30 October, 2018

Their Mums Visited Them

I've written a few posts before on the blog about Edward II's chamber staff and their lives, so brilliantly illuminated by his surviving chamber accounts of the 1320s. The chamber account of 1324/5 reveals that the king's clerk Peter Pulford was visited by his mother Mariote in January 1325. Mariote also "talked to the king" and received a massive 100 shillings or five pounds as a gift from Edward.  Litel Colle (Little Colin) the chamber valet was visited by his mother Anneis in June 1325, and Jak Gryndere the wheelwright was visited by his mother Johane in October 1325. Some years earlier, Dulcia Withstaff, mother of the king's fool Robert, came to visit her son and the king at Christmas, and Edward gave her ten shillings. I think it's great to see that royal household staff kept in touch with their mothers! I've written before about the wives and sometimes the children of royal household servants coming to visit their husbands/fathers at court, and sometimes it seems that they stayed for quite a while - a few weeks or even several months. Servants were also allowed to leave court and visit their families sometimes too, and needed the permission of the king or one of his senior household officials to leave court.

If you're interested in Edward II's household staff, there's always my article ''Bought by the King Himself': Edward II, his Chamber, his Family and his Interests in 1325-26', in Fourteenth Century England X, ed. Gwilym Dodd, published February 2018. More info here.

24 October, 2018

Two Fourteenth-Century Schools in London

A tragic incident which took place in London on Tuesday 19 July 1301 reveals the existence of a school in the city at that time. The extant Coroners' Rolls show that an eight-year-old boy called Richard, son of John the mason, "was walking, immediately after dinner, across London Bridge to school." Richard "hung by his hands in play from a certain beam on the side of the bridge," but sadly his hands gave way, and he plunged in the Thames below and was drowned. A large crowd of horrified onlookers told the jurors who investigated Richard's death what had happened. This sad situation does at least tell us that there was a school somewhere near London Bridge in 1301, attended by eight-year-olds.

The household accounts of Edward II's widow Isabella of France mostly do not survive during the fifty years she lived in England, but they fortuitously do for the last few months of her life in 1357/58. These extant accounts demonstrate that in 1358, Isabella paid thirteen shillings and four pence (one mark) to send her vielle*-player Walter Hert to a 'school of minstrelsy' (scole minstralsie) in London, and thus reveal the fascinating fact that there was some kind of school of music and the performing arts in London in the middle of the fourteenth century.

* A bowed, stringed instrument not dissimilar to a modern violin.

19 October, 2018

Two New Books

I have not one but two new books out this month! Blood Roses: The Houses of Lancaster and York Before the Wars of the Roses is already out in the UK: see Amazon; Goodreads; Waterstones; Book Depository. It covers the period from 1245, the year Edmund of Lancaster, founder of the House of Lancaster, was born, to 1400, the year Richard II, deposed by his cousin Henry IV as the first Lancastrian king, died at Pontefract Castle. Blood Roses is divided into four parts: 1245 to 1296, 1296 to 1330, 1330 to 1362, and 1362 to 1400, and an epilogue covers the years 1400 to 1422. There are ten family trees at the front.

The contents of Blood Roses (1)

The contents of Blood Roses (2)

And my bio of Hugh Despenser the Younger, Downfall of a King's Favourite, is out very soon - on Amazon it's showing as already available for sale rather than pre-order, but it also says 'dispatched within one to two months' (!!) so it seems that the copies aren't there yet. It's the first-ever bio of this powerful man who was once voted 'the greatest villain of the fourteenth century' in BBC History Magazine! It's also on Goodreads; Book Depository; Waterstones. There are two appendices, the first a list of Hugh's children* with biographical details and (often approximate) dates of birth and death, and the second Hugh's itinerary from May 1306 - the month of his wedding to Eleanor de Clare - until his execution on 24 November 1326. For the first few years of Edward II's reign it's really hard to establish Hugh's whereabouts except on a handful of days in any year, but after he returned from exile in March 1322 I was able to ascertain his location on many days in any given month. I've translated a few of Hugh's own letters which have never been seen before, except for historians able to read Anglo-Norman. Hugh was a pirate and an extortionist, highly intelligent and articulate, greedy beyond description for lands and money, manipulative to the nth degree, and ruthless. In short, he was huuuuuuge fun to write about and, I hope, will be fun to read about. :-)

* He had at least ten legitimate children, of whom nine (Huchon, Edward, Gilbert, John, Isabella, Joan, Eleanor, Margaret and Elizabeth) survived infancy, and may have been the out-of-wedlock father of Nicholas Litlington, abbot of Westminster (c. 1312/15-1386).

