, I point at it and laugh.  Just one thing: Edward II, when staying in Yorkshire in 1323, paid a group of women several shillings for singing songs about Montfort for him.  (It isn't clear from the entry in his chamber account whether he requested songs about Montfort from them, or whether the earl was the women's own choice of subject.)  I asked the author for her source for this jaw-dropping claim on Amazon and Facebook a while ago, as have several others, and received the reply "Perhaps he paid them to make it clear to them he wasn't going to hang them. As their songs may well have named Montfort as Edward II's grandfather, he had good reason to be curious."

Can you imagine the reaction of any king of England on being told to his face that his grandmother was an adulteress and his grandfather a cuckold and his father not of royal blood, meaning that neither his father nor he had any right to occupy the throne?  Can you even imagine?  It's utter madness to suggest that a group of Edward II's subjects with no power or political influence whatsoever would have dared to say to him directly 'Yes, my lord king, as you call yourself though you have no right, your father was a bastard not of royal birth, because your grandmother, the one you remember with great affection because she showed such love and concern for you as a child, committed adultery with her brother-in-law'.  Edward did not hang or in any way threaten the women who sang for him, but for sure he would have done if they'd had the effrontery to tell him something like that.  And in the political climate of 1323, when Edward was having to deal with the fact that a great many of his subjects believed the executed Thomas of Lancaster to be a murdered saint who performed miracles to the great benefit of the English people, and with his brother and heir Henry very much alive and still a thorn in Edward's side, any declaration that the Lancasters had a superior claim to the throne would have been a remarkably sensitive issue.  You can tell from the way Edward I's subjects treated him and especially the way the Lancasters behaved that no-one had the slightest reason to believe that Edward was not Henry III's son, in the same way that you can tell from the way people behaved towards Edward III that no-one had the slightest reason to believe that he was not Edward II's son.  There was no gossip that Edward I was not his father's son, and there was no gossip that Edward III was not his father's son.  These are silly, highly implausible modern inventions which - siiiiigh - we have to accept in fiction, but should always challenge whenever anyone tries to claim that they have any basis at all in fact.

EDITED TO ADD, 2 March 2013: the author's long Facebook post responding to my review claims that the castle of Kenilworth was given by Henry III to his sister Eleanor and her husband Simon de Montfort as a wedding gift in the spring of 1238.  She does not cite a source for this statement, which is not surprising, as there isn't one, and it's her own invention.  I have recently also looked through the Close Rolls in addition to the Patent, Fine and Charter Rolls, Calendar of Inquisitions Miscellaneous and other thirteenth-century primary sources which I looked at for my review, and they confirm my statement in it that Kenilworth was still a royal castle in 1238 and did *not* belong to Simon de Montfort at that time or until a few years later.

On 4 March 1238 (Calendar of Close Rolls 1237-1242, p. 31), we find an order to the constable of Kenilworth Castle to send some bream "from the king's fishponds at Kenilworth" to the bishop of Worcester.  Far more significantly, however, on 22 July and again on 23 September 1238 (Ibid., pp. 78, 103, 105) we find another order from the king to his constable of Kenilworth Castle, ordering him to give one Geoffrey de Langley six, later raised to twenty, oak trees from "the king's enclosure at Kenilworth", 'haya regis de Kenilleworth' in the Latin original, "of the king's gift", 'de dono regis'.  The entry of 23 September concludes "Witness the king at Wenlock, 4 September", 'Teste rege apud Wenlok', xxiij. die Septembris.'  September 1238 is exactly the month that Ashe continues to claim that the castle of Kenilworth belonged to Montfort and that he was there with Queen Eleanor (of Provence) to father Edward I, but as we see here from the Close Roll, it was a royal castle at the time, in the possession of Henry III.  Why and how would the king be ordering his constable of the castle to take oak from the "king's enclosure of Kenilworth" as a gift to someone if it belonged to Montfort?  Obviously, he wouldn't.  The author is wrong to say that Kenilworth Castle was Montfort's in September 1238; primary source evidence issued by Henry III's own government at this time demonstrates conclusively that the castle belonged to the king then and until he granted it to his sister Eleanor de Montfort in 1248 and to her and her husband Simon jointly in 1253, as I wrote above.

