25 May, 2016

Thomas of Lancaster Seizes Some Yorkshire Castles, 1317

Edward II's relations with his wealthy and powerful cousin Thomas, earl of Lancaster, reached the lowest of all low points in 1317. That year, Thomas accused the king, whether correctly or not, of colluding in the abduction or rather escape of his wife Alice de Lacy. The Westminster chronicle Flores Historiarum says that in 1316/17, Edward armed himself against his cousin, and certainly Thomas blocked Edward's route through Yorkshire and jeered at him from his castle at Pontefract. Thomas may also have been behind Sir Gilbert Middleton's attack on the cardinals in September 1317.

And that was far from being the end of it. On 5 October 1317, Thomas sent some of his men to seize two castles: Knaresborough in Yorkshire and Alton in Staffordshire. Edward II heard about it on 3 November 1317, when he declared that "certain malefactors lately entered the castle by night, and detain it from the king...". Actually Edward had surely heard of the attacks well before then, but on 3 November learned that "they assert that they have done these things in the earl's name," and wrote to Thomas directly ordering him to have Knaresborough handed over to the sheriff of Yorkshire. [Calendar of Close Rolls 1313-8, p. 575; Calendar of Patent Rolls 1317-21, p. 46] Knaresborough had once been Piers Gaveston's, and Alton was in the king's hands following the death of Theobald de Verdon, who had abducted and married Edward's niece Elizabeth de Clare in early 1316 and died less than six months later. Sir Roger Damory, Edward II's great 'favourite' at the time and his nephew-in-law since his marriage to Elizabeth de Clare earlier in 1317, was custodian of both Knaresborough and Alton. This was the reason behind Thomas of Lancaster's attack: he loathed and feared Damory, and claimed that Damory was trying to kill him. Whether this was merely paranoia or Thomas did have good reason to believe that this was the case, I don't know.

Not only did Thomas of Lancaster entirely ignore the king's orders, he "with a multitude of armed men, besieged and captured diverse castles" in Yorkshire which belonged to the earl of Surrey: Sandal, Conisborough and Wakefield. [CCR 1313-8, p. 575] The earl of Surrey, John de Warenne, had aided Alice de Lacy escape from her husband Thomas, and therefore was Thomas's second deadliest enemy in 1317. Thomas also ejected Maud Nerford, Surrey's mistress, from her property in Wakefield, and by the beginning of 1318 had taken firm control over Surrey's Yorkshire lands. Edward II's chief priority, as ever, was the safety and well-being of his friends, and he took Roger Damory's lands in Yorkshire, Herefordshire and Lincolnshire into his own hands on 18 October 1317 in an attempt to protect Damory from his cousin's aggression, also ordering a clerk to remove Damory's stud-farm from Knaresborough to the royal manor of Burstwick. He restored Damory's lands to him on 2 December, assuming the danger from Lancaster was past. [CPR 1317-21, pp. 34, 46, 58] An inquisition taken on 3 October 1318 [Calendar of Inquisitions Miscellaneous 1308-48, pp. 98-99] says that Knaresborough Castle was seized for Thomas of Lancaster by one John Lilburn or Lilleburn, and that it wasn't surrendered to Edward II until 29 January 1318.

Thomas of Lancaster's seizure of various castles in 1317/18 isn't perhaps particularly important, but it does reveal something of the intensely personal politics of the decade. Thomas seems genuinely to have feared Roger Damory's influence over the king (as did others; on 24 November 1317, while all this was going on, the earl of Pembroke and Bartholomew Badlesmere signed an indenture with Damory in an attempt to limit his malign influence over Edward), and he was wealthy and powerful enough to be able to make a gesture like this to signal his displeasure with his cousin the king. He suffered no penalties as a result of it. Edward II's orders to Thomas to "desist entirely from these proceedings" were completely ineffectual, and it seems that Thomas only gave up the castles when he felt like it some months later. It's all just rather interesting and revealing of the chaos in England in the mid to late 1310s, when the country had a king who played favourites but had no strong leader at the helm.

