31 July, 2015

A Royal Adultery Scandal In 1314

Edward II's queen Isabella of France, then eighteen years old, visited her homeland in March/April 1314 to petition her father Philip IV on some matters concerning her husband's duchy of Gascony. Isabella arrived in Paris on 16 March 1314, the day after her father had Jacques de Molay, Grand Master of the Knights Templar, and his deputy Geoffrey de Charnay burned alive on an island in the middle of the River Seine.  The queen returned to England in late April 1314, just after Edward II's thirtieth birthday.

It is probable that while she was in France, Isabella discovered that Marguerite and Blanche of Burgundy, respectively the wives of her eldest brother Louis, king of Navarre (then aged twenty-four) and third brother Charles, count of La Marche (nineteen going on twenty), had been conducting extramarital affairs with the d’Aulnay brothers, Philip and Gautier, and informed her father. It is not certain that she did, but several fourteenth-century chroniclers thought that she had, and it would perhaps be a little too much of a coincidence that she just happened to be in Paris at the time that the scandal broke. On 6 April 1314, a payment was made to several boys carrying torches who escorted Isabella after dark to her father’s palace on various occasions, which, although it may of course have been entirely innocent, certainly sounds rather cloak-and-dagger. Whether Isabella did tell her father or the news came out in some other way, it transpired that Queen Marguerite and Countess Blanche had been meeting their lovers at the Tour de Nesle, a tower in Paris, where they had dined with the d’Aulnay brothers and afterwards committed adultery with them. Joan of Burgundy, older sister of Blanche* and wife of Isabella’s second brother Philip of Poitiers, was not accused of having a sexual affair with anyone, though did apparently know what was going on and ineffectually begged the women to stop, but did not tell anyone. Joan was temporarily imprisoned in 1314 but released after her father-in-law’s death later that year. She remained married to Philip for the rest of his life, and was queen-consort of France between 1316 and 1322. On the death of her mother Mahaut, she inherited the county of Artois, and had already inherited the county of Burgundy from her father.

* Joan (b. 1287/88) and Blanche (b. 1295/96) of Burgundy were the daughters of Othon IV, count of Burgundy, and Mahaut, countess of Artois in her own right.  The county of Burgundy was also known as the Franche-Comté.  Marguerite of Burgundy (b. 1290) was the daughter of Robert II, duke of Burgundy, and Agnes of France, youngest daughter of Saint Louis IX.  Marguerite was thus a first cousin of her husband's father Philip IV.  Her younger sister Joan, b. c. 1293, married Isabella of France's first cousin Philip of Valois and became queen-consort of France in 1328. (Which means that there was Philip V of France and his wife Joan of Burgundy, and his cousin Philip VI of France and his wife Joan of Burgundy. Nope, not confusing at all!)

If Isabella did break this scandal, as a few chroniclers claim she did, her motives were almost certainly not vindictive. She was the daughter of two sovereigns and had been raised with a sacred sense of royalty, and therefore, would have been profoundly disturbed at the notion that her sisters-in-law might foist a child not of the royal bloodline onto the French throne.  In my opinion, though some historians have questioned the truth of the story, there is little doubt that Marguerite and Blanche of Burgundy were indeed sleeping with the d’Aulnay brothers. The severe punishment meted out to the two women (perpetual imprisonment) and the d’Aulnays (grotesque execution) suggests that the evidence against them was undeniable. Philip IV would not have imprisoned his first cousin Marguerite of Burgundy, whose royal mother and Philip’s own aunt Agnes of France was still alive, and proclaimed two of his sons as cuckolds before the whole of Europe, had he not been certain of Marguerite and Blanche’s guilt. A rather later and mostly unreliable French chronicler claims that Isabella spotted what was going on when she gave her sisters-in-law a gift of purses during her and Edward’s visit to Paris in the summer of 1313, and on her second visit in 1314 saw the d’Aulnay brothers wearing them. The story may (or may not) have some truth in it, but Philip IV would have required far more compelling evidence than this to imprison a woman who was Saint Louis IX’s granddaughter, the crowned and anointed queen of Navarre and the duke of Burgundy's sister.

