24 December, 2017

Merry Christmas!

A very Merry Christmas to all my readers, all 35,000 to 45,000 of you every month and over two million in total! May the festive season of 2017 bring you happiness and peace. (And lots of great presents.) 700 years ago, at Christmas 1317, Edward II was at Westminster with Queen Isabella, who was pregnant with their third child and first daughter. Edward spent one pound, thirteen shillings and six pence on a "great wooden table" to be placed in the palace hall, and also paid thirty pounds to Thomas de Hebenhith, mercer of London, for "a great hanging of wool, woven with figures of the king and earls on it, for the king’s service in his hall, on solemn festivals."

I'll be posting again in the New Year. Until then, take care!

16 December, 2017

Edward II And Dice Games

For the record, in a piece of news unrelated to the current post, this blog had a whopping 6,434 visitors yesterday! Thank you all for visiting and reading. :-)

It was Edward II's custom for many years to play at dice on Christmas Eve and/or Christmas night with members of his retinue. At Nottingham on 25 December 1316, for example, the king spent the large sum of five pounds to play (whether he won or not, I don't know). Edward didn't only play dice at Christmas: on 7 January 1323, he played while at the royal manor of Cowick in Yorkshire, and spent two pence at Langdon Abbey playing dice in late August 1325 and celebrated the Nativity of St John the Baptist at the Tower of London on 24 June 1326 playing dice with Sir Giles Beauchamp. On the Langdon occasion, Edward sent his chamber servant Piers Pulford to buy new dice at a cost of two pence. Christmas does seem, though, to have been Edward's favourite time to play at dice. Again at Nottingham on Christmas night 1324, he played a game called rafle or raefle with three members of his chamber staff and with William Montacute (b. 1301), future earl of Salisbury and the son of one of Edward's greatest friends, the elder William Montacute, who died in Gascony in 1319.

Edward also enjoyed a game called cross and pile, the medieval equivalent of heads or tails. On 5 May 1326, he borrowed five shillings from his barber Henry to play with him, and spent another twenty shillings playing again a few days later (these were large sums of money!). Edward II attended the wedding of Hugh Despenser the Younger's household retainer Sir Robert Wateville and Hugh's niece Margaret Hastings on 19 May 1326, and three days later lost eight shillings to the newly-married Wateville playing cross and pile with him. On 13 July 1326 the king lost another two shillings playing against his chamber usher Peter Bernard, so apparently wasn't very good at it, or was very unlucky.

The king did not only enjoy indoor games, he loved outdoor physical activity as well; I've previously written posts about his love of swimming and rowing, ball games, digging ditches and so on. But, sadly, the British climate and long hours of darkness for part of the year does not always permit outdoor activities - though Edward did go swimming in the Thames in February one year, brrrrrrr - and so Edward stayed inside and took part in games of chance to while away the long winter evenings.

09 December, 2017

The 'Portours' Of Edward II's Chamber, And Their Wives

I've written before (and here and here) about the men who served in Edward II's chamber, who are referred to in his chamber accounts as his vadletz or portours. There were around thirty of them at any one time, plus half a dozen pages, who are either called 'pages' or 'boys', garsons. Then there were the squires of the chamber, a higher rank, of whom I've been able to find about nine at any given time. Oh, and there were knights of the chamber, and clerks, and other categories of men whose wages were paid out of the chamber: Edward's archers, carpenters, whelers, the men who bought and looked after the carthorses, etc.

I make no apologies for another post about Edward's servants, because history is not only about royalty, and I find it endlessly fascinating to discover details about the men and women who knew the king well and to gain insights into the lives of ordinary people in England in the 1320s.

Edward II's Household Ordinance of December 1318 states that no member of the royal household may have his wife at court or following along behind. Edward, however, did not vigorously enforce this rule: as I've said before, he hired two of the wives of his chamber vadletz/portours to the same job as their husbands, at the same wages. They were Johane (i.e. Joan) Traghs and Anneis (i.e. Agnes) de May. Johane and her husband Robyn Traghs had a daughter born in London shortly before 15 September 1325, and in early 1326 Johane joined the royal household as a portour and was still with Edward at the end of October 1326 when his accounts ceased to be kept, a couple of weeks before his capture. Someone, therefore, was looking after Robyn and Johane's daughter while they both travelled all over the country with the king. On 16 May 1325, Roger de May was given half a mark (six shillings and eight pence) for his expenses going home for a while, and some months before, his wife Anneis de May had been paid for sewing shirts for the king and Hugh Despenser the Younger and for making smocks for the chamber servants. This was a few months before she was hired as a chamber portour, and her making clothes for the king and his attendants seems to mean she was living somewhere close to the royal household, at least for a while. On 14 December 1325 shortly before she was hired as a portour, Anneis was given ten shillings to cover her expenses visiting the royal household, and "for what she did at the gate of the Tower [of London]" to mark the feast of St Katherine on 25 November. Anneis's name sometimes appears in the account as Annote, an affectionate diminutive of her name, while her husband Roger's name often appears as Hogge.

On 16 May 1325, Beatrice the wife of the chamber portour John Gos received six shillings and eight pence/half a mark for her expenses coming to the royal household, and another twelve pence for four nights' accommodation in London (Edward II was then staying in Chertsey). We see here how the wives of royal servants were allowed to visit their husbands at court but not to stay overnight with them there, and the king paid for their accommodation somewhere nearby. Though not too near; Chertsey is a good twenty miles from London, so maybe John Gos was given four days' leave to go and stay with his wife.

On 8 July 1325, Edward II gave a gift of ten shillings - and to put that in perspective, it was a few months' wages - to Anneis Lawe, wife of his chamber portour Henry Lawe. This implies Anneis was then visiting her husband. Henry was given permission to go home on 22 May 1325, with twenty shillings for his expenses. Henry's brother Syme Lawe was also a chamber portour, and also married to a woman called Anneis. This Anneis Lawe received twenty shillings in early July 1326 when she "came from her home to visit and talk to the said Syme, her baron [husband], for her expenses in returning to her home." The Lawe brothers' sister Alis Coleman sometimes brewed ale for Edward, their brother Willecok Lawe once helped with the ropes on a royal boat, and the king sent their father Roger Lawe a gift of money once when he was ill.

On 5 September 1325 at Dover, when Edward II was still debating whether or not to sail to France to pay homage to Charles IV or to send his son instead: "Paid to Nanne, wife of John Pecteman, one of the king's portours, who came to talk to her baron [husband] before he crossed the sea, of the king's gift, for her expenses towards the household, five shillings."

15 September 1325: "Paid to Robyn Traghs, one of the portours of the king's chamber, who went to London to talk to Johane his wife, who was delivered of a daughter, for his expenses, five shillings." This was a few months before Johane was admitted to wages as a fellow portour of the chamber.

16 October 1325: "Item, paid to Will Shene, one of the portours of the king's chamber, who will marry his wife at Henley next Sunday, five shillings. Item, paid to Isode, whom the said Will will marry, for their expenses on the said Sunday when they marry, twenty shillings."

29 April 1326: "To Hick Mereworth, vadlet of the king's chamber, who had permission to go to Henley to his house with his wife, who came to Kenilworth great with child, for his travel expenses and for what he did at Kenilworth before the king left there, twenty shillings. Item, to Johane wife of the said Hick, who came to her baron at the said Kenilworth great with child as is said above, because she had heard that her said baron was ill there, forty shillings." 

10 May 1326: "Paid to Johane wife of Robyn Traghs, one of the portours of the king, assigned to wages of three pence a day by the king as one of his portours from Saturday 8 March, on which day the king was at Sibson [near Leicester], and when he left the parts of Leicester the said Johane left court for the parts of Norfolk and the house of Lady Haward, where she stayed at the king's order because she was ill, and now on this day is being paid her wages, from 8 March until this day, sixty-four days, sixteen shillings."

Sick pay in the early fourteenth century! Awesomeness! And for two whole months as well. Who'd have thought it? Edward II offered equal pay for women, and gave sick pay to a woman he'd just hired who was unable to work for him for two months.

Edward spent Christmas Eve 1324 at Nottingham, playing dice with three of his chamber squires: they were called Giles of Spain (who later took part in the earl of Kent's plot to free the supposedly dead Edward in 1329/30), Burgeys de Till, and Garsy de Pomit. Garsy at least must have been an older man, as he had a son who was rewarded financially in 1326 for bringing the king news from Gascony. Another chamber squire was John Pymmok, who also had a son who was an adult in the 1320s. The chamber portours seem to have been of different ages: Will Shene, Robyn Traghs and Hick Mereworth and their wives evidently were pretty young in c. 1325 as they were getting married and having children - probably they were in their late teens or twenties - but Hick Hustret must have been older, as his son Henry Hustret was also a chamber portour. The pages of the king's chamber are often called garsons or boys, implying they were teenagers (or perhaps even younger), and sometimes are referred to by nicknames which reveal their youth and small stature: Litel Wille Fisher, Litel Colle, Litel Robyn. By contrast, one of the chamber portours was called Grete Hobbe, 'Great Hob', or in modern English Big Rob, implying that he was either tall or well-built, or both.
So we see that Edward II allowed the wives of his portours to come and visit them, and paid all the women's expenses. Servants were often given permission to go home to visit their families as well, with generous expenses that surely also counted as a kind of holiday pay. The permission to go home appears in the accounts as conge de aler en son pais, "leave to go to his country." The frequent use of nicknames in Edward's chamber accounts reveals the mutual affection and camaraderie among the chamber staff, and Edward took good care of his staff and was hugely generous to them. These were the men, and occasionally women, with whom Edward II spent the most time, and who knew him best. Six of the chamber portours slept in the king's bedchamber with him every night or most nights and thus knew Edward II intimately (I don't mean that in the sense of 'sexually'). This also strongly implies Edward's ability to speak fluent English, as men bearing names like Will Shene and Henry Lawe who worked as servants on pay of three pence a day were never going to speak French, though we can see from the names of some of the chamber squires like Burgeys and Garsy, above, that they were Gascon and thus French-speaking.

