05 February, 2021

The Relationship of Queen Isabella and Roger Mortimer (1)

In this post and several others to follow, I'm taking a look at what we actually, really know about the relationship, or association or whatever we want to call it, between Edward II's queen Isabella of France and Roger Mortimer, lord of Wigmore and later the first earl of March. I'm focusing on the primary source, contemporary or near-contemporary, evidence for what went on between them, and this is the first part of maybe three or four posts on the subject, and deals with events of 1325/26. In future posts, I'll look at chronicle evidence for their relationship, examine if anything might have happened between the two before c. late 1325, look at events of 1327 to 1330, and anything else that occurs to me as I go on. Strap yourselves in; it's going to be a long ride. 

The first real indication of a major crisis in the king and queen of England's marriage is Isabella's famous 'there are three people in my marriage' speech, made at her brother Charles IV's court in Paris in response to Edward II's order to her and their son Edward of Windsor to come back to England. The speech is recorded only in the Vita Edwardi Secundi, which does not give the date, though it would appear to have been made sometime between about mid-October and early November 1325. Isabella said:

"I feel that marriage is a union of a man and a woman, holding fast to the practice of a life together, and that someone has come between my husband and myself and is trying to break this bond; I declare that I will not return until this intruder is removed, but, discarding my marriage garment, shall put on the robes of widowhood and mourning until I am avenged of this Pharisee." [1]

This is an ultimatum to Edward II: another person has come between us, and I feel like a widow and am mourning the end of our marriage. I will not return to you and resume our married life until you send this person away. (Isabella could not even bring herself to utter his name, but the person must be Hugh Despenser the Younger.) However later writers might have interpreted her words, that is what her speech says. It says nothing at all about hating Edward or wanting to bring him down or being in love with Roger Mortimer or even leaving Edward permanently. Whether Isabella really believed that her husband would send Hugh away and she could go back to him, there's no way of knowing without mental telepathy or holding a seance, but that is what she said. It's possible that she used Despenser's intrusion into her marriage as an excuse to rebel against Edward. It's also possible that she genuinely wanted to go back to her husband and to resume their marriage, hoped to return to the pre-1322 era before Hugh Despenser came between herself and her husband in both the private and public arenas, and truly believed that Edward would send Hugh away as she wished. Edward had, after all, grown tired of his previous male 'favourites' Roger Damory and Hugh Audley in c. 1318/19, and although he had grieved for Piers Gaveston for a long time, he had come to terms with it and he and Isabella managed to build a successful and seemingly happy partnership. Perhaps she intended to shock Edward into action, and assumed that if it came down to it and she forced him to make a decision, he would choose her and their son over Hugh Despenser, and would eventually get over the loss of Hugh as he had got over the loss of Gaveston, Damory and Audley. But he didn't choose Isabella; Edward demonstrated over the next few months that keeping Hugh close to him, and defending him against any and all accusations, was his number one priority. 

Had Isabella known, or guessed, beforehand that Edward would refuse, and hoped that he would because she didn't want to return to him, as a few later writers have claimed? We don't know. We simply don't. It wasn't only herself she was asking Edward to choose over Hugh; she had their elder son, Edward of Windsor, with her in France. I find it hard to imagine that Isabella thought Edward would prefer it if his son and heir remained in a hostile country rather than give up Despenser, or that she thought he would reject his own son, even if he rejected her. Lisa Benz St John has speculated that as Edward II sent Isabella to France in March 1325 to negotiate a peace settlement on his behalf, the queen might have believed that Edward still relied on her and needed her, despite Hugh Despenser's prominent presence in his life. Benz St John further suggests that Hugh persuading Edward II not to travel to France in September 1325 (see my post) to pay homage to Charles IV for his French lands "must have been the ultimate sign to Isabella that Despenser had supplanted her in a way that Gaveston never had." [2] Indeed, the fact that Hugh Despenser the Younger now had so much power that he could persuade the king of England not to meet the king of France might well have shocked Isabella profoundly, however much she had grown used to Hugh's political dominance over the previous few years. Although the royal marriage had certainly been going wrong for a good while, and Edward had even confiscated Isabella's lands in September 1324 when he was at war with her brother as though his own wife and queen was an enemy alien, perhaps Edward's failure to travel to France at Hugh's instigation was the final straw which forced Isabella into offering her husband an ultimatum. It may be that even in 1325 Isabella hadn't yet truly grasped just how strong Hugh Despenser's hold over Edward was, until he did Hugh's bidding and agreed not to travel to France. This makes more sense to me than some notion that Isabella was inventing her loathing of Despenser and her distress at the state of her marriage because she and Roger Mortimer were having hawt sex in Paris and she needed an excuse not to go back to Edward. Isabella of France was highly intelligent, competent and a canny politician, not to mention the crowned and anointed queen of England, not some teenager making up a story to her parents because she wanted to sneak out with her boyfriend.

