28 September, 2014

Guest Post: Eleanor of Castile and her Relationship with her Children, by Sara Cockerill

I'm delighted to welcome Sara Cockerill, who's written a great guest post for us today about Edward II's mother Eleanor of Castile and her relationship with Edward and her other children.  Sara's excellent biography of Eleanor, The Shadow Queen, was published with Amberley Publishing recently, and I have a free copy to give away to a reader!  If you'd like to enter the competition, drop me an email at edwardofcaernarfon@yahoo.com, or send me a message on Facebook, either on my own page (if we're friends there; if not, your message will probably be diverted to my 'other' inbox and I might miss it) or on my Edward II page.  The winner will be notified both here and via email, so make sure to let me know your email address.

Eleanor of Castile, and her relationship with her children

There are two traditions relevant to a consideration of Eleanor of Castile as a mother here, on the Edward II blog.  The first is the tradition that Eleanor was an uncaring mother.  The second is that her absence from his life had a very substantial negative impact on her son, the future Edward II.

The first of these traditions is buoyed up by the undoubted fact that Eleanor did leave her children behind her twice  - once to go on crusade with Edward I in 1270-1272 (with a lengthy return 1272-4) and again in the period 1286-1289, when they spent three years in Gascony, trying to rescue the King of Aragon from papal wroth.  But these trips should not be taken out of context.  The reality of the situation is that Eleanor was far from the only royal wife to go on crusade – most of the principal crusaders, including the heir to the King of France and the heir to the Duke of Brittany, took their wives with them.  The fashion in this regard had been set by Eleanor of Aquitaine the previous century, and reinforced by Louis IX’s wife Marguerite of Provence in 1248.  This approach reflected that fact that for these young women their primary role was that of childbearer, and in a world where children died so very often, they might well be seen as falling short in their duty if they allowed their husbands to go off for a number of prime childbearing years.  And indeed, Eleanor added three children to her complement during the crusade years, although one of them did not survive.  Likewise Isabelle of Aragon, the wife of Louis’ heir Philip III, was pregnant at the time when he abandoned the crusade.

Similarly the Gascon adventure needs to be viewed in the light of the fact that, although the couple’s children were indeed left behind, ranging from eighteen year old Eleanora, the King of Aragon’s notional wife, to young Edward at two years old, it was actually envisaged that the trip would be over in a year, not the three it eventually swallowed.  These absences must therefore be viewed as a competition of priorities, in which Eleanor’s decision to place her main job as Queen above her children can hardly be said to be wrong.

And the role of Queen was indeed Eleanor’s main job.  It was highly unusual for royal wives to have a considerable close involvement with the raising of their children, at least at an early stage.  Part of this may be down to convention, but we may realistically imagine that with such levels of child mortality, convention reflected a self-protective instinct.  If Eleanor had been as close to all her children as a modern mother, it is hard to imagine how she could have emerged from the years of childbirth with the totals: children borne: 16+, children alive: 6, and kept her sanity.   It was mothers such as Eleanor of Provence, who stayed with her children for great portions of the year, and insisted on being at Edward’s side in illness, who were anomalous.  

Nor should it be imagined that Eleanor had no relationship with her children before they reached the age (about seven to ten) when they would reside more with her at court.  She ran a considerable children’s establishment, and gave careful attention to the details of their regime and routine.  Precise rules governed how much ale was available, and how many dishes at supper, and how many nightlights.  In the household of young Henry, the second son who died in 1274, we can see records of toys, buttons, shirts – and tragically in the weeks before his death a beautiful white pony, which he was never well enough to ride.  In the later household of Edward of Caernarfon there are salmon pies sent to him, as well as provision made for a (very hungry) camel for the children to ride, and (probably less popularly) Dominican tutors to assist young Edward in his reading. 

And Eleanor certainly cared to see her children – they were sent for to greet their parents on return from crusade, and for the coronation.  In the peaceful years which followed, regular stops were made at places where the adult and child establishments could merge for weeks at a time. And in the Welsh years, the children were hauled north to Robert Burnell’s house at Acton Burnell and to Bristol so that such closeness could be maintained. What is more, as death approached, Eleanor had them brought to her in Nottinghamshire – against her mother in law’s urgent warnings of bad air.

But of course it was, at best, a simulacrum of the situation where children are sent to boarding school from a very young age.  Eleanor did not see her children’s first steps, or hear their first words. And there were inevitably effects on the relationship between mother and child.  This is perhaps best documented in relation to the eldest surviving girl, Eleanora, who effectively saw nothing of her mother, but a good deal of her grandmother, before her fifth birthday owing to Eleanor’s departure on crusade.  Eleanora came to court aged about seven, but continued to spend considerable portions of her time with her grandmother, and when her marriage appeared imminent in her early teens, it was to her grandmother that she turned for what then seemed likely to be a final family visit.