The contents of Downfall of a King's Favourite.

First part of Hugh's itinerary, long before he became Edward II's chamberlain and 'favourite' and his whereabouts are difficult to determine.

11 October, 2018

Edward II's Journey Along the Thames, Late July 1326

In late July 1326, Edward II travelled along the River Thames west of London, with his niece Eleanor Despenser née de Clare in his company. Her husband Hugh the Younger, the king's powerful chamberlain and 'favourite', set off for Wales on 22 July, though it was only a flying visit and he was back in the south-east of England by 5 August.

On 24 July 1326, Edward was at his manor-house of Sheen, later called Richmond Palace. On the 25th, a payment of forty shillings to the usher of the king's hall, Thomas Langham, is recorded there "when the king lately passed between Chertsey and Isleworth." The payment was made to Langham because son sein', which I think must be an abbreviation for seinere, i.e. "his swan," was born in the Thames. Before he left Sheen probably in the morning of 25 July, Edward sent a runner called Montz to Marlborough in Wiltshire with letters for his daughters Eleanor of Woodstock (b. June 1318) and Joan of the Tower (b. July 1321). Edward and Eleanor Despenser, in a flat-bottomed boat, travelled along the Thames from Sheen to Byfleet, and the king gave a gift of five shillings to Isabella, the widow of his valet Edmund 'Monde' Fisher who had died in June, whom he encountered "in the water around Sheen" (Isabella was a fisherwoman). Edward had also met Isabella and her daughter Joan at or near Sheen on 2 July 1326, and gave Isabella a hugely generous present of twenty shillings - it was the first time he had seen her since her husband died on or just before 15 June - and her daughter Joan ten shillings. His account says the money was given to the two women in his presence. Monde and Isabella's son Little Will Fisher was a page of the royal chamber, and might have been with Edward on these occasions. The king also gave three shillings in alms to a woman called Joan of Kennington and her six female companions, "fishing in the water of the Thames opposite Kennington," which is back towards London and near Westminster, so in the opposite direction from the rest of the journey. The king stayed at Westminster from 14 to 23 July before travelling to his palace of Sheen, so presumably this payment of alms was made sometime then, and recorded a few days later. The seven women received the alms in Edward and Eleanor Despenser's presence.

On the way from Sheen to Byfleet, the king and his niece passed through Kingston-on-Thames, where Edward sent a runner called John Stretton with letters for Hugh Despenser the Younger as he passed by the bridge, and through Walton-on-Thames, where he gave two shillings to a fisherman called John of Walton "who sang before the king every time he [Edward] passed through these parts." Also at Kingston bridge, a Will of Kingston sent a gift of lampreys to the king via a man called Jack Meryn, who received twelve pence from Edward, and a Will Pykingham retrieved a knife one of Edward's chamber staff had dropped in the Thames and received three pence. At Walton, Edward asked (or rather, ordered) a man called Jack le Frenche to bring him fresh water from a well - as I pointed out recently, it was a very hot summer - and gave him six pence, and gave another six pence to Robin atte Hethe also of Walton, "who suffers from a great illness." To put that sum of money in perspective, it was least two days' wages for most people, perhaps four.