Marguerite and Blanche of Burgundy, weeping, their heads shaved, were sentenced to life imprisonment in Château Gaillard, the grim and forbidding fortress in Normandy built in the 1190s by King Richard Lionheart of England. Their lovers suffered a far worse fate: they were castrated and their genitals thrown to dogs, flayed, and broken on the wheel, before decapitation mercifully put an end to their dreadful torment. The later English chronicle Scalacronica claims that one of the brothers escaped to England, but was captured in York and sent back to France, though the story is unconfirmed by any other evidence. Blanche of Burgundy was only about eighteen or nineteen in 1314, and had given birth to her son Philip – who died as a child a few years later – mere weeks before her arrest. The marriages of Louis and Marguerite and Charles and Blanche were not annulled; Louis had to wait until Marguerite’s death in August 1315 before he could marry again, and Charles remained married to the captive Blanche until September 1322, after he succeeded to the French throne and finally managed to persuade Pope John XXII to annul their marriage. Even then, annulment was granted on the grounds of spiritual affinity, as Blanche’s mother Countess Mahaut of Artois was Charles’ godmother, and not because of Blanche’s adultery. Blanche of Burgundy was finally released from prison in 1325 and died, her health broken, sometime in late 1325 or early 1326, still aged only thirty. Marguerite of Burgundy became queen-consort of France, at least in name, on the death of her father-in-law Philip IV in November 1314, but was never crowned or acknowledged as such. She died on 15 August 1315 at the age of twenty-five, either murdered or as the result of harsh treatment during her incarceration.  Her only child succeeded as Queen Joan II of Navarre at the age of sixteen in 1328, married her cousin Philip of Evreux, and was the mother of Charles 'the Bad', king of Navarre and count of Evreux.  Herr widower Louis X of France and Navarre married his second wife Clemence of Hungary four days after her death.

24 July, 2015

Edward II's Mood, As Revealed By His Correspondence

Although I have to exercise caution when using Edward II's extant correspondence to gauge his personality and feelings - Edward couldn't possibly have seen more than a fraction of all the letters, writs and so on sent out in his name, and the vast majority of them are purely conventional - there are occasions when he emerges abruptly in his correspondence and it's clear that Edward himself must have dictated a letter, or part of it.  Here are some examples.

- Edward sent a letter to Isabella in France on 1 December 1325, after he had heard that she was refusing to return to him.  The letter (in French) opens abruptly with Dame, 'Lady'.  That's Edward's own voice, at the beginning of a very personal missive in which Edward seeks above all else to defend Hugh Despenser the Younger to his wife, having heard that Isabella was refusing to come back to him because she was afraid of Hugh and angry that he had come between her and Edward, which must have irritated her profoundly.  His clerks wouldn't have dared address the queen like that.  The letter starts "Lady, often we have summoned you to us, both before the homage and after..."  [Close Rolls 1323-7, pp. 580-81; Foedera 1307-27, p. 615; the translation of the French on the Close Roll is not particularly good.]  Edward also addresses Isabella as 'Lady' elsewhere in the letter, as in "And, Lady, we have heard that...".  It comes across as angry, bitter and somewhat sarcastic.  This would be the last letter he ever sent his wife.

- A letter from Edward to Pope John XXII on 10 June 1326 refers to Isabella as "the queen of England, our wife."  When Edward was happy and content with her in 1313, he called her "our very dear consort, our dear lady, Lady Isabella queen of England."  Spot the difference.  [Foedera 1307-1327, p. 629]

- On a similar note, Edward wrote a letter on 3 October 1326 after Isabella's invasion, pointedly referring to her simply as "the king's wife," not even acknowledging her as queen, not using her name.  And obviously not with the conventional "our very dear consort" before her name either.  In his chamber account of this period, however, she is still called ma dame la roine, "my lady the queen."  [Calendar of Chancery Warrants 1244-1326, p. 582]  And it is not the case, as the French Chronicle of London claims, that Edward had it publicly proclaimed in 1326 that "the queen of England might not be called queen."  For all Edward's anger with Isabella, he certainly never took it that far.

- Edward II's letters to his father-in-law and second cousin Philip IV of France always began with the same style of address: "To the very excellent and very puissant prince, his very dear and beloved father, Philip, by the grace of God noble king of France, greetings and very dear affection."  On 3 August 1309, however, Edward was deeply annoyed with Philip, having learnt that the French king had smuggled letters to Scotland hidden in the breeches of his messenger which acknowledged Robert Bruce as king.  In his letters to Edward and in a letter which Philip sent openly to Scotland, not hidden away, Philip talked of Bruce only as earl of Carrick and thus pretended that he had not addressed him as king.  Furious at his father-in-law's two-faced, deceptive behaviour, Edward's letter opened with "To the king of France, greetings."  Again, spot the difference.  That's clearly Edward's own order to his clerks, who wouldn't have dared address the king of France in such terms without his say-so.

