27 September, 2016

On 27 September 1326, at the Tower of London...

...Edward II heard of the arrival of his wife Isabella of France's invasion force in Suffolk three days earlier. Isabella, with her and Edward's son Edward of Windsor, Edward II's half-brother the earl of Kent, Roger Mortimer, John Maltravers and the others left Dordrecht on 21 or 22 September and arrived at the river Orwell in Suffolk on the 24th. Isabella and her allies had ninety-five ships with around 1000 to 1500 men in total. Edward II was at the Tower of London with the earl of Arundel, the two Hugh Despensers, his eldest niece Eleanor de Clare, and his second son John of Eltham, aged ten. On the very day the invasion force landed, an oblivious Edward II himself went out to the postern gate of the Tower and paid three shillings for two fine salmon from a fisherman called Richard Marbon. Says it all really, doesn't it?

Edward II and Hugh Despenser the Younger had anticipated as far back as October 1324 that Roger Mortimer and the other English exiles might land in Suffolk or Norfolk with the aid of the count of Hainault and Charles IV of France’s brother-in-law the king of Bohemia, though their prescience did them no good whatsoever. The site where Isabella landed lay on or near the lands of Edward’s half-brother Thomas of Brotherton, earl of Norfolk, who went to join Isabella and his brother the earl of Kent, despite having been appointed to defend the counties of Norfolk, Suffolk, Essex and Hertfordshire against the invaders. The bishops of Hereford, Lincoln, Ely and probably Norwich, and the archbishop of Dublin, also soon joined the queen. News of Isabella's arrival was brought to Edward by the crew of the ship in which Isabella herself had travelled, which was captured by some of the king’s men after she disembarked at Orwell, and sailed to London. It may therefore be that Isabella herself came close to capture on arrival.

The destruction of Edward’s fleet in Normandy some weeks before - for reasons that are not entirely clear he had tried to land a force in Normandy - and the alacrity with which the earl of Norfolk joined the rebels ensured that the small invading force, which could easily have been destroyed on arrival, progressed with no resistance. Isabella and her allies headed west in triumph and, perhaps, amazement at the absolute lack of resistance or hostility; most of Edward’s men either fled from them or joined them. According to the French Chronicle of London, "the mariners of England were not minded to prevent their coming, by reason of the great anger they entertained against Sir Hugh le Despenser [the Younger]." Five days after the landing, Isabella and the others arrived at the town of Bury St Edmunds, where she helped herself to – or ‘caused to be taken for his [her son Edward of Windsor’s] affairs’ as she euphemistically glossed the theft – £800 which Hervey Staunton, chief justice of the court of Common Pleas and an ally of Edward II, had stored at the abbey, to pay her soldiers. Staunton died a year later without recovering the money. Edward II, meanwhile, fled from his hostile capital at the beginning of October, leaving his son John of Eltham in nominal charge of the city and his niece Eleanor de Clare in command of the Tower, and travelled towards Wales with the two Hugh Despensers and the earl of Arundel. This may have been a prearranged plan, and Edward hoped to find support in Wales. Support was not forthcoming, and he was captured only six weeks later.


Anerje said...

I know London was hostile - but surely the Tower was the safest place? There's so many 'with hindsight ' with Edward.

Kathryn Warner said...

He probably thought it would be too difficult long-term to hold the Tower in a hostile city, and he'd been trapped in London before, when the Marchers put their armies by all the gates in 1321.

Anonymous said...

Edward was a tad too slow to act on this occasion wasn't he? Perhaps he thought it would all calm down and the citizens would support him. Then, realising it was flight, panicked and fled. Who knows what the Despensers were whispering and advising him; but they got it wrong long term. It is telling that Isabella and her retinue didn't meet much force: the end was nigh for Edward. Amanda

sami parkkonen said...

I think it was just Eddie being Eddie.
- Sire, you wife the Queen has invaded your realm! What are You going to do, sire?
- I'll tell you what I'm going to do. I'm going to get me some fish and chips. Anybody else? Boys, fish and chips anyone?

I think Edward believed two things would happen:
one. Isabella was just having a fit and would calm down, there would be a tearful reconciliation and he would give Mortimer a good decent spanking.
two. his subjects would not join in the invasion.

But him being Eddie, he was absolutely wrong.

Jerry Bennett said...

I suspect Isabella would have been fairly safe during the crossing from Rotterdam. According to Ian Mortimer (The Greatest Traitor), the invaders had a fleet of 95 ships of varying sizes which would have sailed as a convoy. The fact that the army landed roughly in the same location at Orwell suggests that the crossing was not disrupted by storms. Individual ships would then turn back to the Low Countries once their soldiers had landed, and that is probably when the ship that carried Isabella was captured.

The retreat to Wales may well have been planned. The Despensers were not fools, and would have remembered how communities across England had erupted against them during the early part of the Marcher rebellion. Glanmorgan, and particularly Caerphilly castle, were Despenser strongholds and the Welsh lords had supported them during the Marcher rebellion, although that may have been more down to the Welsh hating the Mortimers. The lack of support from the Welsh appears surprising, but given that the whole rebellion was over in only six weeks, they may not have had time to mobilise. Gathering men from the scattered communities of Powys and Gwynedd in probably foul November weather would not have been easy. Or they may have already been bribed to do nothing by Isabella's agents, or they too may have fallen out with the Despensers - just like everyone else. I do not know of any sort of record that reveals the inner thoughts of the Welsh lords at that time, so this is all supposition again.

The biggest mystery for me about Edward's downfall is why he and the younger Despenser ever left the safety of Caerphilly. But then I cannot understand so many of Edward's action throughout his reign. Too often he appears to have acted on impulse rather than reason, to have done something because "it seemed like a good idea at the time", and he just did not have enough wiser elder statesmen around him to persuade him otherwise.

sami parkkonen said...

Or if he had, he didn't give a hoot about their advice when he got something in his mind. One might think this dude was somewhat stubborn and lived In the moment, as some say.