28 January, 2018

The Singing Women of Lambeth and the Siege of Pevensey

A couple of nice entries I've come across in Edward II's chamber account of 1324/25.

When Edward II was in Sussex in late August 1324, he passed near Pevensey and its castle. Edward paid six pence to "a poor man of Pevensey who told the king how the castle of Pevensey was besieged by the son of Sir Simond Montfort." This is a reference to 1264, when Simon, second son of Simon de Montfort, earl of Leicester, besieged Pevensey Castle during the baronial wars of those years. Edward II's father the future Edward I turned twenty-five in 1264, and the king of England was Henry III, Edward II's grandfather and the brother-in-law of Simon de Montfort, earl of Leicester (who was killed at the battle of Evesham in August 1265). The entry implies that Edward II, who wasn't born until twenty years after these events, had never heard about the siege of Pevensey before. Simon de Montfort the younger, who carried out the siege, was his father's first cousin. Sixty years later, the locals were still talking about it.

There are at least three and possibly even more entries in the account to fisherwomen of Lambeth, "singing often in the Thames" whenever Edward II passed there between his palace of Sheen and Westminster. On 24 May 1324, Edward gave the women five shillings for "singing in the company of Burgeys de Till," one of his chamber squires. On 3 June they got another three shillings for "singing in the Thames," given to them by Edward's chamber valet Syme Lawe. And on 4 November they were at it again, when they got two shillings for "singing often in the Thames" whenever the king passed them. Isn't this adorable? It reminds me of another entry in Edward's chamber account of July 1326, when he gave money to a fisherman called John of Walton (i.e. Walton-on-Thames) "who sang before the king every time he passed through these parts by water."

One more rather random but very cute thing: one of Edward's many chamber valets was called Little Colin. His name is sometimes written in English, Litel Colle, and sometimes in French, the language of the chamber account, Petit Colle.

And finally, I've written before about Anneis de May and Johane Traghs, wives of two of Edward's chamber valets who themselves were admitted to wages - the same wages as their husbands - and worked in the king's chamber for a few months in 1325/26. The wives of the chamber valets John Goes and Robin Curre also worked in the chamber in November 1324, both of them for one week. Robin Curre's wife was called Alis, and John's was called Beatrice. Both women were paid three pence daily, the same as their husbands, and hence were given twenty-one pence at the end of the week. As I said, Edward II, pioneer of equal pay for women...!

23 January, 2018

Edward II's Bodyguard (Or, Lots of Men Called John)

Edward II had a personal bodyguard, garde corps le Roi, of eight archers on foot, who in July 1326 were said in Edward's chamber account to have remained "near the king at all times when he works." (Edward worked? Who knew?) The archers' names in 1326 were: Grenow or Grenowe ap Rynyt (who was obviously Welsh; this was an English scribe's best approximation at rendering his name), Adam Bullock, Henry Lynel, no fewer than four Johns - Staynbourne, Gift, Brikhull and Horwode - and Gibbe Coston, whose name sometimes appears as Gibbe de la Cros or atte Cros, i.e. 'at the cross'. Gibbe was a nickname for men called Gilbert. There's fourteenth-century England for you - eight men, and half of them were called John. It always make me laugh when I see novels set in England in medieval times that give their characters weirdly exotic names. Let's face it, if you're being at all realistic, your hero is called John and your heroine is called Joan. The most 'exotic' and rare name borne by an Englishman I've ever seen in Edward II's accounts is one of his chamber vadletz: Jordan or Jurdan de Maydenhuth, i.e. 'of Maidenhead'. The name Jordan looks oddly modern to me, but he pops up quite a lot in Edward's accounts of 1324/25 and left the king's service in 1325 to become a parker, and Edward once gave his daughter a generous gift of cash. I'm also looking at this precise moment at a list of twenty-five sailors who took Edward II from Gravesend in Kent to the Tower of London in June 1326, and ten - yes, ten - of them are called John. Five are called Robert, two are Thomas, two are Richard and two are Will. One appears to be called Malin, so that's nice.