01 December, 2017

Edward II's Sense of Humour

I've posted here before, and written in my biography of Edward II, some lovely details which reveal that the king's sense of humour ran very much towards the slapstick. In the summer of 1326, he gave a pound to his cook Moris for falling off his horse and making him laugh, and the same year gave two and a half pounds to his painter Jack of St Albans for dancing on a table and also making him laugh (the money was said to be to help Jack support his wife and children). In early 1325, two of Edward's chamber squires, Giles of Spain and Burgeys Till, accidentally burned themselves quite badly while performing some kind of show with fire for the king's entertainment at his Westminster cottage of Burgundy, and around the same time Edward paid a man for putting on a performance for him inside the Tower of London, outdoors, in what his account calls "the area in front of the long stable." In the summer of 1312, an Italian minstrel was paid for "making his minstrelsy with snakes before the king," and Edward also enjoyed watching conjurors.

I've just found another lovely entry in one of Edward II's chamber accounts - all of the details in this post are from his chamber accounts - revealing that just before Easter 1325, the king played some kind of prank or practical joke on Hugh Despenser the Younger while they were just outside Southampton on the way to Beaulieu Abbey. Edward's clerk wrote that "the king frightened Sir Hugh." Sadly there are no more details, but Edward was a very playful person who loved to laugh and have fun (though I'm not entirely sure if Hugh Despenser appreciated it!). In May 1326 at the wedding of Hugh Despenser's niece Margaret Hastings, Edward gave a pound to a servant of Hugh's sister Lady Hastings who spent time with him "and made him laugh very greatly." I've also found numerous entries revealing how the king played dice and cross and pile with members of his retinue; on Christmas Eve 1324 at Nottingham, he spent the evening playing dice with his chamber squires Burgeys Till, Giles of Spain and Garsy de Pomit. He also played unspecified ball games in the parks of various castles with some of his household knights. One of Edward II's friends, or at least an acquaintance, was a Thames fisherman called Colle Herron, and the king often chatted to fishermen while sailing up and down the Thames and invited a group of shipwrights to come and stay with him in April 1326. In October 1315 he went on a swimming and rowing holiday with "a great company of common people." What strikes me very strongly from the evidence of Edward II's chamber accounts is that he comes across as a boon companion, a person you can imagine meeting and having a good laugh with, a man who didn't stand on his royal dignity but could get on well with absolutely anyone. There aren't many medieval kings you can say that about.

24 November, 2017

24 November 1326: Execution of Hugh Despenser the Younger

691 years ago on 24 November 1326, Hugh Despenser the Younger, lord of Glamorgan, was executed in Hereford on the orders of Edward II's queen Isabella of France and her ally Roger Mortimer, lord of Wigmore. It was an atrocious death by hanging, drawing and quartering, and Hugh was also castrated. When it was finally over, Hugh's head was placed on London Bridge (on 4 December) and the four quarters of his body were sent for public display in York, Carlisle, Bristol and Dover. On 15 December 1330 after he had overthrown his mother and Mortimer, Edward III gave permission for Hugh's remains to be collected and buried, and his tomb at Tewkesbury Abbey in Gloucestershire exists to this day. His wife Eleanor was also buried in the abbey in 1337, as were several of their descendants including their eldest son Hugh or Huchon (d. 1349), grandson Edward (d. 1375), great-grandson Thomas, briefly earl of Gloucester (d. 1400), and great-great-granddaughter Isabella, countess of Warwick (d. 1439).

My biography of Hugh will be published in about September/October 2018, by Pen and Sword. Its current working title is Downfall of a King's Favourite: Edward II and Hugh Despenser the Younger. I guarantee there's plenty of stuff about him in it that you've never seen before!

Here's a post about Hugh's execution I wrote eleven years ago today (yowza, time flies!).

And here is my translation of the long list of charges against him at his show trial, from 2009.

My examination of the most devastating charge against Hugh, that he had someone called 'Lady Baret' tortured into insanity (which I very much doubt he did). This is one of the central planks in the popular modern notion that he was basically a psychopath, but there's no evidence for the tale whatsoever beyond the charge against him at his trial, and the list of charges is basically a tissue of fact and fiction, mostly the latter. The unpleasant idea that Hugh raped Queen Isabella is an invention of two writers of the twenty-first century entirely without evidence (see my 2012 post about it here), and even the notion that he had the Welsh lord and rebel Llywelyn Bren hanged, drawn and quartered in Cardiff in 1318 isn't nearly as certain a fact as you might think.

I also wrote here about some of the common modern misconceptions about Hugh Despenser the Younger, including the ever-popular but entirely false idea that Edward II arranged Hugh's marriage to Edward's niece Eleanor de Clare after Hugh became the royal favourite. Hugh and Eleanor married on 26 May 1306 in the presence of her grandfather Edward I, who had arranged it. I stated in that post, wrongly, that Hugh Despenser the Elder did not give his son and daughter-in-law an income of £200 a year as he had promised Edward I. I've since found out that actually he did. Two historians of the twentieth century state that in 1309 Edward II gave Hugh the Younger the former Templar manor of Sutton in Norfolk. I have never been able to find a source for this.

20 November, 2017

Following in the Footsteps of Edward II

One of my many current writing projects - I have so much work I'm reluctantly having to turn some down - is a book for Pen and Sword titled Following in the Footsteps of Edward II, a travel guide to places in the UK associated with Edward. You can easily guess what some of the places are: Berkeley Castle, Gloucester Cathedral, Caernarfon Castle, etc. What I'm really having fun with at the moment is writing about Edward's Oxbridge foundations. He was the first of only two people in history to found colleges at both Oxford and Cambridge, an accomplishment not often noted (and not by a certain popular Twitter historian who wrote not long ago that Edward II succeeded his father on the throne in July 1307, and "never succeeded at anything ever again." Hahaha! Bless, isn't that so funny and clever?)

Edward II celebrated the tenth anniversary of his accession to the throne on 7 July 1317 by establishing the Aula Regis or King's Hall at the University of Cambridge. In 1546, his descendant Henry VIII founded Trinity College by merging King's Hall and Michaelhouse, which was founded in 1324 by Edward's friend and ally Hervey Staunton, chief justice of the King's Bench. On 21 January 1326, Edward and his almoner Adam Brome founded Oriel College, Oxford, or as they called it, the Hall of the Blessed Mary. It became known as Oriel in Edward III's reign, and still exists, and its long official full name is "The Provost and Scholars of the House of the Blessed Mary the Virgin in Oxford, commonly called Oriel College, of the foundation of Edward the Second of famous memory, sometime king of England." Oriel is the fifth oldest college foundation at Oxford; the fourth oldest is Exeter, founded in 1314 by Walter Stapeldon, bishop of Exeter and Edward II's treasurer of England. Stalpeldon was murdered by a London mob in October 1326 after the queen's invasion.

17 November, 2017

A Letter from the Archbishop of York to 'Your Royal Majesty' Edward II

A little while ago, I was looking through a very useful book called Recueil de lettres anglo-françaises 1264-1399, edited by F. J. Tanqueray (an historian who wrote an excellent article called 'The Conspiracy of Thomas Dunheved, 1327' in the English Historical Review in 1916, which I have read and used more times than I can count). Anyway, I found a letter in the book sent by William Melton, archbishop of York, to Edward II (on pp. 123-4). The letter is dated 8 January although the year is not given, but as far as I can tell it must be 1326, as Melton calls himself Edward's treasurer, and he held that position from July 1325 to November 1326. I loved the letter and have translated a bit of it here, to give a flavour of how Archbishop Melton addressed Edward II in writing. Melton was a staunch ally and supporter of the king without ever being a yes-man, and wasn't afraid to stand up to him when necessary (e.g., he protected Adam Orleton, bishop of Hereford, when Edward was persecuting him in 1323/24). He was one of the few men who spoke out on Edward's behalf at the parliament of January 1327 which deposed him, refused to attend Edward III's coronation out of respect for Edward's father, and was heavily involved in plots to free the supposedly dead Edward in 1329/30. Edward III also trusted William Melton and made him treasurer of England shortly after he overthrew his mother and Mortimer in October 1330, and Edward II was a far better judge of character than his father, so if he trusted Melton then we know Melton was trustworthy.

The letter of 8 January [1326], in Anglo-Norman in the original - which kind of goes without saying - begins:

"To the very high, very noble and very powerful prince, his very dear and beloved lord, if it please him, by his liege chaplain and servant, his treasurer, with all the honour, reverence and service he can, with the blessing of God."

It goes on:

"My very dear and beloved lord, because several people have told me that your wish is that your Tower of London be provisioned with various things, and I do not dare nor must not install such things from your treasury without your express command, my lord..."

