19 December, 2021

Book Giveaway: John of Gaunt and Philippa of Hainault

My book John of Gaunt: Son of One King, Father of Another will be released in the UK in mid-January 2022, finally (I submitted it to Amberley in April 2020, but because of Covid, it's been massively delayed). I have three, yes three, free hardback copies to give away!

My biography of John's mother, Philippa of Hainault: Mother of the English Nation, will be released in paperback also in early 2022, and I have two free (paperback) copies of it to give away as well.

You can enter either draw, or both! To do so, either leave a comment here, with your email address so I can contact the winners, or email me at edwardofcaernarfon(at)yahoo(dot)com, or message me/leave a comment on my Edward II Facebook page, or if we're connected on my personal Facebook or Twitter accounts, you can contact me there as well. Make sure I have some means of contacting you if you're one of the lucky winners, and also, let me know which book(s) you'd like to win. It doesn't matter where in the world you are, as long as you have an address I can post a book to!

The closing date is midnight GMT on 31 December 2021, so you have twelve days to enter the draw. Best of luck!

03 December, 2021

Sixteen Years of the Edward II Blog!

The Edward II blog is sixteen years old today! Hurray! I started it on 3 December 2005 and have written 912 posts, and the blog has had well over three million visitors now. Who'da thunk it, ey, that a blog about one of the most unsuccessful kings in British history would get so many readers? Yay for Edward II!

Unfortunately I'm not yet able to update the blog as often as I'd like, as I'm still coping with the loss of my mother just over six months ago. This time of year is particularly hard for me, because it's her birthday - or it would have been her birthday, and a big one that ends in a zero - in a few days. Those of you who have lost a parent will know just what a long and painful process it is to come to terms with it.

So anyway, hope to post some more articles here sometime soon, and just wanted to say to all of you: thank you so, so much for reading and supporting me these last few years. It means a lot. Love, Kathryn xx

01 December, 2021

Marguerite Mortimer née Fiennes (d. 1334)

Roger Mortimer of Wigmore, first earl of March, is, for fairly obvious reasons, one of the most famous and written-about people of Edward II's era. I often feel, though, that the women in Roger's life, with the exception of Queen Isabella, are little known, and are undervalued and sometimes downright ignored. In an attempt to rectify this, here's a post about Roger's Anglo-French mother Marguerite Fiennes.

Marguerite was probably born around 1270, and was one of the two daughters of the Anglo-French nobleman Guillaume de Fiennes, who was killed at the battle of Courtrai in July 1302, and the French noblewoman and heiress Blanche de Brienne, lady of Loupelande. Blanche was born in c. 1252, and was a granddaughter of John de Brienne (d. 1237), king of Jerusalem by his first marriage, and elected Latin Emperor of Constantinople in 1229. 

Marguerite had a younger sister called Jeanne or Joan, who married John, Lord Wake, landowner in Cumberland and Yorkshire. Their elder son Thomas, Lord Wake was born in 1298 and they had a younger son John as well, and their daughter Margaret, who was presumably named after her maternal Fiennes aunt and was perhaps Marguerite's goddaughter, married Edward II's half-brother the earl of Kent in 1325 and was the mother of Joan of Kent, princess of Wales. Jeanne Fiennes was left a widow with three small children in 1300. Marguerite and Jeanne also had a brother, John or Jean, who unlike them lived most of his life in France and married one of the many daughters of Guy de Dampierre, the very long-lived count of Flanders.

Marguerite Fiennes spent most of or all her life in England, and married Edmund Mortimer around 1285. He was many years her senior, probably close to twenty

He died in 1304, and his heir was his and Marguerite's elder son Roger, who was probably born around 25 April or 3 May 1287.

Marguerite died in early 1334, having outlived her daughter Maud Mortimer de Verdon, who died in 1312 leaving three daughters; her younger son John Mortimer, who died childless in 1318; her elder son Roger Mortimer, who was executed in November 1330; and her grandson Edmund Mortimer, who died in late 1331. Her heir at her death was her five-year-old great-grandson Roger Mortimer, born in November 1328, later the second earl of March.

Philippa of Hainault and the Cumans' mtDNA

Philippa of Hainault (c. 1314-69), queen of Edward III, was a great-great-granddaughter of a queen of Hungary and Croatia named Elizabeth, or Erzsébet in its Hungarian form. Elizabeth, who died in 1290, was born into a nomadic tribe of the Eurasian steppes who practised shamanism. The Cumans fled into Hungary in the 1230s and 1240s to escape the incursions of Genghis Khan’s sons and grandsons into their territories, and Elizabeth’s father, whose name is believed to have been either Seyhan or Köten and who was the Cumans’ khan or chieftain, arranged Elizabeth’s marriage to the future king of Hungary, Stephen (or István) V. She converted to Christianity before her wedding and took the Christian name Elizabeth, and her daughter Marie of Hungary (d. 1323), queen of Naples, was Philippa of Hainault’s great-grandmother.

Elizabeth the Cuman, queen of Hungary and Croatia (d. 1290) -> Marie of Hungary, queen of Naples (d. 1323) -> Marguerite of Anjou-Naples, countess of Valois (d. 1299) -> Jeanne de Valois, countess of Hainault (d. 1352) -> Philippa of Hainault, queen of England (d. 1369)

Queen Philippa's maternal uncle Philip VI of France (born 1293, reigned 1328-50), son of Marguerite of Anjou-Naples and older brother of Jeanne de Valois, was also descended from Elizabeth the Cuman in the female line, and therefore carried the same mtDNA.

And on the topic of maternal descent, here's Edward II's, going backwards, as far back as I've been able to trace it for certain:

Edward II - Leonor/Eleanor of Castile, queen of England (d. 1290) - Jeanne of Ponthieu, queen of Castile (d. 1279) - Marie of Ponthieu, countess of Ponthieu and Aumale (d. 1250) - Alais/Alix/Alys of France, countess of Ponthieu (d. c. 1220/21) - Constanza of Castile, queen of France (d. 1160) - Berenguela of Barcelona, queen of Castile (d. 1149) - Douce/Dulce, countess of Provence (d. c. 1127/30) - Gerberga of Provence (d. c. 1112/15) - Etiennette of Marseille (?)

18 November, 2021

18 November 1362: King Pedro Makes a Will

Pedro, king of Castile and Leon, often known to posterity as 'the Cruel', was born in 1334 as the only son of Alfonso XI (1311-50, betrothed to Edward II's daughter Eleanor of Woodstock in 1324) and Maria of Portugal (1313-57). Pedro was set to marry Edward III's second daughter Joan of Woodstock (b. c. January 1334) in the summer of 1348, but she died of the plague on her way to their wedding, and five years later, by now king of Castile and Leon, Pedro married the French noblewoman Blanche de Bourbon instead. Pedro's love life was exceedingly complicated. By the time of his wedding to Blanche, he was involved in an intense relationship with the Castilian noblewoman Doña María de Padilla, who gave birth to their eldest child, Beatriz, some months before Pedro married Blanche in June 1353. He abandoned the unfortunate Blanche within days of their wedding and went off with María, who gave birth to their second child, Costanza, later duchess of Lancaster and Edward III's daughter-in-law, in July 1354 thirteen months after Costanza's father married another woman. 

In April 1354 three months before Costanza was born, however, Pedro claimed to have had his marriage to Blanche de Bourbon annulled and went through a wedding ceremony with another Castilian noblewoman, Doña Juana de Castro. (Didn't I say his love life was insanely complicated? There's that whole thing about him fathering a child called Fernando with María de Padilla's first cousin María González de Henestrosa as well.) The king made a habit of abandoning women just after he married them, and left Juana de Castro - whose sister or half-sister Inês was the famous assassinated mistress and perhaps wife of Pedro's uncle the king of Portugal - the day after their wedding. Their extremely brief relationship resulted in a son, Juan, born nine months later in early January 1355, more or less on the same day as his aunt Inês de Castro's assassination. Juan was six months younger than his half-sister Costanza, and a few months older than his half-sister Isabel, duchess of York and also Edward III's daughter-in-law, the third child of King Pedro and María de Padilla, who was born in the summer or autumn of 1355. Pedro and María's fourth and youngest child, Alfonso, was born in 1359, and María de Padilla and the tragic Blanche de Bourbon both died in 1361, Blanche after eight years of captivity.

Below: baths in the Alcázar in Seville, named after María de Padilla (my pics, taken during a visit to Seville a few years ago).

Pedro and María's son Alfonso died in Seville on or about 18 October 1362, aged just three (Fernando, Pedro's young son from his relationship with María's cousin, also died in 1361 or 1362). A month later on 18 November 1362, King Pedro made his will, in medieval Castilian. It's printed in volume 1 of Pero López de Ayala's Crónicas de los Reyes de Castilla: Don Pedro, Don Enrique II, Don Juan I, Don Enrique III, published in 1779. (Ayala lived from 1332 to 1407, and his niece Teresa de Ayala, one of King Pedro's mistresses in the 1360s after the death of María de Padilla, bore him a daughter, María de Ayala, in c. 1367.) In his will, King Pedro expressed his wish for his kingdoms of Castile and Leon to pass to his and the late María de Padilla's eldest child Beatriz, and stated that Beatriz was to marry Fernando of Portugal (b. 1345), son and heir of Pedro's namesake maternal uncle the king of Portugal (d. 1367). Beatriz, in fact, died sometime after September 1366, when she and her younger sisters Costanza and Isabel were sent as hostages to Edward of Woodstock, prince of Wales and Aquitaine. The date of her death was not recorded, but she was almost certainly already dead when her father was stabbed to death by his illegitimate half-brother Enrique of Trastámara in March 1369, and was certainly dead by the time John of Gaunt married her younger sister Costanza in September 1371. Beatriz's fate is rather obscure. Some modern writers claim she became a nun at the convent of Santa Clara de Tordesillas, though I'm not sure how and when she could have, given that she was Pedro's eldest daughter and heir and he wished her to become queen-regnant of Castile and queen-consort of Portugal, and given that she was one of tres filiae nostrae or 'our three daughters' whom Pedro sent as hostages to Edward III's eldest son on or just after 23 September 1366. [Foedera 1361-77, pp. 805-6]

After Beatriz, Pedro left his kingdoms to his second daughter Costanza, then to his third daughter Isabel, then to his and Juana de Castro's son Juan. In later decades, Isabel and her husband Edmund of Langley (d. 1402), first duke of York, and their son and heir Edward (d. 1415), second duke of York, claimed the throne of Castile by right of male descent. They stated that as Costanza had only a daughter, Catalina of Lancaster, and no son, the Yorks had a superior right to Pedro's throne, because Pedro had specified that Castile and Leon would pass to Beatriz and her male heirs, then Costanza and her male heirs, then Isabel and her male heirs. In fact, they were wrong: Pedro's will stated that Beatriz was his primary heir and that a legitimate son of Beatriz would be next in line, or failing a son, her legitimate daughter. Beatriz was followed by Costanza in the succession if Beatriz had no legitimate sons or daughters (as indeed she did not), followed by Isabel if neither Beatriz nor Costanza had legitimate sons or daughters. 

