11 August, 2015

Isabella Of France Was Not Visited By Any Of Roger Mortimer's Family In 1357/58

After Edward III's palace revolution of 19 October 1330, which removed his mother Isabella of France and her ally Roger Mortimer, earl of March, from power, Isabella lived a conventional and mostly rather obscure life as a queen dowager until her death twenty-eight years later.  Her household account for the last few months of her life in late 1357 and 1358 fortuitously survives, and shows her travelling between her estates, spending lots of money on jewels, clothes and minstrels, and receiving many visitors including her son the king, daughter-in-law Queen Philippa and grandsons Edward of Woodstock and Lionel of Antwerp, the prince of Wales and the earl of Ulster.  Isabella died at Hertford Castle on Wednesday 22 August 1358 probably at the age of sixty-two, and was buried just over three months later at the church of the Greyfriars, the Franciscans or Friars Minor, in London.

Other visitors to Isabella in the last months of her life included the countess of Pembroke and the comes [earl or count] de la March.  It is usually assumed that these two people were members of the family of the late Roger Mortimer, first earl of March (1287-1330): his daughter Agnes (d. 1368), widow of Laurence Hastings, earl of Pembroke (1320-1348), and his namesake grandson and heir Roger Mortimer, second earl of March (1328-1360).  It has thus been stated by one modern historian that Isabella and her dead lover's daughter "became close friends and hardly ever separated," which is a heck of an assertion to make on the strength of one visit and a couple of letters recorded in Isabella's account, and is unfortunately all too typical of the excessive romanticising which bedevils much modern writing about Isabella and Roger Mortimer.

The countess of Pembroke who visited Isabella in the last months of her life was almost certainly not, in fact, Agnes Hastings née Mortimer, but Marie de Châtillon, also known as Marie de St Pol, widow of Aymer de Valence, earl of Pembroke (d. 1324) and founder of Pembroke College at Cambridge University in 1347.  Countess Marie and Queen Isabella formed half of a group of four highly born ladies who were good friends and kept in touch for many years, the other two being Edward II's nieces Elizabeth de Clare and Joan of Bar, countess of Surrey (Marie herself was a great-granddaughter of Henry III and thus Edward II's first cousin once removed).  All of them were much of an age: Isabella was probably born in late 1295, Elizabeth in September 1295, Joan in 1295 or 1296, and Marie probably in the early 1300s and the youngest, who lived until 1377.  There seems to me no particular reason why Agnes Hastings née Mortimer of all people would be a 'close friend' of the dowager queen, and in fact she wasn't.

The comes de la March dined with Isabella three times in 1357/58, on one occasion with her son Edward III and her eldest grandson the prince of Wales also present.  This man has almost always been assumed to be Roger Mortimer, second earl of March, born in 1328 as the only son of Roger Mortimer's eldest son Edmund (d. 1331) and his grandfather's heir.  Again with the romanticising, we get "He was the grandson of her lover and was specially favoured by the old Queen."  How do we know he was 'specially favoured'?  Because he dined with Isabella three times?  When Isabella was in France in 1325, she dined no fewer than four times in the space of a few weeks with Othon de Grandisson, an elderly lord of Savoy who had been a close friend of her husband's father Edward I.  Isabella also dined four times in 1325 with the dowager countess of Foix, Jeanne d'Artois, daughter of Edward II's first cousin Blanche of Brittany.  Does anyone ever say that Othon was 'specially favoured' by Isabella?  Or that the countess of Foix and the queen 'became close friends and hardly ever separated'?  Well, no, because Othon and Jeanne were not members of Roger Mortimer's family.

Neither, in fact, was the comes de la March.  The man referred to in the account who visited Isabella was not the English earl of March, Roger Mortimer the younger, but the French comte de La Marche, who was taken prisoner by Isabella's grandson Edward of Woodstock at the battle of Poitiers in 1356 and who lived in England for some years as part of the entourage of King John II of France, also captured at Poitiers.  In 1357/58, Isabella dined with several members of King John's retinue, including the counts of La Marche and Tancarville and the lords of Audrehem and d'Aubigny.  The comte de La Marche in 1357/58 was Jacques de Bourbon (1319-1361), Isabella's second cousin: he was the son of Louis, first duke of Bourbon, and grandson of Robert, count of Clermont, the youngest son of Saint Louis IX of France and Marguerite of Provence, who were Isabella's great-grandparents as well as Jacques'.  The title of comte de La Marche had formerly been held by her brother Charles IV.  (Jacques de Bourbon is a direct patrilineal ancestor of Henri de Bourbon, born in 1553, who succeeded to the throne of France in 1589 as King Henri IV, first of the house of Bourbon.)  For more info, see Michael Bennett, 'Isabelle of France, Anglo-French Diplomacy and Cultural Exchange in the Late 1350s', in The Age of Edward III, ed. J. S. Bothwell (Woodbridge: Boydell and Brewer, 2001), pp. 219-22.