But I digress. In May 1326, Edward II spent a total of eight shillings on worsted cloth so that each of his eight archers could have cotes (tunics) made for themselves. The following month, he paid thirty shillings for linen cloth to make chaus (hose) and soulers (shoes) for his eight archers. This last gift was said to be a thank-you gift for the men's good work in "running well and fast with the king in the hot weather." That's a very interesting entry, as it confirms what two chroniclers say: that the summer of 1326 in England was terribly hot, and that there was a drought, rivers dried up, and spontaneous 'conflagrations' broke out in towns and abbeys. Edward II changed his location most days, or at least every few days, with only a handful of exceptions such as spending 20 March to 29 April 1326 at Kenilworth in Warwickshire. As the archers were on foot, that meant that when the king rode from place to place with his household, they had to run, in front of and around Edward. Several times a week or even every day, running a dozen or twenty or twenty-five miles or whatever. Just imagine how fit they must have been, and no wonder the king had to keep buying them shoes. Sometimes in Edward's accounts, he pays men called corours, 'runners', to carry his letters or oral messages. Otherwise, the bearers of the letters are just called 'messengers'. Evidently the corours were particularly fast runners.

In Edward II's Household Ordinance of December 1318, it states that he was meant to have no fewer than twenty-four archers "who will go before the king when travelling around the country" and who would each earn three pence a day. In 1326, the king definitely only had one-third of the complement of archers he was meant to have, though there were hobelars (armed men on horseback) around him as well, not to mention his household knights and sergeants-at-arms, all of whom had considerable military training. The number of household knights varied but was usually several dozen, and Edward was also meant to have, according to the 1318 Household Ordinance, thirty sergeants-at-arms, who "shall ride armed every day before the king's person when travelling around the country." So that's thirty sergeants-at-arms, or however many of them happened to be at court at any given time, riding in front of the king, plus the eight archers running alongside him or also in front. I've also found the names of nine squires of his chamber in 1325/26, not to mention ushers and the like. So it's not as though he was ever left unguarded. The Household Ordinance also states that Edward was meant to have only eight chamber vadletz, though between 1324 and 1326 he had at least twenty-four and sometimes as many as thirty-three, so I suppose he just hired whatever staff he felt like. The chamber vadletz, incidentally, were also said to be "on foot" in the 1318 Household Ordinance and hence also had to run from place to place, unless they could cadge lifts on some of the many carts transporting the king's goods around. The archers, like the vadletz, were one of the categories of royal staff paid out of the chamber, and their boss, other than the king himself, obviously, was the chamberlain, i.e. Hugh Despenser the Younger.

And that's just some of the chamber staff, which was only one part of the royal household. There were also marshals and sergeants and ushers of the hall, the king's higher-ranking staff like steward and controller who had their own staff, purveyors, clerks, cooks, grooms, porters, launderers, literally hundreds of others. Then there was the large (180 people or so) retinue of the queen, and of course the king never travelled alone and there would always have been a number of earls, barons, knights and bishops with him, each with their own retinue. Plus all the merchants, prostitutes, petitioners and so on who would have followed the royal household. Imagine the sight of all these thousands of people, hundreds or thousands of horses, hundreds of carts, making their way along the roads of fourteenth-century England several times a week in all weathers. Incredible.

21 January, 2018

The Montacutes: William, William and William (and another William)

I wrote two posts a while ago about Edward II's friend Sir William Montacute of Somerset, who was one of the 266 young men knighted with Edward on 22 May 1306, and who was highly influential at court between 1315 and 1318. He was one of the three men, with Sir Roger Damory and Sir Hugh Audley, who were said by a chronicler to be "worse than Gaveston" and whom Edward II's cousin and enemy Thomas, earl of Lancaster, hated and feared. William Montacute was steward of Edward's household between 1316 and 1318, and was 'kicked upstairs' in 1318 when he was appointed steward of Gascony. He died there in the autumn of 1319, sometime before 6 November when news of his death reached England. (CFR 1319-27, 7)

William Montacute's date of birth is hard to determine, but was probably about the early 1280s, maybe late 1270s (I've seen it estimated as around 1265, but that's far too early). His father Simon was born around 1250 and died in September 1316, and his mother was Hawise St Amand. William became a father in or before 1299, and was old enough to act as his father's attorney in October 1302. (CPR 1301-7, p. 67) He married Elizabeth de Montfort, daughter of Sir Peter de Montfort of Beaudesert in Warwickshire - a man only distantly related to the much more famous Simon de Montfort, earl of Leicester (d. 1265) - sometime after 20 June 1292. (CPR 1281-92, p. 496) William and Elizabeth had lots of children: four sons and seven daughters including two abbesses of Barking. Elizabeth Montfort outlived her husband by three and a half decades, and died in August 1354.

