29 June, 2017

Long Live the King: The Mysterious Fate of Edward II

My third book Long Live the King: The Mysterious Fate of Edward II is published today in the UK, yippee! I take a look at all the evidence for Edward's death at Berkeley Castle in September 1327, and all the evidence for his survival past that date. It's not meant to be the final word on the subject, but to introduce readers to the evidence and debate, and to show them there's a heck of a lot more to it than a red-hot poker. There's also an afterword written by my friend Ivan Fowler of the Auramala Project with a 'call to action'. YOU may be able to help us solve the mystery of Edward II's fate!

19 June, 2017

My Edward II Study Day at Sutton Hoo

This coming Saturday I'm giving a study day about Edward II at the Wuffing Education Centre at Sutton Hoo - please do come! Details here: http://wuffingeducation.co.uk/events/2017b/king-edward-ii/ This is a very short post as Blogger is playing up and being incredibly annoying. I won't be around much for a couple of weeks, and the next post will be in early July! All the best!

18 June, 2017

My Very Sweet Heart: A Letter from Queen Isabella to Edward II, 31 March 1325

Edward II sent his queen Isabella of France to her homeland on 9 March 1325 in order to negotiate peace with her brother Charles IV, with whom Edward had been at war since the previous summer. Just over three weeks later on 31 March, Isabella sent a husband a very long and informative letter about how matters had been progressing since her arrival in France. Edward had also sent her as an envoy to her father Philip IV in 1314, and Philip granted all Isabella's (and Edward's) wishes, but Charles IV was a very different proposition, and Isabella admitted to Edward in the letter that she was finding her brother hard to deal with (lui trovoi deur). I've translated the last few sentences of this long letter to give a flavour of how Isabella addressed her husband:

"My very sweet heart [Mon tresdoutz cuer], with the assent of your council I will remain in these parts as long as I have your permission, and with me remain the bishop of Norwich and my cousin [the earl] of Richmond. By the advice of the pope's messages and of all of us, the bishop of Winchester and Master William Airmyn will come to you to inform you more fully of the said affairs; and also by advice of the pope's said messages and with the assent of my said brother, the lord of Sully and the said [sic] bishop of Orange will also come to you, and the archbishop of Vienne will remain in the parts of Paris until you have written your wishes.

My very sweet heart, I beg you and request of you as humbly as I may that you may please excuse me and the others who by your command are here with me that we did not write to you sooner that I had come to my said brother, but because of the uncertainty and inconstancy we have found, we could not write to you sooner with an exact record, and we did not dare to write of anything else until we had written to you on this matter. My very sweet heart, may the Holy Spirit by his grace save and protect you always. Written at Poissy the last day of March [1325]."

(The letter is printed in the original French in Pierre Chaplais's The War of Saint-Sardos: Gascon Correspondence and Diplomatic Documents; the translation is mine.)