22 May, 2016

The Vercelli Book

This post has nothing to do with Edward II, but with a manuscript I was allowed to see lately: The Vercelli Book, which is a manuscript of Old English literature held in the town of Vercelli, Piedmont, northern Italy. I would like to thank Timoty Leonardi, curator of rare books and manuscripts at the capitulary library of Vercelli, for so kindly allowing me to see the Book on a Saturday morning recently.

The Vercelli Book contains the wonderful Old English poem 'The Dream of the Rood', 'rood' being an archaic word for 'cross' or 'crucifix'. I studied this poem in my second year at university and wrote an essay on it, which unfortunately I longer possess, so it was great to be able to see the original manuscript. How on earth did an Old English manuscript, thought to date to the late tenth century, end up in Vercelli of all places? The town is on the pilgrims' route to Rome, so one theory is that an English pilgrim on his way there or back to England died in the town and left the manuscript there. By some miracle, and goodness only knows how, it survived for many centuries until its discovery by the German scholar Friedrich Blume in 1822. The manuscript is a low quality one, and was not made for a rich person, as will be apparent from the photos. The Digital Vercelli Book is online, and see also here and here for more info about it. Here is a Modern English translation of The Dream of the Rood, here is the text in Old English, and here is someone reciting it in Old English on Youtube.

16 May, 2016

Hanged, Drawn and Quartered

There is some dispute over the origins of the atrocious method of execution by hanging, drawing and quartering, and who the first man in England to suffer this fate was. It may well have been a man who tried to assassinate Henry III in 1238. Edward I inflicted the punishment on Dafydd ap Gruffudd in October 1283, and also on various Scottish noblemen and knights in 1305/07, including William Wallace in August 1305 and several of Robert Bruce's brothers.

In Edward II's reign, I can think of only five men who suffered this atrocious punishment, and only three of them - Middleton, Harclay and Badlesmere - were at Edward's own command (if you think I've missed any, please do let me know!).

- Sir Gilbert Middleton, 24 January 1318

Sir Gilbert Middleton famously attacked and robbed two cardinals visiting England in September 1317, Luca Fieschi, an Italian nobleman by birth who was a kinsman of Edward II, and Gaucelin D’Eauze, a kinsman of Pope John XXII, who had sent the cardinals to England. The cardinals were in the party of Louis Beaumont, the new bishop of Durham, and his brother Henry, Lord Beaumont, the real targets of Middleton's attack. Furious, the cardinals excommunicated Middleton and his adherents – or as the Vita Edwardi Secundi has it, "solemnly and in public separated Gilbert de Middleton and his accomplices from the communion of the faithful." [ed. Denholm-Young, p. 83] On 20 September 1317, Edward II declared that he would "punish the sons of iniquity" who had perpetrated the outrage. [Foedera 1307-27, p. 342]

He was as good as his word: his squires William Felton, Thomas Heton and Robert Horncliffe captured Middleton and his brother John at Mitford Castle in January 1318 and sent them to Edward, and the king ordered Simon Driby and thirteen other squires to deliver them to the Tower of London. [Scalacronica, p. 60; Thomas Stapelton, 'A brief Summary of the Wardrobe Accounts of the tenth, eleventh, and fourteenth years of King Edward the Second', p. 330] On 24 January 1318, royal justices sentenced Gilbert Middleton to execution, and he suffered a terrible death by hanging, drawing and quartering. Although some chronicles say that his brother shared this awful fate, John was still alive in November 1319. [Calendar of Inquisitions Miscellaneous 1308-48, p. 96]