Having said that, clearly a close relationship was built between Eleanor and her elder daughters.  Joan (of Acre), who was brought up by her maternal grandmother until she was seven, rushed north to see Eleanor in her final illness, even though she was herself pregnant, and had had a violent row with her parents over weddings just months before.  And Eleanor, though unable to establish a sufficiently consistent regime to see her children as thoroughly indoctrinated with her love of books as she would like, did nonetheless produce in her elder children literate people: Margaret took books with her on her marriage, Elizabeth was to raise a famous patron of learning and Eleanora could actually write – a rather unusual accomplishment for a prince, still more so for a princess. Mary, too could write – which suggests that Eleanor’s influence may have directed her education even in the convent which she entered at a young age.

And there will have been differences in the closeness she established with different children: Eleanora missed the whole first five years, but Margaret and Alphonso had their parents close for the whole first decade of their lives.  For Margaret the evidence is slight, but for Alphonso, the child to whom Eleanor was probably most close, she commissioned a beautiful psalter, now in the British Library, with illustrations that bear the hallmark of her own input and their shared interests.  So a lady – very possibly Eleanor - is seen hunting with dogs (as Eleanor loved to do) alongside a happy small boy; and the margins boast over twenty different varieties of birds.  Both Edward and Eleanor loved birds – and it is fair to assume Alphonso did likewise.

But what of poor Edward, the baby of the family?  While Eleanor’s concern for his well-being is clear in the evidences I have cited, the reality is that from just after his second birthday to well after his fifth birthday his mother was absent from his life.  What is more, there is reason to suppose that when she returned she was already terminally ill and she died only a little over a year later when Edward had not yet turned seven years old.  To add to this, her final year was a maelstrom of activity – picking up the threads of a business left running in neutral for three years, and making her preparations for death, on top of several marriage celebrations and plenty of travel.  Only in the spring, substantially spent around London and Langley where Edward was usually based, will the little boy have had a chance to get to know his mother. 

That in some way his mother made a powerful impression on Edward is perhaps testified to by his adoption of her Castilian arms as his badge in later life, and his determined fondness for all things Castilian – Kathryn’s book (which I have been lucky enough to read in proof form) shows again and again how Edward emphasised his tie to Castile – and indeed wished to strengthen it in the form of marriage.  There is in this a strong feeling that Edward felt Eleanor’s absence – and some of the accounts of his later household, with the little boy receiving her old friends, as well as a succession of bishops and ambassadors, is very poignant. 

But one cannot help but wonder too whether the absence of Eleanor was not most felt in the training Edward II plainly did not get in the duties of kingship.  Because in Edward II as a man I see a person at odds with the job of kingship – and this may not be surprising given that to Edward it surely must have seemed that it was kingship and queenship which kept him at the margins of his parents’ lives.  As Kathryn notes, his tragedy – and England’s – was that he didn’t have the option to do something else – he was born to do a job which was not at all to his taste.

Had Eleanor lived, it is she who would have superintended his upbringing – and with more consistent discipline and focus than Edward I (himself the product of loving indulgence) would be likely to bestow.  Her family had written at length on the theory of training a King, and she had herself enjoyed that kind of education.  It is a mark of this likely approach that already, when he was aged five, she was ensuring Edward had Dominican tutors.  Had she lived, therefore, it is likely that there would be no debate over Edward II’s literacy and that his education would have been much better designed to engage him with the job he could not escape. 

However, the perfect education can only do so much.  Eleanor’s own brother received the best education in the world, but failed as a king and died alone, abandoned by his family and deposed by his son in a coup in part orchestrated by Alfonso’s queen.  An odd resonance, don’t you think?


Sara, thank you for this great post and the insights you've given us!  I've often wondered myself how much Edward knew about Eleanor and her life in Castile, and how much her death when he was only six affected him.  In 1305 he called his much older cousin Agnes de Valence his 'good mother', and in 1312 addressed his wetnurse Cecily de Leygrave as 'the king's mother', so it does seem as though he needed and missed that maternal connection.  Best of luck with The Shadow Queen, and I hope it sells many, many copies!

21 September, 2014

Was There A Far-Reaching Plot To Deprive Edward II Of His Throne In The 1320s?

