29 November, 2018

Lancaster and York Article; The Spellbinders Novel

Here is a link to an article I wrote about the houses of Lancaster and York for the BBC History Magazine website! Here is my book Blood Roses about the two houses before the Wars of the Roses, and oh, here is a link to Chris Brown's new book about Robert Bruce, that I'm looking forward to reading.

Links to two more articles I've written, for the History Press website: The House of Lancaster in Seven People; Edmund of Langley and his Children.

And my friend Aleardo Zanghellini has written a novel about Edward II, Piers Gaveston and Hugh Despenser the Younger, The Spellbinders, which I'm dying to read. Here it is on Amazon, and here is Aleardo's website dedicated to the book.

24 November, 2018

Hugh Despenser the Younger, Pirate and Extortionist

To celebrate the publication of my biography of Hugh Despenser the Younger this month, and to mark the anniversary of his execution in Hereford on 24 November 1326, here are some snippets about him.

- Hugh was probably born around 1288/89, so was about five years younger than Edward II. The date of birth you almost always see for him online, 1286, is too early; his parents probably married that year (or perhaps in late 1285), and he had an older sister.

- He had one older sister (Alina Burnell), three younger sisters (Isabella Hastings, Margaret St Amand and Elizabeth Camoys), an older half-sister (Maud of Lancaster née Chaworth, born 1282), and a younger brother, Philip. Philip Despenser died in September 1313 at the age of barely twenty, long before Hugh's period of power, though I do find it interesting to speculate what kind of role Philip might have played in his brother's regime.

- Hugh was an ancestor of Henry VIII's sixth wife Katherine Parr, and his younger brother Philip was an ancestor of Henry's third wife Jane Seymour. (Hugh - Edward, d. 1342 - Edward, d. 1375 - Margaret, d. 1415 - Philippa Ferrers, d. 1434 - Thomas Greene, d. 1462 - Thomas Greene, d. 1506 - Maud, d. 1531 - Katherine Parr, d. 1548.) (Philip, d. 1313 - Philip, d. 1342 - Philip, d. 1401 - Philip, d. 1423 - Margery, d. 1478 - Philip Wentworth, d. 1464 - Henry Wentworth, d. 1501 - Margery, d. 1550 - Jane Seymour, d. 1537.)

- Henry of Grosmont (c. 1310-1361), first duke of Lancaster, grandfather of King Henry IV, was Hugh's nephew, his half-sister Maud's son. Sir Hugh Hastings of Elsing in Norfolk (c. 1310-1347), whose remains were examined a few decades ago - he was found to have stood five feet ten inches tall and to have suffered a severe blow to the mouth - was another nephew, son of Hugh's sister Isabella.

- The man who abducted Edward II's beloved Piers Gaveston, earl of Cornwall, in June 1312 - Guy Beauchamp, earl of Warwick - was Hugh's uncle, younger brother of his mother Isabella Beauchamp (d. 1306). Hugh was the grandson of William Beauchamp, earl of Warwick (c. 1240-98) and step-grandson of Roger Bigod, earl of Norfolk (c. 1245-1306).

- Hugh often kept copies of his own letters and stored them at the Tower of London, with the happy result that much of his correspondence survives today and reveals that he was eloquent, intelligent, sarcastic, and distressingly prone to threatening people. All his letters were written, or rather dictated, in French, and as it's usually the drafts that survive, you can see how he had certain phrases added or struck out as he went along, revealing his thought processes. ("Blah blah blah Robert Bruce, king of Scotland...oh no, wait, we don't call him that, do we? Strike those last words out.") Several of his letters state that he had read out his correspondent's previous letters to Edward II and his council, so he was obviously a fluent reader.

- Hugh was one of the 266 men knighted with Edward of Caernarfon on 22 May 1306 when he was about seventeen, and married Edward's eldest niece, thirteen-year-old Eleanor de Clare, four days later in the presence of her grandfather Edward I. They had been married for twenty years and six months at the time of his execution on 24 November 1326. His mother Isabella Beauchamp died around the time of his wedding, sometime before 30 May 1306 when the writ for her inquisition post mortem was issued. Hugh the Elder never remarried.

- Hugh often sent letters to the sheriff of his lordship of Glamorgan, Sir John Inge, telling him to do this, that and the other as though Inge was his own personal servant who existed only to do his bidding rather than a royal official. A few of these long letters still survive, and show how Hugh micro-managed affairs in Glamorgan and took a deep interest in his lordship. They also show his disdain for his Welsh tenants.

- Other letters reveal that Hugh was not shy about writing things like 'it seems to our lord the king and to us that...' and 'the king and ourselves think that...', and  thus coupling himself with God's anointed. The tone of his letters to John Inge was often hectoring and menacing; when writing to other people, he often comes across as haughty and self-important, though he was capable of humour as well and wielded sarcasm like a weapon. The few surviving letters of his wife Eleanor née de Clare (1292-1337), by contrast, are extremely courteous and amiable.