- Llywelyn Bren, lord of Senghenydd and Meisgyn, 1318

Llywelyn Bren was a nobleman of South Wales, who in early 1316 attacked Caerphilly Castle. His uprising was soon put down, and Edward II imprisoned him, his sons and several others in the Tower of London. Most of them had been released by June 1317. Sometime in 1318 - I can't find an exact date - Hugh Despenser the Younger, now lord of Glamorgan and owner of Caerphilly Castle (which had been built by his father-in-law Gilbert 'the Red' de Clare in the 1270s) removed Bren from the Tower and took him to Cardiff. Without any authority to do so whatsoever, and without giving him a trial, Despenser inflicted the terrible death of hanging, drawing and quartering on Bren in Cardiff. Edward II was not responsible for Llywelyn Bren's execution, but neither did he punish or apparently even reprove Hugh Despenser for it.

- Bartholomew, Lord Badlesmere, 14 April 1322

I wrote a detailed account of Badlesmere's execution recently: he was the steward of Edward II's household, a baron of Kent who married Margaret de Clare, Gilbert the Red's niece, who switched sides and joined the Contrariant rebellion against Edward II in 1321/22 and whom the enraged king decided to make an example of. Badlesmere was hanged, drawn and quartered in Canterbury, and his head placed on a spike on the city gate as a warning to those who would betray the king.

- Andrew Harclay, earl of Carlisle, 3 March 1323

As sheriff of Cumberland, Sir Andrew Harclay was loyal to Edward II for many years, and was one of the few men who enjoyed military success in Edward's reign; he stoutly defended Carlisle against Robert Bruce, and defeated Edward's cousin the earl of Lancaster and brother-in-law the earl of Hereford at the battle of Boroughbridge on 16 March 1322. Edward rewarded him with the earldom of Carlisle soon afterwards, but Andrew did not live long to enjoy it. At the beginning of 1323, he negotiated a peace settlement with Robert Bruce without Edward II's authority or even knowledge, and on 3 March 1323 suffered the traitor's death in Carlisle. When he heard the sentence, he announced "You have divided my carcass according to your pleasure, and I commend myself to God," and gazed towards the heavens, hands clasped and held aloft, as horses dragged him through the streets of the town he had defended so staunchly for many years.

- Hugh Despenser the Younger, lord of Glamorgan, 24 November 1326

Hugh was captured with Edward II in South Wales on 16 November 1326, and taken to Hereford. According to the Brut, he refused any food or water, and was thus in a highly weakened state when he arrived. Edward II, of course, had nothing to do with Hugh's death. The charges read out against him are here, and an account of his execution is here.

05 May, 2016

The Date of Birth of Blanche, Duchess of Lancaster (d. 1368)

Blanche of Lancaster married John of Gaunt, the third (surviving) son of Edward III and Philippa of Hainault, in Reading on 19 May 1359 in the presence of three kings: Edward III and the captive kings of France and Scotland, John II and David II. Of Blanche and John's children, three survived into adulthood: Philippa, queen of Portugal, born ten months after her parents' wedding on 31 March 1360; Elizabeth, duchess of Exeter, born probably in early 1363; and Henry IV, king of England, born on 15 April (Maundy Thursday) 1367, twelve days after his father, uncle Edward of Woodstock, prince of Wales and Aquitaine, and King Pedro of Castile defeated Pedro's half-brother Enrique of Trastamara at the battle of Najera in northern Spain. Duchess Blanche died young, on 12 September 1368. But how young?

Blanche was the younger of the two daughters of Henry of Grosmont, first duke of Lancaster (b. c. 1310, d. 23 March 1361) and Isabella Beaumont, one of the daughters of Henry, Lord Beaumont, titular earl of Buchan. Blanche's older sister Maud married Queen Philippa's nephew William, duke of Lower Bavaria and count of Hainault and Holland, who went insane in 1357, and although she outlived her father, it was only by a year: Maud of Lancaster died on 10 April 1362, childless and in her early twenties. The vast Lancastrian inheritance thus passed entirely to Blanche and John of Gaunt. Maud was presumably named after Henry of Grosmont's mother Maud Chaworth, and Blanche after his paternal grandmother Blanche of Artois, queen of Navarre and countess of Lancaster. 