Edward was still in Byfleet on 26 July, and paid eighteen pence for various kinds of fish for Eleanor Despenser. A man also called Edward, formerly the parker of Cold Kennington, brought a gift of two pike for the king, and went away with five shillings "to repair his house." A sailor called Will Lucas had travelled with the king since Westminster - perhaps he was the one rowing the boat, unless Edward was rowing himself, which wouldn't surprise me in the least - and at Byfleet was given permission to go to his home in Portchester, Hampshire. Will the gardener of Kenilworth Castle had come all the way to Surrey to "talk to the king on some matters concerning him," and received three shillings for his expenses travelling back to Warwickshire. The king's journey continued to Cippenham in Berkshire, where he received letters from Hugh Despenser the Younger's retainer Sir Robert Wateville, then to Henley-on-Thames, where he stayed on 27 and 28 July 1326. A woman called Alis brought Edward a gift of young chickens, and received two shillings in return. Edward had borrowed six pence from his chamber portour Watte Don, which presumably means the money he gave to Jack le Frenche or Robin atte Hethe, and Watte got the money back on 28 July. Wille Wythe brought the king crabs and prawns, and Edward declared that nothing had been to his taste so much for a long time and rewarded him with a massive twenty shillings. Eleanor Despenser was with him at Henley on 28 July when he granted a favour to a priory in Essex at her request.

A long stretch of Edward's journey on 28/29 July took him from Henley to Banstead, where the king gave five shillings to his fletcher Henry to buy himself shoes and linen cloth, and met up with his former chamber valet Jordan of Maidenhead. Jordan was now working as a parker and received a generous gift of ten shillings. Edward went stag-hunting on 30 July and gave twenty shillings to his cook Moryz, who "rode before the king and fell often from his horse, at which the king laughed greatly." The same day, Edward sent two men "to the parts of Wales with the king's letters to Sir Hugh [Despenser the Younger]." By the beginning of August 1326, Edward II was at Portchester in Hampshire, and Despenser joined him there a few days afterwards.

I think these entries in Edward II's accounts reveal a great deal about him: his generosity and sociability, particularly. I especially love his meetings with Isabella Fisher near Sheen, and obviously he knew exactly who she was and recognised her whenever he saw her. You can just picture the king of England, being rowed or even rowing himself along the river, spotting a fisherwoman whose husband and son have served in his household, hailing her, stopping to have a chat with her, handing over a sum of money which was half a year's income for her. Stopping again to have a chat at Walton with a fisherman who entertains him by singing every time he sails past. What a lovely image, the fisherman wading in the Thames who sees the king's boat approaching and starts to sing. There are also entries in an account of Edward II's in 1324/25, about "fisherwomen of Lambeth singing in the Thames" whenever they see the king or his household, and receiving money from Edward for doing so. (What was it with fishermen and fisherwomen of the Thames bursting into song?). Edward or someone around him must also have chatted to Robin atte Hethe to learn that he was seriously ill, and chatted to Edward the parker to learn that he was repairing his house, and Edward II gave them money with his own hands. He must have spoken English with them; there's no way fishermen and women of the Thames would have known French. Anyway, it's all rather delightful.

06 October, 2018

Edmund of Lancaster, Earl of Lancaster and Leicester (1245-96)

To mark the publication of my fifth book Blood Roses: The Houses of Lancaster and York Before the Wars of the Roses, due out on Monday 8 October, here's a post about the founder of the House of Lancaster, Edmund of Lancaster. Edmund was Edward II's uncle, his father's only brother, and in fact was the only uncle Edward ever knew (as Queen Eleanor's eleven brothers and half-brothers were either dead by the time Edward was born or far away in Spain).

Edmund of Lancaster was the fourth child and second son of King Henry III and Eleanor of Provence, and was born either in London or Westminster on 16 January 1245. He was five and a half years younger than his brother the future King Edward I, born 17 June 1239, and also had two older sisters, Margaret (b. September 1240), later queen of Scotland, and Beatrice (b. June 1242), later married to the eldest son and heir of the duke of Brittany. A younger sister Katherine, born in November 1253 almost nine years after Edmund, died at the age of three and a half, so Edmund was his parents' youngest surviving child. He grew up at Windsor Castle with his siblings, his cousin Marie de Lusignan (daughter of one of Henry III's nine younger half-siblings), and Henry de Lacy, heir to the earldom of Lincoln, whose daughter and heir Alice would marry Edmund's eldest son Thomas decades later.

