24 March, 2016

New History Books 2016

Lots of great historical non-fiction is due out in 2016.

There's a new book about Edward II out on 29 September! Wow. It's called Edward II: The Terrors of Kingship and it's by Professor Chris Given-Wilson, an excellent historian. The blurb sounds pretty awful - "After twenty ruinous years, betrayed and abandoned by most of his nobles and by his wife and her lover, Edward was imprisoned in Berkeley Castle where he was murdered", oh dear - but then, blurbs often have little to do with the actual book (the 'About the Author' on Amazon for my Isabella book says that I 'wrote the first biography of Isabella's husband' - errrm no). This book is part of the Penguin Monarchs series, hence is only 112 pages long.

Professor Given-Wilson's biography of Henry IV came out on 2 February this year.

On 26 May, there's a new book about Edward III by Jonathan Sumption, author of a magnificent series about the Hundred Years War: Edward III: A Heroic Failure. It's also a short Penguin Monarchs book.

Already out since 14 January 2016, a biography of Edward II's brilliant uncle King Alfonso X of Castile and Leon by Simon R. Doubleday, Wise King. Can't wait to read this one. I hope that some day soon someone writes a biography in English of Edward's grandfather Fernando III.

Also already out since January, Mary McGrigor's The Sister Queens, the story of Isabelle and Catherine de Valois, daughters of Charles VI of France, who married Richard II and Henry V respectively. Such an excellent idea for a book.

My friend Kasia's area of expertise: Matthew Strickland's Henry the Young King 1155-1183 is out on 18 May.

Henry the Young King's nephew-in-law the future Louis VIII of France invaded England in 1216 near the end of the reign of Henry's youngest brother King John; to mark the 800th anniversary of the dramatic invasion this year, Catherine Hanley has written a book about Louis, out on 5 April.

Does the world really need yet another book about Richard III? I'm not sure, but we're getting one on 8 September, by Chris Skidmore.

A. J. Pollard's Edward IV: The Summer King is out on 28 July. There's also Edward IV: Glorious Son of York by Jeffrey James, published in September 2015.

And finally, on 1 February next year, there's a new bio of Edward I by Andy King, called Edward I: A Second Arthur?

19 March, 2016

Even More Cool Names

The latest post in my series of cool names! See also here, here, here and here. These are all actual names I've found in the chancery rolls of the late thirteenth century (Edward I's reign rather than Edward II's).

Sewell le Foun

Ascelina de Barewe

Hamo Extraneus

Conrald Conrad

Basilia la Peyrenesse

Deucaytus Guillielmi

Letitia de Lovedale

Felicia de Boninghal

Atricius Anlucus

Bathe le Pestur and Wymer le Pestur ('le pestur' means 'the baker')

Elias Body

Fretheburga Saxi

Tephania Morwik

Jenkin Bonnak

Jonkin Kat

Warin de Fraxino

Mabel de Boweles

Hagyn Cok

Richard de Bosco Reardi

Tassard de Clusis

Laderana de Belewe (also spelt Laderina, Ladrana, Ladereyna etc)

Dionisia Boskedek

Gersenta Bulloc

Clori Laske

Manettus Bechi

Wosselin Fox

Robert, John and Thomas Fuk

Walter Fuket

Burgia le Forcer

Terricus le Alemand ('the German')

Wymarc de Appolony

Enga de la Bere

Coypnus Bonavita

Intherius Buchard

Clemencia and Dametta Burd (sisters)

Walkelyn de Cadyhou

John Escu de mort. This literally means 'Shield of death' in French; very curious. John was a mainpernor (i.e. guarantor) of a debt of twenty pounds by one Robert Burdon to Henry de Lacy, earl of Lincoln, in 1279.

Mazera de Clinton

Eudo Jop

Mariota Dilewyn

Warner de Engayne (ooooh! My last name used as a first name in 1279!)

Aylei Gogard

Sapiencia de Karliolo (i.e. Carlisle)

Rametta daughter of Thomas son of William

Orlandinus de Podio

Luke de Luke (this probably means Luca or Lucas of Lucca in Italy, but it still looks funny)

Equilinus de Bleyves

Amice Masco

Remigius de Meaudlingg

Joceus Mestre

John de Treys Chasteus ('of three castles')

Goda de Norfolkia

Odo de Pelecot

Amabilla de Pemilbury

Brunus del Pek

Bitherus Pesse

Gerinus de Sancto Egidio ('of Saint Giles')

Clarus Felyng

Godard Grapays

Wyottus le Carpenter

Edward Spitty

Jospinus Deulegard

Swetiva of-the-Stathe (who in or before 1274 murdered a man named Augustine Spurnewater in Norwich)