Edward II responded to the queen's declaration during a parliament held in Westminster and London between 18 November and 5 December 1325. No official record of this parliament exists, and again, we have to rely on the Vita Edwardi Secundi. It says that Edward defended Hugh Despenser and claimed that Hugh had never done anything bad to Isabella, and that the queen had once seemed to get on well with Hugh but that now, "someone has changed her attitude". The identity of this person(s?) wasn't specified, and it may be that Edward neither knew nor cared but just thought that 'someone' must have manipulated Isabella. During this parliament, the king ordered all the English bishops to send the queen a letter, which the Vita cites, though the letter itself no longer exists. (The text of the Vita ends abruptly soon after this, perhaps because the author was dead or incapacitated.) The bishops' letter stated, in part, "But as for what you [Isabella] have written, that what your brother the king of France and your other friends of that country intend to do on your behalf, will turn out not to the prejudice of the lord king [Edward II] or anyone else, but to the destruction of Hugh alone...". [3]

Here we see that Queen Isabella, in a letter which also no longer exists, had stated that she wished the 'destruction' of Hugh Despenser the Younger, and that her brother Charles IV and other French people would help her achieve it. Isabella, still in Paris, wrote (or rather, dictated) a letter to Walter Reynolds, archbishop of Canterbury, on 5 February 1326, in response to the letter recently sent to her by the English bishops. She referred to Edward II as "our very dear and very sweet lord and friend", which is highly unconventional and speaks to Isabella's feelings for her husband (conventional would simply have been "our very dear lord", and in a letter to Edward of March 1325 she repeatedly addressed him as "our very sweet heart"). Isabella called Hugh Despenser the Younger nostre mauvoillant, literally "our evil-wisher" though it can also mean devil, and told Reynolds that the only reason for her failure to return to Edward was that she lived in mortal terror of Hugh. Although she wished nothing more than to be in her husband's company and 'to live and die there', she dared not because Hugh, who was in charge of the king and the whole realm, might hurt and even kill her. She admitted that she had faked friendship towards Hugh before she left England to protect herself, and ended the letter by saying that she was so distressed about the whole situation that she could write no more of it. [4] 

Again, however modern writers might interpret her words, or state that the queen was using her fear of Hugh as a plausible excuse to avoid going back to her husband because she was involved in a passionate relationship with Roger Mortimer, this is what she actually said. Much of the modern interpretation of Isabella's speech of c. October 1325 and her letter of February 1326 involves claiming that she didn't really mean what she said, and claiming that she was only pretending to hate and fear Hugh but actually hated her husband, and didn't want to resume her marriage because she'd fallen in love or lust with Roger. I don't know though. Maybe she did mean what she said? Isn't that at least possible? Hugh Despenser the Younger, who threatened to have barons hanged if they didn't give him the lands he wanted and who imprisoned his own loyal supporters and said he would hurt them if they didn't follow his instructions to the last dot on the i, was a pretty darn scary person, after all. He wasn't Piers Gaveston, who irritated a lot of people but who was, basically, harmless. He wasn't Roger Damory, whose relationship with Edward II bothered Isabella so little that she gave him a lot of expensive gifts, or Hugh Audley, whose relationship with Edward II bothered Isabella so little that Audley was one of her closest allies and high in her favour in 1326/27, after the invasion. None of those men threatened Isabella's relationship with Edward or her position as queen. Hugh Despenser the Younger, on the other hand, was ruthless, calculating, manipulative and frightening beyond the telling of it, and to me, it's entirely possible that Isabella had come to believe both that he might harm her, and that Edward was so much in thrall to Hugh that she couldn't rely on her husband to protect her. I see no reason to think that her fear of him was fake.

Below, Isabella calls Edward II nostre treschier e tresdouche seignur e amy, "our very dear and very sweet lord and friend", and Hugh Despenser the Younger nostre mauvoillant.

The first real evidence for Isabella's association with Roger Mortimer and others comes from a proclamation Edward II ordered all the sheriffs of England to make on 8 February 1326; whether coincidentally or not, this was just three days after Isabella wrote her letter to the archbishop. He stated "...the queen is adopting the counsel of the Mortimer, the king's notorious enemy and rebel, and of other rebels, and that she is making alliances with the men of those parts and other strangers...to come in force with the king's son against England, to aggrieve and destroy the king's men and his people. In case the queen and Edward [of Windsor, their son] come in the ships sent for them by the king with their household only in good manner, according to the king's will and commandment, the sheriff is ordered to receive them honourably and courteously." [5]

Notice here that there's no suggestion of any intimacy; Edward is referring to Isabella making an alliance with Roger Mortimer and other English exiles, i.e. the other noblemen and knights who had fled from England in and after 1322 following the failure of the Contrariant rebellion (see also below). It's telling that in a biography of Isabella published a few years ago, which is keen to push the idea that by now Isabella was madly in love with Roger Mortimer and repulsed by her husband, the words "and of other rebels" are omitted from this quotation from the Close Rolls, as though Edward was talking about Roger alone. Needless to say, the book also fails to mention that Isabella called her husband "our very dear and very sweet lord and friend", and says that Isabella was lying to her husband in her speech and her letter as though this is a certain fact established by asking her in person.

In this proclamation, Edward says that his queen intends to "destroy the king's men". Almost certainly this is a reference to Isabella's threat some months earlier to destroy Hugh Despenser the Younger. In this context, it's worth noting that sometime not long after 8 November 1325, Edward II came to believe that Hugh had been murdered in Wales, and hastily sent three men there to ascertain what had happened. They returned on 20 November with the news that Hugh was alive and well. [6] It seems that Edward, and others, thought that his wife had followed through on her threat to destroy Hugh; it was Edward's chamber valet Jack Pyk who told the king that Hugh had been killed (Jak Pyk counta au Roi q’ le dit mons’ Hugh fust tue), presumably repeating a rumour he had heard. 

