14 February, 2014

Edward II's Feuds With Bishops In The 1320s

As though Edward II didn't have enough enemies in the 1320s, having alienated most of his magnates and executed, imprisoned and/or fined over a hundred men after the Contrariant rebellion, and generally behaving like a greedy unpleasant tyrant, the king evidently decided that what he really needed to do was to alienate yet more influential people.  Accordingly, he began a series of pointless and often quite vicious feuds with a number of his bishops.  Great plan, Edward, oh yes, very sensible of you.  The feuding demonstrates that when he felt like it, Edward II could be quite astonishingly vindictive and spiteful.  Trying to see it from his point of view, he was a fiercely emotional man who tended to react to people and situations with his heart, not his head, and without thoughtful consideration, especially when he felt (correctly or not) that he'd been betrayed by someone he thought he could trust.  Still, these feuds show him in a very bad light.  Here's what happened.

Adam Orleton, bishop of Hereford (died 1345)

Appointed bishop of Hereford by Pope John XXII in 1317 and later moved to the see of Worcester (1327) and then Winchester (1333).  Adam may have come from the Herefordshire village of Orleton, a Mortimer manor, and in 1322 Edward II accused him of aiding Roger Mortimer and his uncle Roger Mortimer of Chirk during the Contrariant rebellion by sending them armed men.  It's impossible to say whether that's true or not; Adam most probably sympathised with the Mortimers and showed loyalty to the family, but that doesn't necessarily mean that he aided them in a rebellion against the king.  Edward, however, was determined to think the worst of the bishop.  When the king arrived in Hereford during his campaign against the Marchers, the Contrariants as he called them, in late January 1322, he publicly upbraided Adam for supporting the rebels and went hunting in his parks with his half-brother the earl of Kent, without Adam's permission.

It was Roger Mortimer's escape from the Tower in August 1323, however, that really prompted full-out attack by Edward II on Adam Orleton.  Unable to recapture Roger, in 1324 Edward lashed out at some of Roger's family and adherents, and the unfortunate Adam was the main victim of the king's vengeance.  Edward accused him of treason, and at a special assize the bishop was found guilty of having sent armed men to the Mortimers some years earlier (which I certainly wouldn't assume means he actually was guilty).  Edward had Adam's lands and goods seized, and even allowed his goods to be thrown into the street and ransacked by passersby.  Despite the best efforts of Pope John XXII and his envoys who visited England, nothing and no-one could mitigate Edward's rage against Adam, and he lived in some poverty for the rest of the king's reign.  It is entirely unsurprising to find that he supported Roger Mortimer and Isabella in 1326/27.

John Droxford, bishop of Bath and Wells (died 1329)

Appointed bishop of Bath and Wells by Clement V in 1309, at Edward II's request.  John Droxford was for many years a loyal servant of Edward II and high in his favour, and was one of the bishops who supported the king at the time of Piers Gaveston's return from his second exile in 1309.  In 1321/22, however, he sympathised with the Contrariants, or at least the king believed that he did, and Edward sent a series of furious and highly emotional letters to John XXII about him, Adam Orleton (above) and Henry Burghersh (below), calling them 'the worst poison' and saying that they were 'descended from the race of traitors' and had brought manifold disasters to his kingdom.  He demanded that John XXII translate the three men to sees outside England, as he could no longer bear the scandal of having them in his kingdom, and asked him to replace John Droxford as bishop with his (Edward's) close personal friend William, abbot of Langdon in Kent.  The pope refused, and clearly was deeply annoyed with Edward.

Henry Burghersh, bishop of Lincoln (died 1340)

Appointed bishop of Lincoln by John XXII in 1320, with Edward II's approval, though he was still under thirty.  Henry was the nephew of Bartholomew, Lord Badlesmere, steward of Edward II's household who later joined the Contrariant rebellion and - poor man - suffered the traitor's death in April 1322.  Henry's brother Bartholomew Burghersh was imprisoned in the Tower of London after the rebellion, and remained there until the end of Edward II's reign.  The king's wrath also fell on Henry, and as early as 8 December 1321, he wrote to John XXII to tell him that he had been deceived as to Henry's ability and suitability for his post, and was now totally convinced that Henry was unsuited to be bishop.  Of course you were, Edward, of course, and that had nothing at all to do with your loathing of his uncle, did it?  Henry was one of the three men about whom Edward sent a series of highly emotional and overwrought letters to the pope, above.

John Stratford, bishop of Winchester (later archbishop of Canterbury; died 1348)

Apppointed bishop of Winchester by John XXII in April 1323, to the great annoyance of Edward II, who had wanted the see for his and Hugh Despenser the Younger's clerk Robert Baldock. The king asked the pope to revoke the appointment, and also asked three men – Archambaud IV, count of Périgord, Bernard Jordani, lord of L'Isle Jourdain, and Peter de Via, the pope's relative – to use their influence with John in the matter, but to no avail: John XXII informed him that he had already consecrated John Stratford when he received Edward's letters recommending Robert Baldock.