There is a great conspiracy theory sometimes advanced in modern times about Edward II's downfall, that it was planned as much as four years in advance by a large group of people across several countries, comprising Queen Isabella, several English bishops and magnates, Roger Mortimer and other English enemies of Edward and the Despensers in exile on the continent, Isabella's brother King Charles IV of France, Count William III of Hainault, and even Pope John XXII.

An important first step in this plot against the king, so the tale goes, was the escape of Roger Mortimer from the Tower of London on 1 August 1323, which was, supposedly, aided by Queen Isabella and (according to the Meaux chronicle of the 1390s) her uncle Charles de Valois in France.  In this reading of events, this was far more than an intelligent and resourceful man engineering his own escape with the help of a small group of sympathisers, but was devised and organised by royalty in two countries with the ultimate aim of using Roger to bring down the king of England.  A second vital step in the plot was persuading Edward II to send Isabella to France in March 1325: the idea goes that the queen was desperate to leave England and her husband's influence so that she could work against him in cahoots with her brother the king of France and Edward's enemies there and in the Low Countries, and to this end, manipulated him so that he let her go, under the illusion that it was his own idea.  Next, Edward also had to be persuaded to send his son the future Edward III to France six months later to pay homage to Charles IV for the lands held there by the English crown, so that Isabella, Roger Mortimer and their other allies could gain control of the boy and use him as a weapon to bring down his father with the knowledge and connivance of Charles IV, much of the French nobility, William III of Hainault and goodness knows who else.  It is assumed that Edward II (as well as everybody not involved in it) was totally oblivious to this conspiracy against him across much of Northern Europe, and that Queen Isabella was betraying her husband and secretly working against him as early as 1322/23 but that he was too blind or stupid to notice.  It also requires a belief that at every point - sending Isabella to France, sending his son there later, refusing to concede to Isabella's demand in late 1325 that he send Hugh Despenser the Younger away from him because if he did, she'd have no excuse to remain in France and work against him - Edward fell into the cunning traps set for him by his wife and her secret allies and unknowingly did exactly what they wanted him to do.  This notion of a vast plot against him makes Edward II a puppet, dancing to the tune of his wife and the others; it makes his enemies look terribly clever and cunning, as absolutely everything fell the way they had wanted and planned for years.  Gosh, how fortunate.

There is no evidence for any of this, and although it's a marvellous story, highly imaginative, to my mind that's all it is.  It's looking at what happened to Edward II in 1327 with centuries of hindsight and assuming that his deposition must have been carefully planned by many people conspiring together for a long time, despite the lack of proof for this assertion.  It's assuming that Isabella hated her husband and had been in love with Roger Mortimer, or at the very least sympathetic to him, for many years, despite the lack of proof.  This whole Grand Conspiracy Against Edward II notion reminds me of the popular recent idea that Henry VII's mother Margaret Beaufort schemed for many years to make her son king, which in my opinion is also based on nothing more than hindsight and looking at events backwards.  It takes the fact that Henry became king in 1485 - which seems, and must have seemed at the time, so unlikely when so many people had been ahead of him in the succession and he was merely an impoverished exile abroad - and assuming that this had always been intended, that because an improbable event happened, it must have been planned for a long time, rather than being something which developed organically and hadn't necessarily been plotted and schemed for.  The postulated grand conspiracy against Edward II requires us to believe that numerous people plotted together in at least three different countries for years, were treasonably scheming against the king of England but managed to keep it all entirely secret from him and everyone else, and that no evidence of any of it has survived except the fact that Edward actually was deposed and did have enemies.  Hmmmm.  I don't think most people are that Machiavellian.  Grand conspiracy theories are usually invented long after the events in question, with bucket-loads of hindsight.  It's so attractive to think that Isabella, Roger Mortimer and their allies in 1325/27 weren't just bumbling along and reacting to events, taking spontaneous advantage of situations which arose, making decisions which seemed correct to them at the time, sometimes changing their minds, and so on, but were being terribly clever, showing amazing foresight, amazing skill at manipulating people, and cunningly moving chess pieces across a board which Edward II didn't even know existed.  It's a human trait to want to impose order on chaos, to discern patterns where really there are none, and I think that's the case here.  Edward II's deposition was the first in English history and an incredibly important event, and I do understand the temptation to see it and the events leading up to it as something planned and inevitable, not random and even haphazard, decided late in the game and something which could have happened in many other ways.  I understand it, but I don't think it's true.