Roger Mortimer wasn't the only enemy of Edward II at large on the Continent - Sir John Maltravers, Sir William Trussell and Sir Thomas Roscelyn were some of the others - but, until Edward II's half-brother the earl of Kent joined them sometime in 1326, he was the highest-ranking of them. Roger was assumed in England, surely with good reason, to be the leader of the band of exiles, and the correspondence of Edward II himself, Hugh Despenser the Younger and other allies of the king almost always referred to the men as "Mortimer and the others" between 1323 and 1326 (Edward and several others often just called Roger "the Mortimer", as above, though interestingly, Hugh Despenser the Younger gave him his full name and title, "Sir Roger Mortimer"). 

The (blurred!) pic below is part of a letter from Hugh the Younger in Octobr 1324, where he talks of "Sir Roger Mortimer and the other exiles" (sire Rogier de Mortymer e les autres bannis).

Another blurred pic - my camera is really having a bad day - of a letter sent to Edward II by his envoys in France in late 1323, talking of "Roger Mortimer and other enemies of our lord the king" (Rogier le Mortimer et autres les enemys nostre seignur le roi).

In Edward's proclamation of 8 February, Roger is the only 'rebel' named because it's following the pattern of just about every other reference to the Englishmen on the Continent between 1323 and 1326, and note that Edward says Isabella is adopting the counsel of "the other rebels" too. Roger is not being singled out here, and Edward is not stating that Isabella is being intimate with him, he's shocked that his own wife has now allied herself with men he deems his deadly enemies and is taking advice from them, and he realises that she and they are serious about bringing down Hugh Despenser. Roger Mortimer and the other English exiles loathed Hugh and wanted him dead as much as Isabella did. While he was alive, they would forever be exiles, separated from their families, lands, income, homeland, and influence. Edward II's proclamation makes clear that by 8 February 1326, he had not heard that the queen's relationship with Roger, or indeed with Maltravers, Trussell and the others, was anything untoward. You'd think that if Isabella's affair with Roger had begun the previous autumn, as some writers believe, Edward II would have heard about it three or four months later.

Many of the English servants Isabella had with her in France, whom she was unable to pay because Edward cut off her funding in mid-November 1325, made their way back to England, where Edward II greeted them with gifts of cash and re-assigned them to positions in his own household. The earliest example of this I can find is one of the queen's cooks, John de la Marche, who returned to England on 30 November 1325 (Isabella's other cook was Will Balsham, who also went back to England sometime in late 1325 or in 1326 and became one of Edward's cooks). Thomas Gurton, one of Isabella's chamber valets, John Dene, usher of her chamber, and Henry Pletour, who looked after her horses, were back in England by 3 December, and on 9 December Robert Sendal, marshal of the queen's hall, returned too. Brother Roger Querndon, confessor of Edward and Isabella's teenage son Edward of Windsor, was back in England by 12 January 1326, Isabella's squire Nicholas de la Despense was back by 20 January, and in late 1325 and early 1326 other servants of the queen also made their way home. The latest reference I can find is to a returned servant is Thomas Martel, one of Isabella's huntsmen, re-assigned as one of the valets of Edward II's household on or before 12 April 1326. [7] There were, therefore, numerous people who had worked for Isabella in France and then went to work for Edward II, who would have been able to tell the king (or someone in his retinue) if they had seen anything amiss in the queen's association with Roger Mortimer and the other English exiles. Apparently, by 8 February 1326 no-one had, and the claim by one author that Edward paid the men generous sums of money because they brought him news of his wife's affair with Mortimer is unsupported. These men hadn't been paid for weeks; there's no reason to invent some hidden scandalous reason for Edward giving them money and jobs. The way Jack Pyk, chamber valet, told the king in November 1325 that he had heard Hugh Despenser had been killed in Wales shows how Edward's servants were able to share bad news with him, even bad news that affected him personally.

Edward II sent a letter to his and Isabella's thirteen-year-old son Edward of Windsor on 18 March 1326, addressing him affectionately as Beaufuitz or 'fair son'. [8] By now, the king had given up writing to his queen and did not, as far as the extant record shows, contact Isabella again directly after 1 December 1325. His utter fury with Isabella is apparent in the way he referred to her throughout 1326 abruptly as "our wife", rather than as "Lady Isabella, queen of England, our dearest wife" as he had done before. The king devoted part of this letter to defending Hugh Despenser, and said, in the translation that appears in the Close Rolls, that Isabella "draws to her and retains in her company of her council the Mortimer, the king's traitor and mortal enemy, attainted and adjudged in full parliament, and keeps his company within and without house...[and] she has delivered you [Edward of Windsor] to the company of our said enemy, and makes him your councillor".