- He was, however, careful always to use people's correct titles: even in 1324/25, after Roger Mortimer of Wigmore had supposedly sent assassins to kill Hugh and his father, he referred to him as 'Sir Roger Mortimer'. Edward II and others, by contrast, called him 'the Mortimer'. Hugh referred to his wife's sister Elizabeth de Burgh née de Clare as la dame de Bourgh, 'the lady de Burgh', and to himself as 'Hugh le Despenser the son'. He sent a few letters to his cousin Ralph, Lord Basset of Drayton, and a certain amount of affection for Basset is apparent: he often called him 'fair cousin' or 'beloved cousin.'

- Hugh's downfall in 1326 brought a veritable flood of petitions complaining that he had taken manors from lots of people, threatened them, forced them to pay him large sums of money, imprisoned people until they paid ransoms, and much more. His behaviour as royal favourite in the 1320s was frankly appalling, and his greed for lands and money was insatiable. Both men and women, rich and not nearly as rich, were his victims; he was an equal opportunities extortionist.

- One of his letters made me bark with laughter when I saw it. He threatened Sir John Botetourt with having him hanged, drawn and quartered if Botetourt did not hand over a manor to him, and *literally in the very next sentence* added cheerily "May God keep you."

- He was probably already a grandfather when he was executed in November 1326, though he was only about thirty-seven: his eldest daughter Isabella gave birth to her son Edmund Arundel, also the grandson of the earl of Arundel, in or before December 1326. Hugh left nine children: Hugh, Edward, Gilbert, John, Isabella, Joan, Eleanor, Margaret and Elizabeth. He may also have been the father, from a relationship with a mistress called Joan, of Nicholas de Litlington (1312/15-1386), abbot of Westminster.

- There is no evidence whatsoever that Hugh raped Queen Isabella, an invention of the twenty-first century. Despite his appalling greed and penchant for imprisoning people, I very much doubt that he had anyone called 'Lady Baret' tortured, as claimed at his trial. The charges against him read out at his trial, while containing some kernels of truth, are to a great extent absurd.

- Hugh's great-uncle Sir Walter Beauchamp, one of the younger brothers of his grandfather the earl of Warwick, was steward of Edward I's household from 1289 to 1303.

- When Hugh was growing up - wherever that was - he must have grown accustomed to his father Hugh the Elder's frequent trips abroad, to the pope, the king of France, the Guardians of Scotland and other important men, on Edward I's business.

- Hugh spent much of the year 1310 jousting on the continent, defying an order from Edward II at the end of 1309 that English knights were not to leave the country to joust abroad. He took part in a tournament in Mons in July 1310, and had also participated in a tournament at Dunstable in the spring of 1309 so evidently was a fan of jousting. His wife Eleanor most probably accompanied him abroad, and may have given birth to their second son Edward Despenser in October 1310 after they returned. Their eldest, Hugh or 'Huchon', was born in 1308 or the first half of 1309, and their eldest daughter Isabella was born in 1312 or the beginning of 1313 and was named after Hugh's mother. Their second daughter Joan was named after Eleanor's mother Joan of Acre and may have been born around 1314/15. Their third son Gilbert first appears on record in July 1322 though was probably a few years old by then, and their youngest son John first appears on record in November 1324 though was certainly several years old then. Their youngest child was born in December 1325.

- Hugh and his father Hugh the Elder, born 1 March 1261, fought at the battle of Bannockburn on 23 and 24 June 1314, and both were among the 500 knights who galloped to Dunbar Castle with Edward II after Edward lost the battle. Hugh the Younger must have acquitted himself bravely and honourably during the battle, as Edward made him a knight banneret soon afterwards, even though he still seems to have disliked and distrusted Hugh. If he didn't actively dislike Hugh, he was at the very least entirely indifferent to him for many years.

- Although numerous records of payments made to messengers for carrying Edward II and Hugh's letters to each other survive, I've only ever found one letter they sent each other that still exists. It dates to May 1324 and is more of a note, and in it Hugh informed Edward about ships in the Gower Peninsula. The letter opens "Honours and reverences, very honourable lord."

