27 June, 2018

Poisoning Edward I and Edward of Caernarfon in 1298

I found this entry on the Patent Roll ages ago while searching for something else, and have finally got round to making a post about it. It's intriguing and puzzling!

Calendar of Patent Rolls 1292-1301, p. 459, dated 26 December 1298 (bold mine):

"Commission of oyer and terminer ['to hear and determine'] to Ralph de Sandwyco ['of Sandwich'] and Henry le Galeys ['the Welshman'], on the supplication of the appellees, touching an appeal which Landus Bonacursi of Lucca brings in London against Aldebrandus Malagaile and Berinus Mayamund, merchants of Lucca, for counterfeiting the king's great and privy seal and the seal of Edward the king's son, and for proposing to poison the king and his said son; and they are to hear and determine the appeal in the presence of Henry de Lacy, earl of Lincoln."

So why exactly were merchants of Lucca in Italy attempting to poison King Edward I and his son Edward of Caernarfon, who was only fourteen at the time, in 1298? Unfortunately I've been unable to find any more information about this curious and rather astonishing plot, or the men involved. Aldebrand(us) Malagal(e) appears on the Patent Roll in 1274 (CPR 1272-81, pp. 52, 54) as one of the merchants given permission by Edward I to trade wool in England, but why he decided nearly a quarter of a century later to poison the king and his son, I cannot imagine.

It's interesting to speculate about the succession to the English throne at the end of the 1200s. Let's say Edward I and his son Edward of Caernarfon had been successfully poisoned in 1298, and they both died. Edward I had not yet married his second wife Marguerite of France - their wedding took place on 8 September 1299 - and the births of their two sons Thomas of Brotherton and Edmund of Woodstock lay in the future, in June 1300 and August 1301. If Edward I died in 1298, his second marriage would never have taken place and Thomas and Edmund would never have existed, and neither would Edmund's daughter and ultimate heir Joan of Kent, her youngest son Richard II and her Holland children (and her eldest son Thomas Holland, died 1397, was the ancestor of basically everyone). Thomas of Brotherton was, via his daughter and heir Margaret (d. 1399), the ancestor of the Mowbrays and the Howards, so two of Henry VIII's wives would never have existed either. Neither would Henry VIII himself, a descendant of Joan of Kent and her son Thomas Holland as well as of Joan's uncle Edward II.

Edward of Caernarfon was Edward I's only living son between August 1284 and June 1300, and he himself, born April 1284, was of course too young to have produced any children by 1298. Edward I's only brother Edmund of Lancaster had died in June 1296, leaving his sons Thomas and Henry of Lancaster, who were about twenty and eighteen in 1298. According to a document Edward I produced in April 1290, however, if his son Edward of Caernarfon died without heirs of his body, the king wished the throne to pass to his eldest surviving daughter Eleanor, later countess of Bar, born in June 1269, rather to his Lancaster brother and nephews. Eleanor herself died in August 1298 four months before this entry about the plot to poison her father and brother appeared on the Patent Roll. She was only twenty-nine when she died, perhaps of complications relating to pregnancy or childbirth (though I'm only speculating). Her heir was her son Edouard, born in 1294 or 1295 and also heir to his father Henri's county of Bar in eastern France, and her only other child was Jeanne, later countess of Surrey, born in 1295 or 1296.

Had Edward I and Edward of Caernarfon died in late 1298, the rightful heir to the English throne was almost certainly a three or four-year-old French boy, Edouard of Bar. A curious and arresting thought. I wonder what would have happened if the would-be poisoners had killed the king and his only son? Would the English magnates have accepted little Edouard of Bar as their king and had him brought to England, or would Thomas of Lancaster, who had the benefit of being an adult and of being an Englishman, have made a bid for the throne? Edward I's only other grandson born by 1298 was Gilbert de Clare, heir to the earldoms of Gloucester and Hertford, born in 1291 as the son of Edward I's second daughter Joan of Acre, and the eldest grandchild of Edward I. Would his mother Joan have promoted the claims of her own child, who also had the advantage of being English, over those of her nephew Edouard of Bar? Joan of Acre was alive and in England, whereas her elder sister Eleanor was not, and Eleanor's widower Henri, count of Bar (d. 1302) had no political influence whatsoever in England. Would Joan have been able to push the claims of her son as King Gilbert over those of her Lancaster cousin as a potential King Thomas, and over those of her young nephew as an alternative King Edouard II?