The part "she keeps his company within and without house" has often been interpreted as Edward II telling his son that Isabella was committing adultery with Roger Mortimer. In the original French, Edward wrote lui se acompaigne en houstel e de hors, often assumed to be a euphemistic way of saying that Isabella had taken Roger as her lover. Maybe it was. Maybe it wasn't. De hors meant 'outside' or 'outside the royal court' more specifically, or 'in public'; houstel meant a house or household, including the royal household; and se acompaigner could mean 'band together' in the sense of taking an ally as well as 'keep someone's company'. Edward also wrote en sa compaigne lui retient de son conseilEn sa compaignie literally means 'in her/his company', but compaignie also means affinity or staff, and Edward II's accounts often use en sa compaignie to refer to his servants when they were being paid their wages every couple of weeks: they had spent the last fourteen days en sa compaignie, i.e. 'with him' or 'working for him'. De son conseil means 'of her council', i.e. the group of Isabella's advisers, and retient means 'retains' in the sense of retaining or engaging a person in your service. So sure, the letter might indeed be Edward II implicitly telling his son that Isabella had taken Roger Mortimer as her lover and was with him 'inside'. It might simply be the king expressing his astonishment and fury that his wife had taken on a man he deemed a traitor and his mortal enemy as her adviser and as a member of her retinue, and furthermore, permitted him to act as their son's counsellor. It might mean that Isabella was not only taking Roger's advice within her own court, but had made her retention of him as a member of her council and as her chief ally against the loathed Hugh Despenser publicly known in Paris.

Edward II sent another letter to his son on 19 June 1326, in which, although he still called his son Beaufitz, he warned him of the dire consequences of disobeying his lord and father ("you will feel it all the days of your life", vous le sentirez a touz les jours de vostre vie). [9] Edward had by now heard that his wife and son had been accompanied by Roger Mortimer during the recent coronation of Charles IV's third wife Jeanne of Evreux: "you notoriously kept company with and adhered, and your mother also, to the Mortimer, our traitor and mortal enemy, in the company of your mother, and elsewhere". Evidently Edward of Windsor had sent at least one letter to his father, which does not survive, in which he protested that Mortimer was not an adherent of himself or his mother. As Roger had, however, during the coronation, publicly carried vostre suyte, "your suit of clothes", the teenage boy's father knew he was being untruthful. So this is evidence that by May/June 1326, Isabella was willing to appear in public with Roger Mortimer, and also that Roger had taken on an official role with her son as well and was spending time with him, on some occasions without his mother there. I suppose this is the kind of evidence that, if you want it to be, proves that Isabella was flaunting her affair with Roger in front of her family and French courtiers. If you don't, it's simply the queen and her son spending time during a public ceremony with an English baron who's an adviser to them both, who shares their dismay at Hugh Despenser's dominance of their husband/father, and who, like them, is desperate to see him gone.

One of the charges that was presented at Roger Mortimer's trial in November 1330, but must be referring to 1326 or 1327, states:

"Item, the said Roger falsely and maliciously initiated discord between the father of our lord the king and the queen his consort, and he caused her to believe that if she came to him he would have killed her with a knife or murdered her in another manner. Because of which, for that reason, and by his other subtle scheming, he caused the said queen not to come to her said lord." [10]

The bit about the knife says, in the original French, si ele feust venue a lui q'il la eust tuez d'un cotel ou en autre manere murdre. In both the original and in translation, the meaning of the 'he' or il who would stab Isabella if she went back to her husband is unclear; does it mean Roger Mortimer, or Edward II? In my view, it's more likely to be a reference to Edward; in 1326/27, some people, especially churchmen, grew uneasy at Isabella's failure to return to and live with her husband (before and after his deposition). Her ally Adam Orleton, bishop of Hereford, came up with the idea that the queen would be in danger of violence from Edward if she returned to him, as a plausible reason for her living apart from him. Supposedly Orleton claimed in a sermon that Edward carried a knife in his hose to kill his wife, and said that if he had no other weapon he would "crush her with his teeth". [11]

Even if it does mean Roger, there are other reasons besides sexual jealousy why he might have reacted with murderous fury if Isabella decided to go back to her husband sometime in 1326 before they'd gathered forces and ships to launch their invasion. Roger had been on the run since his escape from the Tower in August 1323, and without Isabella and her control of her adolescent son, he and the other English exiles would have no chance of bringing down Hugh Despenser (and ultimately Edward II as well, if that was their plan). They'd remain exiles on the Continent who could never go home or see their families. Hugh Despenser the Younger heard as early as October 1324 that the English exiles intended to land with their forces in Norfolk or Suffolk, as indeed they did, just under two years later (Hugh had a spy in the exiles' company who sent him information about them). He knew they were talking to the count of Hainault and asking him to help them. [12] But before Isabella joined them, they didn't invade England, because how would they pay for soldiers and ships without the marriage of the future king of England to sell to the count of Hainault, and why would he help them unless he got something pretty massive from them in return? A previous attempt to send assassins after Hugh and his father had also failed. [13] It's hardly a wonder if Roger raged at the prospect of Isabella and her son going back to England and taking no further part in the rebellion.

This post is going to peter out lamely now as I've run out of energy to research or write any more, haha. But there's absolutely tons more to come soon!