Like his elder brother, Edmund was named after an Anglo-Saxon royal saint; in this case, the king of East Anglia killed by the invading Danes in 869 (Edward I was named after Edward the Confessor, the king of England who died in 1066 and was made a saint in 1161). Edmund first left England as a nine-year-old in 1254 when his elder brother Edward married Eleanor of Castile in Burgos, northern Spain, and he attended the wedding. On the way back to England, Edmund and his parents visited the French court of King Louis IX and Queen Marguerite, who was Edmund's aunt, his mother Queen Eleanor's older sister. Possibly Edmund met his future second wife Blanche of Artois on this occasion; she was Louis IX's niece. Also present was his maternal grandmother Beatrice of Savoy, dowager countess of Provence, the only grandparent Edmund ever met, and his mother's two younger sisters Sancha (married to his father's brother Richard of Cornwall) and Beatrice (married to Louis IX's brother Charles of Anjou).

In the early 1250s, Pope Innocent IV (born Sinibaldo Fieschi) offered Edmund the throne of Sicily. This was in connection with a long-standing feud the papacy had with Frederick II, Holy Roman Emperor (1194-1250) long-lasting hostility which continued against Frederick's illegitimate son Manfred, regent and later the king of Sicily. Henry III and Queen Eleanor, delighted at the thought of their second son sitting on a throne even if it was in distant Sicily, pushed very hard for this to come about, but although Henry and Edmund himself referred to Edmund in letters as "king of Sicily" and talked on one occasion about the "second year of his reign" as such, it never happened and Edmund never set eyes on his 'kingdom'. As part of their deeply-felt desire to gain a throne for their son, in April 1256 Henry III and Eleanor of Provence opened negotiations for Edmund to marry the decade-older Plaisance of Antioch, dowager queen of Cyprus and the daughter of Bohemund, prince of Antioch and count of Tripoli. This ultimately did not work out either.

Edmund was overseas during much of 1264/65 when his father King Henry, elder brother Lord Edward and uncle Richard of Cornwall were captured at the battle of Lewes in May 1264 by his uncle-in-law Simon de Montfort, earl of Leicester. Edward escaped, raised an army and defeated Simon at the battle of Evesham in August 1265, also without Edmund's participation. A few weeks after Evesham, Henry III granted his second son the late Simon de Montfort's earldom of Leicester, Edmund's first title. In June 1267, the brand-new earldom of Lancaster was created and bestowed on him, and gave his dynasty their name. And in 1269, the earldom of Derby was taken from Robert Ferrers (b. c. 1239), a man who had switched sides throughout the baronial wars of the 1260s and was trusted by no-one, and was given to Edmund in a piece of unpleasant legal chicanery. Edmund and his sons in fact never called themselves earls of Derby, though they held most of Robert Ferrers' lands, and the next earl of Derby was Edmund's grandson Henry of Grosmont in 1337.

Also in 1269, when he was twenty-four and she only ten, Edmund of Lancaster married the great heiress Aveline Forz. She was the only surviving child of William Forz, earl of Aumale (or Albemarle), who died in 1260 when Aveline was a baby, and Isabella née Redvers, heir of her brother Baldwin Redvers (d. 1262), earl of Devon. This marriage was intended to give Edmund another two earldoms on top of the ones he already had, but sadly Aveline died in November 1274 at the age of only fifteen. Chronicler Nicholas Trivet claims that she bore two children who died, hardly surprisingly given her youth, though there is no other evidence that she did. Before Aveline's death, Edmund of Lancaster had gone on crusade to the Holy Land with his elder brother Edward and numerous English noblemen, though he returned to England well before Edward did and was back home at the end of 1272, a few weeks after his father Henry III died and Edward succeeded him as king. Edward and his wife Eleanor of Castile finally returned to England in August 1274 and were crowned king and queen at Westminster Abbey that month, though Edmund boycotted the ceremony after a row over precedence with his brother. (His sister Margaret, queen of Scotland, did attend.) Edmund and Edward sometimes quarrelled, but Edmund was immensely loyal to his elder brother, remarkably so, given the frequent hostility among royal brothers of the Middle Ages. They had grown up in a close, loving family, and nothing broke the fraternal bond between them as long as they lived, despite occasional irritation on both sides.