On the other hand, Thomas of Lancaster had the mighty Lancastrian inheritance behind him, and his influential father-in-law Henry de Lacy, earl of Lincoln (who lived until 1311), might well have promoted his claims to the throne in the interests of seeing his daughter Alice crowned queen of England. Thomas was indisputably a grandson of Henry III (d. 1272) in the male line and equally royal on his mother Blanche of Artois's side, whereas Edward I's grandsons in 1298 were descended from him in the female line (Edward III and his younger brother John of Eltham, not born until 1312 and 1316, were Edward I's only grandsons in the male line). Self-interest might have been a much greater motivator for many powerful Englishmen than seeing a boy little more than a toddler and living in distant Bar-le-Duc crowned as their king, even if he was lawfully the next in line. Perhaps England would have seen civil war between the supporters of the would-be King Thomas versus the supporters of the would-be King Gilbert? And what might Philip IV of France have done? He invaded the county of Bar in 1297 as punishment for Henri III aiding his father-in-law Edward I against him, and in 1301 forced Henri to recognise him as his overlord for a large part of his territories. In 1298/99, might Philip have thought it worth his while to put his differences with Henri aside, and perhaps attempt to have the little Edouard of Bar installed as a client king of England? And if Edward of Caernarfon died in 1298, Philip's daughter Isabella, only about three years old then, would have lost her future husband, and would have had to marry someone else. King Fernando IV of Castile? Duke John III of Brittany? Hugh V or his younger brother Odo IV, dukes of Burgundy?

There are of course no answers to these questions as it's all hypothetical, but I do find it fascinating to speculate, and it's certainly true that for the sixteen years between August 1284, when his elder brother Alfonso of Bayonne died, and June 1300, when his half-brother Thomas of Brotherton was born, Edward of Caernarfon was the sole uncontested male heir to the English throne. His three elder brothers John, Henry and Alfonso all died in childhood, as did at least five of his older sisters, so certainly his father and others must have considered the possibility that he might die as well. Edward I was almost sixty years old at the end of 1298, and surely he and others must have contemplated the possibility that he would die before he fathered any more sons or before Edward of Caernarfon himself fathered any. (And as there were nine years between the death of Eleanor of Castile in 1290 and Edward I's marriage to Marguerite in 1299, he was hardly in a tearing hurry to marry again and father more children, and wed Marguerite as a means to end his war against Philip IV.)  I've previously written a post about Edward I and Queen Eleanor escaping from a fire in August 1283, at the start of Queen Eleanor's pregnancy with Edward II (born April 1284), and speculated what might have happened had they both died and their unborn son with them. This is another great what-if, fifteen years later.

21 June, 2018

The Marriage of Philip Despenser (d. 1313) and Margaret Goushill (d. 1349)

Philip Despenser was the younger of the two sons of Hugh Despenser the Elder, made earl of Winchester in May 1322 and executed on 27 October 1326, and Isabella Beauchamp (d. shortly before 30 May 1306), and was the younger brother of Hugh Despenser the Younger. Philip died in 1313 long before his brother's period of power as Edward II's chamberlain and 'favourite', and it's interesting to contemplate what kind of role he might have played in Hugh's regime if he'd still been alive.

None of the dates of birth of Hugh Despenser the Elder and Isabella née Beauchamp's six children are known, but Alina the eldest was probably born about 1287, and Hugh the Younger about 1288 or 1289. Philip Despenser the second son and almost certainly the fourth Despenser child overall (behind Alina, Lady Burnell, Hugh the Younger, and Isabella, Lady Hastings), first appears on record on 24 June 1294, when Hugh the Elder granted him two manors in Yorkshire and Lincolnshire and all his goods in them, and he may well have been born not too long before that. [E 40/3185; E 42/63; Close Rolls 1346–9, pp. 40, 223-4] Hugh the Younger, heir to all the sizeable Despenser/Basset inheritance, made a splendid marriage in May 1306 when he wed Edward I's eldest granddaughter Eleanor de Clare in the presence of the king. As Philip Despenser would not himself inherit anything*, his father arranged a marriage for him with Margaret Goushill, an heiress of Lincolnshire. Her father Ralph Goushill was a first cousin of Ralph, Lord Camoys, a long-term Despenser adherent who married Hugh the Elder's youngest daughter Elizabeth as his second wife a few years later.

