21 January, 2024

Royal Travel: Two Months at Edward II's Court

Unlike later centuries when the monarch spent most of the year in and around London, and went on progresses in the summer when the city got too hot and stinky, the fourteenth-century English kings spent their reigns on a never-ending circuit around the south and Midlands of England, all year round, even in winter. They tended not to go farther west than Bristol or farther north than Nottingham, and only rarely did they go to the north of England (to be fair, the north was pretty empty in the Middle Ages, with York the only settlement of any size). Edward II rarely spent more than a handful of days in one place, and when he did, it was usually Westminster, Windsor, the royal hunting-lodge of Clipstone in Nottinghamshire (in the first half of his reign), the royal palace of Clarendon near Salisbury (in the second half of his reign), York, or his favourite residence of Kings Langley in Hertfordshire. Because of the ongoing war against Scotland, Edward spent more time in the north of England than many other medieval kings, and, unusually, visited the area around Newcastle-upon-Tyne on occasion.

I've taken a couple of months from Edward's reign to illustrate the frequent travelling, and have calculated the distances he and his enormous household must have ridden, or rather, in many cases, trudged. His household was somewhere in the region of 500 people, Queen Isabella's was around 200, and the king was never alone but always accompanied by a number of earls, bishops and barons, each of whom had their own sizeable retinues. We're talking about several thousand people, plus a few hundred horses, either being ridden, pulling carts, or carrying loads. The logistics of it all are almost unfathomable. Just imagine being in charge of finding accommodation and food for all those people and animals.

October 1317

1 October: Edward had spent the night of 30 September to 1 October at Monk Bretton in Yorkshire, just outside Barnsley. He travelled sixteen miles to Doncaster, where he spent two nights.

3 October: Eight miles from Doncaster to Tickhill.

4 October: Twelve miles from Tickhill to Retford.

5 October: Thirteen miles from Retford to Sutton-on-Trent.

6 October: Nine miles from Sutton-on-Trent to Newark.

7 October: Fifteen miles from Newark to Grantham, where Edward spent two nights.

9 October: Twenty-two miles from Grantham to Stamford.

10 October: Eleven miles from Stamford to Fotheringhay.

11 October: Sixteen miles from Fotheringhay to Molesworth.

12 October: Sixteen miles from Molesworth to St Neots.

13 October: Twenty miles from St Neots to Baldock.

14 October: Eighteen miles from Baldock to Ware.

15 October: Eleven miles from Ware to Waltham.

16 October: Sixteen miles from Waltham to Westminster.

Edward then spent the second half of October 1317, and until 5 November, at Westminster. I make this a total of 203 miles that he travelled in just sixteen days, with only two occasions when he spent more than one night in a location (Doncaster and Grantham).

May 1326

On 1 and 2 May 1326, Edward was at Hailes Abbey in Gloucestershire, which had been founded eighty years earlier by his great-uncle Richard of Cornwall, Henry III's brother.

3 May: Twenty miles from Hailes to Barnsley (the one in Gloucestershire, not the one in Yorkshire mentioned above).

4 May: Fourteen miles from Barnsley to Purton in Wiltshire.

5 May: Seventeen miles from Purton to Marlborough.

6 and 7 May: Edward stayed in Marlborough.

8 May: Twenty-seven miles from Marlborough to Cirencester.

9 May: Eighteen miles from Cirencester to Gloucester.

10 to 13 May: Edward stayed in Gloucester.

14 May: Nine miles from Gloucester to Coberley.

15 May: Seventeen miles from Coberley to Down Ampney.

16 May: Twenty miles from Down Ampney to Ogbourne St George.

17 May: Four miles from Ogbourne St George to Marlborough, again.

18, 19 May: Edward stayed in Marlborough.

20 May: Twenty-five miles from Marlborough to Crookham.

21 May: Sixteen miles from Crookham to Caversham.

22 May: Fourteen miles from Caversham to Bisham.

23 May: Twenty-five miles from Bisham to Sheen.

24 May: Edward stayed at Sheen.

25 May: Twenty-eight miles from Sheen to Otford.

26 May: Eighteen miles from Otford to Maidstone.

27 May: Fourteen miles to Charing (the one in Kent, not Charing Cross in London).

28 May: Twelve miles from Charing to Chartham.

29 May: Eight miles from Chartham to Bishopsbourne.

30 May: Fourteen miles from Bishopsbourne to Saltwood.

31 May, 1 to 6 June 1326: Edward stayed at Saltwood.

That's a remarkable 320 miles travelled in just one month, and sojourns in several counties from Gloucestershire in the southwest all the way over to Kent in the southeast. The longest daily journey was twenty-eight miles. Edward II's bodyguard of archers were not on horseback but ran alongside him on his horse; we know this from an entry in Edward's chamber account of 12 June 1326, when he bought his archers new hose made of linen and mentioned that it was a reward for 'running next to him in the hot weather'. Can you imagine running twenty-eight miles in one day? That's longer than a marathon, and the next day, the archers had to run eighteen miles. There were another five occasions in that one month of May 1326 when the journey in one day was twenty miles or more. Three hundred and twenty miles in thirty days. Wow.