William and Elizabeth's eldest son John Montacute was born in 1299, and married Joan Verdon in Edward II's presence at Windsor Castle on 28 April 1317. Joan was a niece of Roger Mortimer of Wigmore, later the first earl of March, and was the eldest of the four daughters and co-heirs of Theobald Verdon (d. 1316). Their marriage did not last long: John Montacute died aged eighteen in August 1317, and Edward II had him buried with great ceremony at Lincoln Cathedral. William and Elizabeth's second son William, probably born in 1301 (he was said to be seventeen or eighteen when his father died in 1319), was therefore his father's heir, and Edward III, his great friend, made William earl of Salisbury in 1337. The third son of William the elder and Elizabeth Montfort was Simon, who became bishop of Worcester and then of Ely, and their fourth and youngest was Edward, named after the king, who married Edward II's niece Alice of Norfolk (and, horribly, is alleged to have beaten her to death in 1352). Simon Montacute was old enough to have joined the Church and to act as his brother William's attorney in September 1329. (CPR 1327-30, 444) Edward Montacute certainly accompanied his father to southern France when William the elder was appointed steward of Gascony in 1318 - he was only a child at the time, or perhaps an adolescent - as there is a mention in one of Edward II's accounts of the boy's boat there, La Peronele. Presumably all the Montacute children went abroad with their father, and returned to England when he died in 1319. The younger William Montacute, born in 1301, spent Christmas 1324 with Edward II at Nottingham, played dice with the king and three of his chamber squires on Christmas Eve, and received a gift of forty marks from him.

At some point in or before 1327, the year of Edward II's deposition and reported death, the younger William Montacute married Katherine Grandison, daughter of the Savoyard baron William Grandison. I don't know how and by whom it was arranged, but they were married by 28 December 1327. (CPR 1327-30, 199) Actually they must have been married by September 1327, as their eldest son William was born on Sunday 19 June 1328, in Donyatt, Somerset. His father William the elder went to a 'grand feast' in Castle Cary 25 miles away on Tuesday 21 June, and told everyone there about his son and heir's birth. He also gave a 'black horse' to one John de Reyngny at his son's baptism so that he would "have the said birth more in remembrance." William born in 1328 proved that he had come of age, twenty-one, on 26 June 1349. (CIPM 1347-52, no. 244) That same year, his marriage to Edward II's niece Joan of Kent was annulled on the grounds that she had already been married to Sir Thomas Holland. (Joan much later became the mother of King Richard II from her third marriage.) William (b. 1328) instead married Elizabeth Mohun, who must have been a lot younger than he, and their only son William (agh!!!) was tragically killed jousting in August 1382, by his own father. William Montacute, earl of Salisbury, born 1301, was also killed jousting, in January 1344 when his son and heir was fifteen and a half.

William Montacute (b. 1301) and Katherine Grandison had a younger son John Montacute, who died in 1390. His son John the younger, born c. 1350, succeeded his uncle William Montacute (b. 1328) as earl of Salisbury when William died in June 1397 a couple of weeks before his sixty-ninth birthday. William (b. 1301) and Katherine Grandison also had at least three daughters. Elizabeth Montacute was probably the eldest, as she was named after her paternal grandmother Elizabeth Montfort (d. 1354), widow of the William Montacute who died in Gascony in 1319. In or before 1341 Elizabeth Montacute married Hugh 'Huchon' Despenser, eldest son and heir of Hugh Despenser the Younger and Eleanor de Clare, and the eldest great-grandchild of Edward I. Huchon was born in 1308 or 1309, so was many years his wife's senior (she must have been born around the late 1320s). William and Katherine Grandison's second daughter was probably Sybil, named after her maternal grandmother Sybil Tregoz, who married Huchon Despenser's nephew Edmund Fitzalan (b. 1326/27), grandson of the earl of Arundel executed by Roger Mortimer in 1326 and also grandson of Hugh Despenser the Younger. Another Montacute daughter was Philippa, who married Roger Mortimer's namesake grandson and heir the second earl of March (1328-1360) and was the mother of Edmund Mortimer, third earl of March (1352-81). Dinner table conversations in the Montacute family household in the 1340s must have been quite interesting.

14 January, 2018

Edward II And Isabella Of France's Children: Rough Dates Of Conception, And The Couple's Itineraries

I've been doing some more research in an attempt to ascertain, as far as possible, the exact whereabouts of Edward II and his queen Isabella of France when all their children were conceived. A full-term pregnancy is forty weeks from the first day of the last menstrual period, and about thirty-eight weeks from the actual date of conception. Here, therefore, are the locations of the king and queen approximately thirty-eight weeks before the births of their children.