The author claims in her Facebook post responding to my review that "the 1244 citation of the granting of Kenilworth to Simon de Montfort refers to the return of the castle to him after his return from exile 1239-1244."  Nope; the entry on the Patent Roll of 13 February 1244 that I've previously cited states perfectly clearly "The like [the previous entry says 'Appointment during pleasure'] of S. earl of Leicester to the custody of the castle of Kenilleworth, with like mandate to the tenants of the castellany. And G. de Segrave, who had the custody of the said castle, has letters patent testifying that he surrendered the castle to the king at Wudestok on Saturday before Ash Wednesday."  This makes it apparent that Kenilworth was a royal castle of which Montfort was being appointed constable, or keeper, or warden, or custodian, however we decide to translate the Latin word 'constabulario'.  If the castle was Montfort's own property being returned to him, this would be apparent from the wording of the grant, and it wouldn't state that he had 'custody' of the castle (if that's how this passage is interpreted, then the castle's previous owner would seemingly be the Gilbert de Segrave mentioned here, which of course he wasn't - he was its constable, being replaced by Montfort). If Kenilworth had indeed previously belonged to Montfort as the author claims and was now being returned to him following his return to England from exile, this would also be apparent; when the king took (temporary or permanent) custody of someone else's lands, castles and chattels, there were legal procedures which had to be followed and recorded. There would be an order to the king's escheator to take Kenilworth into the king's hands when Montfort left the country, for example, and a corresponding order to return it to him some years later. None of this documentation exists for Kenilworth, for the very simple reason that Simon de Montfort didn't own it until much later.  There is therefore absolutely no reason to suppose that Montfort was anywhere near Kenilworth Castle and Queen Eleanor in September 1238, and absolutely no reason to doubt the statement that he was still in Italy at this time which appears in the contemporary chronicle of Matthew Paris, who, as the author herself has pointed out, knew Montfort personally.  And, therefore, absolutely no reason whatsoever to suppose that he was Edward I's real father.  Can we please, please, put this extraordinarily silly notion to rest now?

13 February, 2013

Was Edward II planning to execute Roger Mortimer in 1323?

It is indeed possible that Edward II was intending to execute Roger Mortimer in 1323; it's just nowhere near as certain a fact as is often stated nowadays.  Roger Mortimer escaped from the Tower of London on 1 August 1323 and made his way to the continent to his relatives the Fiennes brothers, who gave him refuge, and remained on the continent until he and Queen Isabella launched their invasion of her husband's kingdom in September 1326.  He and his uncle Roger Mortimer of Chirk had been imprisoned in the Tower since 13 February 1322 (yes, today is the anniversary), three weeks after they surrendered to Edward II at Shrewsbury during the Contrariant rebellion.  Mortimer of Chirk died in the Tower on 3 August 1326, just a few weeks before his nephew's invasion of England, but I very much doubt that we should assume vengeful foul play on the part of Edward II or the Despensers; Chirk had played an important role in Edward I's Welsh wars of the early 1280s and must have been about seventy in August 1326, and had outlived all his siblings by decades.  The 'community of Wales' presented a petition to Edward II sometime in 1322, saying that they had heard the two Roger Mortimers' lands would be restored to them, and because of the threats the two men had made against them, the Welshmen would be ruined and no longer able to live on their lands if this were true. They asked the king not to give the Mortimers their lands and lordships back, or the Welshmen would defend themselves against them if necessary.  Edward assured them that the Mortimers would remain in his keeping and that he would "ordain what is to the benefit of his subjects."  [1]  On 14 July 1322, five men – the mayor of London, three justices of the court of Common Pleas and the chief baron of the exchequer – condemned Roger Mortimer and his uncle Mortimer of Chirk to death.  Eight days later, Edward II commuted their sentence to life imprisonment, which would prove in 1326 to have been one of the worst mistakes he ever made.  [2]  It's a fascinating 'what if': if Roger Mortimer had been executed in 1322, who if anyone would have rebelled against Edward in his place, and would Edward ever have been forced to abdicate or would his reign have continued for a few more troubled years?