Pedro made a point of specifying that the sons, preferentially, or the daughters, failing the birth of sons, of his three daughters could inherit his kingdom. He did not specify any future husbands for Costanza and Isabel, though did state that his kingdoms would belong, in the event of Beatriz's death, to Costanza and whoever she married, succeeded by her son or daughter (mándo que herede los mis Regnos la Infant Doña Costanza mi fija é el que con ella casáre, é despues della el fijo ó fija). Pedro strictly ordered his three daughters never to marry into the Trastámara branch of the family, i.e. the descendants of his father Alfonso XI and his mistress Leonor de Guzmán, in particular the families of Pedro's oldest half-brother and future usurper and killer Enrique and Enrique's brothers Tello and Sancho. If they did, the girls would be cursed by God and by Pedro himself. Another man on Pedro's list of unmarriageables was his cousin Fernando of Aragon, el Infant Don Ferrando de Aragon, who joined the Trastámara brothers' rebellion against him. Pedro's granddaughter Catalina of Lancaster (b. 1372/73), Costanza's only surviving child and heir, married Enrique of Trastámara's grandson Enrique (b. 1379) in 1388, and they suceeded as king and queen of Castile in 1390. Although Pedro had not specifically stated that his daughters' children should not marry a Trastámara, I can't help wondering if the marriage gave Costanza some anxious moments, wondering if she was risking the wrath of God and her late father.

In his will, Pedro left a sizeable number of items to nine-year-old Beatriz, eight-year-old Costanza and seven-year-old Isabel and to their seven-year-old half-brother Juan, though whether the four ever received any of the bequests, given Pedro's downfall and his assassination by his half-brother Enrique of Trastámara in 1369, is another question. To Costanza, Pedro left 100,000 Moroccan gold coins, a large number of seed pearls, a gold cup, a crown which had once belonged to his father Alfonso XI, another crown decorated with eagles which had once belonged to his aunt Leonor, queen of Aragon (d. 1359), and a third crown which Pedro had had made in Seville. This last crown was set with a large balas ruby which had once been in the possession of Abu Abdullah Muhammad VI, emir of Granada, whom Pedro and other Christians called King Bermejo (meaning 'russet' or 'red'). Pero López de Ayala's chronicle says that in April 1362, Pedro invited the emir and thirty-six members of his entourage to Seville, where, after dining with them, he had them killed and stripped of their valuables. If this tale is true, the valuables perhaps included the large ruby which Pedro willed to Costanza seven months later. Pedro bequeathed far more of his possessions to Costanza than to her sisters Beatriz and Isabel or to Juan, perhaps indicating that she was his favourite child. 

To Isabel, Pedro left 70,000 Moroccan coins, silk cloths, cloth-of-gold, rugs, unspecified 'other cloths' and a 'French crown' which had belonged to his tragic wife Blanche de Bourbon, whom Pedro refused to acknowledge as his wife and queen in the will and called simply 'Doña Blanca, daughter of the duke of Bourbon' (la corona Francesa que fué de Doña Blanca fija del duc de Borbon). He repeatedly referred to his long-term mistress and the great love of his life, María de Padilla, as 'the queen, Doña María, my wife'. María's jewels and other goods were to be divided into six portions; Beatriz (la Infant Doña Beatris) was to receive three of them, Costanza two, and Isabel one. Pedro's own personal goods which he had not bequeathed elsewhere in the will were to be divided into eight portions: three each for Beatriz and Costanza, and one each for Isabel and Juan. Beatriz was also to receive other items from her father, including a gold cup and another very large balas ruby which had belonged to Abu Abdullah Muhammad VI. 

Finally, Juan (Don Juan mio fijo é de Doña Juana de Castro) was bequeathed his father's armour and weapons, including six swords and a basinet helmet. Juan, incidentally, was imprisoned for many years by his Trastámara cousins, as were his half-brothers Sancho and Diego, born in 1363 and c. 1365 as the children of King Pedro and his mistress Isabel de Sandoval. At an unknown date in the late 1300s or beginning of the 1400s, Juan married Elvira de Eril, daughter of his warder Beltrán, and they had two children who lived into adulthood and joined the Church. Juan and Elvira named their daughter Costanza, perhaps in honour of his half-sister the duchess of Lancaster, and she became prioress of Santo Domingo el Real in Toledo and died in 1478, while their son Pedro (d. 1461) was bishop of Osma and Palencia. Juan died in 1405.

14 November, 2021

The Children of Thomas Holland, Earl of Kent (d. 1397) and Alice Arundel (d. 1416)

Thomas Holland, earl of Kent, grandson of Sir Robert Holland (d. 1328) and nephew of Isabelle Holland, was born in c. 1351 as the son and heir of Thomas Holland Sr (d. late 1360), and Edward I's granddaughter Joan of Kent, later princess of Wales and Richard II's mother. [1] Around 10 April 1364, Thomas married Alice Fitzalan or Arundel, third of the five children of Richard, earl of Arundel (d. 1376) and his second wife Eleanor of Lancaster (d. 1372). A papal dispensation for consanguinity had been issued the August before. [2] Alice was probably slightly older than her husband Thomas (d. 25 April 1397), though only by a couple of years. When she died on 17 March 1416, she had outlived at least six and perhaps seven of their eleven children. 

A psalter now held in the library of St John's College, Cambridge, gives the dates of birth (and death, in some cases) of some of Thomas Holland and Alice Arundel's children. All four of their sons and three of their seven daughters are assigned a date of birth, though frustratingly, four of their daughters are not mentioned: Joan, duchess of York, Margaret, duchess of Clarence, Elizabeth, daughter-in-law and mother of earls of Westmorland, and Bridget, a nun of Barking. Other than Alianore Holland, countess of March and Ulster, who was the eldest child, and Thomas Holland, earl of Kent and duke of Surrey, who was the second child and eldest son, it's hard to determine the exact birth order of all the siblings; we can determine the birth order of the boys, and the birth order of the girls, but putting them all together is tricky. Here's a list with my best guess at the correct order of all eleven children:

- Alianore or Eleanor Holland, countess of March and Ulster, b. 13 October 1370. She married her father's ward Roger Mortimer, fourth earl of March and earl of Ulster, who was b. 11 April 1374, and according to the annalist of Wigmore Abbey in Herefordshire, their eldest child Anne Mortimer, countess of Cambridge and the paternal grandmother of Edward IV and Richard III, was born on 27 December 1388. [3] Anne was probably conceived more or less exactly on Roger Mortimer's fourteenth birthday, which fell thirty-seven weeks before her birth, so Roger was a very young father, and as Alianore's father Thomas Holland was about thirty-seven in 1388, he was a young grandfather. Alianore had a younger daughter and two sons, Edmund (b. 1391) and Roger (b. 1393) Mortimer as well, and two daughters from her second marriage to Edward Charlton or Cherleton. She died in 1405.

- Thomas Holland, the eldest son, earl of Kent and duke of Surrey, b. 8 September 1372, beheaded in Cirencester during the Epiphany Rising on c. 7 January 1400, aged twenty-seven. He married the earl of Stafford's daughter Joan Stafford (d. 1442) shortly after 20 October 1392, but had no children. [4]

- John Holland, the second son, b. 2 November 1374, d. 5 November 1394. Probably named after his father's younger brother John Holland (b. c. 1353), later earl of Huntingdon and duke of Exeter, and perhaps his godson. He would have been his brother Thomas's heir in 1400 if he had lived longer, but died in his father's lifetime.

- Richard Holland, the third son, b. 3 April 1376, d. 21 May 1396. Richard went into the Church after graduating BA, but like his brother John, died at the age of twenty, also in their father's lifetime. He was surely named in honour of his half-uncle Richard of Bordeaux, who became king of England the year after Richard Holland's birth. [5]

- Joan Holland, the second daughter, duchess of York. Her date of birth is unknown, though I would imagine that she was the fifth Holland child after Alianore, Thomas, John and Richard, and was born in c. 1377 or 1378 (it's possible that one of the Holland children, perhaps Joan, was born between Thomas in September 1372 and John in November 1374, though the timing is a bit tight). Joan married the fifty-two-year-old widower Edmund of Langley, duke of York, in c. November 1393. Confusingly, he was Richard II's uncle while she was Richard II's half-niece. To make matters even more hilariously confusing, Joan's stepdaughter Constance of York, who was most probably some years her senior, had an illegitimate daughter with Joan's brother Edmund Holland, earl of Kent (see below). After Edmund of Langley, duke of York, died in 1402, Joan Holland embarked on another three marriages, though had no children.