1) Edward III (Edward of Windsor) was born on 13 November 1312. Thirty-eight weeks before takes us to 21 February 1312. On that date, Edward II was in York, and the day before had celebrated the purification ceremony of his niece Margaret Gaveston née de Clare, who had given birth to her and Piers' daughter Joan some weeks (probably forty days) before. Queen Isabella was in Bishopthorpe three miles south of York on 21 February, and arrived in the city to join her husband on or before 24 February. Most likely they conceived their son either on 24 or 25 February, as on the 26th the king left York for five days, returning on 2 March (1312 was a leap year) - unless Edward III was born somewhat prematurely and thus was conceived on or a little after 2 March. Conception on 2 March 1312 would mean that Edward III was born about eleven days prematurely, hardly a big issue. Edward II was at Windsor Castle with Isabella from 17 September 1312 until 9 November, when he left for his palace of Sheen about fifteen miles away. He returned on the 12th, presumably because Isabella or one of her attendants sent him a message from Windsor that she'd gone into labour. The king's departure just four days before his son was born might imply he didn't think the birth was imminent, and therefore that Edward III was indeed a little premature.

Conclusion: Edward II and Isabella were together at the right time to conceive Edward III. Easter Sunday fell on 26 March in 1312, so Edward and Isabella must have had intercourse during Lent. Tsk! Unless of course we want to come up with some daft conspiracy theory that Isabella took a lover just before she arrived in York to join her husband, or while he was away from the city between 26 February and 1 March. Without, of course, her 180 servants and all the other hundreds of courtiers and everyone else who constantly surrounded the king and queen noticing. Yeah riiiiight. Maybe it was the ghost of William Wallace.

2) John of Eltham was born on 15 August 1316. Thirty-eight weeks before takes us to 22 October 1315. On that date, Isabella was in Stamford, Lincolnshire. Edward II was thirteen/fifteen miles away in Chesterton and then in Alwalton, both just outside Peterborough, though his wardrobe (a department of his household) was with the queen in Stamford. Isabella's itinerary from 23 to 25 October isn't known, but she and Edward were together in Nottingham on 26 and 27 October, in Newstead together on the 28th and 29th, and in Clipstone together on the 30th and 31st, and into November.

Conclusion: Edward II and Isabella were together at the right time to conceive John of Eltham.

3) Eleanor of Woodstock was born on 18 June 1318. Thirty-eight weeks takes us back to 25 September 1317. Edward II was in York on that date. Queen Isabella's itinerary in 1317 is not particularly easy to establish, but the royal couple left Nottingham together and began the journey to York on 7 August 1317, so the strong likelihood is that Isabella was with her husband in York for most or all of September 1317, and still with him in early October 1317 when he began the journey south to London. The couple had both been at the royal manor of Clarendon in Wiltshire together in February and March 1317 and were together at Westminster in late May and early June, and in my opinion it is highly probable that Isabella spent most or all of that year with the king. Edward II paid a massive 500 marks for Isabella's purification ceremony after she gave birth to Eleanor of Woodstock, and is hardly likely to have done so if he had entertained the slightest suspicion that Eleanor was not his daughter.

Conclusion: There is every reason to suppose that Edward and Isabella were together at the right time to conceive Eleanor of Woodstock.

4) Joan of the Tower was born on 5 July 1321. Thirty-eight weeks takes us back to 12 October 1320. Edward II was at Westminster, where parliament had opened on 6 October. As in 1317, Isabella's itinerary this year is rather difficult to establish. On 14 October 1320, Edward gave a commission of oyer et terminer to three men to investigate a breach of security at one of Isabella's parks. This implies that she was in his company at that time and had informed him of it. Isabella and Edward were together at Clarendon on 5 September 1320, had been at Windsor together in mid-August, and had travelled together to France between 19 June and 22 July. There are various entries in the chancery rolls throughout 1320 - as indeed there are throughout 1317 - where Edward granted favours and appointments 'on the information/at the request/at the instance of Queen Isabella', meaning that she was with the king, had access to him and was able to intercede with him on others' behalf. Again, this all suggests that the couple spent most of the year together.

Conclusion: As with her elder sister, it is hard to prove conclusively that Joan's parents were together at the exact time of her conception, but there is no reason whatsoever to assume that they were not, and the overwhelming likelihood is that they were.


It is important to bear in mind that no-one at all so much as hinted that Edward II was not the father of his wife's children until the late twentieth century. It says far more about modern notions of sexuality - Edward loved men therefore he must automatically have been incapable of intercourse with women - than it does about Edward and Isabella. Let's not forget either that Edward fathered an illegitimate son called Adam, born around 1305/10, so obviously was capable of having sex with women.