- Unwilling to take responsibility for his own failures in Scotland, Edward II sent a bitterly sarcastic letter on 10 February 1323 to his second cousin Louis Beaumont, bishop of Durham.  In 1316, Edward had abandoned the support of his own candidate for the bishopric and supported Louis instead on being told by Louis's brother Henry that Louis, if appointed, would be "a defence like a stone wall" against the Scots in the north of England, in stark contrast to the negligence of Louis's predecessor Richard Kellaw.  Edward reminded Louis of all this, and fumed "the king knows actually that greater damage is done in the bishopric by the bishop's default, negligence and laziness than in the time of his predecessor, neither the bishop, nor his friends or relations giving counsel or aid according to their promises."  [Close Rolls 1318-23, p. 697; Foedera, p. 506]  Yes, that's Edward II accusing someone else of laziness and negligence.  "Dear Kettle, you are black.  Much love, Pot."

- In 1305, twenty-one-year-old Edward of Caernarfon sent this delightful letter to Philip IV's half-brother Louis. count of Evreux, his frequent correspondent: "We are sending you a big trotting palfrey which can hardly carry its own weight and stands still when it is laden, and some of our misshapen greyhounds from Wales, which can well catch a hare if they find it asleep, and some of our running dogs which can follow at an amble, for well we know how you take delight in lazy dogs. And, dear cousin, if you want anything else from our land of Wales, we can send you plenty of wild men, if you wish, who will well know how to teach breeding to the young sons and daughters of the nobility."  This letter clearly demonstrates Edward's sense of humour, and has often been misunderstood.

- And finally for today, a memorandum on the Close Roll of 20 January 1312 also reveals much about Edward. It was appended to the order to return the earldom of Cornwall to the newly-returned Piers Gaveston, and says "These writs were made in the king's presence by his order under threat of grievous forfeiture."  The writ restoring Gaveston's earldom is in French, not the usual Latin, which almost certainly means that Edward II himself had drafted it.  The memorandum indicates that Edward's chancery clerks were reluctant to write out the writs (presumably because they knew how Edward's magnates would react), and he stayed in the room to make sure they did it, then lost his temper and threatened them. It's so easy for me to imagine Edward stomping around, dictating the writ, noticing that his clerks were unwilling to write it down and yelling "Oi, do it right now or I'll confiscate every single damn thing that you own!"

19 July, 2015

The Confession Of Piers Gaveston by Brandy Purdy: Review

The Confession of Piers Gaveston, Brandy Purdy's first novel, was self-published with iUniverse in 2007 and is 181 pages long.  The original cover was unfortunately cartoonish, though it was later improved somewhat.

My copy of the novel, with the original cover.
The novel is narrated in the first person by Piers himself, in modern English with the occasional word like 'mayhap' thrown in, and reminds me in countless ways of Chris Hunt's 1992 novel Gaveston, a much longer, insightful and, for all its excessively purple prose, a far more accomplished work.  I knew I wasn't going to get on well with Confession when in the very first scene we see Piers Gaveston's mother Claramonde de Marsan being burned alive as a witch - this story is an invention of John Stow in the late sixteenth century, and Claramonde in fact died a perfectly natural death - and shortly afterwards are introduced to a Piers who is lowborn and destitute and has an uncle who's an innkeeper.  Let us remember at this point that a) Piers Gaveston's father and grandfathers historically were among the leading barons of Béarn, and b) Edward I himself placed Piers in his son's, the future king of England's, household as one of his nobly-born companions, along with the earl of Gloucester's nephew, two of the earl of Warwick's grandchildren, the earl of Ulster's eldest daughter and so on.  Are we supposed to imagine that the king would place someone whose mother was burned alive as a witch and whose uncle is an innkeeper in his son's household as his companion?  Good grief.  I also groaned out loud on page 2 when Edward II is addressed as 'Nedikins', a nickname to which the unfortunate reader is subjected throughout, and called His Most Christian Majesty, as though Edward was a king of France.  Piers is, tediously and improbably, depicted as a Goddess-worshipper, a frequent cliché found in novels featuring him (e.g. the Chris Hunt one and Sandra Wilson's Alice) based on the entirely false story invented a few centuries later that his mother was burned as a witch, and presumably on the statements of various contemporaries that he had bewitched the king and "was accounted a sorcerer."  Although he died excommunicate because he had returned to England in 1312 after being perpetually banished, there is no reason to think that Piers wasn't as much of a devout Christian as anyone else in England and France at the time.