'My very sweet heart', from a woman who we're supposed to believe loathed her husband and spent years plotting with her lover and others to bring him down. Colour me unconvinced. It's interesting, when Edward and Isabella's grandson Edward of Woodstock addresses his wife Joan of Kent in a letter as 'very dear and very loyal heart', this is proof of how much he loved her and how successful their marriage was, but when Isabella addresses her husband as 'very sweet heart', and as 'our very dear and very sweet lord and friend' in another letter, she was just pretending and this doesn't mean anything. Edward of Woodstock and Joan of Kent's son Richard II spent almost all his time with his wife Anne of Bohemia, which proves how much he loved her and what a great marriage they had, but when Edward II spent almost all his time with his wife Isabella of France (at least until 1322), somehow this doesn't mean anything and they hated each other really. French chronicler Geoffrey of Paris stated several times in 1313 that Edward and Isabella loved each other and could barely keep their hands off each other and were sleeping together naked and Edward saved his wife's life from a fire, but oh, Geoffrey was just sucking up to the royal family and so his eyewitness testimony is worthless and this doesn't mean anything. Isabella wrote a letter to the archbishop of Canterbury in early 1326 saying that more than anything she wanted to return to her husband but dared not because she thought Hugh Despenser would kill her, but she was just pretending and this doesn't mean anything. Isabella was still trying to reconcile with her husband even after his capture on 16 November 1326 and knelt in front of him, but obviously she was just pretending and this doesn't mean anything. She told the French court that she felt like a widow because a third person had violated her marriage and that she would only return to Edward once he sent Hugh Despenser away from him and they could resume their previous relationship, but this doesn't mean anything. In fact, it means that she hated Edward and was defying him and was declaring that she was in love with Roger Mortimer. Because obviously. Even though there isn't a shred of evidence that Isabella fell passionately in love with Roger in late 1325, somehow everyone just knows she did. Even though there isn't a shred of evidence that Isabella hated her husband or felt 'revulsion' for him, somehow everyone just knows she did. No matter how much evidence stacks up that Edward II and Isabella of France's marriage was a very long way from being an unhappy tragic disaster, and that Isabella loved her husband and did not, in the slightest, hate or despise him or wish him ill, somehow none of it means anything because everyone just 'knows' that their marriage actually was a tragic disaster from start to finish and that Isabella was an unhappy tragic abused victim.

12 June, 2017

The Valets of Edward II's Chamber; And A Time Machine of Sorts

As I mentioned recently, the word 'valet(s)' which was so often used in the fourteenth century is rather difficult to translate; it can mean a servant of a certain rank below squire, a young man of higher rank serving in a lord's household, a young gentleman, a household official, an assistant or deputy, etc. When the archbishop of York sent his letter to the mayor of London Simon Swanland in 1330 telling him that Edward II was then alive, for example, he addressed Swanland as 'our dear valet'. Edward II's accounts often refer to the vadletz or valletz of his chamber, who were also often called portours, which kind of means 'porters' but can also mean 'bearers' as in 'the bearers of these letters'. There were also half a dozen pages of the chamber, who were lower ranking as they were paid two pence a day and the vadletz/portours received three pence, and Edward II also had at least nine squires of the chamber, knights of the chamber, clerks of the chamber, two ushers of the chamber, and no doubt more staff of the chamber who do not occur to me at the moment. All the chamber staff were officially under the command of the chamberlain, i.e. Hugh Despenser the Younger in and after 1318.

Edward II's Household Ordinance of 6 December 1318, also often called the York Ordinance, stated that he should have eight vadletz of the chamber, who made beds, held and carried torches, and "other things according to the orders of the king's chamberlain." In fact, Edward's last chamber account of 1325/6 reveals that he had as many as thirty-three chamber vadletz. As always. the sheer number of royal servants baffles me; what on earth did they all do all day? Sometimes the vadletz were sent out of court to catch fish or make purchases for the household, but as far as I can make out at least twenty-six or twenty-eight of them were always at court at any given time, and sometimes all of them. They were paid approximately every two weeks in arrears, and sometimes were given permission to leave court for a while to visit their families. When they did so, the king paid all their expenses, and often gave them gifts for their families: for example, Robin Traghs the chamber valet was given twenty shillings or the equivalent of a few months' wages because his wife Joan "was delivered of a daughter" (awwww), and Joan the wife of the chamber valet Richard Mereworth got a massive forty shillings when she came to court "great with child" because she had heard that her husband was ill. (It was not actually the case that every woman alive in England in the 1320s was called Joan, though it often feels like that.) Robin and Joan Traghs came from London, and the Mereworths came from Henley-on-Thames, as did Will Shene (another vadlet/portour) and his wife Isode; the Shenes married at Henley on Tuesday 22 October 1325 and got twenty-five shillings as a wedding gift from Edward II. As well as their wages and holiday pay, the chamber valets - in common with all members of the royal household - were provided with all their food, drink, clothes, shoes and bedding for free.