And goes on to ask Edward if he wishes Melton and the barons of the Exchequer to make an estimate of the cost for the provisioning of the Tower. One sentence begins Prie ge a vostre reale mageste, "I beg your royal majesty," which surprised me as I hadn't realised such language was in use as early as Edward II's reign. Calling him "very high, very noble and powerful prince" at the start of the letter is something I've often seen; Edward himself addressed his father-in-law Philip IV of France the same way. But "I beg your royal majesty"? Interesting.

Archbishop Melton's letter ends:

"My very dear and beloved lord, may God in his grace keep you in joy, honour and health. Written at our lodgings [hostiel] near Westminster, the eighth day of January."

Ah, people certainly knew how to write letters 700 years ago, didn't they? Fab stuff.

05 November, 2017

Book Giveaway: Richard II

My fourth book Richard II: A True King's Fall is out now in the UK, and I have two free hardback copies to give away! I'll sign them, and if you win you can let me know whatever dedication you'd like me to write in your copy. I can send them anywhere in the world, so don't worry about having to have an address in Europe.

If you'd like to win a copy, leave a comment here with your email address (so I can get in touch with the two winners), or if you prefer, email me at edwardofcaernarfon(at)yahoo.com. If you're on Facebook, you can also message me via my Edward II page, here. The closing date is Sunday 19 November, midnight GMT, so you have two weeks to enter! Best of luck!

Oh, and my third book Long Live the King: The Mysterious Fate of Edward II is out now in the US and can be purchased from Amazon (and of course other retailers): see here if you're interested in a detailed account of what happened to the deposed and disgraced king in 1327!

29 October, 2017

c. 28 October 1294: Wedding of Alice de Lacy and Thomas of Lancaster

I missed the date yesterday, oopsie! Then again, the date of the wedding of the great heiress Alice de Lacy and Edward I's nephew Thomas of Lancaster is not 100% certain, but may have taken place on 28 October 1294. Alice was not yet thirteen, born on Christmas Day 1281; Thomas was probably sixteen, going on seventeen. His date of birth is not known for sure, but my research indicates that the end of 1277 or beginning of 1278 is the likeliest date. He was thus four years older than his wife. Alice was set to inherit the earldoms of Lincoln and Salisbury, and Thomas was set to inherit the earldoms of Lancaster and Leicester, and their fathers Henry de Lacy and Edmund of Lancaster arranged their marriage in 1292. (Thomas had previously been betrothed to Beatrice, granddaughter of Duke Hugh IV of Burgundy, but she died young in 1291.)

Alice de Lacy and Thomas of Lancaster were married for twenty-seven and a half years, but it proved to be an unhappy disaster, and Alice left her husband in the spring of 1317. The couple had no surviving children, and Thomas's younger brother Henry (born c. 1280/81) was therefore his heir. Thomas did have two illegitimate sons, John and Thomas, who joined the Church, and I have recently discovered that Alice de Lacy was pregnant in 1307 or 1308. She sent a messenger to Leicester, one of Thomas's towns, to inform the mayor and townspeople of her pregnancy sometime between Michaelmas (29 September) 1307 and Michaelmas 1308. The messenger was rewarded with a shilling for bringing the good news. Sadly, Alice must have lost this child - perhaps a miscarriage or stillbirth, or s/he died in early infancy. I feel terribly sorry for Alice, but from my point of view as a historian I have to admit that I was also thrilled to have found the reference to her pregnancy, as I'd long assumed that she must have been infertile (Thomas, as he had at least two illegitimate children, obviously wasn't). Perhaps the loss of this child of 1307/08 contributed to the couple's unhappiness. I can't help feeling sad for them and wishing they had been happier. Anyway, happy (almost) wedding anniversary, Thomas and Alice.

27 October, 2017

27 October 1326: Execution of Hugh Despenser the Elder, Earl of Winchester

On this day 691 years ago in 1326, Hugh Despenser the Elder, earl of Winchester, was hanged in Bristol on the orders of Queen Isabella and her allies including Edward II's half-brothers the earls of Norfolk and Kent and cousin the earl of Leicester (now styling himself earl of Lancaster as well). Despenser was sixty-five years old, born on 1 March 1261, not ninety as stated by the later chronicler Jean Froissart. He was left to hold Bristol after his son Hugh the Younger and Edward II went on to South Wales to try (unsuccessfully) to raise troops, and sent a letter to them on 18 October, the last letter Hugh the Younger would ever receive from his father. Isabella of France and her allies arrived outside Bristol on the same day, and on the 27th the city fell to them. The earl of Winchester was given a show trial during which he was not allowed to speak on the same day, and immediately hanged in his armour on the gallows where common criminals were executed. His head was placed on a spear and sent to Winchester, the town of which he was earl, to be displayed there in public, and supposedly the rest of his body was fed to dogs. Pretty vile even by the standards of the day. A chronicler of Bury St Edmunds claimed that Queen Isabella tried to save Despenser's life, but Bury St Edmunds is on the other side of the country from Bristol and therefore hardly seems like a reliable source, especially as no-one else mentions this tale. Besides, I'm not sure how Isabella's social inferiors would have overridden her wishes in public. Despenser was widely hated in England not only for his association with the regime of his son in the 1320s, but because of his own greed, brutality and corruption, especially in his capacity as justice of the forest. Still, if English medieval noblemen were executed merely for being greedy, brutal and corrupt, there wouldn't have been any English medieval noblemen left.

21 October, 2017

Thomas, Lord Wake (1298-1349)

Thomas Wake was an influential and extremely well-connected English nobleman in the first half of the fourteenth century: he was the son-in-law of Henry, earl of Lancaster (d. 1345) and brother-in-law of Henry of Grosmont, later first duke of Lancaster; a first cousin of Roger Mortimer, first earl of March; the brother-in-law of Edward II's half-brother Edmund of Woodstock, earl of Kent; and the uncle of Richard II's mother Joan of Kent, princess of Wales, who was his heir. He played an important role in the downfall and deposition of Edward II in 1326/27, but fled from England in early 1330 after getting caught up in his brother-in-law Kent's plot to free the supposedly dead Edward from captivity. Here's a (long!) post about him.

Thomas was, according to his father's Inquisition Post Mortem, born in March 1298: he was 'aged 2 years at mid-Lent last' in June 1300. [1] Easter Sunday fell on 6 April in 1298 and on 10 April in 1300. His father was John Wake (c. 1268-1300), lord of Liddell in Cumberland and an important landowner in Lincolnshire and Yorkshire, with manors in other counties as well. John's mother Hawise de Quincy was a granddaughter of Saer de Quincy, earl of Winchester, and her mother was Elen ferch Llywelyn, which makes Thomas Wake a great-great-grandson of Llywelyn ab Iorwerth, prince of Gwynedd (d. 1240) and his wife Joan (d. 1237), illegitimate daughter of King John. Thomas's mother Joan Fiennes was a sister of Margaret Fiennes, mother of Roger Mortimer of Wigmore, first earl of March, and a great-granddaughter of John Brienne (d. 1237), king of Jerusalem and Latin emperor of Constantinople. Thomas Wake was only two years old when his father John Wake died in 1300, which made him a ward of Edward I and then of Edward II in and after 1307. He lost his mother Joan Fiennes in 1309 as well, whereupon Edward II gave custody of her dower lands to - who else? - Piers Gaveston, until Thomas came of age. [2]

Thomas Wake had a sister Margaret, wife respectively of Sir John Comyn (killed at Bannockburn in 1314) and of Edmund of Woodstock, earl of Kent. He also had a younger brother John Wake, who was still alive in March 1322 but who must have died childless as their sister Margaret, followed by her son John and then her daughter Joan of Kent, were Thomas's heirs. [3] The dates of birth of Thomas's siblings are not known. John the second brother might have been born in 1300, the year their father died, and in my opinion Margaret Comyn née Wake was older than Thomas. She had a son, Aymer Comyn, with her husband Sir John Comyn who fell at Bannockburn in June 1314, a month when her future second husband Edmund of Woodstock was not even thirteen (he was born in August 1301), so she must have been some years older than he and probably older than her brother Thomas, born in March 1298. Little Aymer died in 1316; for more info, see my post about his aunt Elizabeth Comyn, Margaret's sister-in-law. Thomas, Margaret and John's parents John Wake and Joan Fiennes were married by 24 September 1291. [4]

Sometime not long before 9 October 1316 when he was eighteen years old, Thomas Wake married Blanche of Lancaster, eldest child of Edward II's first cousin Henry of Lancaster and the niece of Thomas, earl of Lancaster. Blanche was born around 1302 or 1305, so was some years Thomas's junior, and they wed without a royal licence. Edward II was irate when he heard about it; he had previously offered Thomas the marriage of his great-niece Joan Gaveston, daughter and heir of the late Piers Gaveston and Margaret de Clare. Thomas's decision to turn down Joan and marry Blanche is perhaps a little puzzling. Joan Gaveston, though only four years old in 1316, was sole heir to her mother Margaret Clare and her third of the earldom of Gloucester, whereas Blanche of Lancaster had a brother and thus was not an heiress, and her father Henry of Lancaster was only the heir of his wealthy brother for as long as Thomas failed to produce legitimate children anyway. Perhaps Thomas gambled that Margaret Clare would marry again and have a son, which would instantly disinherit Joan, and ultimately his decision was vindicated when his father-in-law became earl of Lancaster in 1327 and hugely influential. (The unfortunate Joan Gaveston died in January 1325 just past her thirteenth birthday.) Edward II, annoyed with Thomas for "refusing a suitable marriage which the king offered to him," fined him a massive £1,000, but by 6 June 1317 had clearly forgiven him as he allowed him to take possession of his inheritance although he was still two years under age, at Henry of Lancaster's request. Thomas was also officially pardoned for refusing the marriage to Joan Gaveston on 9 December 1318. [5]