- Hugh enthusiastically took up piracy in the English Channel after his enemies the Marcher lords forced him into (supposedly permanent) exile in August 1321, and the Vita Edwardi Secundi calls him a 'sea-monster.' As late as 1336, Edward III paid compensation to some Genoese merchants whose ship Hugh had captured and robbed off the dunes of Sandwich. He may even have attacked Southampton on 30 September and 1 October 1321 with Robert Batail of Winchelsea, baron of the Cinque Ports. [The National Archives SC 8/17/833]

16 November, 2018

Edward II Borrows Money

Edward II's extant chamber accounts of 1324 to 1326 reveal that he did not carry cash with him, and if he needed to pay someone after purchasing an item or to hand out alms, he borrowed the money from one of his household servants. The money was paid back to the men either on the same day or, usually, a few days later, sometimes with a few pence added on as a thank-you gift from the king for lending him the cash. It was Edward's chamber clerks who gave the money back to his servants, and who recorded the payments in the royal accounts; where the money came from is not stated, but there is evidence that the king's clerks kept cash in locked boxes or coffers or in barrels. (In 1323, Edward II himself lost a key to a locked box full of money, and a locksmith had to come and make a new one.) As for the chamber staff who lent the king money, the valets earned three pence a day, and their wages were paid once or twice a month in arrears. As all their food, drink, clothes and shoes were provided for free, three pence a day was their disposable income, and it seems that the men had little problem handing over five shillings here, another two shillings there.

Where the chamber valets and others kept their wages is also something I wonder about - perhaps in a scrip around their waists. As the only coin in circulation was the silver penny, carrying around a few shillings would have been quite heavy: five shillings was sixty pence, and therefore sixty coins. In July 1326, Edward II gave a cook of his called Will Balsham forty shillings (480 coins!) to buy himself a hackney horse, and the money was give to Will "by the king's own hands between two silver dishes." There are also numerous instances of the king meeting his subjects and handing money over to them with his own hands, either as a gift or in payment for fish or bread or other purchases, or ordering one of his servants to do it, so presumably on these occasions Edward told one of his clerks to unlock a box or coffer containing money and hand it over to the person directly.

Quite by chance, I've just this minute seen an entry on the Patent Roll dated 28 November 1313 (CPR 1313-7, p. 52), where a merchant from Normandy called Nicholas du Vual, who had made large profits of fifty pounds in the market of Boston, Lincolnshire, sewed up the money in a linen shirt to keep it safe. His servant Simon Basil put the shirt on and travelled to Nicholas's native Caen to give it to Nicholas's wife, but sadly was drowned on the way, and the money was discovered and temporarily confiscated, though Nicholas did eventually get it back after he petitioned Edward II about it.

- At Christmas 1324, Edward II borrowed the huge sum of twenty marks - a mark was two-thirds of a pound or 160 pence - from his chamber squire John 'Jankyn' Harsik, for what purpose is not stated. Jankyn got his money back in early February 1325.

- In March 1326, Edward hired a cart to take piles of straw from Kenilworth Castle in Warwickshire to Hugh Despenser the Younger's castle of Hanley in Worcestershire. He paid the carter five shillings in advance, and borrowed the money from his chamber valet Henry Lawe. Henry got his money back later the same day, with an extra shilling, i.e. twelve pence, added on as a gift (four days' wages for him).

- Henry's brother Simon 'Syme' Lawe lent Edward II five shillings in London on 14 July 1325 to give to a messenger who had brought the king letters from Walter Reynolds, archbishop of Canterbury. The money was returned to him a month later.

- Jack de la Coppehouse, chamber valet and the man in charge of the brass vessels in the royal household, lent the king four shillings to play dice with his sergeant-at-arms Syme of Reading at Bayham Abbey on 25 or 26 August 1324, and got his money back on 28 August. Edward also received five shillings from one of his chamber clerks to play cross and pile with Syme of Reading.

- On 24 June 1326, Edward played dice in the Tower of London with his household knight Sir Giles Beauchamp, to celebrate the Nativity of Saint John the Baptist. He borrowed five shillings from his chamber valet Roger May to do so. Roger's money was returned to him on 7 July.

- A few days before this, when leaving Leeds Castle in Kent, Edward had borrowed four shillings from his usher Peter Bernard to give as alms to a 'poor man' he encountered on the road. Peter got his money back later that day. He also lent the king eight shillings in May 1326 so that Edward could pay cross and pile with Sir Robert Wateville. Edward lost the money to Wateville, but Peter Bernard's loan was returned to him on 22 May.

- Sometime in July 1326, Edward borrowed six pence from his chamber valet Watte Don to give as alms to an unnamed person he encountered, and gave Watte his money back on 28 July.

- Elis 'Eliot' Peck, one of the king's wheelwrights, lent Edward a shilling in November 1324, and got two shillings back four days later. In August 1326, Eliot lent Edward another shilling to give to a ditcher called Gibbe at the palace of Clarendon in Wiltshire, who was working alongside the king in a ditch and who needed new shoes. His money was returned to him on 22 August, probably the same day he lent it to Edward.

- Edward, the parker of Cold Kennington, sent Edward II a gift of young pigeons for his table on 3 July 1326. The king sent his trumpeter Janyn the Scot to the parker's house, and Janyn gave him five shillings and eight pence of his own money. He got it all back fifteen days later.