- Margaret Holland, the third daughter, duchess of Clarence and countess of Somerset, probably born after Joan and before Edmund, placing her date of birth around 1380. Before 28 September 1397, she married John of Gaunt and Katherine Swynford's eldest child John Beaufort (b. c. 1373), earl of Somerset, and they were the grandparents of Margaret Beaufort, Henry VII's mother. After Margaret Holland was widowed in 1410, she married her late husband's half-nephew Thomas of Lancaster, duke of Clarence (b. 1387), Henry V's brother. She died in late 1439 and was the last surviving of the Holland children, and was named as one of the co-heirs of her sister Joan, dowager duchess of York, the second last survivor, in 1434. [6]

- Edmund Holland, the fourth and youngest son and his brother Thomas's heir, earl of Kent, was born on 9 January 1382 according to the psalter, or on 6 January 1382 in Brockenhurst, Hampshire, according to his proof of age, or on 6 January 1383 according to his brother Thomas's inquisition post mortem. Confusingly, the proof of age was taken in Winchester on 22 May 1404 and states that Edmund was 'born on 6 Jan. 1382...and is therefore twenty-one years of age' (this discrepancy might be a result of the confusing medieval habit of dating the new year from 25 March). Edmund married Lucia Visconti of Milan in January 1407, and though he had no children with her during their twenty-month marriage, he had an illegitimate daughter with Edward III's granddaughter Constance of York (c. 1375-1416), dowager Lady Despenser: Alianore Holland, Lady Tuchet, born sometime in the early 1400s. Edmund was killed fighting in Brittany in September 1408, and his heirs were his four surviving sisters, Joan, Margaret, Eleanor and Elizabeth, and Edmund Mortimer, earl of March (b. 1391), son of his late eldest sister Alianore (1370-1405). Edmund Holland's inquisition post mortem and numerous entries in the chancery rolls make the birth order of the five eldest Holland sisters absolutely certain. [7] After Edmund's death, there were no fewer than four dowager countesses of Kent: his widow Lucia Visconti, his sister-in-law Joan Stafford, his mother Alice Arundel, and his elderly German great-aunt Elisabeth of Jülich (d. 1411), widow of John, earl of Kent (1330-52), the younger brother of Joan of Kent, princess of Wales.

- Alianore or Eleanor Holland the younger, the fourth daughter, countess of Salisbury, was born on 29 November 1384, and was almost certainly the eighth Holland child. As was the case with her namesake eldest sister the countess of March, she married a man several years younger than she was: Thomas Montacute or Montagu was born on 25 March 1388 in Shenley, Hertfordshire, and was named after his royal godfather Thomas of Woodstock, duke of Gloucester. [8] Thomas Montacute's father John Montacute, earl of Salisbury, was beheaded in Cirencester in January 1400 alongside Eleanor's eldest brother Thomas Holland, earl of Kent. Eleanor was the mother of Thomas's daughter and heir Alice (b. 1407), countess of Salisbury, who married Richard Neville (d. 1460), eldest son of Joan Beaufort and Ralph Neville, first earl of Westmorland.

- Elizabeth Holland, the fifth daughter, date of birth unknown, but presumably around 1386/87. She married John Neville (c. 1387-1420), eldest son of Ralph Neville, first earl of Westmorland, from his first marriage to Margaret Stafford, and had a son also named Ralph Neville, second earl of Westmorland, born in Cockermouth, Cumberland on or a little before 4 April 1406. Elizabeth was said to be twenty years old in her brother Edmund's inquisition post mortem of November 1408 and twenty-two years old in her mother Alice's inquisition post mortem of May 1416, which is a neat trick. Her sister Duchess Joan, meanwhile, had supposedly aged twelve years, from twenty-four to thirty-six, in those seven and a half years. [9]

- Bridget Holland, date of birth unknown, who became a nun at the prestigious abbey of Barking in Essex. Either Bridget or her sister Anne, below, was the seventh daughter and the eleventh and youngest Holland child.

- Anne Holland, born 4 December 1389 and just under a year younger than her namesake niece Anne Mortimer, countess of Cambridge. I don't know anything about Anne Holland or what became of her. She wasn't named in the inquisitions post mortem of her brother Edmund in 1408 or her mother Alice in 1416, so either she was dead by then or she had, like Bridget, joined a convent. It's rather curious to me that the psalter gives Anne's exact date of birth but not those of several of her older sisters who lived into adulthood, though at least we know of her existence as a result.


1) CIPM 1352-60, no. 657; Thomas was either nine or ten years old in January/February 1361.

2) CPR 1361-64, p. 480; CFR 1413-22, pp. 166-67; Petitions to the Pope 1342-1419, p. 453.

3) Monasticon Anglicanum, ed. Dugdale, vol. 6, p. 355.

4) CPR 1391-96, p. 211.

5) Calendar of Papal Letters 1362-1404, p. 397; CPR 1391-96, pp. 119, 130.

6) CPR 1396-99, p. 211; CIPM 1432-37, nos. 245-62.

7) CIPM 1399-1405, nos. 974-79; CIPM 1405-13, nos. 622-39; CFR 1405-13, p. 135.

8) CIPM 1405-13, no. 655.

9) CIPM 1405-13, nos. 622-39; CIPM 1413-18, nos. 608-20; CIPM 1427-32, no. 314.

07 November, 2021

Sir Robert Holland (d. 1328)

I've previously written a post about the murder of Sir Robert Holland in October 1328, and another about his daughter Isabelle, mistress of John de Warenne, earl of Surrey (d. 1347). Here's one about Robert himself, a knight of Lancashire whose grandchildren were the older half-siblings of King Richard II.

Robert's family came originally from the village of Upholland in Lancashire, and in the thirteenth and fourteenth centuries, the name was spelt Holand, Holande, Holond, Holaund(e), Hoyland, Hoylaund, etc. Robert's father was also called Sir Robert Holland, and the older Robert was the eldest of the six sons of Thurstan Holland, who was himself the son of yet another Robert Holland. [1] This Robert and his son Thurstan, our Robert's great-grandfather and grandfather, were imprisoned in 1241 after setting fire to a house belonging to the rector of Wigan. 

Our Robert's mother, Elizabeth, was the third and youngest daughter, and co-heir, of Sir William Samlesbury, who married Avina Notton and died in c. 1256, leaving their three daughters Margery, Cecily and Elizabeth as his heirs. Elizabeth and Sir Robert Holland Senior were certainly already married by September 1276 and probably a good few years before that. Robert Senior is assumed to have died c. 1304, while Elizabeth was still alive in 1313/14. The date of birth of Robert and Elizabeth's eldest son and heir, our Robert, is not recorded but was probably sometime near the start of the 1270s; his father settled a tenement on him in Pemberton and Orrell in 1292, suggesting he was at least twenty-one then and may have recently turned twenty-one. In the late 1310s and early 1320s, a 'Simon de Holand' (d. 1325) was associated with Robert, who gave him a plot of land in Lancashire, and there was also a 'Richard de Holand, knight' who joined the Contrariant rebellion of 1321/22 with Robert. There's an entry in the Final Concords for Lancashire in October 1321 regarding 'Richard son of Robert de Holand, plaintiff'. [2] As the sons of our Robert Holland were still children in 1321, this would appear to mean that Richard was a son of Robert Holland Sr (d. c. 1304) and therefore our Robert's brother. Robert certainly had a younger brother named William, who died in the late 1310s or early 1320s and whose son and heir was named Robert, and there are also references in the chancery rolls in the 1330s and 1340s to another son of William's called Thurstan. 

J.R. Maddicott has pointed out that Robert Holland's origins were not quite as humble as some fourteenth-century chroniclers, notably the Brut and Henry Knighton - who wrote that the earl of Lancaster raised Robert 'from nothing' - claimed. [3] C. Moor's Knights of Edward I (vol. 2, p. 233) states that our Robert was active as a knight and a keeper of the peace in Lancashire as early as 1287, but surely that's his father of the same name. As so often happens when father and son had the same name, it's difficult, or even impossible, to distingush between them, especially when the son reached an age where he became active as a knight and soldier. It was possibly the younger Robert, rather than his father, who was appointed to 'choose 2,000 footmen' in Lancashire in June 1300, and who was appointed as a commissioner also in Lancashire in May 1303. [4] 

As early as September 1300, the younger Robert Holland was already associated with Edward I's nephew Thomas of Lancaster, earl of Lancaster and Leicester, who was then in his early twenties (my belief is that Thomas was born on or around 29 December 1277). On 18 September 1300, Edward I ordered his escheator beyond Trent 'not to intermeddle further with the lands that Robert de Holand had of the gift of Thomas, earl of Lancaster, tenant in chief, in Beltesford, which the escheator has taken into the king's hands because Robert entered them without his licence.' [5] This is an early indication of Robert's close relationship with Thomas of Lancaster, which lasted for over twenty years. In March 1316, Thomas founded a chantry in Worcester to pray for the souls of his royal parents Edmund of Lancaster, earl of Lancaster and Leicester (d. 1296) and Blanche of Artois, dowager queen of Navarre (d. 1302), on the anniversaries of their deaths. The monks were also to pray on the anniversaries of two people currently still alive, after their deaths: Thomas himself, and Sir Robert Holland. Thomas didn't ask for prayers for his wife Alice de Lacy or his younger brother Henry or Henry's children or anyone else, just Robert Holland, an indication of Robert's importance in his life. J.R. Maddicott has called Robert Thomas of Lancaster's 'companion and friend, estate steward, political agent, and general factotum', and states that their 'close friendship...ran at a deeper level than that of a mere business partnership'. [6] There are numerous instances in the chancery rolls of Earl Thomas granting manors to Robert and his wife Maud, and their heirs.

Edward II appointed Robert Holland to the important position of justice of Chester on 28 August 1307, at the beginning of his reign. Robert held the office until late 1311, was replaced, but then re-appointed a few weeks later. [7] At the beginning of the reign, and until c. late 1308 or early 1309, Thomas of Lancaster was closely associated with his cousin the king, and the two men were on excellent terms. Things went badly wrong, however, and for reasons that are unclear, Thomas began to move into opposition to his cousin. The two royal men came to detest and fear each other, especially after Thomas's involvement in the death of Piers Gaveston in June 1312. A jousting tournament was held in Dunstable, Bedfordshire in the spring of 1309, which a large number of the English earls and barons used as a cover to meet and express their disgruntlement with Edward II's governance. Thomas, earl of Lancaster, and Sir Robert Holland were among those present. [8] Edward replaced Robert as justice of Chester with Payn Tibetot in late 1311, but in January 1312 spoke of Robert's 'good service' to him and re-appointed him as justice of Chester, being aggrieved with Tibetot, who had 'treated with contempt the king's mandate directed to him'. [9]

The king sent a letter to Sir Robert Holland on 20 November 1311, stating that 'we are very joyous and pleased about the good news we have heard concerning the improvement in our dear cousin and faithful subject Thomas, earl of Lancaster, that he will soon be able to ride in comfort. And we send you word and dearly pray that, as soon as he is comfortable and able to ride without hurt to his body, you should ask him to be so good as to hasten to us at our parliament'. [10] It was as though Robert was the earl's deputy and spokesman, and sometime between 1319 and early 1322, Robert and Earl Thomas sent virtually identical letters to Edward II regarding the manor of Farnley in Yorkshire (the only real difference I can see between the two letters is that Robert's opening salutation to Edward was far more deferential). [11] Sometime before 13 May 1306, Robert Holland married Maud la Zouche, co-heir to her father Alan (d. 1314) with her older sister Ellen or Elena. [12] Maud brought Robert a good few manors in several counties in the Midlands and south of England, and it's surely reasonable to assume that Thomas of Lancaster had something to do with arranging such a favourable marriage for his most trusted adherent and associate. 