Isabella and her alleged allies gaining control of her and Edward II's twelve/thirteen-year-old son Edward of Windsor (the future Edward III) in 1325 was absolutely essential to this presumed long-standing plot against Edward II.  Without the future king of England in their grasp, they could never hope to bring down his father.  I've written before at length about Edward II's decision to send his son to France in September 1325, and how he had backed himself into a corner where every option available to him was fraught with terrible risk and how he took the option which clearly seemed the least worst to him at the time, after much soul-searching and changing his mind.  Edward II came very close to sailing to France himself in September 1325; he granted safe-conducts to the retinue going with him, selected the ship in which he would travel (La Jonete of Winchelsea), had arrangements made for his arrival in Le Crotoy, appointed his son regent of England in his absence, informed Pope John XXII and the English magnates and bishops of his impending departure, and so on.  As late as 4 September 1325, eight days before Edward of Windsor sailed from Dover and two days after the king had made his son count of Ponthieu, Edward II was still issuing letters of safe-conduct for his own retinue accompanying him to France, and evidently was still anguishing over the correct and least dangerous course of action.  Without Edward of Windsor under the control of the queen and her supposed allies, the whole plan would have collapsed.  All of it, all this clever and highly secret conspiring and plotting against Edward II for years, hinged on them being able to separate the king and his heir and take the latter hostage while he was in France.  There is no possible way, however, that either Isabella or the king's enemies on the continent could have known whether Edward II or Edward of Windsor would travel to France when the king didn't even know this himself until almost the last moment.  Edward II's travelling to France rather than sending his son would have thwarted their plans, and of course the king's deposition and the accession of Edward III would have played out very differently in that scenario, though I suppose in that case we'd hear nowadays that Edward II's going to France himself was exactly what the conspirators had always wanted and that he was cleverly manipulated into this decision, because they had always planned to seize control of his son in England while Edward was abroad and/or take Edward II himself prisoner at the French court or while travelling to or from it.  Whatever happened in 1325/26 would surely be made to fit into some conspiracy theory.

Sometime in the late autumn or early winter of 1325, Isabella, at the French court, declared "I feel that marriage is a joining together of man and woman, maintaining the undivided habit of life, and that someone has come between my husband and myself trying to break this bond; I protest that I will not return until this intruder is removed, but discarding my marriage garment, shall assume the robes of widowhood and mourning until I am avenged of this Pharisee."  (Vita Edwardi Secundi).  This has generally been interpreted as Isabella defying and rebelling against her husband, hoping that he actually won't send Hugh away from him so that she has a continued excuse for rebellion.  But we could also take Isabella's words at face value and assume she meant what she said: that she was genuinely mourning the breakdown of her marriage, that she wanted her husband back and Hugh Despenser out of their lives, and that she would return to Edward if this happened.  Edward refused to send Hugh away from him and demonstrated, by defending Hugh before parliament and by sending long letters to the king of France and others, that Hugh, rather than Isabella, was his first priority.  This left the queen with no choice but to stay in France feeling like a widow and to act on her threat, as she duly did.  I'm not quite sure really why Isabella's speech is usually taken to mean the opposite of what it actually says (Isabella: "I won't go back to my husband until he gets rid of the third person in our marriage"; modern writers: "Obviously this means that Isabella hated Edward and was rebelling against him, and hoping that he wouldn't send Hugh away").  It's probably because of the popular but unsupported assumptions that really she loathed her husband (and perhaps always had) and had secretly been in love with Roger Mortimer for years and conspired with him against Edward, ensuring that Roger escaped from the Tower and was safely received at her brother's court, and that she wanted nothing more than the downfall of her husband so that she and Roger could triumphantly rule England in her son's name instead.  And that ever since at least 1322 or 1323 and perhaps even earlier, she had connived and schemed for this, and with the help of others tricked Edward into sending both her and their son to France beyond his reach.

My own feeling is that when Isabella left England for France in March 1325 she may well have intended to impose a condition on her husband for her return, as she stated a few months later: that he must send Hugh Despenser, who she felt had insulted her and her position and was a physical threat to her, away from him.  I simply cannot imagine, however, that Isabella knew or suspected as early as March 1325 that she would ultimately return from her journey at the head of an invasion force with her husband's deposition in mind.  Her own speech in late 1325 indicates her distress at the breakdown of her marriage and that she wished things to go back to the way they had been before Hugh Despenser's intrusion.  It may even be that in the summer and autumn of 1325 she was hoping that her husband rather than her son would come to France to pay homage to her brother for Gascony and Ponthieu, so that she could meet him without the constant irritation of Hugh Despenser's presence, and talk him round to her point of view and thus try to save her marriage.  We don't know that she'd been conspiring against Edward for years, which is pure speculation based on hindsight.  Perhaps Isabella, and even some of her allies - and here I mean the people who joined her in France in 1325/26 and in England after the invasion, not the Super Sekrit allies who managed to conduct a vast conspiracy of treason without leaving a trace of evidence in the records - did not wish for or intend Edward II to lose his throne until very late in the game.  No-one, not even the invaders themselves, could have predicted that Edward's downfall would be so swift and overwhelming, and that hardly anyone would be willing to fight for him against a party comprising his elder son and heir and his wife.  What happened in 1326/27 seems inevitable to us, as though it couldn't possibly have happened in any other way, but of course no-one living through it could have known for sure what was going to happen.  They didn't know that the king's support would collapse almost entirely and that parliament would demand that he give up his throne to his elder son.  No king had ever been deposed before in England and there is no way that his enemies could have been sure beforehand that it would work, or how exactly it would work.