Edward pettishly refused to grant the petition of one Raymond de Busselers in the summer of 1323 because it was supported by Stratford, with whom he declared himself "exceedingly incensed" and described as "faithless and ungrateful."  [1]  In November 1323, Edward ordered the keepers of more than seventy ports and the sheriffs of twenty counties not to permit John to leave the country, claiming that John had refused to meet the king's counsellors and "withdrew himself by subterfuge" from him.  [2]  He forced John to acknowledge a huge debt of £10,000 to him in June 1324, and began proceedings against him before the King's Bench.  [3]  John XXII wrote to Hugh Despenser, whom he frequently addressed as "one able to influence the king," thanking him for his efforts in attempting to reconcile Stratford and Edward and asking him to continue his exertions.  Hugh responded in typical fashion by extorting £1000 from the unfortunate bishop, which he deposited with his Italian bankers, the Peruzzi.  Superficially the king and bishop were reconciled in June 1324, and Stratford worked on Edward's behalf in France in 1325, but in 1326/27 supported Isabella and Roger Mortimer, and was one of the authors of the articles of deposition.

[1) Foedera, p. 527.
2) Chancery Warrants 1244-1326, p. 546; Close Rolls 1323-27, pp. 147-8.
3) Foedera, p. 541; Close Rolls, p. 198.]

John Hothum (or Hotham), bishop of Ely (died 1337)

Appointed to the bishopric of Ely in 1316, and for many years high in Edward II's favour; John acted as Piers Gaveston's attorney in 1311, and Edward made him treasurer then chancellor of England in 1318 and 1320.  For some obscure reason John seems to have angered Edward, and he acknowledged a massive debt of £2000 to Hugh Despenser the Younger in November 1324 (Close Rolls 1323-27, p. 325).  I don't know what that was about, but John joined forces with Isabella after the invasion.

William Airmyn (or Ayreminne), bishop of Norwich (died 1336)

Another bishop on whom Edward II's wrath fell after William was made bishop of Norwich in July 1325, John XXII once again passing over Edward's choice, Robert Baldock.  Edward had previously favoured William, and had asked John XXII some months earlier to provide Airmyn to the bishopric of Carlisle, unsuccessfully; John Ross gained the position.  Edward, in his usual fashion when someone annoyed him, decided unfairly to blame and to scapegoat William for the unfavourable peace treaty of summer 1325 with his (Edward's) brother-in-law Charles IV of France, and summoned William twice to appear before King's Bench on a charge of maliciously and treacherously agreeing that the king of France should continue to hold some of Edward's inheritance (the Agenais).  He even ordered the arrest of William's two brothers when he failed to appear.  Thus persecuted by the vengeful vindictive king, William Airmyn fled to France and joined Isabella sometime between March and June 1326.  It has often been wrongly assumed that William was chosen as bishop of Norwich because Isabella had intervened with the pope on his behalf, but in fact it is clear from John XXII's letters to Edward II that he thought he would be pleasing the king with the appointment (given that Edward had only recently asked the pope to provide William to a bishopric), and that Isabella's letters had reached him too late to have any effect on his decision.


And so Edward II alienated yet another man who would have been a very useful ally to him.  I should point out here that the king did stay on good terms with other English bishops in the 1320s, especially William Melton, archbishop of York, Hamo Hethe of Rochester, John Ross of Carlisle, Thomas Cobham of Worcester and Stephen Gravesend of London.  Walter Stapeldon, bishop of Exeter and former treasurer of England (and founder of Exeter College at Oxford University in 1314) died for his loyalty to Edward, suffering the horrible fate of being beheaded with a bread knife in London after Isabella and Roger Mortimer's invasion in 1326, his head sent to Isabella.  Archbishop Melton and Bishop Gravesend were involved in the plot of Edward's half-brother the earl of Kent to free him in 1330.  Neither was Edward II the only king to have problems with his bishops: Robert Winchelsey, archbishop of Canterbury, was a fierce opponent of Edward I and was forced into exile from England in 1305, and Edward III and Archbishop John Stratford went through their own crisis in 1340/41.  And yet, Edward II's alienating so many influential men played an important role in the revolution of 1326/27 and in his forced abdication; Adam Orleton and John Stratford were among the prime movers of these events.  Even Edward's long-term friend Walter Reynolds, archbishop of Canterbury, hesitated to support him after the invasion in 1326 and then enthusiastically joined Isabella's side.  Edward's losing his temper with him at some point in the 1320s and screaming in his face, so that Walter pretended he had to make an urgent visitation to his cathedral in order to escape from the king's presence, can't have helped.

Most of Edward II's behaviour in the 1320s really leaves me shaking my head...