Thomas Wake and Blanche of Lancaster would be married for thirty-three years, but they had no children, so Thomas's heir was, successively: his younger brother John (who died sometime after March 1322 and had no children); his sister Margaret, who became countess of Kent on her second marriage in late 1325; Margaret's second but only surviving son John, earl of Kent, who died childless in late 1352; and Margaret's daughter Joan, who became princess of Wales when she married the heir to the throne Edward of Woodstock in 1361. It's basically impossible to ascertain what kind of relationship the Wake siblings had, though in February 1325 Thomas Wake and Margaret Comyn jointly acknowledged a debt of £200. [6]

On 24 April 1320, Edward II gave Thomas permission to go on pilgrimage to Santiago de Compostela in northern Spain, and he set off with two attendants, leaving his young wife Blanche in England. While he was gone, one of his manors in Lincolnshire was attacked and robbed, and some of his and Blanche's servants killed. [7] Thomas, having married into the Lancaster family, was a staunch Lancastrian adherent for the rest of his life, so the period of the Contrariant rebellion in 1321/22 headed by Thomas, earl of Lancaster, must have been somewhat awkward for him. His uncle-in-law Earl Thomas was executed in March 1322, but his father-in-law Henry of Lancaster was abroad for most of 1320 to April 1322 so avoided having to make the awful decision either to follow his brother into rebellion and treason, or to abandon him. I've found it difficult to determine exactly what Thomas Wake was up to in the early 1320s; he rarely appears on record, so was probably keeping his head down. On 23 March 1322 the day after his uncle-in-law Thomas of Lancaster's execution, Thomas acknowledged a debt of 100 marks or £66 to Sir Ralph Camoys (Hugh Despenser the Younger's brother-in-law), and the following day his younger brother John Wake acknowledged a debt to Sir Andrew Harclay, sheriff of Cumberland and soon to become earl of Carlisle, who had defeated Thomas of Lancaster's army at Boroughbridge a few days before. [8] Thomas Wake accompanied the king on his ill-fated final campaign to Scotland in August 1322, as did his father-in-law Henry of Lancaster. [9] His relations with the regime of the 1320s seem not to have been too bad, and he received commissions of array in 1323 and in other years. On 16 June 1324, Edward II gave Thomas "the houses of the king's manor of Sandal for his lodging there." [10] Thomas's sister Margaret Comyn née Wake, a widow for eleven and a half years, married her second husband Edmund of Woodstock, earl of Kent, around 16 December 1325 (according to the annalist of St Paul's).

Thomas Wake was sometimes at court with Edward II and Hugh Despenser the Younger: he witnessed royal charters at Kenilworth in April 1326. [11] Kenilworth was part of the late Thomas of Lancaster's inheritance which the king had kept for himself, and Thomas surely believed that it rightfully belonged to his father-in-law Henry. Sir Roger Belers, chief baron of the Exchequer, was murdered in January 1326, and Thomas's father-in-law Henry of Lancaster was one of the men appointed to investigate it. Thomas Wake had given Belers his Bedfordshire manor of 'Styvington' for life in July 1323. [12] In March 1325, Thomas was said to be going to Gascony in the company of John de Warenne, earl of Surrey, during the War of St-Sardos between England and France, though in August, October and December that year he was in England. [13] There are no references to him in the letters and documents of the War of St-Sardos collected and edited by Pierre Chaplais, so presumably he never went.

Thomas followed the lead of his father-in-law Henry of Lancaster in the early autumn of 1326, when Queen Isabella invaded England. The two men were at Bristol with the queen on 26 October, when her and Edward II's son Edward of Windsor was appointed keeper of the realm and Henry of Lancaster was called 'earl of Lancaster' for the first time. [14] Both men witnessed the executions of the two Hugh Despensers on 27 October and 24 November 1326. Thomas, firmly on the side of his first cousin Roger Mortimer, was placed in the crowd with several of his men during the London parliament of January 1327, to yell their support for Edward II's deposition at appropriate moments. Isabella rewarded Thomas's support of her and her son by making him keeper of the Tower of London and justice of the forest this side Trent. [15] Yet it was soon to become apparent to Thomas, Henry of Lancaster and many others that the regime change of 1326/27 had merely replaced one greedy and despotic pair, Edward II and Hugh Despenser, with another, Isabella of France and Roger Mortimer. In 1328 Thomas's father-in-law Henry emerged as the leader of the opposition to his niece Isabella, and in late 1328 Thomas was one of the many influential men who took part in Henry's brief and unsuccessful rebellion. The lands of Henry of Lancaster and his adherents were seized on 16 January 1329 (though restored a few weeks later), and soon afterwards the leading rebels were forced to acknowledge liability for huge and unpayable debts. Thomas Wake's was 15,000 marks. [16] These debts were cancelled by Edward III when he took over the control of his own kingdom in and after October 1330. Before that, however, Thomas Wake had been forced to flee from England after becoming embroiled in his brother-in-law the earl of Kent's plot to free the supposedly dead Edward II. His lands were seized again in early 1330, and he made his way to Paris to join some of the other enemies of the regime. [17] His wife Blanche of Lancaster remained in England with her family, and his sister Margaret was widowed for the second time when her husband Kent was beheaded on 19 March 1330.

Edward III invited Thomas Wake and the other rebels back to England in November 1330, and Thomas had returned by 21 December 1330, when Edward III asked him, his (the king's) cousin William de Bohun and Alice de Lacy's second husband Eubulo Lestrange to escort his mother Queen Isabella to him for Christmas. A month later, Thomas was one of the men appointed as a mainpernor (guarantor) for Roger Mortimer's son Geoffrey, arrested with his father at Nottingham on 19 October 1330, but released. [18] Thomas was high in Edward III's favour, and was appointed keeper of the Channel Islands in 1332. [19] I won't say much about the remainder of Thomas's career in the 1330s and 1340s as this post is quite long enough as it is, but some of the highlights are that he founded the priory of Haltemprice in Yorkshire and had been intending to do so since as early as 1320 when he was only twenty-two, and that he went to fight at the siege of Algeciras in Spain 1343 with his brother-in-law Henry of Grosmont. In May 1337, Grosmont gave one of his manors in Norfolk to Thomas and his (Grosmont's) sister Blanche for life, to pass after their deaths to Haltemprice Priory. [20] Thomas remained on excellent terms with his father-in-law Henry, earl of Lancaster and Leicester, and in July 1339 visited him in Leicester and gave him a manor in Yorkshire to hold for the rest of his life (another six years, as it turned out). [21]

Thomas, Lord Wake died on 30 May 1349 at the age of fifty-one and was buried at his own foundation of Haltemprice. He left his widow Blanche of Lancaster, who did not die until 1380 when she was at least seventy-five and perhaps older, and his sister Margaret, dowager countess of Kent, who was his heir. She only outlived him by four months. [22] Margaret's daughter and Thomas's ultimate heir Joan of Kent called herself 'Lady Wake' in addition to her other titles (princess of Wales and Aquitaine, duchess of Cornwall, countess of Kent and Chester), and Joan's eldest son and heir Sir Thomas Holland (b. 1350/51) called himself 'earl of Kent and Lord Wake' in his will of 1397. [23] Sir Thomas Holland's two sons Thomas (d. 1400) and Edmund (d. 1408), both earls of Kent, had no children, so on Edmund Holland's death in 1408 the Kent and Wake inheritance was divided among Edmund's nephew Edmund Mortimer, earl of March and Ulster (b. 1391) and his four surviving sisters. They were Joan, dowager duchess of York, Margaret, countess of Somerset, Eleanor, countess of Salisbury, and and Elizabeth, daughter-in-law of the earl of Westmorland.

1) CIPM 1291-1300, no. 597.
2) CPR 1307-13, p. 196.
3) CCR 1318-23, p. 528.
4) CPR 1281-92, p. 445.
5) CPR 1317-21, pp. 43, 251-2; CCR 1313-8, 413.
6) CCR 1323-7, p. 356.
7) CPR 1317-21, p. 440; SC 8/87/4346.
8) CCR 1318-23, p. 528.
9) CPR 1321-4, p. 186.
10) CPR 1321-4, p. 431.
11) C 53/112, nos. 3, 5, 6.
12) CPR 1321-4, p. 305.
13) CPR 1324-7, pp. 112, 228, 233, 235.
14) CCR 1323-7, p. 650.
15) CCR 1327-30, p. 16; CPR 1327-30, p. 36.
16) CFR 1327-37, p. 116-7; CCR 1327-30, p. 425.
17) CFR 1327-37, p. 175; CCR 1330-3, p. 288.
18) CPR 1330-4, p. 36; CCR 1330-3, p. 178.
19) CCR 1330-3, p. 448.
20) DL 25/330.
21) DL 25/964/749.
22) CIPM 1347-52, nos. 219, 234.
23) Testamenta Vetusta, vol. 1, pp. 13, 139.

17 October, 2017

John, Lord Beaumont (1317-1342)

John Beaumont was an English nobleman of partly French, partly Scottish origin, who married into the great Lancastrian dynasty. Here's a post about him.