Not only individuals but families served in the king's chamber: I've mentioned Edmund aka 'Monde' Fisher and his son Litel Wille (Little Will) Fisher before, valet and page of the chamber. There were also the father-son pairs Richard aka 'Hick' and Henry Hustret and Simon and Henry Baker, and the brothers Simon aka 'Syme' and Henry Lawe, who had another brother with the excellent name of Willecok and a sister called Alis Coleman. As well as Litel Wille Fisher, there was a vadlet called Litel Colle or Little Colin; Colle was a nickname for men called Nicholas, which in the fourteenth century was always spelt Nichol. Edward II also had a sergeant-at-arms called Colle of Derby. There was also Litel Phelip or Little Philip, page of the chamber, and one of my favourite names of Edward's chamber valets was Grete Hobbe, i.e. Great Hob, i.e. Big Rob. (No last name ever given. He was just Big Rob.)

Apparently in the belief that thirty-two valets of the chamber simply wasn't enough, Edward hired another while he was sailing along the Thames between Bisham and Sheen in May 1326. This was 'Ambrose son of Will de la Wyk'. And as I've also mentioned before, Edward hired two of the wives of his chamber valets to do the same job as their husbands, Anneis wife of Roger May and Joan wife of Robin Traghs, at the same wages as the men. What a champion of sexual equality!

What I love so much about Edward's last chamber account of 1325/6 (sadly it's the only one of his chamber accounts extant in its entirety) is that it's such a delightful glimpse into the lives of not only the king but also of his servants, of the normal everyday people alive in England in 1325, who were getting married and having children and drinking ale and calling each other by affectionate nicknames and falling ill and catching fish and dropping knives into the Thames by accident and repairing their houses and having their houses broken into and losing keys and singing songs for the king every time he sailed past and playing dice and making cheese and digging ditches and repairing windows and and and...Reading Edward's last chamber accounts is like looking back into the distant past of almost 700 years ago and seeing how people were living then. I can't even express how much I love it. I read it and I think, awwww, Joan and Robin Traghs have had a daughter, how lovely! Will and Isode Shene are getting married next Tuesday, how lovely! Oh no, someone broke into Hick Mereworth's house, and Robin atte Hethe is suffering from a great illness, and now Monde Fisher is dying, this is awful! Then I remember that actually all these people have been dead for a realllllly long time. But they don't feel dead to me.

08 June, 2017

I am in The Times today

I'm delighted to announce that today's edition of The Times features an article about Edward II and his possible survival in Italy, in which I am quoted. Many thanks to journalist Marc Horne for his interest and for contacting me. The link to the article is here, if you'd like to read it and you're not in the UK; you need to register to see the whole article, but I think you can do it for free.

My book Long Live the King: The Mysterious Fate of Edward II will be released three weeks today, on 29 June (in the UK). You can now use the 'Look inside' feature!

04 June, 2017

Where Did The King Sleep? Logistics of the Royal Household

Edward II had at least 500 people in his household. The queen had close to 200. At any given time the king would have been attended by a sizeable number of earls, lords and bishops, who would all also have large retinues with them. Add to this all the merchants, prostitutes, petitioners, etc etc who would have followed the royal progress, and we're looking at thousands of people present at court, all the time. It's hardly surprising that the king hardly ever spent more than a handful of nights in one place; the localities wouldn't have been able to cope with feeding and housing such a huge number of people for any longer than that.