- Peter Plummer, or 'Peres le Plomer' as his name was spelt, a royal clerk, borrowed six pence from a carter of the royal household called John of Burstwick, and paid John his money back at Edward II's command on 11 September 1325.

11 November, 2018

Rumours of the Killing of Hugh Despenser the Younger, November 1325

Sometime not too long before 8 November 1325, Hugh Despenser the Younger left Edward II in the south-east of England and travelled to 'the parts of Wales' - where in Wales is not stated - with a small-ish retinue. He remained there until 20 November or a little later, and had been reunited with the king and with his heavily pregnant wife Eleanor née de Clare in and around London by 28 November. In early September 1325, Hugh the Younger had persuaded Edward II not to travel to France to pay homage to Charles IV for his French lands but to send his adolescent son Edward of Windsor instead, supposedly on the grounds that Hugh and his father the earl of Winchester's lives would be in danger during the king's absence abroad. Even so, Hugh evidently was not afraid to travel to Wales by himself, without Edward's protection. He and Edward kept in touch by letter, sent via messengers; one of them was the Dominican friar Thomas Dunheved, who with his elder brother Stephen would lead a gang of men who temporarily freed the deposed Edward from Berkeley Castle in the summer of 1327. Another was the king's squire Thomelyn de Haldon.

At the French court, meanwhile, around the end of October 1325, Edward II's queen Isabella of France had felt confident enough to make her loathing of Hugh Despenser the Younger public. She gave Edward an ultimatum, that he must send Hugh away from him or she and their not quite thirteen-year-old son Edward of Windsor (born 13 November 1312) would not return to England. This speech was recorded by the author of the Vita Edwardi Secundi, who also cites a letter sent to Isabella by all the English bishops on Edward II's orders in November or early December 1325. This letter makes it apparent that Isabella had threatened to destroy Hugh Despenser the Younger with the help of her brother Charles IV and other Frenchmen, though her speech or her own letter to this effect does not survive.

The squire Thomelyn de Haldon brought Edward II letters from Hugh the Younger on 8 November, and that was the last time the king heard from Hugh for a little while. An entry in the king's chamber account on 20 November 1325 states (in French): "Item, paid to Will de Haveryng, king's porter, and to John de Carleford and Peres Bernard, ushers of the king's chamber, who were sent hastily from Isleworth to the parts of Wales to ascertain the welfare of my lord Sir Hugh [Despenser] the son, because Jack Pyk told the king that the said Sir Hugh had been killed, when the said Will, John and Peres returned and informed the king that the said Sir Hugh was well and hearty by God's mercy, to each of the three ten marks for their good news, thirty marks."

Jack Pyk was a valet of Edward II's chamber (and also the captain of a ship called the Blome of Westminster), and evidently was passing on news he had heard to the king. It seems, therefore, that rumours that Hugh Despenser the Younger had been killed were current in November 1325. As it happened, he had not and was perfectly well, though the large sum of ten marks the king gave each of the three men who brought him the news that Hugh was fine reveals Edward's huge relief. The day before this payment was made, Edward had sent another man called Syme to Wales to see what was going on, evidently fretting that the other three men had not come back yet, and not sure whether Hugh was dead or not. Given the timing of Isabella's speech to the French court, I do wonder if Edward II and others believed that she, or perhaps Hugh Despenser's nemesis Roger Mortimer of Wigmore, had had Hugh assassinated; there is evidence that Roger did send assassins after Hugh and his father and others some months after his escape from the Tower in August 1323. Hugh Despenser the Younger was unharmed, and if anyone did try to kill him in November 1325 they failed, but this was almost exactly a year before Isabella and Roger Mortimer really did have Hugh killed on 24 November 1326, and not at the hands of a quiet assassin but in the most public and atrociously agonising manner possible.

Source: Edward II's last chamber account, now held in the library of the Society of Antiquaries of London, SAL MS 122.

04 November, 2018

Blood Roses Book Giveaway

My fifth book Blood Roses: The Houses of Lancaster and York Before the Wars of the Roses came out recently, and I have two free, signed copies to give away! They can be sent anywhere in the world so don't worry about that, and all you have to do is enter is either: leave a comment here on the blog with your email address (so I can contact you if you've won); write a post or leave a comment on my Edward II Facebook page here, or send me a private message there if you prefer, also with your email address; or email me at edwardofcaernarfon(at)yahoo.com. The closing date is midnight, GMT, Sunday 18 November 2018, so you have two weeks to enter, and I'll contact the two winners as soon as possible after that. (I typed 1318 first instead of 2018, and to correct it. :D) I can write any inscription in it that you like, so if you'd like it as a present for someone else, that's no problem. Good luck!