According to the evidence of his father's Inquisition Post Mortem in 1340, John Beaumont was born on or around Christmas Day 1317. He was the first son, though almost certainly not the first child, of Henry, Lord Beaumont, a French and partly-Spanish nobleman who was Edward II's second cousin, and Alice Comyn. Alice was one of the two nieces and co-heirs of John Comyn (d. 1308), earl of Buchan in Scotland, whose wife Isabel MacDuff crowned Robert Bruce as king of Scotland in 1306. Comyn himself was a great enemy of Bruce, and after his defeat to the latter at the battle of Inverurie in 1308 fled to England and died there shortly afterwards. Edward II arranged Alice Comyn's marriage to his kinsman Henry Beaumont in or a little before 1310, and Beaumont thereafter called himself earl of Buchan, though never held the lands. Alice was much her husband's junior, probably born in the late 1290s; Henry's date of birth is not known but was probably sometime in the 1270s or 1280, and his parents had married as early as 1253. He and his siblings Louis, elected bishop of Durham in 1317, and Isabella, Lady Vescy, spent most of their lives in England. They were the children of Agnes, viscountess of Beaumont - they used their mother's name - and Louis Brienne, also known as Louis of Acre, one of the sons of John Brienne, Latin emperor of Constantinople and king of Jerusalem. Louis Brienne's mother, the grandmother of Henry, Louis and Isabella Beaumont and their siblings was John Brienne's third wife Berenguela of Leon, sister of Edward II's grandfather King Fernando III of Castile and Leon.

John Beaumont's sisters, the daughters of Henry Beaumont and Alice Comyn, included Katherine, probably the eldest Beaumont child, who married David Strathbogie, earl of Atholl in or soon after January 1327, and Isabella, who married Henry of Grosmont, later the first duke of Lancaster, in or before June 1330. Isabella Beaumont was the mother of John of Gaunt's first wife Blanche of Lancaster, and was the grandmother of King Henry IV of England and Philippa of Lancaster, queen of Portugal. John Beaumont himself married Henry of Grosmont's sister Eleanor of Lancaster, fifth of the six daughters of Edward II's first cousin Henry, earl of Lancaster (d. 1345). The young couple wed sometime between September and November 1330, at Henry's castle of Kenilworth in Warwickshire; John was not yet thirteen at the time, and Eleanor was almost his own age, probably twelve or thirteen. His sister Isabella and her brother Henry of Grosmont had married some months before. The Beaumonts' mother Alice née Comyn may have attended her children's weddings, but their father Henry Beaumont could not: in 1330 he was in exile on the continent, plotting an invasion of England to bring down the queen mother Isabella of France and her ally Roger Mortimer, now the first earl of March. Henry Beaumont had, like his long-term ally and friend Henry of Lancaster, supported the invasion of 1326, but soon grew sick of Isabella and Roger's greed and illegitimate power. After Edward III overthrew the pair in October 1330, he recalled Henry Beaumont and the dowager queen's other enemies on the continent back to England. Beaumont died in March 1340, weeks before the birth of his granddaughter Maud of Lancaster (elder surviving daughter of Henry of Grosmont and Isabella Beaumont, and sister-in-law of John of Gaunt).

When John Beaumont and Eleanor of Lancaster consummated their marriage cannot be known, but their only child was born in late 1339 or thereabouts, nine years after their wedding. This was Henry Beaumont, named after both his grandfathers, and his birth brought about a change in English law. Edward III was extremely fond of Eleanor and John - they were his second cousin and third cousin respectively - and invited them to accompany him and Queen Philippa on their long sojourn on the continent between July 1338 and February 1340. Henry Beaumont the younger was born in the duchy of Brabant while Eleanor was attending the queen. In case their son's birth outside England and outside the lands ruled by the king of England caused the boy legal problems in the future – as in fact it did – Edward III announced in December 1340 that "the king’s kinsfolk John de Bello Monte [Beaumont] and Eleanor de Lancastre" had accompanied him and the queen overseas at his command and had intended to return to England for the birth of their child, but Edward and Philippa persuaded them to stay with them because their company was "very desirable." [1] Despite Edward III's statement, when John Beaumont's mother Alice Comyn died in July 1349 (John was already dead by then), her heir was returned as John's younger brother Thomas rather than John's son Henry, because John had died "without an heir of his body born within the realm of England or the allegiance of the king of England." [2] The parliament of February 1351, however, declared that Henry Beaumont and all other Englishmen "born beyond the sea" should have the full right to their inheritances, and Henry duly inherited his father and grandmother's lands when he came of age. [3]

According to the royal clerk and chronicler Adam Murimuth, John Beaumont was killed at a jousting tournament in Northampton on 14 April 1342. [4] He was only twenty-four, and had been Lord Beaumont for barely two years. However, there is an entry on the Patent Roll dated 10 May 1342, which gave John Beaumont royal permission to grant three of his own manors to himself and his wife Eleanor of Lancaster jointly. Either this permission was only recorded by royal clerks a few weeks after John was already dead, or the date of his death given by Murimuth is wrong. [5] John was certainly dead by 26 June 1342, however, when his Inquisition Post Mortem was ordered (unfortunately, the IPM does not give the date of his death). His lands were taken into the king's hand on 1 July, and an entry on the Close Roll of 10 August calls Eleanor of Lancaster "late his wife." [6] In early 1345 she married her second husband, Richard Fitzalan, earl of Arundel, who had previously been married to her first cousin Isabella Despenser, eldest daughter of Hugh Despenser the Younger and a great-niece of Edward II. Richard and Isabella's marriage was annulled in December 1344 mere weeks before he married Eleanor. Eleanor and Richard had five children: Richard, earl of Arundel, executed by Richard II in 1397; Joan, countess of Hereford, grandmother of Henry V; Alice, countess of Kent; John, admiral; and Thomas, archbishop of Canterbury. The Arundel children were the younger half-siblings of John Beaumont's son Henry, born in c. late 1339. Henry Beaumont died in 1369, before his mother, but the Beaumont line continued: Henry had a son John, who had a son Henry, who had a son John, and so on and on in perpetuity. (Well, almost.)


1) CPR 1340-3, pp. 72-3.
2) CIPM 1347-52, no. 415.
3) CPR 1350-4, p. 63.
4) Murimuth, ed. Thompson, p. 142.
5) CPR 1340-3, p. 428.
6) CIPM 1336-46, no. 381; CFR 1337-47, pp. 288, 386; CCR 1341-3, p. 578; CPR 1340-3, p. 506.

13 October, 2017

Mortimer History Society Essay

I haven't been around to update the blog for absolutely ages - apologies for the long delay, and I hope to rectify the situation very soon! On Saturday 7 October, I gave a talk about Isabella of France in Ludlow, Shropshire, at the kind invitation of the Mortimer History Society. See here for Anerje's take on it, and here for more information. I thoroughly enjoyed the whole day and have now joined the Society, and hope to be as active a member as possible. Many thanks to Hugh Wood, Philip Hume, Fran Norton - who very kindly took me for dinner in Ludlow the evening before - Stanton Stephens of the Castle Bookshop in Ludlow, and all the other MHS members who made me feel so welcome.

On 7 October, we were also treated to an excellent talk titled 'Networking the Marches' by Matthew Lampitt, winner of the first Mortimer History Society's essay prize. The second round of the essay competition is taking place this year: the deadline is 1 December 2017. Information here, here and here. If you're a hsitory researcher, why not give it a go and try to win the £750 first prize?

Talking of the Castle Bookshop in Ludlow, I was delighted to see my three books for sale there, and also spotted Long Live the King for sale in the gift shop of Ludlow Castle!

27 September, 2017

A Talk And Two New Books

On Saturday 7 October, the Mortimer History Society is holding its annual symposium at Ludlow in Shropshire, and this year I'm one of the speakers. My talk is about Isabella of France, Edward II's queen, and is titled 'The Rebel Queen', the same as my 2016 biography of her. Here is the programme; as far as I know there are still places left, if you'd like to attend!

My fourth book will be published on 15 October 2017, and I've ventured beyond my usual era for this one: it's a biography of Edward II's great-grandson Richard II, king of England from 1377 to 1399 and also deposed. (As you can see, I'm drawn to the unsuccessful kings of medieval England.) Its title is Richard II: A True King's Fall, which is a quotation from Shakespeare's wonderful play about him*, and all the chapter titles are also Shakespeare quotations. You can pre-order it on Amazon, or Book Depository.

Sneak preview!

And there's a new bio of Edward II coming out on 15 November, written by Stephen Spinks and titled Edward II: A Doomed Inheritance. Really looking forward to it, and I love that red cover with the manuscript illustration of Edward's coronation.

Go, some of you convey him to the Tower.

O, good! convey? conveyers are you all,
That rise thus nimbly by a true king's fall.

22 September, 2017

22 September 1345: Death of Henry, Earl of Lancaster

Today marks the 672nd anniversary of the death of Henry, earl of Lancaster and Leicester and steward of England, on 22 September 1345. Via his father Edmund of Lancaster, Henry was a grandson of Henry III and thus the nephew of Edward I and first cousin of Edward II, and via his mother Blanche of Artois he was the great-nephew of Louis IX of France,  half-brother of Joan I, queen of Navarre, brother-in-law of Philip IV of France, and uncle of Louis X, Philip V, Charles IV and Edward II's queen Isabella. Henry's date of birth is not known but is usually estimated around 1280 or 1281, following his elder brother Thomas's birth in c. 1278. A younger brother, John, followed, sometime before May 1286 when the three Lancaster brothers first appear on record. (John of Lancaster spent almost all his life in France and very rarely appears in English sources. He died in 1317, and Henry was his heir to the lordships he held in France.)