I often think about the logistics of the royal household, where everyone slept and so on. Sometimes Edward stayed at remarkably small villages, and I wonder, where the heck did all those thousands of people sleep? I've recently seen a couple of entries in the chancery rolls which I found interesting. In January 1322 during the campaign against the Contrariants, Edward stayed at Shrewsbury for about ten days, in the house of a woman called Isabella Borrey. This is rather intriguing; presumably the king stayed in her home with a small number of attendants while the majority of his retinue found lodgings elsewhere. Even a large-ish house would only have had room for a few people, not, of course, hundreds. Which attendants stayed with the king, I wonder? In 1326, Edward gave a gift of money to six of his chamber 'valets' (a word that's hard to translate) who woke up at night whenever he himself awoke. That seems to imply the six men slept inside his chamber. Except, I assume, on nights when Edward slept with his wife or anyone else he might have been intimate with. Or would they have made love and then the queen left for her own chamber, and they didn't spend the whole night together? I know that was sometimes the case with some later European royals. During Edward and Isabella's extended visit to France in the summer of 1313, the chronicler Geoffrey of Paris commented that one morning the couple overslept thanks to their night-time dalliance, and on another occasion a fire broke out in their pavilion during the night and Edward scooped up Isabella in his arms and rushed out into the street with her, both of them naked. This implies that they did spend nights together, at least sometimes. In 1326 when Edward thanked his chamber staff for waking up when he did, Isabella was in France and refusing to return to him, so he couldn't have been sleeping with her. Did he sleep with other people? Piers Gaveston, Hugh Despenser? If so, how did his chamber staff feel about their king taking men to his bed? Given the total lack of anything even resembling privacy, they could hardly have failed to be aware of it. Your guess is as good as mine. As he fathered an illegitimate son, probably before he married Isabella, and given that Isabella was pregnant at least five times, Edward was evidently not averse to sleeping with women either.

Edward II's Household Ordinance of December 1318 stated that he should nominate four of his thirty sergeants-at-arms (quite a high rank, below knight but involving considerable military training and ability) to sleep outside the door of his chamber "as near to it as they can" with the two ushers of the chamber, while the other twenty-six slept in the 'hall' to be nearby if the king needed them. The Ordinance also stated that Edward should have two dozen archers as his personal bodyguard (garde corps le roi) and, given their responsibility for keeping the king's person safe, I imagine at least some of them slept near him, or rather, stayed awake near him, perhaps in shifts (though I'm only speculating on that). So that's potentially six valets inside the chamber, four sergeants-at-arms and two ushers outside, plus, I assume, a few archers somewhere nearby, perhaps out in the street and around the building.

Another interesting entry in the chancery rolls of the 1320s I chanced on recently demonstrates that four of the king's hobelars (armed men on horseback, a lower rank than sergeants-at-arms) had been assigned lodgings by the marshal of the royal household in the dwelling of one Robert Gumby in Fleet Street, at some point when Edward was staying in London. (They were robbed and assaulted there.) Again, this indicates that the hundreds of members of the royal household were scattered among private houses to sleep and perhaps to eat, and presumably were given stables for their horses too. This must have taken considerable organisation on the marshal's part, especially when the court moved every few days. Quite a task. Just think, all those hundreds of people, horses, carts. Imagine having to bake bread or provide food, ale, bedding, firewood and so on for that many people, on a regular basis. Imagine having to pack up and move all your and the king's possessions several times a week. Even beds were moved; I've also just seen a reference to Edward's bed being taken along the Thames by boat in the summer of 1326.

Edward II travelled to France in June/July 1320 to pay homage to his brother-in-law Philip V for his lands of Gascony and Ponthieu, and sent commissioners to Amiens ahead of his visit to find lodgings for him and his huge retinue. Edward himself, certainly with a few attendants, stayed in the house of one Pierre du Garde, and later paid him ten marks in compensation for "all damage to his dwelling" caused during his stay. The king's chapel was placed in the house of Jean le Mouner, his offices in the house of Sanxia, the store-room for his kitchen in the house of Marguerite, and the passage between his chamber and chapel in the house of Guillaume le Mouner. Edward paid Pierre le Peyntour a shilling and sixpence to paint shields of the king's arms in the streets of Amiens, "in order to make known where the king’s liveries were," and four pounds to a master carpenter to repair "damage done by carpenters and others in the state rooms" of the court. So again, we see that the king stayed in a private dwelling with another home assigned for his chapel, and one inhabitant of Amiens opened up his house to provide a 'passage between the chamber and chapel', so that Edward didn't have to go out into the street whenever he wanted to pray or hear Mass, I assume. I wonder - I'm doing a lot of wondering in this post - if this was what usually happened wherever the king stayed.