At the end of 1275 or beginning of 1276, just over a year after losing Aveline Forz, Edmund married his second wife Blanche of Artois. She was, as noted above, the niece of King Louis IX of France who was Edmund's uncle by marriage, and was the widow of Enrique I, king of Navarre (d. 1274). Her baby daughter Jeanne or Juana (b. 1273) was queen of Navarre in her own right and married the future Philip IV of France in 1284. Edmund and Blanche had three sons. Thomas the eldest, born at the end of 1277 or beginning of 1278 two years after his parents' wedding, would be his first cousin Edward II's nemesis for much of his reign and was executed in 1322. He married the great heiress Alice de Lacy, who brought him the earldoms of Lincoln and Salisbury, in December 1294. Henry, born 1280 or 1281, was the ancestor of all the future Lancastrian dynasty, and died in 1345 at the age of about sixty-five. He married the heiress Maud Chaworth in early 1297 and they had six daughters and one son. John the youngest son of Edmund and Blanche, born sometime before May 1286, lived almost all his life in France and married the French noblewoman Alix Joinville. He died childless in 1317, and his heir was his elder brother Henry.

Via his marriage to Blanche of Artois, Edmund of Lancaster controlled the county of Champagne which was part of her daughter Jeanne's inheritance, and he held it until 1284 and was often acknowledged as count of Champagne in English records. Beginning the late 1270s and continuing until his death in 1296, Edmund spent much time travelling between England and France, and was a respected nobleman on both sides of the English Channel. He supported his brother Edward I loyally in his Welsh wars of the 1270s and early 1280s, and later in Scotland as well. He lost his mother Eleanor of Provence in June 1291, and was one of the executors of her will. Both his sisters, Margaret and Beatrice, had died in 1275, just months after Edmund's first wife Aveline Forz and his nephew Henry, second son of Edward and Eleanor of Castile, had died as well; it was a tragic few months in the English royal family.

In 1294, Edmund of Lancaster's diplomacy failed catastrophically when he was sent to France to negotiate between his brother Edward and the young king of France, Philip IV, whose wife Jeanne of Navarre was Edmund's stepdaughter. The two kings had quarrelled and the quarrel blew up into something very serious. Edmund thought he had found a solution that suited both sides, but Philip IV went behind his back and invaded Gascony, and England found itself at war with France. Edmund was appointed as one of the leaders of his brother's forces to Gascony, but ill health kept him in England long past the time he had wished to sail, and only a few months after he arrived in Bayonne he died there, on 5 June 1296 at the age of fifty-one. Edward I, in Aberdeen, heard of his brother's death on 15 July, and summoned parliament to sit in Bury St Edmunds, Suffolk on the feast day of St Edmund, 20 November 1296. This was the king's way of honouring his late brother's memory. Edmund's embalmed remains were taken to England about six months after he died, probably by his widow Blanche of Artois, who certainly returned to England in January 1297 (perhaps just in time to witness her son Henry of Lancaster's wedding to Maud Chaworth). They remained for some time at the convent of the Minoresses without Aldgate in London, a house Edmund and Blanche themselves had founded in 1293.

Edmund of Lancaster was buried at Westminster Abbey on 24 March 1300 - not 24 March 1301 as one chronicler claims - in the presence of his brother Edward I, his widow Blanche of Artois and their sons Thomas, Henry and John, and many English earls, barons and bishops. His tomb, next to his first wife Aveline Forz (1259-74), can still be seen in the abbey. The chronicle of Lanercost in the far north of England called Edmund "a valiant knight and noble, who was genial and merry, generous and pious," and the heralds who wrote a poem of praise to the English knights and lords who took part in the siege of Caerlaverock in 1300 stated that Edmund's second son Henry's objective was to resemble his 'good father' as closely as possible. Edmund of Lancaster never did gain a crown as he and his parents had wished, though he married a queen, and his great-great-great-grandson and heir Henry of Lancaster became king of England 103 years after Edmund's death.