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!