During the Contrariant rebellion of 1321/22, however, Robert abandoned Thomas of Lancaster, and on 4 March 1322 was ordered to 'come to the king with all speed with horses and arms, in order to set out with the king against his contrariants'. On the same day, Edward II granted Robert a safe-conduct for 'coming to the king by his command and about to go against the contrariants'. Robert Holland's switching sides was surely connected to the fact that one of his and Maud la Zouche's daughters, unnamed, had been taken into captivity in the Tower of London on 26 February 1322, along with Aline de Braose and John Mowbray (b. 1310), wife and son of John, Lord Mowbray (b. 1286): '...conducting by the king's command to the Tower of London Aline, the wife of John de Moubray, and the son of the said John, also the daughter of Robert de Holand...'. [13] According to the very pro-Lancastrian author of the Brut chronicle, when Thomas of Lancaster heard about Robert's defection, he groaned 'how might Robert Holonde fynde in his hert me to bitraye, sithens that y have lovede him so miche?' Thomas supposedly went on to say that he had 'made [Robert] hie fram lowe', i.e. high from low. [14]

Despite his taking armed men to the king, on 12 March 1322 Edward had all of Robert's goods and his lands in Lancashire, Northamptonshire, Nottinghamshire, Derbyshire, Lincolnshire, Leicestershire, Yorkshire, Northumberland, Shropshire and Staffordshire taken into his own hands. Robert also owned 'houses called the houses of Viene in the city of London' which were confiscated, and were possibly the same dwellings which in 1325 were called the 'king's houses in the parish of St Nicholas in the Shambles of London, sometime of Robert de Holand'. On 23 June 1322, Edward stated that Robert was 'charged with being an adherent of Thomas, sometime earl of Lancaster' - Thomas had been executed at his own castle of Pontefract in Yorkshire three months earlier, on 22 March - and had 'surrendered to the king's will'. [15] After Robert's and Thomas of Lancaster's downfall, one William de Leveseye petitioned the king, stating that the earl and Robert ('Sire Rob't de Holande') had imprisoned him in Pontefract Castle in Yorkshire for over a year 'because he was in the company of Sir...', then the petition is sadly torn and the name is missing. [16] 

During the Contrariant rebellion, Robert had sacked several Leicestershire towns including Loughborough which belonged to Hugh Despenser the Elder, in the company of, among others, William Trussell, who in October and November 1326 would pronounce the death sentence on both Hugh Despensers. According to a petition, Robert and his associates chased the 'poor people' of Loughborough out of their homes and they did not dare to return for three months. On 1 October 1323, Edward II ordered the sheriff of Leicestershire not to outlaw Robert for his failure to appear in court to answer for the sacking of Loughborough, because he was in prison at the king's order and was therefore unable to attend. [17] Robert was originally imprisoned in Warwick Castle in 1322, and on 23 July 1326 was moved from there to Northampton Castle. A few months later, early in Edward III's reign, he was pardoned for escaping from prison in Northampton 'when confined there by the late king's order', though his lands were then still officially in the king's hands, and on 12 June 1327 his manors in Yorkshire were given into the custody of one Thomas Deyvill. While he was imprisoned in Warwick Castle, shortly after 4 November 1325, royal officials questioned Robert regarding the assignment of dower to his brother William's widow Joan. [18] The date of Robert's escape from Northampton Castle was not recorded, though the window of opportunity for him to do so was only quite small given that he was moved there after 23 July 1326 and that Queen Isabella and her invasion force, who freed the imprisoned Contrariants, arrived in England on 24 September 1326.

Isabella officially pardoned Robert Holland and restored him to his lands and goods on 24 December 1327, a few days after the deposed Edward II's funeral. The queen ignored the protestations of her uncle Henry of Lancaster, earl of Lancaster and Leicester, Thomas of Lancaster's brother and heir, supposedly because she loved Robert 'wonder miche'. [19] Both Henry himself and a number of his adherents were furious at what they saw as Robert's betrayal of Earl Thomas, the man who had given him so much. As I've pointed out in my previous post about Robert's murder, linked in the first paragraph above, on 15 October 1328 he was waylaid in a wood in Essex by a group of loyal Lancastrian knights, and beheaded. On 20 October, the lands of 'Robert de Holand, deceased, tenant in chief' were taken into the king's hands. [20]

In my post about Robert Holland and Maud la Zouche's daughter Isabelle, also linked above, I listed their other children; they had at least four sons and five daughters. Their first son and heir was another Robert (d. 1373), who was said to be sixteen on 1 December 1328 and seventeen or 'seventeen and more' in early January 1329, placing his date of birth around 1311/12 (sadly, there is no extant proof of age confirming the exact date). [21] Their second son Thomas, whose name probably indicates that Thomas, earl of Lancaster, was his godfather, raised the Holland family high when he married Edward I's granddaughter Joan of Kent, later countess of Kent and Lady Wake in her own right (though when Thomas married her, her younger brother John, earl of Kent, was still alive). Thomas Holland died in late December 1360, and a few months later his widow married Edward III's eldest son the prince of Wales and became the mother of Richard II in January 1367. Thomas Holland's children were, therefore, the older half-siblings of the king of England. Robert Holland's grandson John Holland (c. 1353-1400) married Edward III's granddaughter Elizabeth of Lancaster and was later made earl of Huntingdon and duke of Exeter by Richard II, while John's older brother Thomas Holland (1350/51-1397), earl of Kent, married the earl of Arundel's daughter Alice and their children included the duchesses of York and Clarence and the countesses of March and Salisbury. In just a couple of generations, the Holland family rose from comparative obscurity in the north to become one of the foremost families in the land.


1) J.R. Maddicott, 'Thomas of Lancaster and Sir Robert Holland: A Study in Noble Patronage', English Historical Review, 86 (1971), p. 450.

2) Complete Peerage, vol. 6, pp. 528-31; Maddicott, 'Thomas of Lancaster and Sir Robert Holland', pp. 450-51CCR 1318-23, pp. 210, 571; CFR 1319-27, p. 168; Calendar of Inquisitions Miscellaneous 1308-48, no. 735; Calendar of Inquisitions Post Mortem 1317-27, nos. 497, 567, 707; A History of the County of Lancaster, vol. 3, pp. 394-5; Final Concords for Lancashire, part 2, 1307-1377, no. 127.

3) Maddicott, 'Thomas of Lancaster and Sir Robert Holland', p. 450.

4) CCR 1296-1302, p. 401; CPR 1301-7, p. 191.

5) CCR 1296-1302, p. 365.

6) CPR 1313-17, p. 441; Maddicott, 'Thomas of Lancaster and Sir Robert Holland', p. 462.

7) CFR 1307-19, pp. 2, 5, 10; CPR 1307-13, pp. 38, 411, 427.

8) Collectanea Topographica et Genealogica, ed. F. Madden, B. Bandinel and J.G. Nichols, vol. 4, p. 67.

9) CPR 1307-13, pp. 411-12, 427; CCR 1307-13, p. 396.

10) Cited in G.O. Sayles, The Functions of the Medieval Parliament of England, vol. 1, p. 302; The National Archives SC 1/45/221.

11) TNA SC 8/234/11687 and 11689.

12) Feet of Fines, Berkshire, CP 25/1/9/38, no. 10, dated 13 May 1306, talks of 'Robert de Holond and Maud his wife' when the manor of Denford was given to them with remainder to Maud's father Alan la Zouche.

13) CCR 1318-23, p. 525; CPR 1321-24, pp. 75, 77.

14) The Brut or the Chronicles of England, ed. F.W.D. Brie, part 1, pp. 216-17.

15) CFR 1319-27, p. 109; CPR 1321-24, pp. 137, 337; CPR 1324-27, p. 158.

16) The National Archives SC 8/58/2872.

17) CPR 1321-24, pp. 167, 309, 387; CCR 1323-27, p. 24.

18) CCR 1323-27, p. 592; CPR 1327-30, p. 17; CFR 1327-27, p. 46; CIPM 1317-27, no. 707.

19) TNA SC 8/57/2806; SC 8/57/2807A and 2807B; Brut, ed. Brie, p. 257.

20) CFR 1327-37, p. 105.

21) CCR 1327-30, pp. 348, 491; CIPM 1327-36, no. 156; CIPM 1347-52, no. 199.

11 October, 2021

My Forthcoming Books

Books of mine to be published next year:

John of Gaunt: Son of One King, Father of Another, is finally due for publication in January 2022, with Amberley. It's been massively delayed because of Covid, and was originally slated for release in October/November 2020. I wrote it between late 2018 and early 2020, and submitted it to the publisher in April 2020.

London: A Fourteenth-Century City and Its People, a social history of the city from 1300 to 1350, will be published by Pen & Sword in June 2022. The cover hasn't been designed yet, and I'll post it here when it's ready!

Edited to add: here it is!

Sex and Sexuality in Medieval England will be published by Pen & Sword in August 2022. The cover hasn't been designed yet, and I'll post it here when it's ready! It's part of a 'Sex and Sexuality' series published by P & S that includes Stuart Britain and Victorian Britain.

Edited to add: here it is!

I'm currently working on a book provisionally titled The Granddaughters of Edward III. My original deadline was this November, i.e. in a few weeks, but because I lost my mother earlier this year and wasn't able to do any work for a long time, it's been put back until March 2022. We're therefore probably looking at a release a year or so after that, around March or April 2023.

