Here's a guest post by me on Ivan Fowler's excellent blog, about what Edward II ate and drank and the ceremony around dining at his court. Do check out Ivan's blog; he's doing a lot of terrific work on Edward's afterlife in Italy, and has a novel about it too, Towards Auramala. And if you're in the mood for a great Robin Hood novel set in Edward II's reign, I definitely recommend Steven McKay's Wolf's Head, which has lots of very positive reviews.
In this post I'm going to look at where Edward II spent each Christmas of his reign, and where possible add a little information too.
- Christmas 1307: Twenty-three-year-old Edward, not yet crowned king, was at Westminster, which is apparent from a few entries in the chancery rolls and in Exchequer documents. Although the Annales Paulini claims that he spent Christmas at Wye in Kent with Piers Gaveston, Edward did not in fact arrive at Wye until 3 January 1308, on his way to Dover from where he sailed to France on 22 January to marry Isabella in Boulogne. On 26 December 1307 (at Westminster), Edward took the extraordinary step of appointing Piers custos regni, keeper of the realm, while he travelled to France to marry Isabella (Calendar of Patent Rolls 1307-13, p. 31). The author of the Vita Edwardi Secundi surely spoke for many when he exclaimed "An astonishing thing, that he who had lately been an exile and outcast from England should now be made ruler and guardian of the realm."
- Christmas 1308: At Windsor, with the queen. Piers Gaveston was then in exile.
- Christmas 1309: At his favourite residence of (King's) Langley in Hertfordshire, with the queen and Piers Gaveston. According to the Vita, "the lord king and Piers with the whole household directed their steps to a place of which the king was fond. The place is called Langley, near the town of St Albans. There they passed the festive season, fully making up for former absence by their long wished-for sessions of daily and intimate conversation."
- Christmas 1310: At the port of Berwick-upon-Tweed, with the queen. Eight days before Christmas, Edward sent Sir Robert Clifford and Sir Robert FitzPain to Selkirk to "speak with Robert de Brus," and sometime before 19 February 1311 sent his nephew the earl of Gloucester and Piers Gaveston to Melrose for the same purpose, "but it was said he [Robert Bruce] had been warned by some he would be taken, and therefore departed, so they have had no parley." (Calendar of Documents Relating to Scotland 1307-57, p. 39.)
- Christmas 1311: At Westminster, with Isabella. The fortunate survival of Isabella's household book at this time makes interesting reading: the queen despatched "various precious goods" to the very pregnant Margaret Gaveston at Wallingford Castle as a New Year gift, and sent letters to Edward II's sister Mary the nun, Lady Mortimer, either the mother or wife of her future favourite Roger Mortimer, and Hugh Despenser the Elder, whom she would have executed in 1326. Although even the usually very well-informed Vita Edwardi Secundi claims that Edward spent Christmas with Piers Gaveston, as do Annales Londonienses and the Bridlington chronicler, this is not the case: Edward gave Piers' messenger a pound on 23 December for bringing him Piers' letters (as pointed out by J.S. Hamilton in his biography of Piers).
- Christmas 1312: At Windsor with the queen and their six-week-old son Edward of Windsor, earl of Chester. The king spent almost £1250 on cloth for himself, his wife and son and their retainers in order for the royal family to look as splendid as possible during the festive season at Windsor. On 19 December, he sent a palfrey horse worth six pounds and a saddle "with a lion of pearls, and covered with purple cloth" worth five pounds to Nichola, wife of Piers Lubaud, the Gascon sheriff of Edinburgh and constable of Linlithgow. Why Nichola was singled out for this honour is not clear, although it is probable that Lubaud was a cousin of Piers Gaveston.
- Christmas 1313: At Westminster, presumably with the queen. The situation in England was calmer as Edward had on 16 October issued pardons to all the men responsible for "all causes of anger, indignation, suits, accusations, &c., arisen in any manner on account of Peter de Gavaston, from the time of the king's marriage with his dear companion Isabella, whether on account of the capture, detention, or death of Peter de Gavaston, or on account of any forcible entries into any towns or castles, or any sieges of the same; or on account of having borne arms, or of having taken any prisoners, or of having entered into any confederacies whatever, or in any other manner touching or concerning Peter de Gavaston, or that which befell him." (Patent Rolls 1313-17, p. 21.)