* Though Philip's maternal uncle Guy Beauchamp, earl of Warwick, made him heir to some of his lands on 12 April and on 6 and 25 June 1306. This never came about as Warwick, then childless, married Alice Toeni some years later and had a son, Thomas, born in February 1314. [Patent Rolls 1301-7, pp. 427, 441, 447]

Philip Despenser and Margaret Goushill married sometime before 29 June 1308, probably not too long before, on which date Edward II (then in Bristol waving Piers Gaveston off to Ireland during his second exile) ordered her late father's lands to be given to them. [Calendar of Chancery Warrants 1244–1326, p. 275: "Mandate, as Philip le Despenser, who married Margaret daughter and heiress of Ralph de Goushull..."] Possibly Philip had recently turned fourteen when he wed, and Margaret was almost exactly the same age: she was born on 11 or 12 May 1294 (she was aged "half a year at the feast of St Martin next" in October 1294 and "aged one year on Ascension Day 23 Edward I"). She was born in a place called Whitington or Whittington, though there are several towns of this name in England and which Whittington was meant is uncertain; presumably the one nearest the county of Lincolnshire, where her family held their lands. Philip Despenser's Inq. Post Mortem says that Margaret was "17 on the day of St James last" in September 1313, which would give her a date of birth of 25 July 1296, but as her father Ralph died shortly before 30 August 1294 that is clearly impossible. [CIPM 1291-1300, no. 209; CIPM 1307-17, no. 472; CIPM 1336-46, no. 692] Ralph Goushill himself was born around 6 November 1274, so was not even twenty years old when he died. [CIPM 1272-91, no. 607] His widow Hawise née FitzWarin, Philip Despenser's mother-in-law, outlived him by half a century, and did not die until 1344.

Philip and Margaret's only child Philip was born on 6 April 1313 somewhere in Lincolnshire, and shortly before 24 September in the same year, Philip Despenser died, also in Lincolnshire. [CIPM 1307-17, no. 472] Most probably he had, like his father-in-law Ralph Goushill, barely even reached twenty years old, and, also like his father-in-law, died mere months after the birth of his only child. The younger Philip, born in 1313, married a woman named Joan, and they had a son Philip born in Gedney, Lincolnshire on 18 October 1342. Philip born in 1313, grandson of Hugh Despenser the Elder and nephew of Hugh the Younger, who were both executed when he was thirteen, died in August 1349 at the age of thirty-six, a few weeks before his son turned seven. His mother Margaret née Goushill died just a few weeks before he did. She had married her second husband John Ros, younger brother of William, Lord Ros of Helmsley in Yorkshire, before 22 April 1314; they had no children, and when John died in 1337 his heir was his elder brother William. [CIPM 1336-46, no. 182] The Philip Despenser born in 1342 had a son born around 1365. Bet you'll never guess what his name was.

14 June, 2018

The Dates of Birth of Joan and Elizabeth Comyn

In a post a few months ago about the marriage of the Scottish noblewoman Elizabeth Comyn and the English knight Sir Richard Talbot, I stated that I did not know where Elizabeth's exact date of birth was recorded. I've now found it, and her elder sister Joan's as well.

CIPM 1317-27, no. 697, is an inquisition dated 8 June 1326 into two manors in Northumberland formerly held by Sir John Comyn (d. 1314), son and heir of John 'the Red Comyn', lord of Badenoch (killed by his rival Robert Bruce in 1306) and now rightfully belonging to the younger John's two sisters and heirs, the other two children of John the Red Comyn. It states that Joan de Strathbogie née Comyn, countess of Atholl, was 'aged 30 on 10 May last,' and that Elizabeth Comyn was 'aged 26 at the feast of All Saints, 19 Edward II.' That means that Elizabeth was twenty-six on 1 November 1325 and thus was born on (or around) 1 November 1299, and her sister Joan was three and a half years older, born on 10 May 1296. The date of birth of Joan and Elizabeth's brother Sir John Comyn is nowhere recorded, to my knowledge. Perhaps he came between Joan and Elizabeth in the birth order, and was therefore born in 1297 or 1298, or he might have been older than Joan and thus was born in 1295 or earlier. He and his wife Margaret Wake had a son Aymer Comyn who died in 1316, but Aymer's date of birth isn't known either; he might have been several years old when his father fell at Bannockburn in June 1314, or just weeks or months old, or he might have been posthumous. Elizabeth Comyn's husband Richard Talbot is yet another man for whom we have no date of birth, though he is usually assumed to have been born in the early 1300s, perhaps 1302 or 1305. It seems almost certain that he was some years younger than his wife.