Walter Attetouneshende (i.e. 'at town's end')

Eufrasia de Braunford

Mathia de Stok

Sweyn de Haton

Wlsi Horiballok (I can't make head nor tail of that first name; I assume it's a foreign name which an English scribe had no idea how to spell)

Drogo de la Byri

Hamund Melepuf

Hamo Mogge

Richer Prat


15 March, 2016

Isabella of France: The Rebel Queen

My new book Isabella of France: The Rebel Queen has now been released! In Europe, at least, though I'm afraid you're going to have to wait until 19 May to get it in the US (unless you order it from Book Depository, which has free worldwide delivery). Here are some links:

Amazon UK
Book Depository
Directly from Amberley

And it's listed on Goodreads. Also out today is my friend Kristie Dean's book On The Trail of the Yorks! Congrats to Kristie on her second book.

I hope you enjoy my take on Isabella. If you've read my Edward book, you'll know that I demolish many myths which have been invented about him over the centuries and which many people assume are factual, and I do the same with Isabella. I've gone right back to the sources to tell an account of Isabella's life which is as accurate as possible and unencumbered by silly inventions of many centuries later, such as Edward giving her wedding gifts to Piers Gaveston (invented in the nineteenth century) and removing her children from her (invented in the late 1970s). It's currently in the top five bestsellers in three categories on Amazon. Many thanks to everyone who's bought it, and many thanks to all my blog and book readers for your kind support!

Here's a little snippet to whet your appetite :-)

Happy reading!

12 March, 2016

Edward II Digs Ditches

I've written before about Edward II's 'rustic' pursuits such as digging ditches, thatching roofs, doing metalwork and so on. Several fourteenth-century chroniclers commented (usually rather scathingly) on Edward's hobbies, and they seem to have been widely known. Lanercost, for example, says "from his youth he devoted himself in private to the art of rowing and driving carts, of digging ditches and thatching houses, as was commonly said, and also with his companions at night to various works of ingenuity and skill, and to other pointless trivial occupations unsuitable for the son of a king." Edward's willingness to "give himself up always to improper works and occupations" was deemed important enough to be mentioned many years later as one of the reasons for his unsuitability to be king, not only because such occupations were considered incompatible with his royal dignity, but because they led him "to neglect the business of his kingdom." His rustic pursuits caused exasperation with the king among his subjects; the Vita Edwardi Secundi (whose author was a royal clerk who knew the king well) says that if Edward had devoted the same time to military matters as he did to his hobbies, he would have raised England's name aloft. A member of Edward's own household in 1314 was arrested for saying that Edward lost the battle of Bannockburn that year because he wasted time digging ditches rather than hearing Mass, though failed to explain how that would have helped Edward defeat Robert Bruce. Many contemporaries realised that Edward was not stupid and incompetent, but expanded his energies in other areas rather than ruling his kingdom. The Scalacronica is one exception to the scathing commentary, and says that Edward was "very skilful in what he delighted to employ his hands upon."

In his 2010 biography of Edward, Professor Seymour Phillips wrote (p. 72) "There is no direct evidence to support the claims about Edward II's interest in hedging and ditching...". Well, there is now, because I've found some (see my 2014 The Unconventional King, pp. 213-4). I've gone through SAL MS 122, a manuscript now held in the library of the Society of Antiquaries in London, which is the last account of Edward's chamber and the only one which survives intact (none exist at all until 1322, then only in fragments until May 1325 to October 1326).

On 15 July 1326, Edward II was staying at his Westminster cottage of Borgoyne or Burgundy, where he spent much time near the end of his reign with only a few attendants, shunning his more luxurious accommodation in and around London. Twenty-six ditch-diggers "who are with the abbot of Westminster" and whose mestre was called Thomas de la Bruer or Brewere were hired to clean the ditches around the cottage on that day, and did so in the king's presence. Edward rather kindly bought drinks for the men, presumably ale. It was probably very hot that day: two chronicles, Annales Paulini and the French Chronicle of London, talk about the drought and the "great want of water" in England in the summer of 1326, and the heat and dryness apparently caused conflagrations; towns and abbeys burned. OK, this is not in itself proof that Edward II himself was digging (or even cleaning) ditches, but he was watching the men do it, which does at least imply an interest in their job. In November 1322, he stood by a river near Doncaster to watch ten men fishing. It's hard to think of another medieval king of England who would have taken an interest in watching men fishing and cleaning ditches.

