30 August, 2018

A French Cartoon about Edward II and Isabella of France

A friend of mine on Facebook recently drew my attention to a series of French comics about Edward II's queen Isabella, which are, inevitably, called Isabelle, La Louve de France or 'Isabella, The She-Wolf of France'. (This nickname, incidentally, was first applied to Isabella in 1757, in English, and has no historical basis whatsoever. La Louve is simply the French translation of the name and also has no historical basis whatsoever.) In particular, my friend commented on a bizarre sex scene with Edward, Isabella and Hugh Despenser the Younger she had read in the comic. See here for the comic; the sex scene is available via the Amazon 'look inside' function. I have no idea what the rest of the comic is like, but I have some serious problems with this bit. Here are the images; my translation into English is below.

First image:

Isabella: I am not your pet!

Edward: Right! You're nothing but a belly. I need heirs. It's your duty as queen! You should be grateful to my dear Despenser that he knows how to get me in the mood instead of whining. On all fours and turn over!

Second image:

Despenser: Now that the chore is over, my Edward, we'll finally be able to entertain ourselves!

Edward: Give me time to cleanse myself first. I can't stand the stink of French mare any more!

Isabella: *sad face*


Yowza. This is very reminiscent of Maurice Druon's Les Rois Maudits or The Accursed Kings series of novels, which feature a scene where Isabella states that she wrote to the pope to complain that Edward brought Hugh Despenser into their bed to, errrm, help him conceive his and Isabella's children. Given that Edward and Hugh's relationship began in late 1318 or 1319, before the conception and birth of all but one of Edward and Isabella's children, this seems incredibly unlikely. I know it's fiction, but the whole idea strikes me as blatantly homophobic. Edward II loved Isabella and their relationship worked perfectly well for many years until it all went horribly wrong in and after 1322. The idea that he would have treated her like this, insulted her to her face, brought another man into their bed, would be laughable if it wasn't so horrible, misogynistic and homophobic.

In the comic Hugh is called Edward's mignon, which in modern French means 'cute' but historically refers to the male 'favourites' or 'minions' of kings, whereas - of course! - Roger Mortimer is called Isabella's amant, 'lover'. This almost always happens in modern accounts of Edward II and Isabella, even now near the end of the second decade of the twenty-first century when we're supposed to live in a tolerant and progressive era. Heterosexual people have 'lovers'. Homosexual or bisexual people have 'minions' or 'favourites' or 'friends'. 'Friends' they love for most of their lives and bring their kingdoms to the brink of civil war over on several occasions, but yeah, they're just friends.

Edward himself is said to be a homosexuel notoire, 'notorious homosexual'. I wonder why only gay people are 'notorious' for their sexuality? Have you ever seen the words 'notorious heterosexual'?

And yes, I know it's fiction. I've had the 'but it's FICTION!!!' crowd bellowing that at me for over a decade. Braveheart is 'just fiction' but a gay man gets thrown out of a window for cheap laughs and another is cuckolded by the manly virile straight hero. A romance novel I reviewed a few years ago is 'just fiction' but refers to a gay man as a disgusting perverted worm. Funny how this 'but it's just fiction' argument so often seems to be used to defend and perpetuate offensive stereotypes and prejudices. 

24 August, 2018

Sir John Somery (d. 1322) And His Sisters Margaret Sutton And Joan Botetourt

Sir John Somery, lord of Dudley, Sedgley, Rowley Somery and other places in the Midlands, was born around 1280 as the son and heir of Roger Somery (1255-October 1291) and a woman called Agnes (I'm not sure of her background). When Agnes Somery died in November 1308, her son John was said to be twenty-eight years old. [CIPM 1307-17, no. 128] In May 1311, John Somery sued the chief justice of the court of common pleas, William Bereford, for defamation after Bereford and unnamed others stated that John "has obtained such mastery in the county of Stafford that no one can obtain law or justice therein; that he has made himself more than a king there; that no one can dwell there unless he buys protection from him, either by money or by assisting him in building his castles; and that he attacks people in their own houses with the intention of killing them, unless they make fine for his protection." [Patent Rolls 1307-13, p. 369]