1) Vita Edwardi Secundi, ed. Wendy Childs, p. 243.
2) Lisa Benz St John, 'In the Best Interest of the Queen: Isabella of France, Edward II, and the Image of a Functional Relationship', Fourteenth Century England VIII, ed. J.S. Hamilton (2014), pp. 37-40.
3) Vita, ed. Childs, pp. 245-7.
4) Historiae Anglicanae Scriptores Decem, ed. Roger Twysden (1652), column 2767-8.
5) Calendar of Close Rolls 1323-27, p. 543.
6) Society of Antiquaries of London, Manuscript 122, pp. 34, 37-8.
7) SAL MS 122, pp. 40-42, 46, 49, 59.
8) CCR 1323-27, p. 578; Foedera 1307-27, p. 623.
9) CCR 1323-27, pp. 576-7; Foedera 1307-27, pp. 630-31.
10) The Parliament Rolls of Medieval England, ed. Chris Given-Wilson et al, November 1330 parliament.
11) Roy Martin Haines, 'The Stamford Council of April 1327', English Historical Review, 122 (2007), pp. 142-4; PROME, January 1327 parliament.
12) Pierre Chaplais, ed., The War of Saint-Sardos (1323-1325): Gascon Correspondence and Diplomatic Documents, p. 72.
13) Calendar of Patent Rolls 1321-24, p. 349.


Amanda said...

Such an interesting and detailed post, thank you.

Kathryn Warner said...

Thanks, Amanda, glad you liked it!

sami parkkonen said...


The biggest reason for me not believe that they were lovers is Isabella and her whole life as a royal. How her French relatives would have reacted if a anointed Queen would have had love thing going on outside marriage is also thing to think about.
The second reason is that it would not have been a secret for too long. Servants were there 24/7 in Isabella's court/group where ever she went. And those who returned to England would have known about it for sure.
Third reason why I do not think they were lovers is Edward III. Had he found out that his mother had sex with the man he wanted to kill, she would have been in deep trouble indeed. But he treated her in normal formal manner when he became the king.

Romantic fantasy is a powerful thing and it works when you do not know or understand the medieval world and the life of royals. If you do know and understand who they were and what kind of life they had, you would know that a secret affair between the queen and some baron or lord or white knight wonderman just was not possible. And knowing what we know about Isabella, she would not tolerate any such affairs for her own relatives.

Isabella did not care about Edward's lover, male of female, as long as they did not cause any trouble inside the royal household. Piers Gaveston was most likely the greatest love of Edward's but he and Isabella got along very well. It is more than likely that they joined forces to support Edward in many ways and that he educated and assisted Isabella too. The point is: Isabella was not bothered by him. Unlike Hugh.

Now Hugh was capable for very rough play and he was the ultimate medieval gangster in many ways. Could he have planned to kill Isabella? I have no doubt. He was ambitious, dangerous as hell, and very very tough and smart. He knew that if he lost to Isabella their game of power, he would end up dead. And she most likely realized that Hugh would try to kill her sooner or later.

Anyways: wonderful stuff!!

Kathryn Warner said...

Thank you, Sami, really glad you liked it! Something else I want to look at in a future post is the way nobody in France, after Edward III claimed the French throne in 1337, used Isabella's adultery as a weapon to embarrass Edward or even to claim that he wasn't Edward II's son. And if Isabella was known to have committed adultery, why there were no rumours in England or anywhere that Edward III wasn't Edward II's son? After all, if a queen can commit adultery in 1325/26, there's a chance that she did in 1312 as well, right?

Undine said...

Fascinating post. Edward and Isabella just might be the most puzzling royal couple in English history. This hold Despenser had over the king is particularly baffling. I don't think anyone would call ol' Hugh a charmer. I know this seems a silly thing to say about a king, but is it possible that Edward somehow feared Despenser, too?

Kathryn Warner said...

Thanks, Undine! I did briefly speculate in my book about Hugh that Edward was, at least some level, frightened of Hugh. Exactly how Hugh worked his way into Edward's affections is something we'll never know, though I suspect he was highly manipulative. Stephen Spinks, in his bio of Edward, came to that conclusion, and I agree.

Anonymous said...

Great post! There is an article I read recently by Elena Woodacre that said that no one mentioned a "Salic Law" in excluding Louis X's daughter from the throne, but she was tainted with illegitimacy due to her mom's adultery ... so the fact that no one raised the same issue with Edward III is really surprising!


Kathryn Warner said...

Thanks, Esther! That's absolutely true.

sami parkkonen said...

Yes, if she had an affair with Mortimer, or with any one, where were the rumors? The gossip? I mean, people talked about Edward and his guys, so why not talk about Isabella and her guy? Well, because everybody knew there was not enough to start even the rumor mill. People in her time were pretty sure there was nothing funny going on between her and Mortimer, and people in Edward II's time were pretty sure something was going on between him and his bosom buddies. So they talked about the king and his "favorites". There was nothing to talk about Isabella and Mortimer, so people did not talk about that.

As for Hugh and Edward, I think Hugh was a master manipulator. He was at his most charming when convincing Edward that Isabella was betraying him to her French relatives, he was able to talk to him like a snake charmer, and while doing so with Edward he was scaring pants off from everybody else.

People who have not met professional criminals think they always look ugly and act like brutes but in many cases it is nothing like that. Benjamin "Bugsy" Siegel was a ruthless killer and a gangster with legendary rage which could explode at any moment but he was also handsome and very funny guy who hung around the Hollywood elite and movie stars like nothing. Even Adolf Hitler was able to convince lord Chamberlain that there was going to a peace "for our lifetime" at the very same moment he was planning an attack to France and war in the east.