It is also important to bear in mind that for the entirety of Edward III's life, and the lives of his successors, not even their deadliest enemies claimed they had no right to the English throne because of doubts over Edward III's paternity. Edward III began the Hundred Years War when he claimed the throne of France in the 1330s. Wouldn't it have been easy for Philip VI to say "You want my throne? You don't even have a right to your own throne! Your mother, my cousin, is suspected of taking a lover around the time you were conceived." Reynald II of Guelders would not have married Eleanor of Woodstock in 1332 if he had thought she was the child of Queen Isabella and a lover, and Robert Bruce would not have married his son David to Joan of the Tower in 1328 if he had believed likewise. 

04 January, 2018

The Marriage of Eleanor de Clare and Hugh Despenser Took Place in 1306

I recently saw a book published in 2017 which claimed that Edward II arranged the marriage of his eldest niece Eleanor de Clare and Hugh Despenser the Younger after Hugh became his favourite. Frankly, I cannot understand why this annoying notion keeps being perpetuated. Well, actually, I can; it's because Edward II arranged the marriages of Eleanor's two younger sisters Margaret and Elizabeth to three of his 'favourites', Piers Gaveston, Hugh Audley and Roger Damory, in 1307 and 1317, and it therefore seems obvious to writers who fail to do sufficient research that he must have arranged Eleanor and Hugh's marriage too. Obvious, but wrong, and lazy.

Eleanor de Clare and Hugh Despenser the Younger married on 26 May 1306 in the royal chapel of Westminster Palace, in the presence of Eleanor's grandfather Edward I, who had arranged it. This is over a year before Eleanor's uncle succeeded his father as king and a good dozen years before Hugh became Edward II's chamberlain and 'favourite'. This is the evidence for the 1306 date:

- A payment to two harpers called Richard Whiteacre and Richard Leyland who performed at the wedding celebrations and gifts of cash to Eleanor and her attendants on her wedding day, recorded with the exact date of the nuptials by John Drokensford (or Droxford), keeper of Edward I's wardrobe. [TNA E 101/369/11, folio 96v; this document dates to Edward I's thirty-fourth regnal year, November 1305 to November 1306]

- The rhyming chronicle of Pierre or Piers de Langtoft, who wrote that at the time of the mass knighting of Edward of Caernarfon and 266 other men on 22 May 1306 "Sir Hugh son of Hugh, called Despenser,/ Took there the maiden of noble kindred,/ Whom Gilbert de Clare had begotten/ On Joan the countess surnamed of Acres." [Langtoft, vol. 2, p. 369]

- An entry on the Patent Roll dated 14 June 1306, by Edward I: "Grant to Hugh le Despenser, son of Hugh le Despenser, between whom and Eleanor daughter of Gilbert, sometime earl of Gloucester and Hertford, the king's niece [sic], a marriage is contracted, with the king's and the said Hugh's assent, the said Hugh [the Elder] having promised before the king to give them 200/. a year in land, for life, of 2,000/. sterling out of the issues of the escheatry this side Trent." [Calendar of Patent Rolls 1301-7, p. 443]

- Another acknowledgement by Edward I, dated 3 June 1307: "Grant to Hugh le Despenser [the Elder], in recompense of 300/. in part payment of 2,000/. granted to him for the marriage of Hugh his son, of the custody during the minority of John the heir, of the lands late of Philip Paynel, tenant in chief, with knights' fees and dowers, and with the marriage of the heirs." [Calendar of Patent Rolls 1301-7, pp. 526-7, and see also Calendar of Close Rolls 1307-13, p. 5]

- And another, dated 28 June 1307, nine days before Edward I died: "Assignment to Hugh le Despenser [the Elder] of the above 50 marks, wherein William de Valoynes made fine, in part payment of 2000/. granted to Hugh for the marriage of his eldest son." [Calendar of Patent Rolls 1301-7, p. 536]

- There's also Edward II calling his niece Eleanor 'Alianore la Despensere' in March 1309, long before he's supposed to have married her off to Hugh, more than three years before the death of Piers Gaveston and therefore years before Hugh could possibly have become his favourite. [Calendar of Chancery Warrants 1244-1326, p. 283]

There is ample evidence, therefore, that it was Edward I who arranged the marriage of Hugh Despenser the Younger and Eleanor de Clare and attended it, and who promised Hugh Despenser the Elder £2000 for his elder son and heir's marriage. Edward I believed Hugh the Younger to be a worthy husband for his eldest granddaughter, and thought that paying the whopping sum of £2000 to secure this eligible young man for Eleanor was well worth it. So no more nonsense about Edward II arranging the marriage, or Hugh Despenser the Younger being nothing but a humble knight, please.