And so, Queen Isabella, for all the statements to the contrary, was not visited by or otherwise in touch with any of Roger Mortimer's family in 1357/58.  She did not mark the anniversary of his death on 29 November.  He is not mentioned at all in her last household account.  This wouldn't necessarily matter very much except for the statements by the historian cited elsewhere in this post, who claims that records relating to Isabella's life after her 1330 downfall are "silent on any memory of or regret for" her husband Edward II, except for her donation of food to the poor on the anniversary of his (supposed) death, 21 September.  If you're going to infer evidence of absence from absence of evidence (it's not as though we have a full record or anything like one of Isabella's post-1330 life), and use household accounts as a source for people's private sentiments towards their families and loved ones, at least be consistent.  Isabella's last account doesn't mention Roger Mortimer in any way, and also does not mention any of his family, so why romanticise so much about their relationship and talk endlessly about Isabella loving him "with great passion" and becoming unhinged with grief after his death and all the rest?  This is merely confirmation bias: if you think that Isabella hated her husband, wanted him to die and was 'delighted' when he did, you'll see the lack of many references to Edward in her last account as evidence of this, and if you think she adored and was passionately in lust with Roger Mortimer, you'll ignore the lack of any mention of him in the account and grossly exaggerate the occasional references to people you think were his family members, even though they weren't.

I wonder where, and what exactly, this historian thinks all these missing references to Edward II in Isabella's household account would be anyway?  It's a record of her financial outgoings more than thirty years after Edward's official death written by a clerk, the queen's expenditure on food, gifts, minstrels, charity donations and so on, not a diary where Isabella herself noted down her most intimate feelings and scrawled 'Izzy hearts Rog 4ever' in the margins.  Isabella made charitable donations on the anniversary of the death of her second son John of Eltham, earl of Cornwall (d. 1336), but did not, apparently, mark the anniversary of the death of her elder daughter Eleanor of Woodstock, duchess of Guelders (d. 1355).  Would anyone take this to mean that Isabella never thought about her daughter, never mourned for her, didn't regret her early death, didn't give her a second thought?  Of course not.  Yet somehow, Edward II not being referred to on every page on her account simply must mean that she never thought about him.  Some people see what they want and expect to see when it comes to Isabella of France's relationships with Edward II (despised him!) and Roger Mortimer (adored him!).  This romanticising of her association with Roger is not new.  When her household account was first published in Archaeologia in 1854, the author wrote of the visits by the comes de la March, wrongly assumed to be the younger Roger Mortimer: "And thus, we have an indication that time has scarcely weakened Isabella's fidelity to a criminal attachment; although [Mortimer] had been torn from her, she still cherished his memory and sought her friends among those most nearly allied to him."  The visit of the countess of Pembroke, i.e. Marie de Châtillon and not Agnes Hastings née Mortimer, on 15 December 1357 is said to have been "a clinging on [Isabella's] part to the memory of Mortimer...".  Nope!  Afraid not.