Roger Mortimer escaped from the Tower of London by feeding his guards sedatives in their wine one night; five days after the escape, Stephen Segrave, constable of the Tower, was still seriously ill from the sedatives. [3] Edward II, 225 miles away at Kirkham in Yorkshire, heard the news five days later on 6 August, and ordered all the sheriffs and keepers of the peace in England and the bailiffs of fifteen ports to pursue Mortimer with hue and cry and take him dead or alive. [4]  For a long time, he had no idea where Mortimer had gone, and assuming that he had fled to Wales, ordered the loyal Welshmen Rhys ap Gruffudd and Gruffudd Llwyd to search for him there. [5]  On 26 August, he told his half-brother the earl of Kent that he thought Mortimer was in Ireland, and, afraid that Mortimer's escape was only the first of many Contrariants breaking prison - Lord Berkeley and Hugh Audley the Elder had almost escaped from Wallingford Castle earlier in 1323 - also told the constables of no fewer than eighty castles to guard their charges safely.  [6]

Several fourteenth-century chronicles claim that Edward had been intending to execute Roger Mortimer, who was therefore compelled to escape days before the sentence was due to be carried out, while others do not mention an impending execution.  The account in the Westminster chronicle Flores Historiarum (which was viciously hostile to Edward II) of Roger Mortimer's deliverance from the Tower owes little to reality and everything to the Bible: by happy coincidence Roger escaped on the feast day of St Peter in Chains, the day on which St Peter was rescued from Herod's prison by an angel, and the chronicler does little more than copy various verses of Acts of the Apostles relating to this event into his chronicle: "The king sent his detestable cruel officials to the Tower of London, intending to bring forth the younger Roger after a few days to the people and condemn him to a violent death. And when the king would have brought him forth, behold on the night of St Peter ad Vincula, the Holy Ghost came…and raised him up.  And Roger, leaving, followed him, which was done by Christ...".  [7]   This can hardly be taken seriously as a realistic narrative of what happened in August 1323 or as evidence that Edward II was genuinely intending to put Roger Mortimer to death.

Whether the king really did intend Roger's death, or if this was merely a rumour that found its way into several chronicles or was an invention to explain his dramatic escape and make it even more dramatic, is not clear; the Brut chronicle, somewhat implausibly, has Mortimer fleeing the day before his execution was due to be carried out. (This chronicle does include the detail that the constable Stephen Segrave and his men were given sedatives in their drink and says that they slept for two days and two nights while Mortimer escaped over the river Thames, though it gets the date of Mortimer's escape wrong by a week.) [8] Unfortunately, a leaf of the very well-informed Vita Edwardi Secundi is missing where the author might have discussed the escape. Adam Murimuth, a royal clerk and chronicler who must have come to know Mortimer well after 1326, says only that he escaped and fled to France and does not mention an impending execution. [9] The Scalacronica says only that he escaped; Lanercost says that Roger was "a baron of the king of England, who had fled from him previously to France to save his life", so evidently had heard the story of a possible execution; the Sempringham annalist does not mention an execution, stating correctly that Roger (oddly called 'Sir Roger Mortimer, the father') escaped on 1 August at night, crossed the Thames and fled to France; the Annales Paulini also does not mention an execution when describing Mortimer's escape.  [10]  The Anonimalle, a contination of the Brut which includes the story that Roger was to be executed, reports a rumour that Edward had sent letters declaring that Roger was due to have been drawn and hanged (traigne et pendu) a few days after his escape. [11]