- Christmas 1314: At Windsor, with the queen. On 6 December, the feast day of St Nicholas, the couple had been at Langley, where the king gave two pounds to Robert Tyeis, who officiated as boy-bishop in his chapel. Edward played the board game of 'tables' on Christmas Eve with members of his entourage. On 27 December, he gave the chancellor and scholars of Oxford University twenty pounds to pray for Piers Gaveston's soul, and on 2 or 3 January 1315 finally buried him, two and a half years after his death, at the Dominican priory at Langley which he had founded in 1308.
- Christmas 1315: At the royal hunting lodge of Clipstone, with the queen. Although they probably didn't yet know it, Isabella was recently pregnant with their second son John of Eltham, who was born on 15 August 1316.
- Christmas 1316: At Nottingham, having been eighteen miles away at Clipstone again on Christmas Eve. As was Edward's habit, he played at dice on Christmas Eve, spending a massive five pounds on this occasion (more than most of his subjects lived on in a year). He gave six shillings and eight pence to John, son of Alan of Scrooby, who ‘officiated’ as boy-bishop in his chapel on St Nicholas's Day and ten shillings to the unnamed child who acted as boy-bishop in his presence at St Mary's Church in Nottingham on 28 December, the Feast of the Holy Innocents.
- Christmas 1317: At Westminster with the queen, who was about three months pregnant with their third child Eleanor of Woodstock. Edward spent one pound, thirteen shillings and six pence on a "great wooden table" to be placed in the palace hall, and also paid thirty pounds to Thomas de Hebenhith, mercer of London, for "a great hanging of wool, woven with figures of the king and earls on it, for the king’s service in his hall, on solemn festivals." By New Year, someone had realised that constantly taking the hanging up and down was damaging it, so Edward paid Thomas de Verlay six shillings and three pence to make and sew a border of green cloth around it.
- Christmas 1318: At Beverley in Yorkshire.
- Christmas 1319: At York, where, as I pointed out in the last post, Edward invited the thirty-two scholars of his 1317 foundation at the University of Cambridge to join him. Only seven of them arrived on time.
- Christmas 1320: At Marlborough in Wiltshire, probably with Isabella, who was once again pregnant, with their youngest child Joan. Edward spent nearly sixty pounds on the festivities for Christmas and Epiphany.
- Christmas 1321: At Cirencester in Gloucestershire, where he had ordered his army against the Contrariants to muster. He spent eighty-seven pounds on the festivities, and 115 pounds for "sixteen pieces of cloth for the apparelling of ourselves and our dear companion [Isabella], also furs, against the next feast of Christmas," also ordering more cloth and linen for Isabella and her damsels and "other things of which we stand in need, against the great feast."
- Christmas 1322: At York after the failure of his latest and last campaign in Scotland; I'm not sure if Isabella was with him or not. Edward paid two women for singing for him in the garden of the Franciscans on 26 December, presumably a mild day. The much later chronicler Thomas Walsingham says that Edward "showed a joyful expression" over the Christmas season "though his heart was savagely tormented," and that he was hated in the north of England for his failures in Scotland and his "witless behaviour."
- Christmas 1323: At Kenilworth with the queen, where Edward gave a pound each to two minstrels of the bishop of Ely who performed for them. He also gave half a mark each to three of his vigiles or watchmen to buy themselves "winter tunics for their night vigils."
- Christmas 1324: At Nottingham, and again, I'm not sure whether Isabella was with him or not. Edward gave an Epiphany gift of fifty shillings to his minstrels and two shillings to his piper Little Alein for his performance.
- Christmas 1325: At Bury St Edmunds in Suffolk, Edward's last as a free man. Isabella was in France and refusing to return to him.
- Christmas 1326: At Kenilworth in captivity, while a council at Wallingford debated his fate. Edward's state of mind, given that he was imprisoned and his friends executed, can hardly be guessed at.
This will be the last post for a little while as I'm on holiday, so I'll take this opportunity to wish you all a very merry Christmas and happy New Year, from me and Edward II! :-)