Sir John Somery, a loyal royal knight who took part in Edward II's campaign against the Contrariants in 1321/22, married a woman called Lucy - I'm not sure of her background either - and died childless shortly before 24 August 1322 in his early forties. [CIPM 1317-27, no. 428] The heirs to Somery's sizeable inheritance in several Midlands counties were his two younger sisters Margaret Sutton, aged "thirty-two at the feast of Easter last" (i.e. born around 11 April 1290) and Joan Botetourt, "aged thirty at the feast of John the Baptist last" (i.e. born around 24 June 1292, and if this date is correct, she was Roger Somery's posthumous daughter and born more than eight months after his death). Margaret was married to Sir John Sutton, and Joan was the widow of Sir Thomas Botetourt, the eldest son of John, Lord Botetourt and his wife Maud née FitzThomas. Thomas Botetourt died shortly before 28 July 1322, just weeks before his brother-in-law John Somery. [CIPM 1317-27, no. 412] Thomas's heir was his and Joan née Somery's son John, said to be four years old in August 1322 in his father's IPM and seven in his grandfather John, Lord Botetourt's IPM of December 1324. John was actually born, according to his mother Joan née Somery's IPM, on 14 September 1318. [CIPM 1336-46, no. 181] John, Lord Botetourt the elder died on 25 November 1324 in his sixties, and his widow Maud née FitzThomas outlived him by some years. [CIPM 1317-27, no. 587] John Botetourt the younger, born 1318, nephew of Sir John Somery and the Botetourt heir and Somery co-heir, married Joyce la Zouche, younger half-sister of Thomas Beauchamp, earl of Warwick, and stepdaughter of Edward II's niece Eleanor Despenser from her second marriage to William la Zouche of Ashby in Leicestershire.

I'm not entirely sure what, if any, children Sir John and Margaret Sutton, the other sister and brother-in-law of John Somery, had; Sutton was a common name, John and Margaret were incredibly common names, and it's hard to distinguish them from other people of the same name. It is sure, however, that this couple and specifically John became victims of Hugh Despenser the Younger in 1325. Hugh forced John to hand over eight of the manors he and Margaret had inherited from her brother John Somery to him after supposedly imprisoning him at Westminster for three weeks. Which does, let's face it, sound like exactly the sort of thing Hugh was capable of. Hugh, however, left the widowed Joan Botetourt, the other Somery sister, alone, though he did go after her parents-in-law John and Maud Botetourt in 1323 when he forced them to hand over a manor to him. More details in my forthcoming biography of Hugh the Younger, including a fascinating letter Hugh sent to John Botetourt senior in 1323 regarding his manor!

19 August, 2018

An Interview And An Article

I'm quoted in an article in the Washington Post! See here. As - apparently, I know nothing about it - a Mountbatten cousin of the royal family is marrying his husband this year, the journalist Kayla Epstein decided to write an article about gay British royals in history, and we talked on the phone some weeks ago about Edward II and his relationships with Piers Gaveston and Hugh Despenser.

My talk in the village of East Leake on 9 August, on the 700th anniversary of Edward II meeting his cousin Thomas of Lancaster in the village, went great. Around 125 people attended. After the talk, the lovely Paul Bradshaw interviewed me for his excellent Youtube channel Viral History (see also the Viral History website, here). The next morning, Paul was able to arrange for me to join a tour of Nottingham Castle grounds, currently closed for excavation, and I got to see Mortimer's Hole.

And here is Paul's interview with me on Youtube! It's just under ten minutes, and please do watch!  For any of you who are on Facebook, here is the Viral History page, and the interview with me is also here.

14 August, 2018

Hugh Despenser the Younger's Mares: A Journey, July 1325

In July 1325, Edward II gave his beloved chamberlain Hugh Despenser the Younger a hugely generous gift: eighty-four mares. The horses were perhaps intended to replace the even larger number of horses which Hugh claimed the Marcher lords had stolen from him during the Despenser War in May 1321. Edward charged five men with the task of leading the seven dozen horses from 'La Neyte' (somewhere in London, I'm never sure where) to Hugh's castle of Chepstow in South Wales (which Hugh had 'persuaded' the king's own half-brother Thomas, earl of Norfolk and earl marshal, to give to him in 1323 in return for a rather measly payment). Presumably Hugh kept a stud-farm there. London to Chepstow is a distance of 125 miles or so. The journey of the five men and eighty-four horses took ten days, and each stop was carefully recorded by Edward II's clerks in his chamber account (SAL MS 122).