So evidently some chroniclers had never heard a story of an impending execution, and of the ones who had, it is not clear what their source was.  There is nothing in any official record to confirm that Edward was planning Roger's death; the letters mentioned in the Anonimalle that he was demanding Roger's execution have not survived (if indeed they ever existed) and there is nothing at all in the chancery rolls or other government documents to suggest any renewed legal process against Roger Mortimer that might have led to his hanging or any desire on the king's part to have him dead. Historians have wondered whether Queen Isabella had anything to do with Mortimer's escape, but the first people to suggest that she did – indeed, the first people to suggest that she had any kind of relationship with Mortimer before late 1325 – were the dramatists Christopher Marlowe and Michael Drayton in the 1590s. [12]  Isabella was not in or near the Tower of London at the time that Mortimer escaped, as is sometimes stated; she was probably with her husband in Yorkshire at the time, and if she had been involved in Mortimer’s escape in some way, she would hardly have been so stupid as to be anywhere nearby. Certainly it never occurred to Edward that she might be involved, and although Isabella was no doubt capable of deceiving her husband, given the extremely thorough investigation conducted after the escape it seems highly unlikely that she could have been involved without this fact being discovered.  It is in my opinion extremely unlikely (though not impossible) that Queen Isabella had anything to do with Roger Mortimer's escape, which is a theory based solely on knowledge of their later relationship with the benefit of several centuries' hindsight.

It is of course possible that in 1323 Edward II (and the Despensers) decided that Roger Mortimer was too dangerous to be allowed to live any longer, especially after the near-escape of Lord Berkeley and Hugh Audley the Elder some months previously.  But no official sources confirm it, and it is not a certain fact that Roger would have been executed had he not escaped but rather, unsubstantiated gossip reported in some chronicles but not others.  I'm not sure if I believe the story or not, and I do wonder if it's something else based on hindsight, on chroniclers' knowledge that Roger Mortimer was the man who was to bring down Edward II several years later.  (This is one reason why it's such a shame that a leaf of the Vita Edwardi Secundi is missing at this point, as it ends abruptly in late 1325 and the author didn't know that Mortimer would lead an invasion of England some months later.)  It's apparent from Edward II's reaction in August 1323 that he was desperate to recapture Mortimer, but neither he nor anyone else at the time could have guessed just how dangerous the lord of Wigmore would be to him three years later.  Whatever the truth of the situation and whatever Edward II's intentions towards Roger Mortimer in 1323, it's a reminder that much of what we believe we know about Edward's reign turns out not to be certain fact at all when closely examined.


1) The National Archives SC 8/6/255.
2) Calendar of Patent Rolls 1321-1324, p. 249.  The judgement against the Mortimers is printed (in the original French) in James Conway Davies, The Baronial Opposition to Edward II: Its Character and Policy (1918), p. 565.
3) Calendar of Close Rolls 1323-1327, p. 13.  This entry says that Segrave and "many others" in the Tower had been "poisoned by artifice."
4) Ibid., p. 132.
5) Patent Rolls 1321-1324, p. 335.
6) Close Rolls 1323-1327, p. 133.
7) Antonia Gransden, Historical Writing in England II: c. 1307 to the Early Sixteenth Century (1982), p. 20, citing Flores Historiarum, ed. H. R. Luard, vol. iii (1890), p. 217.
8) The Brut or the Chronicles of England, ed. F. W. D. Brie (1906), p. 231.
9) Adae Murimuth Continuatio Chronicarum, ed. E. M. Thompson (1889), p. 40.
10) Scalacronica: The Reigns of Edward I, Edward II and Edward III as Recorded by Sir Thomas Gray of Heton, knight, ed. Herbert Maxwell (1907) p. 72; The Chronicle of Lanercost 1272-1346, ed. Herbert Maxwell (1913), p. 251; Le Livere de Reis de Britanie e le Livere de Reis de Engletere, ed. John Glover (1865), p. 349; Annales Paulini 1307-1340 in W. Stubbs, ed., Chronicles of the Reigns of Edward I and Edward II, vol. 1 (1882), pp. 3-5-306.
11) The Anonimalle Chronicle 1307-41, from Brotherton Collection MS 29, ed. W. R. Childs and J. Taylor (1991), p. 116.
12) F.D. Blackley, 'Isabella and the Bishop of Exeter', in T.A. Sandqvist and M.R. Powicke, eds., Essays in Medieval History Presented to Bertie Wilkinson (1969), p. 221.

07 February, 2013

Mythbuster 6: Isabella saw her husband kissing Piers Gaveston

On 7 February 1301, sixteen-year-old Edward of Caernarfon was created prince of Wales.  On 7 February 1308, 705 years ago today, Edward II and his new queen Isabella of France arrived in England after marrying in Boulogne, and Isabella got her first look at the country that would be her home for the next half a century.  They landed in Dover, where Piers Gaveston, as regent, had summoned a number of noble men and women to greet them, including the king's sister Elizabeth, countess of Hereford and his first cousin (and Isabella's uncle) Henry, younger brother of Thomas, earl of Lancaster.