Henry was restored to (most of) the inheritance of his executed and childless brother Thomas after Edward II's deposition in 1327; Edward had allowed him the earldom of Leicester in 1324, but not Lancaster. Henry is the forgotten member of the Lancaster dynasty in many ways - I've even seen a few people confusing him with his son and heir Henry of Grosmont, the first duke of Lancaster - but it was he who restored the prestige and reputation of the Lancasters after Thomas's execution, and who fought for his and his family's rightful inheritance. In the 1320s Henry was mostly ignored by his cousin Edward II and brother-in-law Hugh Despenser the Younger, and therefore joined his niece Queen Isabella in the autumn of 1326. As Isabella also shunted him out of power and his rightful position during Edward III's minority, Henry led a brief rebellion against the regime in late 1328 and early 1329, which failed when (according to the later Leicester chronicler Henry Knighton) Roger Mortimer sacked his main power base of Leicester in early 1329. Yet Henry survived Edward II's turbulent reign and its aftermath and died peacefully in his bed, aged about 65, as many other earls including his own brother Thomas and cousin Edmund, earl of Kent did not.

Henry of Lancaster married the heiress Maud Chaworth on or before 2 March 1297 when she was fifteen and he probably sixteen, and their marriage produced one son, Henry of Grosmont, and six daughters, Blanche, Isabella, Maud, Joan, Eleanor and Mary. Five of Henry's children had children of their own - the exceptions were his two eldest daughters Blanche, Lady Wake and Isabella, prioress of Amesbury - and Henry was the ancestor of much of the English nobility of the late fourteenth and fifteenth centuries. His grandchildren included Henry Percy, the first earl of Northumberland, who died in rebellion against Henry IV (Henry of Lancaster's great-grandson) in 1408; Richard Fitzalan, the earl of Arundel executed by Richard II in 1397; Elizabeth de Burgh, duchess of Clarence, who married Edward III's second son Lionel of Antwerp; and Joan de Bohun, countess of Hereford, Henry V's grandmother. Maud Chaworth died in 1322, and Henry never remarried; a previous generation of historians believed erroneously that he married the French noblewoman Alix Joinville, but she was in fact the widow of his brother John.

Henry's Wikipedia page claims that he spent the last fifteen years of his life at his castle of Leicester. From my own research I know this is not the case: he travelled extensively around his estates in the 1330s and 1340s, even in 1345, the year he died. One of his favourite residences was Kempsford in Gloucestershire, part of his late wife Maud Chaworth's inheritance. He was at Kenilworth in Warwickshire in the summer of 1345, and wrote his will at Leicester on 8 September. Two weeks later, he died there, and was buried four months later in the church of the hospital he had founded in Leicester in 1330. His son Henry of Grosmont, earl of Derby, was in Gascony at the time leading a brilliantly successful military campaign and so could not attend the funeral, but Edward III, his wife Queen Philippa and his mother Queen Isabella, Henry of Lancaster's niece, were all present at the interment of one of the greatest of medieval English noblemen.

18 September, 2017

Fourteenth Century England X

The tenth edition of the excellent series Fourteenth Century England*, a collection of academic essays which comes out every two years, will be published in April 2018, and it's on the Boydell and Brewer website now. I'm delighted to announce that the latest edition features an article by me, titled ''Bought by the King Himself': Edward II, his Chamber, his Family and his Interests in 1325/26'. I gave a paper based on my research for this article at the International Medieval Congress at Leeds in 2016. There are lots of insights into Edward and his household in his last chamber account of 1325/26, now held by the Society of Antiquaries in London, which I used to write the article.

Can't wait to see it in print! Also really looking forward to the rest of the articles, especially the one by Professor Seymour Phillips.

* I have to admit that the missing hyphen irritates me. Mentally I insert one every time I type the name.

08 September, 2017

The Murder of Sir Robert Holland, October 1328

Sir Robert Holland or de Holand was a knight of Upholland, Lancashire, born sometime around 1280. He was the steward of Edward II's first cousin Thomas, earl of Lancaster, and his close ally and perhaps friend, for many years. Thomas gave Robert lands and arranged his marriage to Maud la Zouche, one of the two daughters and co-heirs of Alan la Zouche (d. 1314). Robert and Maud's eldest son Robert the younger was born around 1312, and their second son Thomas, who married Edward II's niece Joan of Kent, in about 1314. They had a third son, Sir Otto Holland, a Knight of the Garter, and several daughters including Isabella, mistress of John de Warenne, earl of Surrey (d. 1347).

Robert Holland's long and close association with Thomas of Lancaster did not include following him into treason during the Contrariant rebellion in 1322, and instead he joined Edward II on or before 4 March, bringing men, horses and arms. To be fair to Robert, the king was holding one of his daughters - not named - at the Tower of London by 26 February 1322, almost certainly as a hostage. [CCR 1318-23, 525; CPR 1321-4, 75] By joining Edward before the battle of Boroughbridge on 16 March 1322, Robert saved himself from execution, but was imprisoned at Dover Castle and "charged with diverse excesses." He remained in prison for most of the rest of Edward II's reign, though at some point escaped from Northampton. [CPR 1327-30, 17] Robert was pardoned in 1327 by the new regime and restored to his lands, despite protests by Thomas of Lancaster's brother and heir Henry, now earl of Lancaster.

On 15 October 1328, a group of Lancastrian knights and adherents including Sir Thomas Wyther, John Tebbe, John le Irissche, John le Walsshe, Thomas Polgrom and Thomas de la Panetrie encountered Sir Robert Holland at Borehamwood in Essex, quarrelled with him, and decapitated him.They sent the severed head to Henry, earl of Lancaster, at Waltham Abbey before fleeing to High Wycombe in Buckinghamshire. It is not impossible that Henry ordered Robert Holland's execution – he was only fifteen miles away at Waltham when it happened – though it is perhaps more probable that the death occurred during an angry and violent row with Lancastrians furious at Robert's betrayal of Earl Thomas and that they had not planned to kill him. Still, there seems little doubt that Henry protected and sheltered the killers, and the macabre gift of the head sent to him suggests his men knew he would be pleased at the death of the man who had abandoned and betrayed his brother. Jurors appointed to inquire into the murder claimed rather suspiciously and implausibly not to know anything whatsoever about the circumstances of it or who had promoted it ("We dunno nuffin, guv, honest"). Henry was surely an accessory after the fact if not before, and the jurors likely did not think it wise to point a finger at the wealthy, powerful and royal earl of Lancaster or to investigate too closely a murder he was apparently condoning. John Tebbe was imprisoned for Robert's murder, but escaped, and went on campaign to Gascony with Thomas of Lancaster's nephew and Henry of Lancaster's son Henry of Grosmont in 1345/6 before he had been pardoned for the murder and his escape. [CPR 1345-8, 87] I suppose that means that Henry of Grosmont didn't exactly shed a tear over the death of the man who had abandoned his uncle.

So that was the end of Sir Robert Holland, though his widow Maud née la Zouche outlived him for many years, and went through a legal battle with Henry of Lancaster over the manor of Melbourne in 1330 (a battle won, not surprisingly, by Henry). Robert and Maud's second son Sir Thomas Holland (c. 1314-1360) really raised the family to greatness via his marriage to Joan of Kent: his sons, Robert's grandsons Thomas, earl of Kent (1350/51-1397), and John, earl of Huntingdon and duke of Exeter (c. 1352/55-1400), were half-brothers of King Richard II. Thomas, earl of Kent, married Henry, earl of Lancaster's granddaughter Alice Fitzalan in about 1364 when they were both still very young, and they were the parents of the duke of Surrey, the duchess of York and the countesses of March, Somerset and Salisbury, among others, and the ancestors of Edward IV, Richard III and Henry VII. When Henry of Lancaster received Robert Holland's severed head in October 1328, he can hardly have have imagined that one day his granddaughter would marry Robert's grandson, and Robert surely cannot have imagined that he would be the ancestor of kings.

Calendar of Inquisitions Miscellaneous 1308-1348, no. 1093
Annales Paulini, p. 342
Knighton's Chronicle 1337-1396, vol. 1, p. 449
The Brut, vol. 1, p. 257.

31 August, 2017

The Tale That Edward II Removed Isabella's Children From Her

I've written before about the deeply unpleasant tale invented in the late 1970s that Edward II cruelly removed his wife Isabella's three younger children John of Eltham, Eleanor of Woodstock and Joan of the Tower from her care in September 1324 when he confiscated her lands. See here and here. Search for this notion in vain in any primary source from the fourteenth century or any work whatsoever written before 1977; you won't find it, because it was made up by Paul Doherty in his doctoral thesis about Isabella that year. Since then, numerous other historians and novelists have repeated the tale as though it's certain fact: a prime example of how what we might call 'fake news' can spread and spread and be seen as 'truth' even though there is no evidence whatsoever in support of it.

Here's Doherty's claim repeated in his 2003 book Isabella and the Strange Death of Edward II (he insists on spelling the name Despenser as 'de Spencer' for some reason):

Here's the footnote, number 26, near the bottom of the page. See how Doherty cites 'E 403/201, mem[brane]s 14-15'.

