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.


sami parkkonen said...

Once again: Marvellous!

I always believed that the use of the You royal highness etc. are much, much later practices than this. It is interesting to find out that such "modern" terms were used already back then.

These are the gems, little treasures, which remain hidden in the original sources unless someone like you dig them up and show to the rest of us. Great job once again.

And yes, Melton was trying to get a dead king free couple years after his death. Duh!

Kathryn Warner said...

Thanks, Sami! I love William Melton :) And I was surprised to see 'your royal majesty' as early as 1326!