Early in the novel, when he is only nine years old, Piers' body is sold to a lodger by his "unscrupulous innkeeper" uncle - a nobleman of the late thirteenth century has an 'innkeeper uncle', just LOL - and he thereafter chooses to become a "boy-harlot."  This may be triggering for some readers, as it certainly was for me.  Child sex abuse, rape and child prostitution are not topics that I personally want to read about, and frankly I didn't expect to find them in a novel about Piers Gaveston.  "My rapist had opened my eyes to my allure, and my value.  The Goddess gifted me with great beauty, the kind that inspires awe and takes the beholder's breath away...".  The novel is pretty well just about Piers' sex life, and his life as a prostitute, and how he has sex with lots of men and women, then has more sex, then some more sex, and just when you think he might actually do something interesting or different, he meets someone else and has lots more sex.  As a few readers will know, this is par for the course in a Purdy novel; there are people who'll never look at Tudor history the same way again after reading her scene involving Anne of Cleves, Katherine Howard and a jar of honey.  Edward II and Piers also have lots of sex, including in a carriage on the way from Dover to London after Edward arrives back in the country with his new wife, Isabella.  There is a scene where Piers leaves his new wife Margaret's bed on their wedding night to sleep with Edward, which scene also appears in Chris Hunt's novel about Piers.  Piers is so seductive in Confession that even men who normally only fancy women find themselves lusting after him, including Edward's cousin the earl of Richmond, which is also - like so much else in the novel - reminiscent of Chris Hunt's Gaveston (pretty well all the men in that one fancy Piers too, including Edward's cousin the earl of Lancaster).  Piers insists on telling the reader frequently and at length how cold and empty all the paid-for sex makes him, a "practised tart" as we are told over and over, feel.  Diddums.  No doubt this makes some readers feel sympathy and empathy with him, but it just made me feel impatient and bored.  "Practised tart," indeed, a man who in reality was lord lieutenant of Ireland, regent of England, a jousting champion, an excellent soldier and so on.  Although the fact that Piers did have a life outside the bedchamber is occasionally mentioned, we see nothing at all of his abilities and experiences as a soldier, jouster, military and political leader, earl, estate manager, regent.  It's all just about his sex life and how about beautiful and seductive he is and how horrible it is that no-one, including Edward, loves him for himself and not his physical attributes (Edward "was too blinded by my beauty to actually see me" is a typical refrain).

The characterisation of Edward II in Confession, a "feckless, addle-pated king" and a "buttercup blonde" (pp. 5, 14), appears to have been taken straight from the Big Book Of Horrible Dated Gay Caricatures.  He sobs constantly, he pouts, he sighs, he yelps, he wails, he stamps his foot and throws silly tantrums, he swoons, he shrieks, he behaves like a teenage girl with a crush.  I find it offensive.  Edward in general is deeply selfish, extraordinarily shallow and unpleasant throughout, and a wholly unlikeable character who doesn't change or develop at all.  Piers claims to genuinely love him, though it's hard to see why; there is nothing remotely loveable or likeable about this character.  Piers himself also comes across as a stereotype, the bisexual man willing to have sex with anything that has a pulse, who preens, flirts and simpers.  I may be in a minority here, as there are quite a few positive reviews of the novel online, but I don't see any depth to Purdy's creation of Piers Gaveston, don't find Piers' relationship with Edward plausible or interesting, don't feel any sympathy or liking for any of the characters, don't see Piers' famous wit, don't see anything at all that makes me think this is in any way a realistic retelling of Piers' and Edward's story.

An Amazon review of the novel states: "Some of the scenes in the novel seem almost unbelievably melodramatic - such as Edward abandoning his bride on their wedding day for his male lover's company and actually giving him the jewelry that had been a wedding gift from the queen's father - but these are all documented historical events! Brandy Purdy's depiction of them is insightful and accurate, outrageous though it may seem that a king would behave that way."  It is emphatically not 'accurate'; Edward and Piers didn't meet again until almost two weeks after Edward's wedding to Isabella so he couldn't have 'abandoned' her on their wedding day, and Edward did not give Isabella's jewels to Piers, an invention of Agnes Strickland five and a half centuries later (I am more sick than I can adequately express of that wretched myth).  Purdy has Eleanor de Clare marrying Hugh Despenser in 1318 after he has become her uncle's favourite, a dozen years after she actually did.  Edward, naturally, abandons Isabella when she's pregnant in 1312 to save Piers, even though he didn't really.  In short, it's yet another of those novels which repeat the same tired old myths and clichés about Edward II.