The men charged with leading Hugh's horses the 125 miles to Chepstow were: Richard 'Hick' Mereworth, a valet of the king's chamber who came from Henley-on-Thames, and whose wife Johane became pregnant some weeks after his return; Litel Wille Fisher, a page of the king's chamber and one of his huntsmen, and the son of his valet Edmund 'Monde' Fisher; Henry of Morton; Watte Coleman; and Robyn atte Mulne. I'm unfamiliar with these last three men; perhaps they served in Hugh's own household. Leading the royal favourite's horses, a gift to him from the king himself, was one heck of a responsibility, especially as Hugh Despenser the Younger has never struck me as the kind of man who'd cheerily wave it off if the men made any kind of error or fault whatsoever when it came to his horses.

The journey began on 6 July 1325, which Edward's clerk recorded as "the eve of the Translation of St Thomas [Becket], the sixth day of July." On this night, the men and horses travelled to Brentford and spent the night there, and accommodation for all cost two shillings and eight pence. The 7th of July was spent at Maidenhead ('Maydenhuthe'), and accommodation cost three shillings and two pence. Monday 8 July was spent at Henley-on-Thames, where Hick Mereworth came from, and the lodgings there cost two shillings and eleven pence. The 9th of July was spent at Wallingford and the night there cost two shillings and seven pence, and 10 July at Abingdon, which cost two shillings and ten pence. The 11th of July was spent at Faringdon and the night's lodgings cost three shillings and four pence, and the 12th at somewhere called Borewardcotes - no idea where that is - which cost two shillings and seven pence. The 13th of July was spent at Cirencester and the night cost three shillings and three pence, and 14 July was spent at Gloucester, where it cost exactly the same. The 15th of July was spent at 'Wyttele', and the night cost two shillings and seven pence, and at some point on 16 July, the last day, the men availed themselves of "a meadow which belongs to Sir Gilbert Talbot by the road between Wyttele and Strigoil," i.e. Chepstow.

Coming back without the horses must have taken the five men only four days, as two of them were paid for fourteen days in total, and were back at court on 19 July 1325 (Edward II was at the Tower of London that day). Hick, leader of the five, received four pence a day for the full fourteen days; Watte Coleman was paid two pence a day for fourteen days and Henry of Morton two pence a day for ten days; and Litel Wille Fisher and Robyn atte Mulne received one and a half pence each for ten days. Litel Wille and Robyn were almost certainly just boys or very young men, which explains the discrepancy in pay. Interesting to note that Hick Mereworth and Watte Coleman were paid for the return journey but the others weren't; presumably, then, Henry, Litel Wille and Robyn didn't go back to court afterwards, at least not right away. In total, the journey of eighty-four mares and five men cost the king forty shillings and two pence, and all the costs were recorded in Edward's accounts a few weeks later on 27 August. Either Hick Mereworth and his associates had made notes of how much everything cost and where, implying that at least one of them was literate, or they had extremely good memories.

06 August, 2018

Treaty of Leake Talk; Hugh Despenser the Younger Bio

This coming Thursday, 9 August, I'm giving a talk about Edward II in the village of East Leake between Nottingham and Loughborough to mark the 700th anniversary of Edward signing the treaty of Leake with his cousin and enemy Thomas of Lancaster in the village on 9 August 1318. The talk begins at 7.30pm in the library, and I'm sharing it with local historian Keith Hodgkinson. Entrance is free, and if you're anywhere in the vicinity, do come along!

In other news, my biography of Hugh Despenser the Younger, out on 30 October, is now available for pre-order: Amazon; Waterstones; W H Smith; Book Depository (US). Blood Roses is also out in October.