And there's an even better entry in Edward's last chamber account a few weeks later. In August 1326, Edward was staying at the royal manor of Clarendon in Wiltshire. He hired twenty-two men for eighteen days to make some kind of enclosure involving hedges and a ditch in the park of Clarendon; they each received two pence a day for the work plus presumably food and drink. A few days later, all thirty-three of Edward's portours (porters, though that's not a great translation - they're sometimes called valletz or valets) of the chamber, including presumably the two women he'd hired in this role at the same wages as the men, were also ordered to help with the park enclosure and hedges. Very cutely, the men and two women toiling in the heat of drought-ridden 1326 England were provided with ale by a local resident. I so love details like this; doesn't it bring people of the distant past to life and make them real? There's another entry in this chamber journal where Edward II, riding close to the royal palace of Sheen in late July 1326, gave a man he encountered six pence for bringing him fresh water from a well; this is surely also an indication of the heat.

Anyway, the first entry about the twenty-two men making the enclosure at Clarendon is the relevant one. What's so great is that Edward II himself was obviously down in the ditch or trench, helping out. We know this because he encountered one of the workmen, whose name was Gibbe (nickname for Gilbert) and who had very shabby shoes on, perhaps even no shoes at all. Gibbe is called a garson, 'boy', in fact. Noticing this situation, the king borrowed twelve pence from his servant Elis Pek to give to Gibbe to buy himself new shoes, and reimbursed the money a little later (kings didn't carry cash around themselves, after all!). This entry actually refers to Edward II being in the trench himself. There's also a reference at this time to men of the king's household cutting something (I can't figure out the word) for the hedges "in the presence of the king." So here's Edward again watching people doing physical labour, and in some way joining in.

So yes. There is a very good reason why I call Edward II 'the unconventional king'. Edward was like, jousting, naaah, boring. Jumping into a ditch to help out? Watching men fishing and cleanihg ditches and preparing wood? Now you're talking!

06 March, 2016

Hugh Despenser the Younger Rescues Margaret Badlesmere, 1319

Firstly, credit must go where it's due: it was Lady D who brought this incident in the Patent Rolls to my attention a few years ago, and she herself has written a blog post about it. I've been meaning to write a post about it for years too, but somehow didn't get round to it until now. It's an incident which shows Hugh Despenser the Younger in a rather better light than most of his actions do.

On 6 and 10 December 1319, when Edward II was in York and at the royal manor of Burstwick near Hull, the following entries were recorded on the Patent Roll: "Commission of oyer and terminer ['to hear and to determine'] to Robert de Maddyngle, John de Bousser, and Geoffrey de la Lee on complaint by Bartholomew de Badelesmere that [list of dozens of men's and several women's names], with others, took and carried away his goods at Chesthunt, co. Hertford, and assaulted [ten men's names], his servants." Also "The like to Robert de Maddyngle, John Bousser and Geoffrey de la Lee on complaint by Bartholomew de Badelesmere and Margaret, his wife, that John Jonesservant, etc as set forth above, having approached a messuage at Chestehunte, co. Hertford, wherein the said Margaret was lodging, assaulted her and her servants, and imprisoned and besieged them until Hugh le Despenser, the younger, on the following day rescued them." The third entry is similar, adds a few more names, and comments that this large group of people "having gone by night to a messuage [i.e. a house with outbuildings] at Chesthunt, co. Hertford, wherein the said Margaret was lodged, made an attack upon her and on the men and servants of the said Bartholomew, besieged them therein, until Hugh le Despenser the younger on the following day rescued them" and that they "besieged and imprisoned her therein until she should have made a fine of 100l [pounds] with them." [Calendar of Patent Rolls 1317-21, pp. 467-8, 473]

Bartholomew Badlesmere was a high-ranking baron of Kent who became the steward of Edward II's household in October 1318 and who in April 1322 suffered the traitor's death for taking part in the Contrariant rebellion against Edward, the poor man. His wife was Margaret de Clare, sister and co-heir, with her sister Maud, Lady Clifford, of Gilbert de Clare, lord of Thomond (1281-1307). Hugh Despenser the Younger was married to Margaret's first cousin Eleanor de Clare, daughter of Gilbert 'the Red' de Clare, earl of Gloucester, who was the older brother of Margaret de Clare Badlesmere's father Thomas. At the time of the incident in 1319, Bartholomew Badlesmere was Edward II's steward and was thus in an excellent position to ask the king to do something about his wife's appalling experience. Hugh Despenser the Younger was Edward's chamberlain. The two men, cousins by marriage, were thus the two most important secular members of the king's household.