Hugh was most likely in that category. No doubt he could be charming fellow but at all times he was manipulating and looking for an angle which he could use for his own advantage, and Edward most likely did not see that. Perhaps much later in his life he realized how blind he had been but at this time he totally fooled by Hugh.

Kathryn Warner said...

Sami, actually there were some rumours about Isabella and Roger, later on, in chronicles - I'll look at those in another post. I also think Hugh was charming and manipulative. He always totally fascinates me!

Karen Hill said...

Excellent post, looking forward to the rest of this blog.

I also wonder at the lack of any rumours/writings on the affair until much later on. When they were all at Royal Court ready to gossip about Edwards favourites while his affairs were ongoing.
At the time of the invasion you get the feeling that the main objective was just to rid the land of Despenser. Looking at it from Isabellas viewpoint having a group of military savvy men that you can rely on and trust, to help you regain some power and be willing later to give your son the crown of England, must have been comforting. You can easily see how her reliance on Mortimer, being there at her beck and call for advice,and perhaps his attractiveness at being a decisive, strong leader might draw her in. Especially when all hope of reconciliation with Edward is gone.

The lines of 'power corrupts, absolute power corrupts absolutely ' couldn't be more true with Despenser and then Mortimer.
Both these men are fascinating in that they had loyal wives and a large brood of children to contend with during their dalliance.
But just what was the hold over Edward that Despenser had? We will probably never get to find this out.

Kathryn Warner said...

Thank you, Karen! I'd give a great deal to know when Isabella and her allies decided to bring down Edward II as well as the Despensers. I suspect, regarding Isabella at least, it might have been as late as Christmas 1326. In my next post, I'll look at a chronicle which says that Isabella fell to her knees before Edward and begged him not be angry with her well after the invasion (there's no date but I assume it was before Hugh the Younger's execution). Gosh, when it comes to Edward and Hugh's relationship, there's very little else that makes me wish I had a time machine more. :o Re: the triangle of Edward and Hugh and Eleanor, by the way, I deal with it quite a bit in my book about the de Clare sisters.

Karen Hill said...

Slowly ticking off the book list so the de clares are very much near the top of that list :)
I also read about Isabella meeting Edward after his capture, falling to her knees and begging. If Edward refused to even look at her let alone talk, it may even have been just after Despensers execution, As from his other dealings we have hints of his sorrow, heartbreak and his great anger at Gavestons death.
If you ever find that time machine please take me with you....I'd like to go to one of Gavestons parties to see him in full splendour and at his most extravagant.

Kathryn Warner said...

Thanks! :) You may well be right; it would have been something that he would have found hard to forgive, at least soon after it happened. I wonder when Edward thought about his relationship with Hugh in the months (and years?) to come if he ever wondered if he'd been manipulated.

Oh heck yes, imagine <3 <3

sami parkkonen said...

Given what we "know" about Edwards life after all the chaos:

I bet he knew he had been manipulated by Hugh. Perhaps few months after his escape to the Continent once he cooled off he must have realized that Hugh had done more damage than good in the big picture. So, when he met his son king Edward III years later it was all in past and they could talk thing over. And I bet Isabella received some message too from him as it seems that she loved him till the day she died.

And those who do not believe Edward lived in secrecy in the Continent just think about this man who met Edward III: he came from nowhere, gained an entry to the king's quarters, was seen by the king, spend good amount of time with him, met the royal family, and when he left the king gave him nice amount of cash (about two years worth of average knight's income). Who was this man? He claimed to be the father of the king, as it was written down in the royal documents, and all this happened? Who could say "I am the father of the king" and survive after that? You think Edward III did not recognize an impostor? Well, I think he knew very well who this mysterious man was.

eimeara said...

Sami, personally I do think that Mortimer and Isabella had an affair, but that's just my opinion. I respect your right to disagree. Whether or not it started in France we will never know. But I think it would have got a bit easier for them to be discreet as she had to send some home as she couldn't pay them. Also I read that they were asked to leave the French Court because of this. And I also feel that with such affairs, the man was going to be killed not the woman. Isabella would never be executed by her son because of her status and he needed to make his claim to the throne of France.
From what I read throughout history people have taken major risks since time began. Marc Antony and Cleopatra is one example of a Queen taking up with a commoner.

Now I do agree with you when you say Isabella got along with Piers. There's no evidence that she didn't and we never heard of her gloating at his execution as she did with the Despensers. You also make a very interesting point, could Hugh have planned to kill Isabella? That's very possible and I have wondered why Isabella hated him so much. That would be a very plausible reason.

Kathyrn, you bring up the point where were the rumours that Edward 111 was Roger's son? Maybe people were afraid to make remarks like that because it would be treason?? It has been suggested to me on social media that Mortimer was executed because Edward feared there would be such rumours and his own right to the throne would be challenged?
So its possible that the execution of Mortimer might have made people hold their tongues.
Also you mention that the French didn't use the Adultery to embarass Edward in 1337. I think its possible that they thought it irrelevant at that point because Mortimer had been dead for 7 years at that point and Isabella was rehabilitated - a respectable woman then.
Also as Isabella was one of their own and blood is thicker than water. So they didn't want to malign her.
I also suspect that Edward 111 may have destroyed a lot of papers in relation to Mortimer and Isabella after their downfall.