Pretty well every novel ever written about Edward and Isabella, and a few works of non-fiction too, features a Compulsory Scene wherein the young queen is horrified, shocked and distressed to see her new husband embracing and kissing Piers Gaveston, who is, she now realises, her husband's lover.  According to the St Albans and Bridlington chroniclers, Edward did indeed "run to Piers among them, giving him kisses and repeated embraces; he was adored with a singular familiarity. Which special familiarity, already known to the magnates, furnished fuel to their jealousy."  [1]  Whether Isabella saw this happen, however, is highly debatable, as she and Edward came ashore from their ship in separate barges, or perhaps had travelled all the way across the Channel separately, as this entry on the Fine Roll [2] makes clear:

"Be it remembered that on Wednesday after the Purification, 1 Edward II, the king, returning from beyond seas, to wit, from Boulogne-sur-Mer, where he took to wife Isabel, daughter of the king of France, touched at Dover in his barge about the ninth hour*, Hugh le Despenser [the Elder] and the lord of Castellione in Gascony being in his company, and the queen a little afterward touched there with certain ladies accompanying her."
*i.e. around 3pm.

Most likely, by the time Isabella arrived 'a little afterward' the embracing and kissing had already finished. Regarding Edward II's behaviour on seeing Piers Gaveston again for the first time in, ooooh, ages (actually it was only sixteen days), it is not automatically the case that he was greeting his lover and everyone knew it. It was not the kissing and embracing themselves that were the problem or that caused shocked, offended comment – the early fourteenth century was a tactile age and kissing on the lips was a common way even for two men to greet each other, with no necessary implications of sexual desire – but that Edward singled Piers out for special attention and kissed and embraced his friend more than he kissed and embraced the other barons. [3]

What Isabella thought of Piers Gaveston, then or ever, is impossible to say for sure as we have no words of her own on the subject. There is a widespread assumption nowadays that Isabella must have hated and resented Piers, and seen him as her rival for her husband's affections and as somehow 'taking her rightful place', but this is merely speculation with no evidence behind it, however often the notion is given spurious credence by being repeated in books and on television *cough Helen Castor cough*. It is of course entirely possible that Isabella did dislike and resent Piers, but it is emphatically not a certain fact. On 29 October 1311, a few days before Piers was forced into his third exile, Isabella sent a letter to the receiver of Ponthieu, the revenues of which county which Edward had granted her a few weeks after their wedding in 1308, "concerning the affairs of the earl of Cornwall." [4] Apparently she had agreed to help Piers in his exile, at least financially, and perhaps in the naming of him as 'earl of Cornwall', which title had been stripped from him, we may see some sympathy on Isabella's part to her husband's 'favourite'. Or possibly Isabella was thrilled that Piers was being sent into exile yet again and considered naming him 'earl of Cornwall' and giving him some money a small price to pay to be rid of him. I have no idea how Isabella felt about Piers, and neither does anyone else, whatever they might claim and state as fact.


1) Johannis de Trokelowe et Henrici de Blaneforde Chronica et Annales, ed. H. T. Riley (1866), p. 65; J.S. Hamilton, Piers Gaveston, Earl of Cornwall 1307-1312: Politics and Patronage in the Reign of Edward II (1988), p. 47; Gesta Edwardi de Carnarvon Auctore Canonico Bridlingtoniensi, in W. Stubbs, ed., Chronicles of the Reigns of Edward I and Edward II, volume 2 (1883), p. 210.

2) Calendar of Fine Rolls 1307-1319, p. 14.

3) See Jochen Burgtorf, 'With my Life, his Joyes Began and Ended: Piers Gaveston and King Edward II of England Revisited', in Fourteenth Century England V, ed. Nigel Saul (2008), pp. 46-47.

4) The Household Book of Queen Isabella of England, ed. F. D. Blackley and G. Hermansen (1971), p. 208.