I have gone to the National Archives and looked at this document (the E stands for Exchequer, incidentally). Here it is - that number looks a bit like an 8 but is actually a 3. The documents in series E 403 are Issue Rolls from the Exchequer of Receipt; see here and here.

Firstly, notice the date on the document: '16 Edw II, Michaelmas'. Michaelmas is 29 September and the period of the year following it; '16 Edw II' means Edward II's sixteenth regnal year, which ran from 8 July 1322 to 7 July 1323 (his father Edward I died on 7 July 1307, so Edward II's first regnal year ran from 8 July 1307 to 7 July 1308). So already we see that Doherty's claim must be wrong; this document belongs to September 1322, not September 1324. Therefore it cannot possibly relate to Edward II taking his children away from the custody of their mother at the time he confiscated her lands when he was at war with her brother Charles IV of France, which occurred on 18 September 1324. The Issue Rolls dating to the relevant time period, Michaelmas/September 1324, are E 403/210, 211 and 212, not E 403/201.

Secondly, there are no 'membranes 14-15' in this document; there are eight membranes in total, written in Latin, much of it in double columns, stitched together to make one longish roll. Here's a pic of what it looks like.

Below is the end of the document. It's clear from the photo that this is the end of the document. It has the number 8 written on it in pencil at the bottom (next to my fingers), because it's the eighth and last membrane. So where are the 'membranes 14-15' Doherty cited in his endnote?

As I pointed out recently, Edward II's niece Eleanor Despenser née de Clare was looking after Edward and Isabella's second son John of Eltham (b. 15 August 1316) by 3 July 1322 at the latest and perhaps earlier. This alone proves that John at least was not 'removed' from his mother in September 1324. This information is in plain sight in the Calendar of Memoranda Rolls, which have been translated into English and printed into a nice easy-to-read book. As far as I've seen up to now, E 403/201 doesn't even mention the king and queen's children, or the women (Eleanor Despenser and her sister-in-law Isabella Hastings) into whose custody the children were given supposedly against Queen Isabella's wishes. Seeing as the cited membranes do not actually exist, I don't know where this alleged evidence of 'the king cruelly removed Isabella children from her!' is supposed to be, or what the evidence itself is meant to consist of. Even if there is a payment somewhere to Isabella Hastings for looking after Eleanor of Woodstock and Joan of the Tower, I'm not sure how that would prove the children were 'removed' from the queen anyway. Or should we think there's some entry that records a payment to soldiers for 'going to the queen's household and cruelly ripping her children out of her arms'? I really don't think so. And the issue that the document dates to September 1322, not September 1324, remains.

It's entirely typical of Paul Doherty's work that he doesn't even appear to realise that Isabella Hastings, who had the care of Edward II and Isabella's daughters at some point, was not merely 'another court favourite' as he calls her, but Hugh Despenser the Younger's sister. This would have strengthened his argument. Isabella Hastings also had the care of at least one of Hugh the Younger's and Eleanor née de Clare's daughters in 1325, and their fourth daughter Margaret was raised in the household of one Thomas Houk. Are we supposed to believe that Hugh was also being 'cruel' to his wife by giving the custody of two or more of their daughters to his sister and someone else? Or do we think that maybe royal and noble women of the early fourteenth century weren't full-time primary carers of their children and that handing over their care to others was entirely normal and usual? And does giving custody of young royal or noble children to others only count as 'cruel' when the children are Queen Isabella's and we're desperate to peddle the false narrative of her endless tragic suffering victimhood at the hands of her nasty gay husband? Isabella herself never claimed, or even hinted, that her children had ever been 'removed' from her and given into the care of others against her will. She was in a good position to be clear on this point, no?

I am actually kind of appalled that a historian could think or pretend that a document of September 1322 dates to September 1324 in order to make up a fake story. I am appalled that someone was prepared to make up a tale that Edward II was so lacking in any humanity or decency that he would remove young children - his own children! - from their mother and primary carer solely to hurt and punish her. I am shocked that other, vastly better historians have repeated this tale and not even bothered to check the document being cited as 'proof' to make sure it really does say what Doherty claims it says, or even to check that the part of the document being cited actually exists in the first place. Or to question and think 'hang on, are we sure that the queen of England in 1324 was looking after her children? How could her children be 'removed' from her in the first place?' This is the same writer who gets Margaret de Clare's name wrong and calls her 'Joan of Gloucester', who gives Isabella three different ages in one short book, and who claims that Isabella refused to take an oath of loyalty to Hugh Despenser when the chronicle cited clearly states that it was Henry, Lord Beaumont who was imprisoned for refusing to take this oath. How incompetent do you actually have to be to mix up the queen of England and Lord Beaumont? You can't, is the answer; you can't be that incompetent. That must have been done deliberately, because no-one could possibly read a chronicle which has been translated into modern English and think that 'Henry Beaumont' means 'Queen Isabella'. There seems to be an astonishingly cavalier disregard for any kind of historical truth or accuracy and a wish to make up silly stories as melodramatic and salacious as possible. If this was being done in fiction, that's one thing, but the claim has been made in a university thesis and in a popular book published as non-fiction. The notion that Edward II was cruel to his own wife and his own children has been repeated as 'fact' for nearly forty years, and it is grossly unjust.

27 August, 2017

Dates of Birth in the Fourteenth Century

With the exception of royal children, whose dates of birth were usually, though not invariably, recorded - we don't know exactly when Edward II's queen Isabella of France or her brother Philip V were born, for example - dates of birth in the fourteenth century were mostly only recorded when someone inherited land. So if a person didn't inherit land, we don't know when they were born, and even when they did inherit land, we still don't always know when they were born. Edward II's first cousins Thomas and Henry of Lancaster, for example, were the greatest landowners in the realm and royal on both sides of the family, but we don't know their dates of birth: 1277/78 and 1280/81 respectively are the best guesses. And they were the sons and heirs of Edward I's brother Edmund and the brothers-in-law of Philip IV of France, hence pretty important. Henry's son Henry of Grosmont, first duke of Lancaster was probably the richest man in England in the fourteenth century, or at least the second richest after his brother-in-law the earl of Arundel, but his date of birth can only be estimated as sometime between about 1308 and 1314. Ish. Sometimes you get lucky and an important noble person's date of birth was written down by a local chronicler or monk - the chronicle of Wigmore Abbey is pretty useful for the Mortimer family, for example.

Generally, when a tenant-in-chief died and his or her heir was underage, the heir's age was recorded, either in the tenant's Inquisition Post Mortem or in the heir's proof of age when they reached 14 or 15 (women)* or 21 (men) and could take over their own lands, or both. For example: Henry, Lord Percy died in October 1314, and in his IPM his son Henry was said to have turned 13 at the last Feast of the Purification, which is 2 February (though the jurors of some counties thought he was as old as 15). The younger Henry proved his age after he turned 21, and there his date of birth was specifically recorded as 6 February 1301 - or rather, to be completely accurate, it was recorded as 6 February in Edward I's twenty-ninth regnal year.

We don't know the date of birth of Hugh Despenser the Younger even though he was the most powerful man in the country for much of the 1320s, because he never inherited his father's lands (the Despensers being executed within a month of each other in 1326), but we do know the date of birth of his older half-sister Maud Chaworth because she was the heir of her father Patrick and he died when she was a baby: on or around 2 February 1282. This, again, is the Feast of the Purification. Jurors on IPMs generally just gave the nearest major feast day to the heir's actual birthday, so as with Henry Percy above, Maud Chaworth may not have been born exactly on 2 February. The date of birth of Hugh the Younger's nephew Philip Despenser is known, ditto that of another nephew of his, Amaury St Amand, as their fathers died when they were underage and they inherited their lands. Hugh Despenser the Elder's date of birth is also known, 1 March 1261, because he was the heir of his mother Aline Basset and his father's cousin John Despenser, and they died in 1281 and 1275 respectively before he turned 21. Edward I's eldest grandchild Gilbert de Clare, heir to his father the earl of Gloucester and Hertford, was born between 23 April and 11 May 1291, according to his parents' IPMs.

* 14 if they were already married, 15 if not.

Some other examples: Isabella Verdon, daughter of Edward II's niece Elizabeth de Burgh née de Clare, was born on 21 March 1317, and proved her age on 20 February 1332; she was one of the four daughters and co-heirs of Theobald Verdon. Her older half-sister Margery Verdon was born on 10 August 1310 and proved her age on 10 March 1327. Philippa of Clarence, only child and heir of Edward III's second son Lionel and the great heiress Elizabeth de Burgh the younger, was born on 16 August 1355 and proved her age on 24 August 1369. Henry Percy, above, was born on 6 February 1301 and proved his age on 26 February 1323. John, Lord Mowbray was born on 29 November 1310 and proved his age on 31 July 1329 (he was allowed to take over his lands several years early as a special favour). Thomas Beauchamp, earl of Warwick, was born around 2 or 14 February 1314: the IPM of his father Guy in August 1315 stated that he had turned one at the Purification or the feast of St Valentine last past. Edmund Mortimer, third earl of March, was born around 25 January or 2 February 1352.