Another inquisition held a few weeks later on 24 July 1326 repeats that Joan de Strathbogie was eighteen when her brother John Comyn was killed at Bannockburn on 24 June 1314 and that she had outlived him by more than eleven years and was now dead, and that Elizabeth was fourteen when her brother died and was now twenty-six. The inquisition of 8 June 1326 states that Joan and Elizabeth 'are' John Comyn's heirs, in the present tense, so this seems to indicate that Joan died after 8 June and before 24 July 1326. Joan's inheritance passed to her son David de Strathbogie, said to be eighteen and a half years old on 24 July 1326. This would place his birth around the beginning of 1308, which would mean that Joan was not even twelve when her son was born. This seems vanishingly unlikely. The IPM of Joan's husband David de Strathbogie the elder, earl of Atholl, was ordered on 25 January 1327 - he died on 28 December 1326 - and records that the younger David was 'aged 20 on the feast of St Hilary last.' [CIPM 1317-27, no. 759] That would put his date of birth as 13 January 1307, i.e. when his mother (b. May 1296) was not even eleven, so that cannot possibly be correct. Other jurors on the elder David's IPM in March 1327 said that the younger David had turned eighteen at the last feast of the Purification, i.e. 2 February 1327, which would mean that David was born around 2 February 1309. His own proof of age, taken 4 April 1330 (CIPM 1327-36, no. 302), also seems to indicate that he was born in Newcastle-on-Tyne on 1 February 1309, though it is somewhat defaced. This still means that Joan de Strathbogie née Comyn was a terribly, painfully young mother, assuming that her age as confidently stated in the inquisitions of June and July 1326 is correct. Maybe it isn't and she was actually somewhat older. I certainly hope so.

09 June, 2018

Elizabeth de Burgh's Protest, May 1326

On 22 May 1326, Elizabeth de Burgh née de Clare dictated a document protesting against her appalling treatment at the hands of her uncle Edward II and her brother-in-law Hugh Despenser the Younger. The document fortuitously survives in a late fourteenth-century transcript of the Liber Niger de Wigmore, the cartulary of the Mortimer estates.* Here's a post about it.

Context: Elizabeth's third husband Sir Roger Damory, formerly the king's great favourite but edged out of Edward's affections by Hugh Despenser the Younger in and after late 1318, joined the Contrariant rebellion of 1321/22 against Hugh and Edward II, and died of wounds sustained while fighting against the royal army on 12 or 13 March 1322. Even before Roger's death, Edward II sent men to seize Elizabeth and her two young daughters (Isabella de Verdon and Elizabeth Damory) at Usk, and Elizabeth was sent to Barking Abbey in Essex for the next few months. She was released and officially restored to all her lands in November 1322, but in the summer of 1324 lost her great lordship of Usk thanks to the machinations of her brother-in-law Hugh Despenser the Younger. Elizabeth seems to have spent much of the period from late 1322 to late 1326 living quietly at her castle of Clare in Suffolk with her daughters, while her sister Margaret - whose husband Hugh Audley also joined the Contrariant rebellion - was incarcerated at Sempringham Priory and their eldest sister Eleanor enjoyed great influence as Edward II's beloved niece and Hugh the Younger's cosseted wife.

In May 1326, Edward II and Hugh Despenser the Younger - Elizabeth's sister Eleanor Despenser was also with them - were in Gloucestershire/Wiltshire, on the other side of the country from Suffolk. Perhaps feeling somewhat safer because they were so far away, Elizabeth decided to dictate a text to her close advisers and clerks Thomas Chedworth and John Diccus and a notary called John Radenhale, detailing what the two men had done to her. The text is in Anglo-Norman. Elizabeth wrote of Hugh as "Sir Hugh Despenser the son" and Edward II as "our lord, Lord Edward, king of England, son of King Edward" with more courtesy than they perhaps deserved, and without acknowledging her close familial relationships to both men. She described herself as "formerly the consort of Sir Roger Damory," and went on to describe in detail how the king had threatened her in York at Christmas 1322, just a few weeks after he released her and restored her to her lands.