Sometimes Edward stayed at the house of the Dominican friars in London, and in 1316 spent five weeks at the house of the Franciscan friars in York and gave them £10 for the expenses of himself and his household. On the way from York to London in early July 1312 after Piers Gaveston's murder, he stayed at Swineshead Priory in Lincolnshire. He also spent a fair few nights throughout his reign at Cawood in Yorkshire, a manor of the archbishop of York, and Sturry in Kent, a manor of the archbishop of Canterbury. As the king he had the right to stay wherever he chose, and so did the queen. (Lady Badlesmere's refusal to let Isabella into Leeds Castle in October 1321 gave Edward the excuse he needed to attack Badlesmere and go after Badlesmere's allies the Marcher lords, feigning outrage over this insult to his consort.) Especially near the end of his reign, Edward enjoyed spending time at Borgoyne or 'Burgundy', his cottage within the precincts of Westminster Abbey, rather than staying at the great royal palace of Westminster or the Tower or the palace of Sheen along the river.

I wonder, did the inhabitants or owners of private dwellings have to leave their homes for the duration of the king's visit, or did Edward have cosy chats with them in the evenings? Knowing him, I wouldn't be at all surprised. Did the household staff of, say, the earl of Surrey and the bishop of Worcester and Lord Whoever, all the great magnates and prelates attending the king at any time, also have to find their own lodgings or did the marshal of the king's household take care of that? The logistics of it all are quite staggering. Edward's marshals were told in 1318 to check regularly for people who had not taken an oath of loyalty to the king, and to throw them out of court. Given the huge numbers of people involved, it must have been fairly easy for intruders to insinuate themselves into the household and to eat at the king's expense, and the costs of the royal household were massive enough as it was. There are also a few entries in the chancery rolls indicating that it was not uncommon for 'persons pretending to be of the king's household' to go around the country thus obtaining lodgings and food for themselves for free. In or before September 1324, six men were imprisoned by Edward's marshals for "asserting themselves to be of the king's household and following it at a distance, [and] committed diverse larcenies and felonies at Winchester and elsewhere in the county of Southampton."

02 June, 2017

A Letter From Piers Gaveston

I've just found a short letter by Piers Gaveston cited in a book published in Paris in 1916, sent to John Langton, bishop of Chichester and chancellor of England. The letter is dated 6 November, almost certainly in 1309 though the year is not given. I found it most interesting, because there are so few extant letters from Piers. It was written (of course) in French; the translation is mine.


To the honourable father in God, Sir John, by the grace of God bishop of Chichester, chancellor of our lord the king, Pieres de Gavastoun, earl of Cornwall, greetings, honours and very dear affection. Sire, we beg you urgently that, if it please you, you may please let us have two letters, by the bearers of these [letters], according to what you will see in the petition we have enclosed within these letters, if it may properly be done. Sire, may our Lord keep you. Written at Knaresborough the sixth day of November.


The letter cannot date to 6 November 1307 as on that date Piers had just married Margaret de Clare at Berkhamsted, or 1308 as he was then in Ireland,  or 1310 as he was then in the far north with Edward who was trying to subdue Robert Bruce, or 1311 as he was then yet again in exile, or 1312 as he was then dead. It must therefore date to 1309, several months after Piers had returned to England and been restored to his earldom of Cornwall. John Langton was only chancellor until 1310 so it cannot be dated any later than that. On 6 November 1309 Edward II was at Great Ribston, just six miles from Knaresborough, which was Piers' own castle. I don't know what was in the petition Piers sent, but I think this is a lovely polite letter. He was certainly capable of courtesy when required, even if he did have a sharp tongue.