Edward II's half-brother Edmund, earl of Kent, had three or possibly four children: Edmund, John, Joan and perhaps (or perhaps not) Margaret. The younger Edmund died in infancy in 1331 and never inherited his father's title and lands, and hence his date of birth was never recorded. John the younger son proved his age when he was 21 in 1351 and demonstrated that he was born on 7 April 1330, nineteen days after his father's execution. He died on 27 December 1352, childless, and his heir was his elder sister Joan, later the mother of Richard II. The jurors on John's IPM stated that Joan had turned either 25 or 26 at the feast of St Michael in 1352, i.e. she was born around 29 September in 1326 or on the same date in 1327. She was not born in 1328; this was a mathematical miscalculation someone made decades ago when looking at John's IPM, which has been repeated ever since. This does at least give an indication as to which historians actually bother to look at the primary source evidence and work out Joan's correct date of birth rather than just endlessly repeating the error or wrongly claiming that there is no evidence for when she was born - in short. Even a new biography of her states that her date of birth is not known. Errrrrm. Joan was either the eldest or the second Kent child, and if she was born in September 1326 she was certainly the eldest and born almost exactly nine months after her parents' wedding. Somewhat curiously, though, Edward II's other half-brother Thomas of Brotherton, earl of Norfolk, left his two daughters Margaret and Alice as his heirs when he died in 1338, but their dates of birth were not recorded. Margaret gave birth to her first child in 1338, so is unlikely to have been born after 1322 or 1323. It's always a bit of a lottery with dates of birth and whether we know them or not. Mostly we don't. We do know when Thomas and Edmund were born as they were sons of a king: 1 June 1300 and 5 August 1301.

As I've pointed out here before, IPMs are incredibly helpful evidence, but they are also often annoyingly vague: Edward I's cousin Aymer de Valence was, according to the evidence of his mother's IPM, somewhere between 24 and 37 in 1307. Haha. He was over the age of 21, so to the jurors, it didn't matter a great deal. Thomas of Lancaster's IPM was belatedly held in 1327 five years after his execution, and his brother and heir Henry was said to be '30 and more' or '40 and more'. He was actually about 46 then. Often jurors would just say that the heir was 'of full age', which ultimately was really all that mattered. The Staffordshire jurors on the IPM of Henry of Grosmont, duke of Lancaster, said confidently in 1361 that his younger daughter Blanche had turned nineteen at the last Feast of the Annunciation, i.e. she was born on or around 25 March 1342, but a year later at the IPM of Blanche's sister Maud said that Blanche was '22 and more' in 1362 and thus contradicted themselves. Oh thank you. (It is impossible for Blanche to have been 22 or more in 1362.)

For the overwhelming majority of the population, dates of birth didn't matter a great deal or make much difference to anything and were never recorded. I love fourteenth-century proofs of age - see here, here, here and here - for the lovely insights into how people remembered things. 

25 August, 2017

Sleeping Arrangements

As I wrote recently, Edward II had six chamber vadletz/portours who slept inside his bedchamber, perhaps not every night (I assume they left when he wanted to be intimate with someone?), but often.

In January 1325, the six were: Will Shene, Henry Lawe, Roger aka 'Hogge' May, Walter aka 'Watte' Pramtout, John Petman and John Goez or Goetz or Gos.

In July 1326, they were almost the same: Will Shene, Henry Lawe, Roger May, Walter Pramtout, Henry Hustret and John Joctyman.

Will Shene married his wife Isode at Henley-on-Thames, where he came from, on 17 October 1325; Roger May's wife was called Anneis or Anneys, i.e. Agnes, sometimes nicknamed Annote, who also joined the king's chamber as a vadlet and sometimes stitched shirts for Edward; Henry Lawe's brother Syme was also a valet of the chamber, and their sister Alis Coleman brewed ale for the king; Henry Hustret's father Richard or Hick was also a valet of the chamber.

Edward rewarded the six men with a gift of cash in the summer of 1326 because they woke up at night whenever he himself woke. In January 1325, they were named as the men veillauntz e trauaillauntz oue le Roi. Veiller can mean staying awake, or staying up late, or working late and being diligent, so this means 'staying up late and working with the king'. As the men were lowborn and of low rank, I assume they didn't speak French, and that Edward communicated with them in English.

Here's the bit about 'working with the king', in all its glory. I love Edward's chamber accounts. Just wished more of them survived...

20 August, 2017

La Rosere, London: Edward II's House

In Edward II's chamber account of 1324/25, there are a few references to a house in London which he had recently bought or leased and was called La Rosere. It stood opposite the Tower of London in Southwark, on the other side of the River Thames. On 7 March 1325, Hugh Despenser the Younger gave a gift of twenty shillings to a group of carpenters working on the residence. In 1324/25, there are also references to a house called La Cage, near or next to La Rosere, which Edward also purchased.

There's an article about La Rosere here. Not a great deal is known about it (hence the shortness of this post!). Edward II also owned a cottage within the precincts of Westminster Abbey which he called Borgoyne or Burgundy, and according to the disapproving Westminster chronicler - who loathed Edward - jocularly called himself 'king of Burgundy'. Edward spent a lot of time in 1325 and 1326 at Burgundy. In July 1326, he personally supervised a group of twenty-seven workmen digging a ditch around the cottage - isn't that just sooooo Edward? - and bought drinks for them. Some months earlier at the beginning of December 1325 - the day after he rowed himself along the Thames from Westminster to visit his heavily pregnant niece Eleanor Despenser née de Clare at the palace of Sheen and two days after he sent his last-ever letter to his queen - Edward had personally supervised the purchase of carthorses at Burgundy. Because that was you did when you were a king of England called Edward II, obviously. You watched workmen digging ditches and servants buying carthorses. Ah, my unconventional Edward.

18 August, 2017

Three Letters from Edward of Caernarfon, 1305

Hundreds of Edward of Caernarfon's letters from the year 1304/05 fortuitously survive, as they do not for any other year before his accession in 1307, and were printed by Hilda Johnstone in the 1930s. Here are three of them; translations are mine, from the original French.

I find this first one, sent to his first cousin Thomas, earl of Lancaster on 22 September 1305, extremely poignant given that they later became deadly enemies and loathed each other. Edward never forgave Thomas for having Piers Gaveston killed in 1312, and in March 1322 had him executed.

"To the earl of Lancaster, greetings and dear affection. Very dear cousin, we hold you well excused that you have not come to us, and your illness weighs heavily on us, and if we can come to you we will do it gladly, to see and to comfort you. Very dear cousin, may our lord etc [have you in his keeping]. Given as above [in Windsor park, 22 September 1305]."


Another was sent to Edward's sister Joan of Acre, countess of Gloucester and Hertford, who was twelve years his senior, on 6 August 1305. This one came during a period of about a month when Edward I and his son had quarrelled badly, and Edward of Caernarfon was banished from court and most of his household dismissed. Joan had evidently invited her little brother to come and stay with her.

"To the noble lady his very dear sister, my lady Johanne, daughter of the noble king of England, countess of Gloucester and Hertford, from Edward her brother, greetings and dear affection. Very dear sister, we have well understood what Bartholomew du Chastel told us on your behalf, and we have give him our reply, which he will tell you. And know, very dear sister, that we would gladly see you, but our lord the king our father has ordered that we remain in the parts around Windsor between now and parliament, and until he orders something else, we wish to obey his commands in all things, without doing anything to the contrary. Very dear sister, may our lord have you in his keeping. Given as above [6 August]."


And the third to Hugh Despenser the Elder, on 19 September 1305. Hugh was then forty-four, and his son Hugh the Younger about sixteen or seventeen. Hugh the Younger is not mentioned at all in any of Edward's surviving letters this year; Edward more or less ignored his existence until many years later. Hugh the Younger married Edward's eldest niece Eleanor de Clare a few months after this letter, on 26 May 1306.

"Edward etc, to his dear friend Sir Hugh Despenser, greetings etc. We thank you dearly for the raisins which you sent us via your servant, which came to us [quickly, in time? I'm not sure what tot en temps means] this Sunday in broad daylight, before we went to eat, and could not have arrived at a better time. And please do not take it amiss that we are sending you such meagre..."

My photo of the next two lines of the letter is blurred and I can't read it very well, but he finishes by promising to write more as soon as he can, and the ending is "May our lord etc. Given as above."

04 August, 2017

Win a FREE copy of my new book!

I'm offering a free, signed hardback copy of my new book Long Live the King: The Mysterious Fate of Edward II! All you have to do to win is leave a comment with your email address, either here or on my Edward Facebook page, or if you prefer, you can send me an email at: edwardofcaernarfon(at)yahoo(dot)com. It doesn't matter where in the world you are, as long as you have a postal address I can send the book to! You can ask for any dedication you like as well.

The closing date is Wednesday 16 August, midnight Central European Time. The following day, I will randomly select a winner and notify you via email, at which point you can give me your postal address and any special dedication you'd like me to write in the book.

Long Live the King is a thorough investigation of both a) Edward II's murder in 1327, what chronicles say about it, the fate of his alleged murderers, his funeral in Gloucester, etc, and b) his possible survival after that date, citing all the evidence in its favour. There's a long section called 'Arguments For and Against' both his murder and his survival, Appendices quoting the Fieschi and Melton Letters and other evidence in both English and the original French and Latin, and an Afterword and appeal for help by my friend Ivan Fowler of the Auramala Project. (Please check out their website; they're doing fab research into the possibility of Edward's survival in Italy.) My aim was to provide readers with all the wealth of evidence both for and against Edward's murder in 1327, and let you make up your own minds. It's intriguing that there's so much evidence for both. Will we ever be able to establish for certain whether Edward died at Berkeley Castle in 1327 or not?

Best of luck!