Karen, yes I think Isabella relied heavily on Mortimer and he was a leader with military experience. Yes ridding the land of the Despensers at the invasion was a major goal, but somehow its hard to see a beautiful, young Queen alone or a handsome man like Mortimer alone as he had not seen his wife for 5 years and both were strangers to each other.

Just my two centz

eimeara said...

Sami, I think you are right, Hugh was manipulating Edward and he did not see it.
Undine and Kathryn, I never considered that Edward was frightened of Hugh but it is a possibility.

This is what could have happened: Edward was heartbroken over the death of Gaveston. He obviously had strong , passionate feelings for him even ten years on because he was willing to wait that long to get revenge on Lancaster.

Anyway, I would theorise, is it possible that at some point Edward was in depression and couldn't rule ? A nervous breakdown? Of course we'll never know, there's no evidence whatsoever but that could be one reason why the likes of Roger D'Amory and even Hugh appeared.

Understandably Edward was inclined not to trust many afterwards. He was losing the nobles support rapidly by the year so Hugh may well have capitalised on this.
So yes he may not have realised he had been manipulated I agree as Hugh probably appeared as a sympathetic listener.

So as Edward was becoming more and more isolated as nobility withdrew their support its entirely possible that he was frightened of Hugh as this isolation was to Hugh's advantage.

Karen and Kathryn, I would suspect that assuming that Isabella fell to her knees before Edward - even if it was before the execution of the Despensers, he would have wanted nothing to do with her. He would have suspected that they weren't going to be let off.
Even if he felt he had been manipulated and its likely he was very likely disgusted with her.

Sami, I believe that Edward lived on the continent. I think Kathryn has made very good arguements in support of Edward's escape.

Kathryn Warner said...

Why are we assuming that Roger Mortimer was 'handsome'? For all we know, he was short and fat and balding with rotten teeth. It's also a rather weird assumption that two people are bound to be together just because they're both good-looking. It seems a bit like wishful thinking, and also circular logic: Isabella must have fallen in love with Roger because he was handsome, and how do we know he was handsome? Because Isabella fell in love with him.

Re: the idea that Isabella was asked to leave the French court because of her adultery, unless there are contemporary sources which specifically state that, it's just another story to add to all the other stories that have been made up about Isabella. And the idea that Edward III had Mortimer executed to stop rumours spreading that he was Mortimer's son: again, without any evidence, it's just another story that people 700 years later have come up with. I'm interested in facts and evidence. We can theorise just about anything if we want to.

eimeara said...

According to Froissart, they were asked to leave the French Court because of adultery. Alison Weir quoted from him. As for Mortimer , being handsome that's how he's depicted in books. But given that he was mid or late 30s when he and Isabella met he can't have been that bad looking.

Kathryn Warner said...

You know Froissart wasn't even born until c. 1337/38, right? He's not a primary source for events of 1326. And where exactly does he say Isabella was asked to leave the French court because of adultery? What's the wording?

Yes, I know novels depict Roger as good-looking. A man in his late thirties in 1326 could easily have rotten teeth and smallpox scars. I'm not saying he did. I'm saying we don't have the faintest idea what he looked like.

Eimeara said...

Isn't there a sculpture, thought to be him? I think it's at Ludlow Castle. I was reading trail of the Mortimers and such is attributed to him in this book. He looked handsome but obviously just an outline. Id love to see a painting which is pretty impossible. As for Edward executing him to stop rumors that's just a theory of course. But certainly Mortimer's execution would have made people reluctant to spread rumors about Edward's paternity was not the reason for his execution.

Kathryn Warner said...

Maybe we can also develop a theory that Joan Geneville cheated on Roger with Hugh Despenser and Hugh was the real father of several of her and Roger's children, and that was the real reason Roger rebelled against Edward and Hugh in 1321/22. I mean, if we're just making stuff up, that seems as plausible as Roger being the real father of Edward III.

What Froissart actually says about Isabella leaving her brother's court is that Hugh Despenser bribed Charles IV and other courtiers with gold and silver to make Charles expel her. That this was true, or at least that Isabella believed it was true, is confirmed by one of the charges against Hugh at his trial, which states that he did exactly that. Froissart adds that Isabella's cousin Robert of Artois warned her to flee as otherwise she would be seized and forcibly returned to England.

Eimeara said...

Personally I don't believe Mortimer was the father of Edward, it's just impossible- itinerary wise. And you've pointed that out and Sophia Menache has also pointed out that Ed and Isabel were together for the whole 9 months prior to the births of their children.
I realize that Froissart was born in 1337 or so but he also knew Queen Philippa.
I'll look at the Weir source tonight as I am at work.

Kathryn Warner said...

Here's the section of Froissart's chronicle where he talks about Isabella's stay in France in 1326: http://www.gutenberg.org/files/48855/48855-h/48855-h.htm#Page_15 There's an English translation here; Isabella's stay in France in 1326 is on pp. 5-7: https://www.google.co.uk/books/edition/The_Chronicles_of_Froissart/m9BmAAAAMAAJ?hl If you can see anything about Roger Mortimer or about adultery, please let me know!

sami parkkonen said...