01 August, 2018

The Dates of Birth of Edward Burnell, Giles Badlesmere, John Mowbray and Laurence Hastings

Edward Burnell, son and heir of Philip Burnell (d. 1294), great-nephew and heir of Robert Burnell, bishop of Bath and Wells and chancellor of England (d. 1292), nephew of Richard Fitzalan, earl of Arundel (1267-1302), was born on 22 July 1287, not 1286 as some writers including myself have stated. His father Philip's Inquisition Post Mortem states that Edward was "aged seven on the feast of St Mary Magdalene last" in early August 1294; aged "seven years entering the eighth year" on 10 August 1294; and "six at the feast of St Mary Magdalene last" on the eve of St Mary Magdalene in 1294. [CIPM 1291-1300, no. 194] Edward Burnell married Alina Despenser, eldest child of Hugh Despenser the Elder, in or soon after early May 1302 when he was fourteen going on fifteen and she about the same age. They had no children and Edward died on 23 August 1315 at the age of twenty-eight, leaving his younger sister Maud Lovel as his heir.

Giles Badlesmere, son and heir of Bartholomew Badlesmere, was born on 8 October 1314 in Hambleton, Rutland. [CIPM 1327-36, no. 691] This was a manor belonging to Giles' mother Margaret née de Clare from her first marriage to Gilbert Umfraville. One of Giles' godfathers was Sir Robert Wateville, and he had four sisters: Margery, Lady Ros, Elizabeth, countess of Northampton (and the mother of the earls of March and Hereford), Maud, countess of Oxford, and Margaret, Lady Tiptoft. Margery was certainly older than Giles and Margaret was certainly younger, while Elizabeth and Maud were most probably older. Giles' mother Margaret was pregnant with him at the time of the battle of Bannockburn on 23 and 24 June 1314. His father Bartholomew was later accused, in a rather spiteful Latin poem, of abandoning his lord the earl of Gloucester to die on the battlefield.

Giles was in prison at the Tower of London when Roger Mortimer of Wigmore escaped from there on 1 August 1323. He must have been there since late 1321/early 1322 or thereabouts: his father Bartholomew joined the Contrariants in June 1321, and his mother Margaret was sent to the Tower after Edward II besieged Leeds Castle in October 1321 because she had refused to allow Queen Isabella inside. John Mowbray, son of John Mowbray, born November 1310 (below) was also a prisoner there. Edward II imprisoned young children. Awesomeness! [/sarcasm] I don't know when Giles was released from the Tower; his mother Margaret was freed in November 1322 but he wasn't. John Mowbray, below, was also a prisoner in the Tower in August 1323, but had certainly been released by late February or early March 1326 when he and some allies attacked Tickhill Castle in Yorkshire. Giles married Elizabeth, eldest daughter of William Montacute, earl of Salisbury (1301-44) and Katherine Grandisson, and died childless in 1338; Elizabeth was almost certainly too young for the marriage ever to have been consummated. The Badlesmere inheritance therefore passed to Giles' four sisters.

John Mowbray, son and heir of John Mowbray (1286-1322) and Aline Braose, was born at Hovingham, Yorkshire on 29 November 1310. [CIPM 1327-36, no. 250] Thomas, earl of Lancaster gave twenty shillings to the messenger who brought him news of Mowbray's birth, and John Mowbray's father John was ill at the time; because of the worry over her husband's condition, Aline née Braose went into labour a few days early. The younger John Mowbray married Joan of Lancaster, fourth daughter of Thomas of Lancaster's brother and heir Henry, in 1328, and they had a son John born in 1340 and two daughters, Blanche and Eleanor.

I've often said myself here on the blog and elsewhere that Laurence Hastings, earl of Pembroke, son and heir of John, Lord Hastings (1286-1325) and Juliana Leyburne (1303/4-1367), was born in March 1320. In fact, now that I've finally got round to checking his proof of age, I see that he was actually born on 20 March 1321, "the feast of St Cuthbert, 14 Edward II." Edward II's fourteenth regnal year ran from 8 July 1320 to 7 July 1321, so the correct date of birth is March 1321, not March 1320. [CIPM 1336-46, no. 337] Laurence was born in Allesley, Warwickshire, and his mother Juliana née Leyburne was sixteen or seventeen at the time. Betrothed to Hugh Despenser the Younger's third daughter Eleanor in 1325 when he was four - she was the same age or a little older - Laurence ultimately married Roger Mortimer's daughter Agnes after his fiancée Eleanor was forced into a convent by Queen Isabella a few weeks after her father Hugh the Younger's execution. Laurence and Agnes' only son John was not born until 29 August 1347, and one year and one day later, at the age of twenty-seven, Laurence Hastings, earl of Pembroke, died. His mother outlived him by almost twenty years.