Edward II ordered Elizabeth to spend Christmas 1322 with him in York, and after her arrival imprisoned her officials and councillors, thus leaving her alone and vulnerable. The king tried to force her to sign documents – documents "contrary to the law of the land" according to Elizabeth – renouncing all her claims to Usk and the rest of her inheritance in Wales. This was because Hugh Despenser wanted Usk, and a year and a half after this nasty little episode, he managed to take it from his sister-in-law (to cut a very long story short, he forced her to exchange Usk for his lordship of Gower, then deprived her of Gower as well). Elizabeth argued her corner, bravely stood up to her uncle and refused to sign, and eventually fled from court "in great displeasure." She had been on the long road back to Clare in Suffolk for five days when Edward sent men after her ordering her to return, or he would confiscate all her lands and never again allow her to hold even a foot of land from him (ne iammes plein pie de lui ne tendroie). An entry in the chancery rolls confirms her narrative: on 7 January 1323, Edward seized all her English lands into his own hands again. Here we see Edward II at his absolute worst: bullying his widowed niece, yelling threats at her, deliberately separating her from her advisers, even being willing to ride roughshod over the laws of his own kingdom and to deprive his own niece of a large part of her rightful inheritance. Truly appalling, inexcusable behaviour which shows the king in the worst light possible.

Elizabeth also claimed that Hugh Despenser the Younger was now in May 1326 "seeing the great calumny of the wrongs" he had done to her, and to deceive and damage her and to mislead the people was offering her lands of much lower value in compensation for Gower; but it was far too little and far too late. There is no record of this offer in any extant document, so perhaps Hugh went to see Elizabeth in person sometime before May 1326, or at least sent men to discuss it with her. Hugh and the king were in East Anglia from late December 1325 until early February 1326, and were certainly just a few miles from Elizabeth at her castle of Clare on a number of occasions. The 22nd of May 1326 when Elizabeth dictated her protest was, coincidentally, the twentieth anniversary of the mass knighting of Edward of Caernarfon, Hugh Despenser the Younger and more than 250 others, and four days away marked Eleanor de Clare and Hugh the Younger's twentieth wedding anniversary.

It was brave of Elizabeth to set down the wrongs committed against her by her uncle and her brother-in-law, and for sure she knew that Hugh Despenser had spies and informants everywhere. If he and Edward II had found out about it, she would have been in serious trouble. Just four months after Elizabeth dictated her protest document, on 24 September, her aunt-in-law Queen Isabella returned to England at the head of an invasion force, and landed in Suffolk just forty miles from where Elizabeth lived. It's hard to imagine that she wasn't delighted someone was at last taking action against her despised brother-in-law Hugh Despenser the Younger, and by mid-November 1326, even before Hugh's execution, Elizabeth was back at her castle of Usk.

* Cited in G. A. Holmes, 'A Protest Against the Despensers, 1326', Speculum, 30 (1955), pp. 207-12, which prints Elizabeth's text in the original French.

01 June, 2018

1 June 1326: Edward II Plays a Ball Game

From 31 May to 6 June 1326, Edward II and his chamberlain and 'favourite' Hugh Despenser the Younger stayed at Saltwood Castle in Kent. They stayed here for a serious purpose: Pope John XXII in Avignon had sent two men, the archbishop of Vienne and the bishop of Orange, to try to reconcile Edward and Queen Isabella. They asked Edward and Hugh questions in French, and later translated the answers into Latin for the pope.

While at Saltwood on Sunday 1 June, shortly before he met the archbishop and the bishop, Edward II decided to relax by going out into the park of Saltwood Castle with his household steward Sir Thomas Blount, the recently-married Sir Robert Wateville, and unspecified others, and playing some kind of ball game. His chamber account (written in Anglo-Norman) calls it iewer a pelot, literally 'playing at ball.' Unfortunately the type of ball game is not described. At Langdon Abbey in Kent a few months previously, on 25 August 1325, Edward II had given a shilling each to twenty-two men who had played some kind of ball game for his entertainment. The entry in his account states: "Paid to Wille of Langdon, Adam of Wy', and twenty others of their company, players of Kent at ball [iewours de Kent a pelot] in front of the king next to Langdon Abbey." Again, the type of ball game is not described, but twenty-two men sounds like two teams of eleven men, as in modern football or cricket.

The summer of 1326 was a spectacularly hot and dry one in England and Wales, and the first real evidence of this I know of comes on 12 June, when Edward II gave the eight archers who formed his bodyguard linen cloth to make themselves hose as their reward for 'running fast and well' alongside him in the hot weather. The ball game of 1 June also implies that it was a warm pleasant day and that the king felt like being outside in the nice weather. I hope they all had a good time.