I asked myself if I'd like the novel more if it weren't about Piers Gaveston and Edward II, but about an invented king and his invented promiscuous lover.  In all honesty I probably wouldn't dislike it quite as much as I do, but I'm afraid I'm really not a fan of Purdy's overly melodramatic writing style, with breathless italics and countless exclamation marks!!! on just about every page.  On page 52, for example, twenty-two words are written in italics and there are twenty exclamation marks.  Page 61 has sixteen exclamation marks and fifteen words in italics; page 147 has twenty-one exclamation marks and no fewer than thirty-four words in italics.  On one page.  I find it tiring and tiresome to read.  There are some things I do like in the novel: Piers' attempts to be kind and affectionate towards his innocent young wife Margaret de Clare - even though he does abandon her on their wedding night to sleep with her uncle - and his love for his daughters Joan (with Margaret) and Amy (with a woman named Sarah).  A lot of the description is very well and vividly done, and Piers as 'unreliable narrator' is at times skilfully done and Purdy makes good use of her choice to write in first person.  But it's a shame to see a fascinating man like Piers Gaveston written simply as a prostitute, and a shame to see a novel perpetuating unpleasant stereotypes about gay and bi men.  OK if you want a quick salacious read, but Confession has precious little to do with history.

14 July, 2015

Insomnia, A Human Knife And Equal Pay For Women: Edward II And His Chamber Staff, 1325/26

There are some rather fascinating details in Edward II's last chamber account, which covers the period from late May 1325 until 31 October 1326 and is now held at the library of the Society of Antiquaries in London, and is the most gorgeous thing ever, in my admittedly biased opinion.  Edward had a large staff in his chamber, which was headed by the chamberlain, i.e. Hugh Despenser the Younger from late 1318 onwards, and was the department with responsibility for household management and subdivided into numerous departments such as the napery (table linen), pantry (bread and other dry goods), buttery (drinks), spicery, laundry, larder (meat and fish), chandlery (wax and candles), saucery, scullery, and ewery (water and vessels for washing).  The chamberlain was in charge of the knights, squires, ushers, porters, sergeants-at-arms, valets and pages of the chamber, and held responsibility for Edward's personal service and private apartments, and for public events and ceremonies.  In his chamber, Edward II had over thirty 'valets' (valletz in French), thirty sergeants-at-arms, and two dozen archers as his personal bodyguard, as well as a number of knights, pages, ushers, clerks and at least a dozen squires.  The valets and archers were paid three pence a day, as were the king's sailors and carpenters, and the pages two pence; the wages of the other staff, though they were members of the chamber, were paid out of the king's wardrobe, not his chamber.  The squires and ushers earned seven and a half pence a day and the sergeants-at-arms twelve pence (one shilling).  All food and drink, accommodation, clothes and shoes were provided to royal household staff for free, and they were given permission by the king to go home to visit their families on occasion (as the families were not allowed to stay at court or follow behind).

One of the squires of Edward II's chamber was Oliver of Bordeaux.  On 7 February 1326 at Harpley in Norfolk, a wonderful entry in the chamber account (my discovery, my transcription and my translation!) records an extremely large payment of twenty marks to Oliver "when the king sat beside his bed a little before midnight" (q'nt le Roi sist enp's son lit vn poi deuant la mynoet).  What on earth was going on there?  Was Edward, sleepless, spilling out his thoughts and worries to the attentive Oliver?  It's interesting to see - and I didn't notice this when I wrote this lovely anecdote about Oliver in my book Edward II: The Unconventional King - that the very next day, 8 February 1326, Edward II issued a proclamation that his queen Isabella of France was 'adopting the counsel' of Roger Mortimer, his deadliest enemy, at her brother Charles IV's court in Paris.  Had the king just heard this news on the night of 7 February, and that's why he sat beside Oliver's bed, late at night, perhaps anguished?  And why was he sitting by Oliver's bed, and not Oliver by his?  Curious, most curious.

The payment to Oliver, 7 February 1326, in SAL MS 122.