We have no exact date when the unfortunate Margaret Badlesmere was imprisoned overnight by fifty or more people at Cheshunt in Hertfordshire, but as her husband was the king's steward when this happened to her, and as her rescuer was the king's chamberlain, I can't imagine too much time had passed between her imprisonment and Edward ordering an investigation into it. Edward II spent the first half of 1319 in and close to York; in August he was in and around Newcastle and in September led the unsuccessful siege of Berwick-on-Tweed; after a short visit to Durham he was back in York by early October, and stayed there and in Lincolnshire and Burstwick for the rest of the year. Edward didn't go anywhere near the south of England in the whole of 1319, so it seems that Hugh Despenser the Younger must have been a good way away from him at some point that year. I've found from my own research that in 1325/26 Hugh was also often away from Edward, far more than you might expect, which is an interesting revelation. In 1319 he was rising more and more in the king's favour, ousting Roger Damory, and I find it quite surprising that he was so far away from Edward during this period of jockeying for power and the king's favour. Hugh was definitely present at the siege of Berwick in September 1319, when he sent a letter (Hugh was an enthusiastic correspondent) to the sheriff of Glamorgan telling him "we doubt that things will go as well for our side as is necessary," a nicely laconic way of expressing that the siege was going really badly for the English. Really, really badly. If I had to guess, I'd say that Margaret's ordeal happened after the siege of Berwick, so probably in October or November 1319. The manor of Cheshunt where she was temporarily besieged had once belonged to Edward II's mother Eleanor of Castile, and passed to her nephew-in-law John of Brittany, earl of Richmond, son of Edward I's sister Beatrice. It still belonged to Richmond in 1319.

Margaret's temporary imprisonment and her rescue the following day by her cousin Eleanor's husband Hugh Despenser raises more questions than it answers. Why was Hugh not with Edward and what was he doing in Hertfordshire? Did Margaret manage to get a messenger to him asking for his help, knowing that he was in the vicinity, or was it mere coincidence that he came to hear of her plight? How did he rescue her? I assume he had a sizeable contingent of men with him; after all, the king's nephew-in-law and chamberlain, then in possession of Eleanor's third of the de Clare fortune, would hardly have travelled without a large retinue. I wonder if there was any fighting, or whether the arrival of a powerful high-ranking nobleman and his men was enough to make the people holding Margaret hostage surrender to Hugh, and to let Margaret go, without any further action necessary. It does strike me as rather unlikely that the chamberlain of the king's household and the wife of the steward of the king's household just happened to be in the same small area of England at the same time by complete chance, especially when the king himself was a couple of hundred miles away in the north. It would be interesting to try to trace the names of some of the men involved and see what connections they may have had to Bartholomew; was this personal, an attempt to hurt Bartholomew himself, planned in advance, or was it more spontaneous, with Margaret taken simply because she was there and convenient, as it were? I really hope the men didn't hurt or assault her too badly, though it must have been a most alarming and unpleasant experience. The original entry on the Patent Roll does say that the crowd of malefactors "assaulted her and her servants," and clearly this was a case of false imprisonment and extortion: the men were intending to hold her hostage until Bartholomew Badlesmere paid them a hundred pounds, a large sum of money (though not that much when shared between so many dozens of people, given the huge risks involved in the whole exercise - how did they all think they were going to get away with it and keep the money?).

As well as the at least fifty or sixty and perhaps more men named as being involved in this incident, several women took part: Idonia de Kent, Margaret le Barber (whose husband John was also involved), Alice le Serjaunt (whose husband John was also involved), Katerina atte Newehouse and Margaret or Margery Scot. In October 1320, ten months later, nineteen men "who were convicted of certain trespasses against Bartholomew de Baddelesmere and Margaret his wife at Chesthunt" were moved from prison at Hertford Castle to the Tower of London, at their own expense, because "Bartholomew has prayed the king to cause them to be transferred to a safer prison, as the said prison [Hertford] is insufficient for their custody." [Calendar of Close Rolls 1318-23, p. 267] Not long after this, Bartholomew Badlesmere joined the Marcher lords and Edward's cousin Thomas of Lancaster in the Contrariant rebellion against Edward II and the Despensers, probably after Edward sent him north to spy on the Marchers' meetings. Edward, who always reacted extremely emotionally to betrayal, thereafter utterly loathed Bartholomew, and pointedly excluded him by name from safe-conducts granted to other Contrariant lords. It is therefore not surprising to note that in November 1321, he pardoned seventeen men and one woman (Margery Scot) "of their outlawry in the county of Hertford" for failing to appear at the original commission of oyer and terminer regarding the "trespass committed by them against Bartholomew de Badelesmere and Margaret his wife" he had ordered two years before. This was done at the request of his first cousin the earl of Richmond, owner of the manor of Cheshunt. [Calendar of Patent Rolls 1321-4, p. 37]

Anyway, it's a most interesting and intriguing event, to my mind, and I rather like the idea of Hugh Despenser being heroic and riding to the rescue of a damsel in distress. It'd be an ideal situation to explore in a novel, and I'd love to read Lady D's fictional take on it!