In case you missed it, my book Daughters of Edward I, about Edward II's numerous sisters, was published by Pen & Sword in July 2021:

26 September, 2021

Hugh Despenser the Younger's Letters to and from Sir John Felton, 1324/25

Sir John Felton of Litcham in Norfolk was the son and heir of Sir Robert Felton, constable of the English-held Lochmaben Castle in Scotland and Scarborough Castle in Yorkshire, who was killed at Bannockburn in June 1314. John was already an adult when his father fell in battle; according to the Complete Peerage, he was knighted on 13 November 1310. [1] He was probably born sometime in the 1280s. John is perhaps most famous for holding out at Caerphilly Castle between November 1326 and March 1327 with Hugh 'Huchon' Despenser (b. 1308/9), eldest son and heir of Hugh Despenser the Younger and Eleanor de Clare, and as I pointed out in a recent blog post, he appears to have led Edward II's mysterious raid on Normandy in the late summer of 1326. Sir John Felton died in May 1344, according to this site; his heirs were his sons Hamo or Hamon (d. 1379) and Thomas (d. 1381) after his eldest son John the younger was murdered in or before 1334. [2]

At some point, I don't know when, John Felton joined the retinue of Hugh Despenser the Younger, lord of Glamorgan, and it's interesting to see that after Hugh's death John did everything he could to protect the life of Hugh's son and heir, holding out during the siege of Caerphilly for months on end even though he had never been officially appointed as the custodian of the castle (though he had sworn an oath on the Gospels to Edward II that he would keep the castle and everything in it safe). [3] On 5 August 1326, Edward II gave John a gift of £5 for his good service to Hugh. [4] Sir John Felton was one of the many Englishmen sent to Gascony in south-west France during Edward II's war against his brother-in-law Charles IV of France in 1324/25, after Charles and his uncle Charles de Valois invaded Gascony in the summer of 1324. John acted as custodian of the castle of Saintes from October 1324 until the end of 1325. [5]

Dozens of the letters Hugh Despenser the Younger sent to men in Gascony during what is known as the War of Saint-Sardos of 1324/25 survive today, thanks in large part to Hugh's habit of keeping drafts of his own correspondence. They reveal a great deal about Hugh as a person, his enormous influence over Edward II and the way he wasn't shy about coupling himself with the king of England as though they were co-rulers, his astonishing arrogance, sense of entitlement and self-importance, and the fawningly obsequious way he was addressed by just about everyone, even men who were superior to him in rank, such as the earls of Kent and Surrey. See my book Hugh Despenser the Younger and Edward II: Downfall of a King's Favourite for numerous examples of all of this; my absolute favourite bit is Hugh telling John Travers, constable of Bordeaux, that "as a result of your good conduct, the king and ourselves may discuss continuing our goodwill towards you." Oh, the self-important haughtiness.

Despenser and John Felton exchanged eight letters in 1324/25 which still exist. In 1954, Professor Pierre Chaplais printed the letters, in the original Anglo-Norman, in his astonishingly useful volume The War of Saint-Sardos (1323-1325): Gascon Correspondence and Diplomatic Documents, and the originals are in the National Archives. John Felton's first letter to Hugh Despenser was sent from Bordeaux on 17 October 1324, and the last letter, or at least the last surviving letter, from Hugh to John was sent around the end of April 1325. 

John Felton's letters to Hugh are highly illuminating about the reality on the ground in Gascony, and make it apparent that John was one of the royal chamberlain's informants (see my post about Hugh's informants and spies) and had been probably been handpicked as such. In his first letter of 17 October 1324 and again on 24 November, Felton warned Despenser that a "wicked faction", maveyse covine, was gathering around Edward II's half-brother and lieutenant in Gascony. This was Edmund of Woodstock, earl of Kent, who in September 1324 had, perhaps rather tamely, surrendered to Charles, count of Valois, who was the uncle both of Charles IV of France and of Edmund himself (being the older half-brother of his late mother Marguerite of France). This faction was, according to Felton, putting all the blame for Kent's defeat on Hugh Despenser for failing to send enough money and soldiers to Gascony, and furthermore, they were "plotting as much evil against you [Hugh] as they can". Felton was excellent at communicating to Despenser precisely how many men and horses he thought were required in various situations, and at telling him frankly that Gascony would be lost to the English unless more men, victuals and money were sent there immediately. John stated on 24 November 1324, rather plaintively, that he had only received wages for forty days and that to raise enough money to provision the castle of Saintes, he had had to sell all his own horses (joe vendus mes chyvaus memis tous pur vitayller le chastel). [6]

Hugh Despenser the Younger must have been a very difficult, and genuinely quite terrifying, man to work for; in 1322/23, he took against his own adherent Sir John Inge, sheriff of Glamorgan, and imprisoned him and all the members of his council in Southwark, despite Inge's years of loyal and excellent service to him. Thomas Langdon, one of Inge's councillors, died in Hugh's prison. Hugh wrote to Inge, seemingly casually in the middle of one of his long, hectoring letters in c. October 1322, that "we trust you more the more you advise us, but we are very worried about having some reason for which we might be prepared to harm you" (see my Downfall of a King's Favourite). Sir John Felton must surely, therefore, have been intensely relieved when Hugh told him on 4 October 1324 how much he appreciated his diligence, loyalty and good conduct, and that he, Hugh, felt "much great joy", molt grand joie, when he heard good news of John, as if he were his own cousin (a taunt come si vous fuissez nostre cousin germain). John sent a reply to this letter on 3 December 1324, two months later, and thanked Hugh for "your amiable letters" and for telling him that "you are glad when you have good news of me". He promised that he would work as hard and as loyally as he possibly could to serve Edward II and Hugh. A few months later in April 1325, Hugh told John that the king "has greatly given you his heart" (vous ad done grandement son queor) because he was so pleased with John's service. [7] 

It seems to me that John Felton's letters to Hugh Despenser the Younger were less servile than other men's; they began simply "To his very honourable lord, honours and reverences" and ended "Lord, may God grant you a good and long life." His warnings to Hugh Despenser to be wary of Edmund, earl of Kent, and his "wicked faction", interest me very much. Kent himself sent five letters to Hugh the Younger while he was in Gascony, addressing him repeatedly as "dearest and beloved nephew" even though Hugh was a dozen years older than he (Hugh's wife Eleanor de Clare was the eldest granddaughter of Edward I, Kent's father). Hugh did not reciprocate this familiarity but addressed Edmund in conventionally polite though distant terms, except in one letter of 21 June 1325, when a letter from Hugh to the earl was written in such overblown and exaggeratedly obsequious fashion that I feel certain he was being sarcastic.

Sir John Felton survived Hugh Despenser the Younger's and Edward II's catastrophic downfall in 1326/27, and was pardoned in March 1327 for holding Caerphilly Castle against Queen Isabella and for "committing depredations" in Normandy. I've never found evidence that he took part in any of the plots to free the former king in 1327 and again in 1330, though on 14 October 1326 Felton was appointed to defend "the March of Wales" against the invading forces alongside one other man: Donald of Mar. [8] Donald, a close friend of Edward II despite being Robert Bruce's nephew, most certainly was involved in the plots to free Edward, and in 1329/30 offered to lead a massive Scottish army into England to help his friend, even years after Edward's supposed death. Given that John Felton had been so close to Hugh the Younger and helped to save his son's life after his death, and that he was still loyal to the king a few weeks after the invasion and was associated with Donald of Mar, it doesn't seem impossible that he might have been involved in the attempts to free the former king from captivity.


1) Complete Peerage, vol. 5, pp. 289-92.

2) Calendar of Inquisitions Post Mortem 1377-84, nos. 339-43; CPR 1330-34, p. 552.

3) Calendar of Fine Rolls 1319-27, p. 430.

4) Society of Antiquaries of London Manuscript 122, p. 79.

5) Pierre Chaplais, ed., The War of Saint-Sardos (1323-1325): Gascon Correspondence and Diplomatic Documents, p. 274; Calendar of Patent Rolls 1324-27, p. 3.

6) Chaplais, War of Saint-Sardos, pp. 83, 106-7.

7) Chaplais, War of Saint-Sardos, pp. 79, 111, 115, 173-4.

8) CPR 1324-27, p. 332.

12 September, 2021

12 September 1316: Edward II's Letter to Elizabeth de Burgh

Elizabeth de Burgh née de Clare was born on 16 September 1295 as the fourth and youngest child, and third daughter, of Edward I's daughter Joan of Acre (1272-1307) and her first husband Gilbert 'the Red' de Clare, earl of Gloucester and Hertford (1243-95). Elizabeth and her three older siblings were all closer in age to their uncle Edward II, born in April 1284, than their mother, his sister, was. Elizabeth was just two weeks past her thirteenth birthday when she married the earl of Ulster's eldest son and heir John de Burgh at the end of September 1308, and gave birth to their son William 'Donn' de Burgh, future earl of Ulster, on 17 September 1312, the day after her seventeenth birthday; she was widowed nine months later. In late 1315 or the beginning of 1316, Edward II ordered Elizabeth to return to England from Ireland, as she and her older sisters Eleanor Despenser and Margaret Gaveston were heirs to the vast fortune of their late brother the earl of Gloucester and Hertford (d. June 1314).

On Wednesday, 4 February 1316, the same day that she returned from Ireland, Elizabeth de Burgh was abducted from Bristol Castle by Theobald de Verdon (b. September 1278), a major noble landowner in the Midlands and former justiciar of Ireland, widower of Roger Mortimer of Wigmore's sister Maud Mortimer (d. 1312), and the father of three daughters. Theobald died less than six months after abducting and marrying Elizabeth, on 27 July 1316, but left her a few weeks pregnant; she gave birth to his fourth daughter and co-heir Isabella de Verdon, later Lady Ferrers, at Amesbury Priory on 21 March 1317.