Another of Edward II's chamber squires was John Pymock, whose son's name was also Edward; this Edward was called le petit Pymock, 'the little Pymock', and the king's confrere, brother or companion, in Edward II's chamber account.  A curious nickname for one of the king's chamber staff, which one I've been unable to identify, was le petit Cotel le Roi, 'the king's little Knife'.  That this was the nickname of a person is apparent from an entry in the chamber account of 24 August 1325, when a payment was made to Jack Pyk, a valet of the chamber, "on the information of the king's little Knife."  This formulation, 'on the information of', is used over and over in the royal accounts, and always referred to a person.  Other chamber squires of Edward II included Eustace Boson, Robert de Micheldever (executed with the earl of Arundel on 17 November 1326), John Harsik, who joined the earl of Kent's plot to free Edward in 1330, and Garsy de Pomit.

In the year 1325/26, Edward II had between twenty-eight and thirty-three valets attending him in his chamber at any given time (sometimes they were sent out of court to buy fish or fishing nets, for example).  What's interesting is that two of the valets were women; royal and noble households of the Middle Ages usually consisted almost exclusively of men, and Edward's Household Ordinance of 6 December 1318 mentions only a handful of washerwomen, the rest of his staff of several hundred being men.  (Queen Isabella of course had female attendants, but had her own household.)  The female valets' names were Joan Traghs, who was the wife of another chamber valet Robert 'Robin' Traghs, and Anneis de May, wife of the chamber valet Roger 'Hogge' de May.  The women were hired in early May 1326 and at the end of 1325 respectively, and received the same wages, three pence a day, as the men.  (Edward II, fourteenth-century champion of equal pay for women!  Wooo!)  On 15 June 1325, Edward paid for cloth to make tunics for Joan Traghs and three other wives of his chamber valets, and two months later gave her husband Robin a gift of five shillings on hearing that Joan had given birth to their daughter.  He even paid Joan's usual wages when she was away from court, ill, for forty-four days, and recuperating somewhere in Norfolk.  Joan Traghs and Anneis de May and their husbands Robin and Roger were among the twenty-four chamber valets still with the king in South Wales on 31 October 1326, over a month after the queen's invasion and the last day the account was kept.  As well as the two married couples, there was a father-son pair and two brothers among the chamber valets: Richard 'Hick' Hustret and his son Henry Hustret, and Simon 'Syme' Lawe and his brother Henry Lawe.  Another Lawe brother, the excellently-named Willecok, is also mentioned in the chamber account, sailing in Edward's boat along the Thames with the king in late May 1326, and their sister Alis Coleman was paid on several occasions for brewing ale for Edward.  A Thames fisherman named Jak Coleman, mentioned a couple of times sending gifts of fish to the king, may have been Alis's husband.  Then there was the fab father-son pair Edmund 'Monde' Fisher, a valet of the chamber, and William 'Little Will' Fisher, a page of the chamber.  I love Little Will Fisher.

Edward's Household Ordinance of 6 December 1318 stated that he should nominate six of his thirty sergeants-at-arms to sleep outside his bedchamber every night, with the remainder to stay close by in the hall should he need them.  He also had an usher to guard the door, and judging by an entry in SAL MS 122, six of his chamber valets also slept inside the room with him, one of whom was Roger de May.  In early July 1326, the six men received a gift of twenty shillings to be shared out among them in recognition of their hard work in waking up and attending the king whenever he himself awoke during the night (more anxiety and insomnia, perhaps?).

In the third week of 1326, Edward II was sailing along the Thames from 'Bustleham', i.e. Bisham, to his palace of Sheen, when he hired one 'Ambrose son of Will de la Wyk' as another chamber valet.  (Because apparently nearly three dozen just wasn't enough.)  On 7 June, Ambrose received his first wages of four shillings and nine pence, at three pence a day.  Unfortunately, the chamber account doesn't specify how Ambrose came to join the royal household.  I also sometimes wonder how it happened that the many of Edward's sergeants-at-arms who came from abroad joined his household.  You can tell from the names that some of them were German, French, Italian, Spanish: Oto le Alemaund ('Otto the German'), Giles de Tholosa (Toulouse), Rodrigo de Medyne, Nicholas le Lombard, Poncius de Fossato, Pouncettus de Monte Martini, William Beaukaire (the town of Beaucaire not far from Avignon).  Were these men hired abroad, or were they already living in England?  I'd love to know.