If a king in any country became unable to rule for what ever reason, what usually happened was that he was either removed and next in line was installed to the throne, or he got killed. We are talking about medieval times here, not present day democracies. Sometimes the closest men kept the king in office as long as possible but usually this did not happen since there were rivals in courts all the time each vying for power so if the king had a complete melt down and was totally unable to rule, the teeth and claws came out and the rivals inside the court began to fight for the power that was perhaps in their grasp.

As for Edward. I believe he was just not that interested in running the show in general. If Hugh seemed to run the realm efficiently it was more than likely okay with Edward. The barons rebellion in 1322 was possible partly because Edward was too busy doing something else than being an active ruler. Lancaster saw this and made his move to get the throne but failed ultimately. Being an effective king meant that you kept your barons and everyone on their toes, by spying on them, showing up at their castles and manors suddenly etc. But Edward being Edward, he liked to delegate stuff to others and go for a ride or hunt or perhaps dug some ditches, swim in the ice etc. For him the grind of ruling was boring and dull compared to joking with mule drivers and going to fish with some fishermen.

As for Isabella and Mortimer, there is just too much evidence which point towards the fact that they had no romance at all. One of the strongest is that when Edward III started the Hundred years war by invading France, the French never uttered a word or his mother. If Mortimer and Isabella were so madly in love and it was known by every one and all, they would have shouted it from dusk till dawn and beyond 24/7, all day all night, just to get to the enemy king. But the French were silent about Mortimer and Isabella. Why? Because there was nothing to say about them.

And then there was the church. Toppling Edward II was already a hard pill to swallow for the church but if there had been some illegal romance between Isabella and Mortimer, the church would have used that against them both. Or to gain something big. But the church did not say anything. Why? Because there was nothing to say about any romance.

Biggest obstacle to any romance between Isabella and Mortimer was Isabella herself. As we know from her funerals, she loved Edward II till the end. BUT the biggest reason was that she was trough and trough royal. She had Sang Real in her veins. She was part of the mystical French royal blood line which was supposed to have the blood of Christ in it. Plus she was educated and trained for her role as a Queen all her life. That was who she was. And when she became the Queen of England she was anointed just like Christ to rule as a semi-divine being the land and the people along side of her husband the King. This was really her, who she was. What she was.

Also, the Queen was never alone. She had her chamber maids around her all the time. They were in her bedroom, they were at present when she relieved herself in the morning, when she washed herself, dressed herself etc. Plus there bodyguards who were by her side almost all the time. When she went to bed they stood just outside her room. When she opened her door and walked out, those armed men went along - all the time. In what weird time she could have hopped in bed with Roger??

We can imagine what ever we want but the reality is not imaginary. When you look at the facts and everything around those facts you understand that the story of hot steamy sex and romance between Mortimer and Isabella just could not be.

eimeara said...

Alison Weir says that King Charles held 'strong views on women who committed adultery as his first wife had been imprisoned for that crime and must have felt deeply uncomfortable about Isabella's relationship with Mortimer citing Walsingham as a source here, rather than Froissart.

She also quotes Froissart that 'Charles told Isabella to stay quiet and abandon her project'.

Kathryn Warner said...

Thomas Walsingham was born in the 1350s or 1360s and died in 1422. How can he possibly be used as a reliable source for something that happened in 1326? That's absurd. And how does Charles having strong views on women committing adultery - assuming that he did - prove that Isabella committed adultery?

Kathryn Warner said...

I notice that Weir claims John XXII asked Charles IV to 'stop harbouring adulterers' at his court in 1326, but doesn't cite a source. It's not in the Calendar of Papal Letters. For a historian to make such a statement without giving a source is also absurd, and given all the other wild allegations she makes about Roger and Isabella without references, I'm going to assume this one is equally fake.

sami parkkonen said...

And in any case even if the pope had asked Charles to stop harboring adulterers, who he meant with that? Were there many of those, or only a couple? Had it been Isabella surely the pope had said so, her being so important figure and her relationships influencing to the future of the whole Christendom?

Besides, if Charles had "Strong views of women committing adultery", he was actually in line with Isabella who also did not approve such behavior in the first place.

Looks to me that Weir has created her very own fantasy version of reality and is grasping reeds here and making a fuss out of nothing. Which is not surprising considering her other assumptions and claims elsewhere which she claims are the truth, which they obviously are not.

As for Charles telling Isabella to "stay quiet and abandon her project", it looks to me like he was talking about the whole invasion and politics, not some steamy romance with some dude. If he ever even said that.

Kathryn Warner said...

Yes, I think it's pretty clear that 'project' refers to Isabella's plan to invade England. Pretty weird to think that someone would use the word 'project' to refer to an adulterous relationship!

The words 'clutching at straws' or 'grasping reeds' are exactly what I was thinking too, Sami. When a published historian has to rely on a chronicler who died around the time that Isabella's great-great-great-grandson Henry VI became king of England as a source for Isabella's behaviour, it's weak sauce, to say the least. But maybe we'll hear that Walsingham's great-great-grandfather was in Paris in 1326 and heard rumours about Isabella and Mortimer from the cousin of the brother-in-law of a man whose next-door neighbour once saw Isabella in the street, so Walsingham totally knew the truth about what they were up to, or something.

And about John XXII - in 1326 he sent Isabella a letter assuring her that nobody had told him anything about her that would be to her dishonour, and even if they did, he wouldn't listen or believe it. Hardly the words of someone who thought she was committing adultery.