Edward II was in Beverley, Yorkshire on Sunday, 12 September 1316 when he sent his steward Sir John Charlton to Elizabeth with a letter (this was four days before her twenty-first birthday). Edward was at this time infatuated with several court favourites: Sir Roger Damory, Sir Hugh Audley, and Sir William Montacute. Montacute was already married and the father of eleven children, but at some point in 1316 the king became determined to marry off his two widowed de Clare nieces, Elizabeth and her older sister Margaret Gaveston, to Damory and Audley. Evidently Edward didn't know on 12 September that Elizabeth was pregnant with Theobald de Verdon's posthumous child. Or if he did know, he didn't much care. For the record, when Theobald's inquisition post mortem was held in October 1316, the jurors in some counties hadn't yet heard of Elizabeth's pregnancy (though others had).

Below, Edward II's letter to his niece of 12 September 1316.

Edward claimed near the start of his letter that he favoured Elizabeth above his other nieces* ("Dearest and beloved niece, for the special affection that we have for you before all our other nieces..."), which was a manipulative lie. There is an absolute mountain of evidence to demonstrate that the king was intensely fond of Elizabeth's eldest sister Eleanor throughout his reign, and until the Contrariant rebellion of 1321/22 he also enjoyed the company of their other sister Margaret, but he rarely if ever showed any affection to Elizabeth, and in 1322 he outright threatened her and allowed her brother-in-law Hugh Despenser the Younger to take her valuable Welsh lordship of Usk from her. So pretending that Elizabeth was his favourite niece was simply empty flattery and a way of buttering her up to get her to do what he wanted.

[* Edward's eight nieces alive in 1316 were: Joan of Acre's daughters, i.e. Eleanor Despenser, Margaret Gaveston, Elizabeth de Burgh, Mary MacDuff, countess of Fife, and Joan de Monthermer; Jeanne de Bar, countess of Surrey, only daughter of his eldest sister Eleanor, countess of Bar; and Eleanor and Margaret de Bohun, daughters of his sister Elizabeth, countess of Hereford, who were born in c. 1310 and 1311. The daughters of his half-brothers Thomas and Edmund - Margaret and Alice of Norfolk and Joan of Kent - weren't born until the 1320s.]

What's really interesting about the letter is that it's written by three different hands and has a lot of crossings-out and additions above the line, indicating that Edward thought hard about what he wanted to say and dictated parts of it to three different clerks on different occasions. Although the letter does not specifically say that Edward wishes Elizabeth to marry Sir Roger Damory, given the way events were later to pan out, it's virtually certain that this is what the king had in mind, and it's also apparent from the letter that his steward John Charlton had been ordered to discuss matters with Elizabeth in person. The revisions Edward made to the letter, the above-the-line additions, made it sterner, more menacing and far less amicable, and one sentence written entirely above the line says "...do willingly what he [John Charlton] requests of you on our behalf if you wish to have generous lordship from us and wish us to take to heart all matters which concern you." This is clearly a veiled threat, or in fact not all that veiled, that Edward would not be a good lord to Elizabeth if she did not do what he wanted. It is also worth noting that there is no closing salutation in the letter, such as "Very dear niece, may the Holy Spirit have you in his keeping" or even a more abrupt "May God keep you", as would have been conventional and polite. This tends to give the lie to Edward's claim that he felt "special affection" for Elizabeth.

Edward II was not only Elizabeth de Burgh's king and liege lord, he was her closest living adult male relative, her father having died when she was only a few weeks old, her husband dead in 1313, and her only full brother Gilbert de Clare dead at Bannockburn in 1314 (her younger half-brothers Thomas and Edward de Monthermer were only fifteen and twelve in 1316). The Magna Carta of 1215 officially forbade the forced remarriage of noble widows, but there is no doubt at all that Edward II was in a position to put a great deal of pressure on Elizabeth to marry the man he was currently infatuated with, and that he did so. Although Sir Roger Damory was a knight of Oxfordshire with a solid pedigree going back centuries, he was far below Elizabeth in rank, and furthermore was not even his father's eldest son and heir. She, on the other hand, was the granddaughter and niece of kings, daughter and sister of two of the greatest noblemen in the country, and would have been countess of Ulster if her first husband had outlived his father. 

Elizabeth's reply to Edward doesn't survive, but at some point she consented to marry Roger Damory, whether willingly or not. Edward and Roger visited her at Amesbury Priory in Wiltshire, where she had born her daughter Isabella de Verdon on 21 March 1317 - and where her aunt, the king's sister Mary, was a nun - on c. 10 April 1317, just three weeks later. Elizabeth is most unlikely to have been purified, a ceremony which took place approximately thirty to forty days after childbirth, by that time. One of the jurors at Isabella de Verdon's proof of age a few years later when she turned fourteen recalled the king's and Damory's visit to Elizabeth, and although the date of it isn't recorded, Edward granted a favour to one Robert Scales at Elizabeth's request on 10 April 1317, so she was in his presence on or a little before that day. [Calendar of Inquisitions Post Mortem 1317-36, no. 395; Calendar of Patent Rolls 1313-1317, p. 641] Edward II's itinerary shows that he was at the royal palace of Clarendon near Salisbury on 10 April and in Andover on 11 April, and Amesbury would only have been a short detour. The date of Elizabeth de Burgh and Roger Damory's wedding isn't recorded, peculiarly, but her sister Margaret Gaveston married Sir Hugh Audley at Windsor Castle on 28 April 1317, and Elizabeth and Roger were certainly married by 3 May 1317, when an entry on the Patent Roll talks of "Roger Damory and Elizabeth his wife".

Edward II's letter to Elizabeth de Burgh doesn't, in my opinion, show him in a good light, but reveals him as a person who could be manipulative and ruthless when he wanted something. Which isn't, to be fair, something that was particularly unusual in a medieval king. Whether Elizabeth wanted to marry Roger Damory or not, they seem not to have had a bad marriage, all in all; it would take another blog post to detail why I think that, and maybe I'll find the time one of these days!

29 August, 2021

The Will of Isabel of Castile, Duchess of York, Countess of Cambridge (1355-92)

Isabel of Castile was born sometime in the year 1355 in Tordesillas in central Spain, probably in the royal monastery of Santa Clara, where her father and her grandfather Alfonso XI (b. 1311, r. 1312-50) had built a palace. Isabel was the third daughter of Pedro 'the Cruel', king of Castile and Leon (b. 1334, r. 1350-69) and his long-term mistress Doña María de Padilla, a Castilian noblewoman; her older sisters were Beatriz, born in Córdoba in southern Spain in 1353, who died sometime after 23 September 1366*, and Constanza, born in Castrojeriz in northern Spain in June or July 1354, later duchess of Lancaster. The sisters had a younger full brother, Alfonso, but he died at the age of three in 1362 in the city of Seville, and they had at least five other illegitimate half-siblings, born to Pedro's other lovers. The Cortes of Castile declared the three sisters legitimate after King Pedro pretended that he had married María de Padilla in 1352, the year before he wed his unfortunate French wife Blanche de Bourbon, whom he imprisoned shortly after their wedding and who died still in prison in 1361. Constanza, as the elder of the two surviving royal Castilian daughters, inherited her father's kingdoms, at least nominally, after Pedro was killed by his illegitimate half-brother and deadly enemy Enrique of Trastámara in March 1369. In reality, Trastámara became King Enrique II of Castile and Leon, and was succeeded by his son Juan I in 1379 and then his grandson Enrique III in 1390. 

* When King Pedro talked of "our three daughters" (tres filiae nostrae): Foedera 1361-77, pp. 805-6.

Constanza and Isabel of Castile moved to England in the early 1370s and married the royal brothers John of Gaunt, duke of Lancaster and earl of Leicester, Lincoln, Derby and Richmond, and Edmund of Langley, earl of Cambridge, sons of Edward III and Philippa of Hainault. If their elder sister Beatriz had still been alive at this point, she would have been their father's rightful heir, and John of Gaunt, who named himself king of Castile and Leon from 1372 onwards, would have married her, rather than Constanza. Edmund of Langley, born c. 5 June 1341, was fourteen years older than his new wife, and was thirty-one to her seventeen, or sixteen going on seventeen, when they married in July 1372. Isabel became a duchess in 1385 when Richard II granted his uncle Edmund the dukedom of York, and had three children: Edward, duke of York, killed at the battle of Agincourt in 1415; Constance, Lady Despenser and briefly countess of Gloucester (d. 1416); and Richard, earl of Cambridge (executed 1415), grandfather of Edward IV and Richard III. Duchess Isabel died at the age of only thirty-seven on 23 December 1392, leaving a will which she made in French a few weeks before her death, now held in the National Archives.

A translation of Isabel of Castile's will was printed in 1826 in the first volume of Testamenta Vetusta, but unfortunately it is much shortened and has led numerous writers, including myself, astray regarding the nature of Isabel's relationship with her husband. Isabel's entry in the Oxford Dictionary of National Biography states, entirely wrongly but understandably, that she made no legacies to her husband and that her will consists of "a few bequests of jewellery". Nope, really, really not. Having seen and read the entire will, it is astonishing to me just how abbreviated the Vetusta translation is; it's maybe 5% of the original text. The sub-title of Testamenta Vetusta does say Being Illustrations from Wills, and it doesn't claim to translate all the text of the fourteenth- and fifteenth-century wills it includes, but still, the translations are highly misleading because it isn't made clear that the editor translated every fifth or tenth or twentieth line of each will and left out the rest. Its 'illustration' of the 1380 will of Edmund Mortimer (1352-81), third earl of March, for example, takes up just two and a half pages of Vetusta, but the full will, printed in the original French in A Collection of All the Wills Now Known to be Extant of the Kings and Queens of England, Princes and Princesses of Wales, and Every Branch of the Blood Royal, runs to thirteen pages. John of Gaunt's will is twenty-eight pages in A Collection, but only five pages in Testamenta Vetusta; Edmund of Langley's will is less than a page in Vetusta and two and a half pages in A Collection. So I advise considerable caution if you're using Testamenta Vetusta as a source. 