There is nothing whatsoever to confirm that Isabella, before her speech to the French court announcing that she would not return to England unless Edward removed Hugh Despenser from his side, had ever been in touch with Roger Mortimer, other English exiles on the continent, or disaffected bishops and magnates in England.  There is nothing whatsoever to confirm that Isabella and Roger Mortimer had had any kind of relationship - beyond the usual one of a magnate and his queen - before their alliance began at the French court in late 1325 or early 1326.  There is nothing to confirm that Isabella hated her husband or wished him physical harm, though for sure she must have been exasperated beyond endurance by his ineptitude and deeply concerned for her son's inheritance (though she did plenty herself to harm it during the regency of 1327/30, but that's another story), as well as deeply hurt at her husband's favouring Hugh Despenser over her and allowing him to treat her with disrespect.  It can't be proved conclusively, of course, that Isabella had nothing to do with Roger Mortimer's escape in 1323, but there's no real reason to think that she did except hindsight knowledge that they later had a relationship.  The first people to suggest that Isabella was involved in the escape, or even had prior knowledge of it, were the dramatists Christopher Marlowe and Michael Drayton in the 1590s.

It has been stated that Charles IV would not have received Roger Mortimer at his court after his escape from the Tower without Isabella's asking him to, which supposedly demonstrates that she knew about the escape beforehand and approved of it or even actively took part.  However, noblemen and experienced soldiers and administrators like Roger were welcome anywhere, and besides, Roger was not the only English exile at the French court - other 'Contrariants' such as John Maltravers and William Trussell also fled there after the battle of Boroughbridge in March 1322.  So if Isabella asked her brother to welcome Roger, presumably she also asked him to receive her husband's other enemies as well.  This doesn't seem terribly likely.

The idea that two English bishops - Adam Orleton of Hereford and Henry Burghersh of Lincoln, who were both persecuted by Edward II in the 1320s and who entirely understandably formed an important part of the opposition to him in 1326/27 - worked on Queen Isabella and persuaded her in and before 1325 to bring down her husband was invented by the chronicler Geoffrey le Baker around 1350.  It was also he who invented the false notion that Edward of Caernarfon was tortured and tormented at Berkeley Castle, and helped promulgate the false notion of the red-hot poker murder.  Geoffrey, though a vivid and fluent writer, is really not a reliable source for Edward II's reign, and was writing hagiography, not history.  The rest of the conspiracy theory is a modern invention.

Charles IV of France was at war with Edward II in 1324/25 and again at the end of Edward's reign in 1326, but there is no reason to suppose that he was particularly interested in depriving Edward of his throne; Charles was a king too, and for one king to conspire at the fall of another set a dangerous precedent.  No doubt Charles was willing to benefit in any way he could from events in England, in his own and his kingdom's self-interest, but that doesn't necessarily mean that he desired to play an active role in his brother-in-law's downfall.  Exactly how his and Isabella's uncle Charles, count of Valois (father of the first Valois king of France, Philip VI) was meant to have aided Roger Mortimer in his escape from the Tower in August 1323 as claimed by the Meaux chronicle, or why Valois would have wanted to when he was seeking marriage alliances between his children and Edward II's, is unclear, and this is probably a misunderstanding in light of the alliance between Roger and Valois's son-in-law the count of Hainault.  As for Edward being manipulated into sending Isabella to France, it had been suggested as early as April 1324 that she might intercede with her brother on Edward's behalf.  Charles IV's counsellors also suggested at the beginning of 1325 that Isabella and her elder son Edward of Windsor should travel to France, the queen to negotiate for peace and the boy to pay homage for Gascony and Ponthieu on his father's behalf.  Although happy enough for Isabella to travel to her homeland, Edward II's own counsellors "with one voice" refused to allow young Edward to go, understandably unwilling to send the twelve-year-old heir to the throne to an enemy country until peace had been established.  The suggestion to send the young Edward of Windsor to France has sometimes been seen as evidence that Charles IV was planning a trap for Edward at the instigation of Isabella and Roger Mortimer, who were hoping to get her son out of the country to use him as a hostage.  Again, this is an imaginative reading unsupported by any evidence.  Pope John XXII, who called Isabella an "angel of peace," wrote to her several times between April 1324 and January 1325 begging her to use her influence with her husband and her brother to bring about their reconciliation and declared that the hope of peace would be "greatly promoted" if she went to France, is in fact by far the most likely person to have suggested her journey.  Edward II wrote in May 1325 that he had sent Isabella to France at the pope's urging, and as this was six months before she refused to return to him, he was almost certainly telling the truth.  There is simply no reason to think that John XXII was favouring Isabella over Edward (as one modern writer has claimed) or that he promoted or desired her rebellion, and in letters to Isabella in 1326/27 he urged her to reconcile with her husband and also wrote to Charles IV asking him to use his influence to bring the couple back together.  Isabella had visited her father Philip IV a few months before his death in 1314 to present petitions to him on Edward II's behalf, so her travelling to France alone and mediating between her husband and her natal family was not without precedent.  By the early or mid-1320s, she had gained a reputation as a peacemaker in the endless quarrels between Edward and his magnates, and was an obvious person to send to negotiate a peace settlement between her native country and her adopted one.