12 July, 2015

An Evil Spirit In 1294

It's amazing what gems you find in medieval chronicles sometimes.  Recently I was looking through the Chronicle of Lanercost 1272-1346 (ed. Herbert Maxwell, 1913), and found this gem in its narrative of April 1294, just before Edward of Caernarfon's tenth birthday, which is given exactly as cited here without further explanation:

"Verily, on that day [10 April 1294], when crowds in the town of Haddington [in Lothian, Scotland] from various districts to attend the market, a young fellow with an equally young wife came thither with his neighbours from a distance of six miles to buy some necessaries.  But there occurred such a dense fog and driving snow as struck with dismay the countenances of all who beheld it.  Having done their business, the couple were returning home about midday, and the wife, who was a hale and hearty young woman, riding on the horse behind her husband's saddle.  On arriving at a rivulet about half a mile from their house in the town of Lazenby, she persuaded her husband to let her alight from the horse and follow on foot, while he went forward to the house and ordered a fire to be kindled against the cold.  He consented, out of love for his wife; and no sooner was she left alone than suddenly she encountered by the side of the stream an evil spirit; of a pale countenance, but presenting the appearance of a girl scarce seven years old.  This creature, seizing the woman by the left hand with a hand like a horse's hood, tore the flesh off her arm and flung her, terrified, into the water; then, as she struggled to rise, dealt her such a gash between the shoulders that a man's fist might easily be thrust into the wound, and as it cruelly handled the woman, who resisted with all her might, it made some parts of her body black and blue, and other parts deadly pale, tearing off the flesh, as was said, and as those who saw and touched her have testified to me.

The husband, wondering why she tarried, galloped back to her, and finding his wife almost in a swoon, placed her on his horse and took her home.  Strengthened through confession and by extreme unction, she showed to all who visited her the humour and extravasated blood, and departed this life on the second week day following."

What the heck is that all about?!

07 July, 2015

7 July 1307: Death of King Edward I

708 years ago today, Edward I, king of England and lord of Ireland, died at Burgh-by-Sands near Carlisle (or as the official memorandum recording his death puts it, apud Burgum super Sabulones extra Karliolum) on his way to yet another military campaign in Scotland.  He was sixty-eight years old and in the thirty-fifth year of his reign, having succeeded his father Henry III in November 1272.  Of the numerous children Edward I fathered - at least seventeen and probably more - only seven outlived him: his and Eleanor of Castile's daughters Margaret, Mary and Elizabeth, and Eleanor's only surviving son Edward of Caernarfon; and his three children with his second queen Marguerite of France, Thomas, Edmund and Eleanor (who died as a child in 1311).  The chronicler of Lanercost Priory seventeen miles away, recording his death, called him "this illustrious and excellent king, my lord Edward...Throughout his time he had been fearless and warlike, in all things strenuous and illustrious; he left not his like among Christian princes for sagacity and courage."

Edward of Caernarfon, prince of Wales, duke of Aquitaine, earl of Chester and count of Ponthieu, was about 315 miles away either in London or Lambeth at the time, and heard the news that he had succeeded to the throne on 11 July.  Although Edward I on his deathbed had ordered his son not to recall Piers Gaveston, whom he had sent into exile on the Continent some months before, almost certainly Edward II's very first act as king was to do exactly that.

There is no real reason to suppose that Edward I had found his son and heir particularly disappointing or unpromising, as is usually stated nowadays; this is simply hindsight based on the knowledge of Edward II's disastrous reign and of his unregal love of rustic pursuits and so on.  The two had clashed on occasion, most notably when Edward I apparently tore out handfuls of his son's hair, called him an ill-born son of a whore - Eleanor of Castile must have turned in her grave - and banished him from court for a while, but as Edward II's academic biographer Professor Seymour Phillips has pointed out, clashes between the king and his heir were common in the Middle Ages.  Henry II's sons went to war against him in the 1170s and 1180s, and Edward I himself had fallen out with his father Henry III in his youth.  We shouldn't read too much into their occasional rows.  The author of the Vita Edwardi Secundi, one of Edward II's clerks who knew him well, says that before his accession he raised his subjects' hopes (though dashed them when he became king).  The Vita also says that God had endowed Edward II with every gift, and that he was "equal to or indeed more excellent than other kings.  If anyone cared to describe those qualities which ennoble our king, they would not find his like in the land."  Edward II frustrated his contemporaries beyond measure, not because he was lacking in abilities, but because, in stark contrast to his father, he so rarely bothered to exercise them.