That being the case, here's some more information about Isabel of Castile's will of 1392 and what she actually bequeathed, not the absurdly abbreviated and hopelessly confusing version of it in Vetusta. The duchess left items to the following people, named here in the order in which they appear in the will (in order of rank, according to the strict hierarchical etiquette of the era): her nephew-in-law Richard II, king of England; Richard's queen, Anne of Bohemia; Isabel's brother-in-law John of Gaunt, duke of Lancaster; her husband Edmund of Langley, duke of York; all three of Isabel and Edmund's children, Edward, Constance and Richard; Eleanor de Bohun, duchess of Gloucester and the wife of Thomas of Woodstock, Edmund of Langley and John of Gaunt's youngest brother; and, rather intriguingly, John Holland, earl of Huntingdon. Isabel also left numerous items and gifts of cash to a long list of her servants and attendants, none of which are mentioned at all in the Vetusta abstract of her will, so you'd have no idea of her generosity and kindness to them unless you make the effort to locate and look at the original text of her will.

John Holland, earl of Huntingdon, was the only noble/royal person in the will who wasn't a close relative of the duchess of York by blood or marriage, though he was Richard II's half-brother and was married to John of Gaunt's daughter Elizabeth of Lancaster. It's also, to my mind, rather fascinating that Isabel left nothing at all to her older sister Constanza of Castile, duchess of Lancaster, and failed even to mention her, and although she left items to Eleanor, duchess of Gloucester, she gave nothing to Eleanor's husband Thomas of Woodstock, her (Isabel's) own brother-in-law.

To John Holland (al counte de Huntyngdon), Isabel left her two Bibles, and "the best fillet that I have". The meaning of 'fillet' in this context is unclear to me; it usually meant a decorative headband of interlaced wire or a string of jewels to be worn on the head, but this was not an item one would expect to see being bequeathed to a man. There's definitely no squiggle above the word counte, 'earl', however, to indicate that the word is abbreviated and that Isabel actually intended to refer to the countess, Elizabeth of Lancaster, and the al, 'to the [earl]', is in the masculine form anyway. As well as these items, Isabel left to her elder son Edward some valuable gifts which John Holland had given to her: a gold cup, a gold brooch with "very large pearls and three sapphires" and a gold chaplet with white flowers, all of which "the earl of Huntingdon gave me" (q' le counte de Huntyndon me donna). The gold cup Holland had given her was engraved with Isabel's arms - presumably she meant the arms of Castile - so evidently he had had it especially made for her. Given the theory that Isabel of Castile and John Holland had an affair, this does perhaps add some fuel to that particular fire. Although the English nobility did send each other gifts on a regular basis, the presents John Holland gave to her were the only ones Isabel mentioned in her will.

To Anne of Bohemia, "my very dread lady the queen" (ma tresredoutee dame la Royne), Isabel gave seven gold belts; to Anne's husband Richard II, she gave a drinking-horn studded with pearls; and to the man who was both her husband's brother and her sister's husband, John of Gaunt, whom she called "my very honoured brother of Lancaster", Isabel gave a tablet of jasper which "the king of Armonie gave me". That's a reference to Levon or Leo, king of Cilician Armenia, who had visited England some years before. Duchess Isabel also left several tablets of gold and a "psalter with the arms of Northampton" to "my very honoured sister of Gloucester", i.e. Eleanor de Bohun. The duchess's father Humphrey de Bohun (1342-73) had been earl of Northampton, which suggests that the psalter had been a gift to Isabel from a member of the de Bohun family in the first place (I might speculate that it was a wedding gift to Isabel from Humphrey in July 1372, a few months before he died, but obviously I can't know for sure).

Isabel referred to Edmund of Langley as her "very honoured lord and husband of York", and left him all her horses, all her beds (tous mez litz) including the cushions, bedspreads, canopies and everything else that went with them, her best brooch, her best gold cup, and her "large primer". It is emphatically not the case that she did not bequeath him anything, and why the translator/editor of Testamenta Vetusta left all of this out is beyond me (he also left out her bequests to John Holland). To her elder son Edward, earl of Rutland (counte de Ruttellond), Isabel left the items mentioned above which she had been given by John Holland, and her crown, leaving him strict instructions never to sell it or give it away but to keep it in the family. To "my beloved daughter [ma t'samee fille] Constance la Despenser", Isabel gave a fret, i.e. a head-covering of interlaced wire, with pearls, her best fillet, and her silver scelle, which could mean saddle or stool. She then asked her nephew-in-law the king to "take his humble godson [humble filiol] to heart", meaning her youngest child Richard of Conisbrough, who was a good bit younger than his two siblings and wasn't specifically left any bequests except his mother's "beautiful psalter".

Isabel also left items and gifts of money to numerous servants of hers, both men and women; just to pick out a couple of examples more or less at random, she gave thirty shillings to 'John of the Wardrobe', ten marks to Roger Palfrayman, and good brooches to Elianor Southfeld and Marie Weston. Another female attendant of Isabel's named in the will, to whom she left a gown and a cloak, is a woman stated by the chronicler Jean Froissart to have been the mistress of the duchess's brother-in-law John of Gaunt; more info is available in my biography of him, due out early next year.

19 August, 2021

Edward II's Attacks on Normandy and the French Fleet in August/September 1326

A post about a curious and little-known event which took place late in Edward II's reign: the king's attacks on the French duchy of Normandy and on Norman ships in the late summer of 1326. The whole affair is obscure and barely came to the attention of contemporary chroniclers, though there are some references to it in the chancery rolls and, in particular, in Edward II's chamber account of 1325/26. Natalie Fryde and Roy Martin Haines, two of the very few historians to discuss the incident, date the attack to the first half of September 1326, though it's clear from the royal chamber account that at least part of the engagement actually took place in August. [1] It's all very difficult to figure out, firstly because, as noted, the event is weirdly obscure; secondly because Edward II's summons for armed men to attack the French and/or Normandy are easily confused with his summons to repel Queen Isabella's invasion force, which landed in Suffolk on 24 September 1326; and thirdly because the sources we do have seem to contradict each other, or rather, seem to be describing several different events. Therefore, this post is probably somewhat incoherent, for which, my apologies.

The background, very briefly, is that Edward II again went to war against his brother-in-law Charles IV of France in the summer of 1326, and his wife Isabella and their teenage son Edward of Windsor had been in France since 1325 and were refusing to return to England (or at least, Isabella was, and was keeping her son with her in her homeland). The earliest reference I can find to something happening in Normandy dates to 6 August 1326, when Edward II was leaving Portchester on the Hampshire coast and was on his way to his palace of Clarendon just outside Salisbury in Wiltshire. His chamber account shows that he gave £10 on that date to two men: Jack Pyk of Winchelsea in Sussex, a valet of the royal chamber and the captain of a royal ship called the Blome, and Pey-Bernat de Pynsole from Bayonne, a Gascon sergeant-at-arms in the king's household and the captain of another royal ship called the Petre. This entry states that Jack and Pey-Bernat had sailed to Portchester "in two long boats" to inform Edward and Hugh Despenser the Younger of recent events, and arrived just before Edward's departure for Clarendon. They told the king and his chamberlain that an English fleet had conquis, i.e. 'defeated' or 'captured' or 'taken by force', 140 ships from Edward's "enemies of Normandy" (enemys de Normandie). Something pretty major had already happened at sea by early August 1326, and the English side evidently had the best of it, though frustratingly I can't find any other reference to this. You'd think, surely, that an English fleet capturing well over 100 French ships might have appeared in a chronicle somewhere.

Below, p. 80 of Edward II's chamber account of 1325/26, Manuscript 122 in the library of the Society of Antiquaries in London, talking about Jack Pyk and Pey-Bernat de Pynsole's visit to Edward and Hugh Despenser in Portchester in early August 1326.

The king spent much of August 1326 at his palace of Clarendon. While there on 18 August, Edward ordered his treasurer and the barons of the Exchequer to have the following provisions sent to Portchester Castle by "Saturday the morrow of the Decollation of St John the Baptist", i.e. 30 August: "100 cross-bows with windlass for two feet, 200 cross-bows for one foot, with baldrics and quarrells sufficient for them, 100 hand-bows, with 1,000 cords for the same, and 1,000 heads for arrows, and 20 lbs. of glue, 100 lbs. of thread fit for the strings of cross-bows, and a sufficient quantity of cat-gut". On the same day, the king sent letters to the mayor and bailiffs of numerous ports along the coast of the south of England, and ordered them to have all the ships in their jurisdiction able to carry "50 tuns and upwards" sent to Portsmouth also by 30 August, "to set out in the king's service against the attack of the French". 

Edward also sent letters on 12 August to the archbishops of Canterbury and York, Walter Reynolds (d. 1327) and William Melton (d. 1340). He declared that his aim was to "restrain the malice of the men of the king of France", who were allegedly detaining Edward's wife and son in France against their will - a convenient fiction - and who, rather more plausibly, were, he said, capturing English ships and slaying the sailors and merchants on board. Ten days later, still at Clarendon, Edward ordered the sheriff of Kent to send fifty-four "well-armed footmen" to Portsmouth. Thirty men would be under the command of Richard Haukyn, captain of a ship called the Mariot, and twenty-four under the command of Robert Frende, captain of the Alice. The sheriff of Hampshire was to send 200 armed footmen to Portsmouth in thirteen ships, and according to the annalist of St Paul's in London, one of the very few chroniclers who mentioned the Normandy incident (albeit extremely briefly), another 100 men went from London and 100 from Kent. [3] The admiral of the western fleet, Sir Nicholas Kyriel of Kent (b. December 1282) - whose surname is spelt in approximately 117 different ways in contemporary documents, including Cryel and Crioll - and Peter Barde, bailiff of the Kent port of Sandwich and captain of the king's ship the Cog John (and a future admiral), visited Edward on 27 August 1326. They were given 100 marks (£66.66) because they had purchased ships for an assault on Normandy. [4] On 26 and 29 August and again on 10 September, Edward II ordered the arrest of all French people living in England. [5]