It will be clear that I don't believe the theory that there was some over-arching plot against Edward II stretching across northern Europe for a few years before his enforced abdication.  I don't believe, despite the difficulties in their marriage in and after 1322, that Isabella was her husband's enemy until he forced her to be by choosing his 'favourite' Hugh Despenser over her in late 1325.  I don't believe that Roger Mortimer could have known as early as 1323 that one day he would play a vital role in the downfall of the king.  I don't believe that he just happened to fall genuinely in love with Isabella, any more than I believe that Hugh Despenser just happened to fall genuinely in love with Edward II.  I believe that Roger was a very intelligent and capable man who made the best of the opportunities which fell his way, but not that he conspired with the queen of England, the king of France and others to create those opportunities.  I think Edward II's turbulent reign is fascinating and dramatic enough without inventing stories that half of Europe was trying to bring him down.

12 September, 2014

'Being promiscuous with low-born men': erm no

I've mentioned this in a previous post, but have decided to write an entire post about it.

Alison Weir's Isabella, She-Wolf of France, Queen of England (2005), p. 150, contains the following passage:

"Was Isabella also angry because she had learned that her husband was being promiscuous with low-born men?  In one of Edward's chamber books of 1322, there is a record of substantial payments made by the King to Robin and Simon Hod, Wat Cowherd, Robin Dyer and others for spending fourteen days in his company.  Of course, they may have joined him in innocent pastimes such as digging ditches, but this is not mentioned, and the words 'in his company' sound euphemistic, while the substantial sums paid to these men was perhaps hush money.  And as they stayed for two weeks, the Queen would surely have got to hear of it."

Oh dear.  The men she names were in fact members of Edward II's household throughout the 1320s and perhaps before (none of the king's chamber accounts before 1322 survive, then exist only in fragments until the last one of July 1325 to October 1326) and are named as such dozens of times.  They were portours, also called valletz, of Edward's chamber, words perhaps best translated as 'grooms', and there were around thirty of them at any given time, hired to make beds, carry torches and generally look after the king in his chamber.  (See T. F. Tout, The Place of the Reign of Edward II in English History (2nd ed., 1936), p. 253, which cites the entirety of Edward II's Household Ordinance of December 1318 in the original French, including the chamber staff's duties.)

Weir claims twice in the above passage that the money paid to the men by the king was 'substantial' without saying how much it was.  Edward II's thirty or so chamber grooms - who in 1326 included two women named Joan Traghs and Anneis May, wives of other chamber grooms - were paid three pence a day, and received backdated wages two or three times monthly.  On 16 August 1325, for example, thirty-one men received a total of 108 shillings and six pence in wages for the last ten days, and on 21 June 1326 thirty-three portours received a total of 115 shillings and six pence in wages for the previous thirteen days.  Here's a typical entry from Edward's chamber account, from September 1325, transcribed and translated by myself:

Item illoeqes paie a [...] p' lour gages de ses xxx vadletz auantzditz p' chescun iijd le iour del viijme iour de sept' tantq' samadi le xxj iour de mesme le mois p' xiiij iours Cvs

"Item, paid there [the location mentioned in a previous entry] to [list of names], for the wages of his thirty grooms named above, three pence a day to each, from the 8th day of September until Saturday the 21st day of the same month, for fourteen days, 105 shillings."