Another myth often repeated about Isabella of France is that she chose to be buried next to Roger Mortimer at the Greyfriars church in London.  In fact he had been buried over a hundred miles away at the Greyfriars in Coventry.  To be fair, there is some contemporary evidence that Roger was buried at the Greyfriars in London: the usually well-informed royal clerk and chronicler Adam Murimuth says he was.  This is actually untrue, though it may be that the London Greyfriars took temporary possession of Roger's body after he was hanged at Tyburn on 29 November 1330 until their brethren of Coventry came for it or the body was otherwise moved to Coventry, hence Murimuth's confusion on this point.  Roger's widow Joan Geneville petitioned Edward III in 1331 and again in 1332 for permission to move his remains from the Greyfriars in Coventry to his home at Wigmore in Herefordshire so that he might lie among his ancestors, and it seems highly unlikely that Joan wouldn't have known where her husband's body lay.  [Calendar of Close Rolls 1330-33, p. 403, dated 7 November 1331; The National Archives SC 8/61/3027, dated sometime in 1332, which states that the Greyfriars of Coventry had refused to comply with her earlier request and the king's order for Roger's body to be re-interred].  It is not clear if Roger's body was ever moved from Coventry to Wigmore (Adam Murimuth says it was), but in any case, it is apparent that he was not buried at the Greyfriars church in London when Isabella was interred there in 1358.  Isabella was laid to rest with the clothes she had worn to her wedding to Edward fifty years previously on 25 January 1308, at her own request -  I think it's lovely that she'd kept them all that time - and apparently also with his heart lying in a casket on her chest.  Edward II's heart, not Roger Mortimer's, as some people nowadays seem to think.  Isabella did decide not to be buried next to her husband at St Peter's Abbey, now Gloucester Cathedral, though I'm not sure in fact if her burial place was her own choice or her son Edward III's, who might have thought it was inappropriate for his mother to lie next to his father given the events of 1326/27 and thus chose instead the fashionable Greyfriars, where his great-aunt and step-grandmother Marguerite of France, queen of England had been buried in 1318 and where the heart of his great-grandmother Eleanor of Provence, queen of England, also rested.  Four years later, Isabella of France's youngest child Joan of the Tower, queen of Scotland, was also buried at the London Greyfriars.

If we wanted to, we could 'prove' that Isabella of France never gave Roger Mortimer another thought after his 1330 execution.  I'm certainly not arguing that this is the case, of course, merely pointing out in this post that it would make more sense than stating that Isabella never gave her husband a second thought, given that she founded a chantry for Edward in 1342 (perhaps because she knew that he was dead by then), marked the anniversary of his (official) death on 21 September 1327 and was buried with his heart and the clothes she had worn to their wedding fifty years before, and given that neither Roger Mortimer nor, contrary to popular belief, any of his family are mentioned in Isabella's last household account.  It would be really nice if historians could allow the evidence to speak rather than imposing their pre-existing views and opinions on it and making the evidence say what they want it to.  This, unfortunately, happens often in narratives about Isabella's association with Roger Mortimer.


Ann said...

Also interesting that Isabella could FIT into her wedding dress, fifty years later.

Kathryn Warner said...

Haha, yeah :-) I wonder if she was buried actually wearing her wedding clothes, or just with them in the coffin.

Anerje said...

Brilliant post! And excellent research. You definitely make the point that some historians are only too willing to see what they want to see - and what sloppy research they have carried out. So it was not Mortimer's daughter or son who visited her - and why ever would they want to anyway? I know the Greyfriars mistake has been made many times, and continues to be made. Like Edward III would ever have allowed it - and also, why ask to be buried with your wedding clothes and her husband's heart next to your 'supposed' lover? I think by being buried with these things Isabella was trying to atone for the wrong she had done her husband, and that she had been a faithful wife despite being a treacherous queen. Edward II's tomb in Gloucester was becoming a shrine for pilgrims, and I think Edward III was right not to bury her there.

Kathryn Warner said...

Thanks, Anerje! Great points.

Sami Parkkonen said...

Once again, diamond stuff! You're the best!

I have always wondered that when Isabella was buried in her wedding dress, how the heck some people do not get the message of that???? If, and very likely so, she was buried with Edwards heart, what the heck some folks are thinking??????????

Mind you, these details were at HER REQUEST, which translates todays language as ORDERS. So if he so hated her prancing gay husband and soooooooooooooooooo loved the upstart knight, who almost certainly was planning the complete take over of the realm and killing of Edward III at the time of his demise, why she did not wear any of those dresses she had on when she had been in company of this said knight? Why she wanted her wedding dress? Why she wanted Edwards heart with her??

Why, oh why, some folks don't get that message into their thick skulls?

Anonymous said...

Well I doubt if she could have fitted into a dress she wore as a child. Her death was 50 years later! This would have been beside her or on top of her. Maybe she died and was buried wearing a dress she wore with Mortimer? She mightn't have wanted to state the connection as he was a traitor to her son and feared the request was refused.

eimeara said...

I doubt she would have fitted into a dress she wore at 12 50 years later! She may well have been wearing a dress when she died when she was in the company of Mortimer but not going to tell Edward that as it would have been refused.
And I do agree that its unlikely the Mortimers would have visited her. Exactly why ? From their point of view this woman had stolen their father from their mother and might have been alive if it hadn't been for her.