Natalie Fryde (Tyranny and Fall of Edward II, p. 184) cites the Canterbury chronicler's statement that Edward II sent a fleet of 300 ships to attack Normandy. As is usually the case when medieval chroniclers give numbers, this seems likely to be an exaggeration. According to Edward III, after he had succeeded his father as king some months later, the assault on Normandy took place "while we [i.e. himself] were in those parts" (dum eramus in partibus illis). His statement occurred in the context of a royal pardon for Sir John Felton, a knight who had been in the retinue of the late Hugh Despenser the Younger and was staunchly loyal to him, for holding Caerphilly Castle against Queen Isabella and for "invading Normandy and committing depredations" while the young king was there. [6] I don't know whether Edward III meant that he was specifically in Normandy in August/September 1326 or whether "in those parts" meant France more generally, though Natalie Fryde speculates that Edward II intended to seize his son in Normandy and return him to England. It certainly seems possible that the king had received intelligence that his son was in Normandy, though in fact the thirteen-year-old duke of Aquitaine and his mother Isabella had arrived in the county of Hainault by 27 August 1326, on which date the young duke was betrothed to Philippa of Hainault. As for Sir John Felton, he doesn't appear in Edward II's chamber account in connection with the raid on Normandy, as far as I can tell, though on 5 August 1326, the king gave him £5 for his excellent service to Hugh Despenser the Younger. [7]

Several entries in the chamber account indicate that some kind of engagement between English and French ships took place off the coast of Brittany, which was ruled at the time by Edward II's kinsman Duke John III (1286-1341), grandson of Edward I's sister Beatrice (1242-75) and a man with whom Edward II appears to have been on perfectly amicable terms and with whom he was in occasional contact in 1326. The duchy of Brittany was, unlike the duchy of Normandy, independent from the kingdom of France. On 3, 6 and 9 September 1326, entries in the chamber account mention "two ships of Normandy" (ij niefs de Normandie) called La Dorre and Cog Seint Thomas which had been captured off the coast of Brittany and taken to the port of Winchelsea by John Pym and other sailors in August. Assuming that the 140 ships captured by the English fleet, as also stated in the chamber account, is an even remotely correct number and not a wild exaggeration, I have no idea what happened to the other 138 of them. The king sent a sailor called Litel John (i.e. Little John) to Winchelsea with letters for Stephen and Robert Alard - the Alards were a thirteenth/fourteenth-century naval family of Winchelsea whose tombs can still be seen in the church of St Thomas the Martyr in the town - ordering them to take La Dorre to Portsmouth. Stephen Alard received a gift of £5 from the king on 15 September 1326 because he "went to sea with the great fleet" (ala a la meer oue la g'de flote). Stephen was said to be staying in Portchester Castle around this time, ill, though whether that means he was injured at sea or in Normandy while fighting against the French, or maybe just had a head cold or something, isn't clarified.

Rauf Rosekyn, captain of a royal ship called the James, seized the sum of £15 from a French ship "at Oderne in the parts of Brittany", which I assume means Audierne, and gave it to Edward II on or before 20 September 1326. The port of Audierne lies in the south of Brittany, pretty far from Normandy, so how Rosekyn's action fits in with an assault on Normandy and with Edward II's possible intention to seize his thirteen-year-old son there, I have no idea. On 28 June 1326, Rauf Rosekyn, as captain of the James, had been one of a number of ships' captains "whom the king is sending to diverse parts to further business enjoined on him", as stated on the Patent Roll. The others were Jack Pyk of the Blome, Per-Bernat de Pynsole, now in command of the Seint Edward, and Peter Barde of the Cog John, all named above; Rauf's brother Andrew Rosekyn of the Marie; Richard 'Hick' Fille of the Despenser; John Dyn of the Nicholas; Bernard Prioret of the Alianore; Badin Fourne of a galley also called Seint Edward; and Robert Bataill of the Godyere ('Goodyear'). The combined crew of these men's ships totalled 780 men. A few weeks later on 23 July 1326, another four ships' captains - Richard Councedieu of the Valence, William Pouche of the Blithe, Roger Catour of the Cog Nostre Dame and Robert Metacre of the Maudeleyne - were sent "to diverse parts on the king's affairs" with a total crew of 220 men. As is frustratingly often the case in the chancery rolls, what the men were up to was not specified, but given that Rauf Rosekyn appears in Edward II's chamber account a couple of months later and had clearly been involved in some kind of skirmish with a French ship off the coast of Brittany, it seems reasonable to assume that the other captains were sent on the same mission.

On 7 September 1326, there's a reference in the chamber account to three sailors from Bayonne in Gascony, part of Edward II's domains, whose names were recorded as Will Bernard and Garsy and Ernaud Remond (I doubt the first man was actually called 'Will', but Edward's chamber clerks usually anglicised French names even though they were writing in French). The three sailors had paid £20 for a ship in which they sailed against "the king's enemies of Normandy in the month of August", and the captain of the ship was Thomas Springet of Greenwich, a sailor who often appears in Edward II's accounts and was close enough to him that he was allowed to talk to the king in person in Edward's private rooms. [8] A couple of years earlier in 1323/24, some of the townspeople of Bayonne were involved in a feud with sailors from Normandy, and were summoned to appear before the seneschal of Poitou to explain the damages they had inflicted on Norman ships at sea. Sir Ralph Basset, steward of Gascony, sent a letter to Edward II about the ryote (dispute or quarrel) between "your people of Bayonne and the people of Normandy" in January 1324. [9] An earlier dispute between Gascon and Norman mariners, back in 1293, blew up into a war between England and France.

The reasons for Edward II's attacks on Normandy and on French ships are not entirely clear, and the silence of most chroniclers does not help (perhaps the ever-useful Vita Edwardi Secundi would have given an account of the event, but unfortunately the text ends abruptly in late 1325). It may be that Edward's son was in Normandy or at least that he believed him to be, or perhaps the king intended a pre-emptive strike against the French, in the belief that Charles IV would aid his sister Isabella during her invasion of England. Walter Reynolds, archbishop of Canterbury, told Edward in January 1326 that he had heard news of a hostile fleet gathering in Normandy. [10] That may be true, or it may simply have been one of the many rumours flying around at the end of Edward II's reign.

The sizeable numbers of men and ships gathered in Portsmouth at the end of August 1326, plus the 1,000 men in fifteen ships sent somewhere on the king's business in June and July and their activities off the coast of Brittany, plus the reference to the 140 French ships captured in or before early August, all suggest that Edward II was expecting a full-scale invasion by the French, or hoping to prevent one. The references in his chamber account, however, all talk about les enemys le Roi de Normandie, "the king's enemies of Normandy" specifically, not his "enemies of France", so maybe the whole thing had more to do with the quarrel between Gascon and Norman sailors in some way. Edward's itinerary shows that he arrived in Portchester, close to Portsmouth, on 30 August and remained in the port until 16 or 17 September. While there, his chamber account is full of entries about ships being repaired and refurbished, payments being made to fletchers for feathering arrows, Edward ordering a coat of mail to be made for himself and having his sword and its scabbard mended, etc. There's a general air of military preparation about the whole thing. Whether this was connected to an attack on Normandy or the expected arrival of the queen's invasion force isn't entirely clear, though the reference on 13 September to la guerre entre le Roi e les g'ntz de la t're, "the war between the king and the magnates of the land", suggests the latter. Edward II being Edward II, though, he still found time to pop into a forge and have a chat with local blacksmiths called Philip Darrington and William Dertemewe (i.e. Dartmouth), and several carpenters and fletchers were said to have done their work "in the king's presence".

What actually happened on the ground in Normandy is difficult to ascertain. Roy Martin Haines (King Edward II, p. 172) states that Edward gave the order for his fleet assembled at Portsmouth to "sail to Normandy and there inflict as much damage as possible...The force was repulsed immediately on landing and many men perished. Two days later at the Downs the flotilla was instructed by the king to hasten to Yarmouth, but during the night fifteen of the ships were lost with their men. It was a great disaster". The source appears to be the Canterbury chronicle, also cited by Natalie Fryde, as noted above, and in an endnote on pp. 443-4, Haines explains that the expedition probably landed at Barfleur and raided nearby Cherbourg Abbey. Haines also cites Charles de la Roncière's Histoire de la Marine Française, vol. 1, p. 384, if anyone's interested in digging any deeper.

In any event, according to Haines, the English "great fleet" was repulsed and many men and ships were lost. As he points out, the loss of many English ships was perhaps a reason for the utter failure of Edward II's fleet to prevent the landing of the queen's invasion force on 24 September 1326, though certainly the gross unpopularity of Hugh Despenser the Younger and of the king himself was also a major factor. As the French Chronicle of London says, "the mariners of England were not minded to prevent their coming, by reason of the great anger they entertained against Hugh Despenser [the Younger]." [11] Then again, what happened to all those French/Norman ships supposedly captured by the English sometime before 6 August 1326? Ultimately, I can find very little about this mysterious attack on Normandy, though Seymour Phillips is perhaps correct when he suggests it was a "commando-style raid" intended either to bring Edward II's teenage son back home or to forestall a French attack on England. [12] It is apparent from Edward III's pardon to Sir John Felton in February 1327 that some Englishmen went ashore in Normandy and "committed depredations" there, though how the naval engagement(s?) between English and Norman ships off the coast of Brittany fits into the whole scenario, I don't know.


1) Natalie Fryde, The Tyranny and Fall of Edward II 1321-1326 (1979), pp. 184-5, 265; Roy Martin Haines, King Edward II: His Life, His Reign, and Its Aftermath, 1284-1330 (2003), pp. 172, 228-9.
2) Society of Antiquaries of London Manuscript 122, p. 80.
3) Calendar of Close Rolls 1323-27, pp. 640-43; Calendar of Patent Rolls 1324-27, pp. 308, 310; Foedera 1307-1327, p. 637; Annales Paulini in Chronicles of the Reigns of Edward I and Edward II, ed. Stubbs, vol. 1, p. 313.
4) SAL MS 122, p. 92.
5) Foedera 1307-27, pp. 638, 641.
6) CPR 1327-30, p. 10.
7) SAL MS 122, p. 79.
8) SAL MS 122, pp. 74, 83-6, for the last three paragraphs; CPR 1327-30, pp. 276, 278-9, 300, for 28 June 1326.
9) The War of Saint-Sardos (1323-1325): Gascon Correspondence and Diplomatic Documents, ed. Pierre Chaplais, pp. 7-18.
10) The National Archives SC 1/49/92.
11) Croniques de London, ed. G.J. Aungier, p. 51.
12) Seymour Phillips, Edward II, p. 503.