That's all it meant in 1322, this 'being paid lots of money for spending fourteen days in the king's company' stuff.  Wages given to some of Edward II's chamber staff.  Not 'hush money'.  Would three pence a day per person really suffice as 'hush money', one wonders?  It was a decent salary at the time for men of their rank, especially as all food, drink, clothes and shoes were provided for free in the royal household on top of that, but wouldn't seem enough to bribe a large group of men not to tell anyone that they'd had sex with the king, and three pence a day hardly counts as 'substantial payments' either, surely.  The phrase "remaining in the the king's company," demoerant en la compaignie le Roi, is used over and over in Edward's chamber accounts and merely refers to people who - gosh, you'll never guess! - accompanied him as he travelled around the country.  It most certainly is not 'euphemistic', unless we assume that Edward was having sex with dozens of people daily and bribing them to keep quiet.  Maybe it sounds 'euphemistic', though, if you're determined to make the most salacious and critical interpretation of Edward II's actions possible.  It illustrates the perils of doing some research but not enough, so that you find one piece of evidence but don't realise that it occurs frequently in Edward's chamber accounts, think you've found something out of the ordinary, put two and two together to make 6427, and thus take something entirely everyday and normal absurdly out of context.  It also illustrates the perils of writing history with an agenda, looking for something, anything, you can use to blacken Edward II's name and to turn Isabella into even more of a victim than you've already made her.  Who wouldn't feel sympathy for a woman in such a situation, being humiliated by the knowledge that her royal husband is having sex with a large crowd of low-born men and paying them off?

Many of Edward II's staff remained loyal to him until the end: the last entry in his last chamber account, on 31 October 1326 when he was in South Wales desperately trying and failing to raise an army and to save his kingship, is a payment to twenty-four grooms of the chamber as their wages for the twenty days since 12 October.  One of them is Walter 'Wat' Cowherd.  Another is Simon Hod.  Another is Robin Dyer.  Three of the men whom Edward II had supposedly brought to court for two weeks in 1322 and paid hush money to because he'd been 'promiscuous' with them to the great distress of his wife.  Wat Cowherd was one of the men named at Caerphilly Castle in March 1327, granted a pardon for holding the castle against the queen for the last few months.  (Calendar of Patent Rolls 1327-30, pp. 37-8.)  Among the Caerphilly garrison was Hugh Despenser the Younger's eldest son, seventeen- or eighteen-year-old Hugh or Huchon, and also among them were men who joined the Dunheved brothers in their attempt to free Edward of Caernarfon from Berkeley Castle in 1327 and men who joined the earl of Kent's attempt to free him from Corfe Castle in 1330.  The men at Caerphilly Castle, including Wat Cowherd, were some of the most devoted and loyal supporters of Edward II there ever was.  Wat certainly wasn't some random nobody the king brought to court to have sex with.

Here's 'Symond Hod' and 'Waut Couh[ier]de', i.e. Wat Cowherd, receiving their wages with the other chamber grooms on 4 August 1325 (Society of Antiquaries of London MS 122, p. 18):

And here's Wat Cowherd, 'Watte Couh'de', accompanying Edward II on a boat trip along the Thames on 2 December 1325, with other chamber grooms named Syme Laweman, Will Shene, the brothers Richard and Henry Hustret, Robin Curre, Jack Edriche and Richard Gobet (Ibid., p. 40, and see the names of some of these men pardoned at Caerphilly, linked above):

And finally, Wat Cowherd, Simon Hod and Robin Dyer receiving their wages with nineteen other men and two women on 31 October 1326, the last-ever payment made out of Edward II's chamber (Ibid., p. 90):

 We know pretty well nothing about Edward II's sex life, except that he must have had intercourse with Isabella four times which resulted in their children, and intercourse with an unknown woman which resulted in his illegitimate son Adam.  Obviously I can't prove that he didn't have sex with some of his chamber staff on occasion, or with the carpenters, fishermen, carters and so on with whom he sometimes spent time, but there's no reason at all to think that he did.  Whatever went wrong between Edward and Isabella in 1322, and it certainly seems that something did, Edward's 'being promiscuous with low-born men' was sure as heck not the cause.