Further Reading

- Roy Martin Haines, The Church and Politics in Fourteenth-Century England: the Career of Adam Orleton, c. 1275-1345 (1978)
- Roy Martin Haines, Archbishop John Stratford: Political Revolutionary and Champion of the Liberties of the English Church, ca. 1275/80-1348 (1986)
- Kathleen Edwards, 'The Personal and Political Activities of the English Episcopate During the Reign of Edward II', Bulletin of the Institute of Historical Research, 16 (1938)
- Kathleen Edwards, 'The Political Importance of the English Bishops During the Reign of Edward II', English Historical Review, 59 (1944)
- J.L. Grassi, 'William Airmyn and the Bishopric of Norwich', English Historical Review, 70 (1955)
- Seymour Phillips, Edward II (2010)
- Roy Martin Haines, King Edward II: His Life, His Reign, and Its Aftermath, 1284-1330 (2003)


Sami Parkkonen said...

One thing that could explain some of this suicidal behavior is in his advisors at this time. Who were they and could they have influenced him acting this way? And if then how much?

That being said, I think this is Edward at his most naked. I think the Contrarian uprising was a huge shock to him and after that he was very much frightened and angry, and as we know fearful men make stupid mistakes at ease. He propably did not know to whom he could trust anymore and lashed out this way and that suspecting people (in some cases correctly) but instead of being ice cold king like his enemy up north or even his own father, both of whom dealt very carefully with their enemies (imagined or real), he let his emotions run amok.

He was propably very frustrated too in as he had not seen the rebellion coming or who might come up with such a plot.

What ever his motives were, these feuds show why even though he plenty of good qualities in modern eyes, Edward was not a "good king". He was too human, even in his failures.

Kathryn Warner said...

Some great insights, Sami, thank you! Really appreciate your thoughts. His advisers were the Despensers, not sure who else, maybe the earl of Arundel, a handful of others.

Gabriele Campbell said...

He should join the rank of German emperors from the 11th to 14th century. :-) Pretty much all of them managed to get themselves excommunicated by the pope at some point.

Sami Parkkonen said...

Well, Robert the Bruce was also excommunicated and he wasn't much bothered about it. He kne that the frenach king would need him in his powerplays towards England and that he controlled the french popes.

For some reason Edward did not fully grasped that you can not fight at half speed against no one. You either wipe them out or don't. He was mad as hell to these church men, but still hesitated. He went too far but not all the way.

These men were men of power, wealth, their own estates and troops, international connections etc. You do not make them mad at you and leave them in position from which they can hurt you.

He did.

Gabriele Campbell said...

Sami, the German emperors reached a point where they didn't care much, either. But the first time it came a bit as a shock and forced Heinrich IV to kneel in the snow at Canossa, else his enemies would have been free to kill him. He'd made a bit many of those and the excommunication was the final straw. He should not have adresses a letter to Pope Gregory with the words, "to the bishop Hildebrand (Gregory's former name)', no matter how pissed off he was. :-)

Anerje said...

Well, he's not the only king to fall out with his bishops - and he didn't suffer the serious repercussions that, say Henry II, or even John, did. Becoming a bishop was all about politics, not dedication to religion. Undoubtedly they were powerful foes. Poaching on bishop's land with Piers as a prince seems tame compared to the 1320s:>

Anonymous said...

Thank you again for another fascinating piece. I hope repeated questions are OK!
Do you think Edward II was a changed man in any way in the 1320s (personally, psychologically, or politically, or in some other way)? From your article, I wondered if there was a new pattern of confrontational or irascible behavior in these years, or is this all down to the Despensers, or just par for the course with a Plantagenet sense of temper? Best wishes, Henry

Jerry Bennett said...

Hi Kathryn,

One possible reason for Edward turning against John Hothum could have been his earlier association with Roger Mortimer. According to Ian Mortimer's book "Greatest Traitor", Hothum was with Roger Mortimer in Ireland in 1315, and later Mortimer made him an executor of some of his estates.

Given Edward's antipathy to Mortimer in 1324, could that debt of £2,000 have had something to do with Mortimer's escape, and Edward's suspicion that Hothum might have assisted it in some way? John Hothum appears to have been much closer to Roger Mortimer than either John Droxford or Henry Burghersh, so why didn't Edward complain about his possible treachery to Pope John XXII?

One other possibility - was it Hugh Despenser who fell out with some of these bishops, and Edward felt obliged to support his favourite? Both John Hothum and John Stratford had to pay fines to Hugh Despenser rather than the king. Just a thought!

Carla said...

Indeed, one does wonder what Edward II was thinking of... Henry has raised the same question that occurred to me: could Edward's erratic behaviour have some cause other than, or in addition to, political ineptitude? I have sometimes wondered if the infamous Plantagenet temper was just a lack of self-control by spoilt men who were (too) used to getting their own way, or if there might have been an element of mental illness, perhaps something like bipolar disorder, in it in some cases. Or, given the popularity of combat in battle and tourney, some sort of brain injury.

Sami Parkkonen said...


I think it was a family carachter. Edward I was one grumpy guy if he got in to that mood, just ask the welsh or the scotts. Edward III was also ready to get it on if he saw fit, regardless against whom and where and when. But unlike them Edward II, who never wanted to be a king as kid but had to take the crown, did not see the big picture or the political dimensions of his deeds.