The only real source we have for the ages of Henry of Grosmont's daughters is his Inquisition Post Mortem, which was ordered on 25 March 1361 two days after his death and can now be found in Calendar of Inquisitions Post Mortem 1361-1365, pp. 92-116. There are one or two other sources, but they're unreliable: the chronicler Jean Froissart says that Blanche was about twenty-two when she died in 1368, but frankly I wouldn't trust Froissart on such matters, and if Blanche was only twenty-two in 1368, that would mean she gave birth to her first child when she was barely even fourteen. Blanche's date of birth is currently given on Wikipedia as 25 March 1345, and her older sister Maud's as 4 April 1339. This would make Blanche fourteen at the time of her wedding in May 1359 and just turned fifteen six days before she gave birth to her first child on 31 March 1360, which is certainly possible - Edward II's elder daughter Eleanor of Woodstock gave birth to her first son in May 1333 the month before her fifteenth birthday - but is it true?

Jurors in different counties in Duke Henry's IPM give different ages for Maud and Blanche of Lancaster. Going through Henry's IPM, the Leicestershire and Warwickshire jurors said that in May 1361 the two women were respectively '22 years and more and 19 years and more', which would put their dates of birth as about 1339 and 1342. The Dorset jurors said that Maud was 23 and Blanche was '18 and more', so born in 1338 and c. 1343. Oxfordshire said that they were 26 and 21 in 1361, so born in 1335 and 1340, and the Hampshire, Wiltshire and Berkshire jurors agreed. Derbyshire, the first jurors to give specific dates rather than just ages, said on 4 May 1361 that Maud was 'aged 21 on the feast of St Ambrose last', and Blanche was 'aged 19 years at the feast of the Annunciation last'. This would put Maud's date of birth on or around 4 April 1340, and Blanche's on 25 March 1342 or thereabouts. Giving the saints' days doesn't necessarily mean that the women were born exactly on those days, though it might, but that it was the nearest feast day to their actual birthday. Yorkshire and Northumberland said that Blanche was 18 (so born in about 1343) and was certainly Henry's heir, but that as Maud had married abroad and had not returned to England, they didn't know whether she was still alive or had a child or not, and also failed to give her age. Lancashire said that Maud and Blanche were 22 and 18, so born in about 1339 and 1343. The jurors of Huntingdonshire copped out and just said that the two women were 'of full age', as did Gloucestershire, Herefordshire and the Welsh March. Rutland said they were 20 and 17, so born in about 1341 and 1344, the youngest ages given so far, though the Northamptonshire jurors immediately topped that and said the two women were 18 and '16 years and more' (born 1343 and 1345). Surrey seemed to agree with this. Lincolnshire said that they were 20 and more and 18 and more, so born in 1341 and 1343, and added that they didn't know if Maud was still alive or had children or not. The Staffordshire jurors on 6 May 1361 were the second after Derbyshire to give specific dates of birth: Maud was 21 on the feast of St Ambrose last, and Blanche was 19 on the feast of the Annunciation last, which gives us 4 April 1340 and 25 March 1342. Finally, Devon said that they were 26 and 21, so born in about 1335 and 1340.