04 September, 2014

"Our very sweet heart": two letters of Queen Isabella

On 9 March 1325, Queen Isabella departed from England for France to negotiate between her husband Edward II and her brother Charles IV, then at war with each other in the little-known War of Saint-Sardos, which I really must write a post about sometime.  Isabella sailed from Dover with a large retinue and of course the full knowledge and permission of Edward II, and also with the blessing of Pope John XXII, who called her an "angel of peace" and had urged her to go to France to bring about an end to the conflict between her husband and her brother.  The later chronicler Jean Froissart, born in about 1337, invented a tale where Isabella and her son fled from England in secret from Winchelsea after pretending to go to Canterbury on pilgrimage, a very silly and inaccurate story followed rather too slavishly by some other writers.  There's a theory that Charles IV was conspiring against Edward II, possibly with Roger Mortimer (who escaped from the Tower of London on 1 August 1323 and made his way to the continent), and deliberately engineered Isabella's 'escape' from England with the knowledge that she was going to act against her husband in cahoots with Roger.  This would need another blog post to sort out, so let me just say at this point that I think this story is extremely unlikely and based on nothing more than hindsight and imposing an order and pre-conceived pattern which never existed on the chaos at the end of Edward II's reign.

Isabella's itinerary in France still exists: she passed through Boulogne, where she and Edward had married seventeen years previously; Montreuil, part of Edward's inheritance from his mother which he gave to her in 1308; Crécy, where her and Edward's son Edward III would win a famous victory against the French twenty-one years later; Beauvais and Pontoise, where on 20 March she dined with her sister-in-law and first cousin Jeanne d'Evreux, queen of France and Charles IV's third wife, and other members of her family.  On 21 March, she met her brother Charles IV at Poissy, and began the difficult negotiations which resulted in a peace treaty between England and France on 30 May.

Isabella sent Edward II a letter on 31 March 1325, admitting she was finding her brother very harsh to deal with (lui trovoi deur).  She was, presumably, very angry with Edward at this time: he had confiscated her lands six months previously and, because of the war with France, removed her French servants from her household (he didn't remove her children from her, however; this is a modern myth with no foundation).  Or at the very least, she was angry with Hugh Despenser the Younger for persuading Edward to do these things, and, one imagines, also deeply annoyed with Edward for allowing Hugh to do so and to treat her so disrespectfully.  There is no sign in her letter of any anger, however, which is long and affectionate and addresses Edward five times as "my very sweet heart," mon tresdoutz coer.

Edward and Isabella never met again after 9 March 1325, or at least, there's no evidence that they did. I've written a post, and see also this one, about their complex and fascinating relationship. Sometime in the late autumn or early winter of 1325, Isabella made the momentous decision to stay in France and not return to Edward, and made a long and dramatic speech to the French court (recorded by the Vita Edwardi Secundi) declaring that she would wear widow's clothes until she was "avenged of this Pharisee," i.e. Hugh Despenser the Younger, who had destroyed her marriage. She stated on several later occasions that she felt herself unable to return to her husband because of the physical danger to herself from Hugh, whom she utterly loathed and on whom she avenged herself by having him grotesquely executed on 24 November 1326. At some point before 8 February 1326, when their names were linked together in a proclamation by Edward II complaining that his wife was consorting with "the king's notorious enemy and rebel," she began a relationship with Roger Mortimer, though we really don't know the true nature of their relationship, whatever may be claimed nowadays.

As late as 5 February 1326, after her refusal to return to England and her husband, Isabella referred to Edward II in a letter to Walter Reynolds, archbishop of Canterbury, as "our very dear and very sweet lord and friend," nostre treschier et tresdouche seignur et amy. This is a very unconventional way of talking about your husband - 'our very dear lord' would be conventional - and hints at some deep feeling she held for him. Another intriguing aspect of an intriguing relationship; take no notice whatsoever of modern writers who claim that the pair loathed and despised each other. They didn't. There is also absolutely no reason to suppose, as one modern writer has claimed, that Isabella felt "profound revulsion" for Edward in 1325/26 or at any point ever. Isabella also stated in her letter "...we desire, above all else, after God and the salvation of our soul, to be in the company of our said lord [Edward] and to live and die there" and that no-one must think that she had left her husband "without very great and justifiable cause," i.e. feeling threatened by Hugh Despenser, who, as she pointed out, had full control of the king and his realm. This may, of course, be the queen's attempt to keep up appearances, but it may well be true. We don't know when she decided that her husband should be removed from power, and it may even have been well after her invasion force landed in England on 24 September 1326. I'll discuss this point in a future post, and will just say here that the assumption that Isabella had been planning Edward's downfall for years is just that, an assumption.

Sources: Isabella's letter of March 1325 is printed in full (in the original French) in Pierre Chaplais, ed., The War of Saint-Sardos (1323-1325): Gascon Correspondence and Diplomatic Documents, Camden third series, lxxxvii (London, 1954), pp. 199-200, and the letter of February 1326 is cited in Seymour Phillips' Edward II (London and New Haven, 2010), p. 491.