05 July, 2015

5 July 1324: Wedding of Charles IV of France and Joan of Evreux

A post about the wedding of Edward II's brother-in-law Charles IV of France and Navarre and his third wife Joan of Evreux.  (5 July is also the anniversary of the birth of Edward II's and Isabella of France's youngest child Joan of the Tower, later the queen of Robert Bruce and Elizabeth de Burgh's son David II of Scotland, in 1321.)

Charles was born on 18 June 1294 as the third son of Philip IV, king of France, and Joan I, queen of Navarre and countess of Champagne, Bigorre and Brie, and was about eighteen months or so older than his sister Isabella, queen of England.  He succeeded his brother Philip V as king of France and Navarre when Philip died on 2 January 1322 at the age of about thirty.  Later that year, Charles' marriage to his first wife Blanche of Burgundy, who had been in prison for adultery since 1314, was finally annulled.  On 21 September 1322, Charles married Marie of Luxembourg, daughter of Henry of Luxembourg, Holy Roman Emperor, and Margaret, sister of Edward II's brother-in-law Duke John II of Brabant.  Queen Marie died on 26 March 1324, shortly after miscarrying the baby boy who would have been king of France if he had lived.  Charles IV's two older brothers Louis X and Philip V had died without surviving male issue; Louis's posthumous son John I of France died when he was five days old in November 1316, and Philip left four daughters, Joan, Marguerite, Isabella and Blanche, his and Joan of Burgundy's two sons having died in childhood.  Charles had a son with Blanche of Burgundy, who died as a child, as well as his stillborn son with Marie of Luxembourg.

Charles IV turned thirty in June 1324, and was desperate for a son to succeed him.  He therefore married his first cousin Jeanne d'Evreux or Joan of Evreux; she was one of the daughters of his father Philip IV's half-brother Louis, count of Evreux (d. 1319).  Joan, born c. 1310, was only about fourteen at the time of her marriage.  Her eldest sister Marie was married to Edward II's nephew Duke John III of Brabant, and her brother Philip was married to their cousin, Louis X's daughter, who became Queen Joan II of Navarre on the death of her uncle Charles IV in 1328.  (Yes, Philip of Evreux married his brother-in-law's niece.)

For some reason there is considerable confusion among historians as to the date of Charles IV and Joan of Evreux's wedding, and many of them wrongly place it in July 1325, even Elizabeth A. R. Brown, an expert on Philip IV and his sons.  It is most unlikely, however, that Charles would have waited for as long as sixteen months to marry again after the death of Marie of Luxembourg in March 1324, and in fact, the exact date of the wedding is known from a letter sent to Edward II by his envoys to France on 10 July 1324: "we found him [Charles IV] at Annet [-sur-Marne] on the Thursday next before the feast of the Translation of St Thomas, where he had married on the same day the sister of the present count of Dreux [sic]." (lui trovasmes a Annet' le joedy prochein devant la feste de la Translacion de Seint Thomas, ou il avoit espouses mesmes le jour le soer le conte de Drews qore est.)  The Translation of St Thomas Becket is 7 July, which fell on a Saturday in 1324.  The letter to Edward is printed in The War of Saint-Sardos (1323-1325): Gascon Correspondence and Diplomatic Documents, ed. Pierre Chaplais, pp. 189-190, and cannot date to July 1325, as its contents - relating to Edward's failure to travel to Amiens to pay homage for his French possessions and Charles's confiscation of them - would make no sense if they'd been written a year later, by which time Charles and Edward had signed a peace treaty.

Queen Joan seems to have given birth to their first child in around late 1325, a girl who died about a year later and whose name is uncertain, either Joan or Isabella.  Their second daughter, Marie, was born around late 1326, and outlived her father but died unmarried in 1341.  The third daughter, Blanche, was born posthumously on 1 April 1328, exactly two months after Charles IV died at the age of thirty-five.  Blanche of France, Charles IV's only child who lived into adulthood, married Philip, duke of Orleans, the second son of Charles IV's first cousin and successor Philip VI of France and the brother of John II.  He was eight years younger than she, and the couple had no children.  Philip VI had endured an anxious two-month wait after the death of Charles IV; had Queen Joan given birth to a boy, he would have become king of France immediately on birth.

Joan of Evreux, dowager queen of France, lived as a widow for forty-three years, and died on 4 March 1371 in her early sixties.  Her daughter Blanche, duchess of Orleans, died on 8 February 1382 and was the second last survivor of the Capetian dynasty; her cousin Marguerite, countess of Flanders and the second daughter of Philip V, outlived her by three months.