Phew! And so, we see an all too typical spread of possible ages given in a fourteenth-century Inquisition Post Mortem, and the difficulty of determining people's correct date of birth. My absolute favourite example is Aymer de Valence, earl of Pembroke (d. 1324), who according to his mother's IPM of 1307 was born anywhere between 1270 and 1283. Mmmmmm. Helpful. Maud of Lancaster, according to the above, might have been born any time between 1335 and 1343, and Blanche, duchess of Lancaster, between 1340 and 1345. As stated above, the Wikipedia page for Maud of Lancaster gives her date of birth as 4 April 1339, which must be based on someone reading her father's IPM and seeing that two sets of jurors gave her age as '21 at the feast of St Ambrose last', but failing to spot that the jurors met and recorded their findings in early May 1361, not in late March after Henry died, and that another feast of St Ambrose had passed between Henry's death and the jurors' session. The last feast of St Ambrose therefore was 4 April 1361, not 4 April 1360, and Maud's birth year would seem to be 1340, not 1339. Blanche's Wikipedia page says that she was born on 25 March 1345, though admits there is some dispute about this and also gives the remarkably late 1347 as a possibility, which means that Blanche would have borne her first child when she was barely even thirteen. In fact, none of the jurors specifically say that she was born on 25 March 1345, though two say that she was born on 25 March 1342, and note that the jurors of only one or maybe two counties out of the almost twenty appointed to determine her age thought that Blanche was as young as sixteen in 1361, and four thought she might be twenty-one, hence born in 1340. None claimed that she was as young as fourteen, so we can put the notion that she was born in 1347 to rest. Thank goodness for that. It does sometimes happen that researchers look at the evidence of IPMs, but misinterpret it: for example, seeing that the IPM of John, earl of Kent in late December 1352 says that his sister and heir Joan of Kent (Edward II's niece and  Richard II's mother) was born either on 29 September 1326 or 29 September 1327, but miscalculating it and stating that she was born on 29 September 1328, an error repeated so often that the latter date is now almost universally, though wrongly, stated to be Joan's date of birth.

In my opinion, Blanche, duchess of Lancaster, was born on or about 25 March 1342, and her sister Maud on or about 4 April 1340. These are the only two specific dates given in their father's IPM, by the jurors of Derbyshire and Staffordshire, and they both agree exactly with each other. Jurors in other counties obviously did not have access to this information, and just made their best guesses. This would make Duchess Blanche seventeen at marriage and just turned eighteen when she bore her first child Philippa, which I think is more plausible than her just turning fifteen. Maud of Lancaster died, sadly, just past her twenty-second birthday, and Blanche at twenty-six, when her youngest child, the future Henry IV, was not even eighteen months old.

01 May, 2016

Radio Interview And Italy

On Friday 29 April, Giles Brown at Talk Radio Europe kindly invited me onto his show to interview me about Isabella of France and my book about her. You can hear the interview here until Friday 6 May via Talk Radio's seven-day catch-up service: this is the 4pm to 5pm slot, and my segment starts at about 18 minutes and 50 seconds in. Bear in mind this was live, and I had no idea beforehand what Giles would ask me (well, obviously it would be about Isabella and Edward II...). Giles had done his homework and asked some great questions, and I really enjoyed it.

On Thursday this week, 5 May, I'm off to Italy again, yay. On Saturday 7 May I'll be giving a talk about Isabella of France and Edward II at the seminary in Vercelli, at the kind invitation of Gianna Baucero of the Chesterton Association and His Excellency the archbishop of Vercelli, Father Marco Arnolfo. On Wednesday 11 May, in the gorgeous Salone Teresiano (pics below) at the university of Pavia, a group of us will be discussing Edward II's survival in Italy,  an event arranged and moderated by Ivan Fowler (who'll be simultaneously translating between Italian and English) and my other good good friends at the Auramala Project. Please do read their blog posts if you're interested in Edward's post-1327 survival!

You can see a short video of my last trip to Italy here - this was a gala dinner held in my honour at the magical Ca' San Sebastiano in the hills of Montferrat (and see pic below). On Friday 6 May there's another gala dinner in my honour, this time held at Agriturismo Greppi, where I stayed for three nights last September. There are more pics of my last stay in Italy here and here. The debates and research into Edward II's fate are ongoing, you'll be glad to see!

Salone Teresiano

Salone Teresiano

Salone Teresiano
The seminary in Vercelli
Ca' San Sebastiano
My friend Gianna and I, holding each other's books (Gianna's is about Guala Bicchieri)
Signing autographs after my talk in Vercelli, haha