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.


Julie Frusher said...

That's a great breakdown of the mileage involved. And I bet the entire entourage must have stretched for at least a couple of miles if not more. And if you add on top of that, the poor state of the majority of roads, it must have been quite a trial at times. And those archers must have been super fit to have run all that way, unless maybe they took turns at the sharp end (no pun intended). Great post! :-)

Kathryn Warner said...

Thank you! So glad you enjoyed it :-) I sometimes think about the low-ranking staff, if they couldn't cadge a lift on one of the carts, trudging through mud and snow and what have you in all weathers! :o

Anonymous said...

glad you made a post again, have been waiting for months :)

Kathryn Warner said...

Hello! Yes, it was high time, wasn't it :-)

Anonymous said...

Their footwear probably wasn't that great to be walking in rain and snow.

sami parkkonen said...

Welcome back and once again great post! I remember reading about some anglosaxon king who got stuck into a tiny village during a blizzard and for few more days, I was around twelve at that time and it was a truly incredible to find out that medieval kings actually moved around and did not sit at one place all the time. Actually so did those lords who also had more than one residence and while they were elsewhere a castle could be almost abandoned since the entourage moved with them. One of the most incredible examples of this: Edward III came back to London in secrecy from the Continent and found the Tower almost completely empty. Couple guards were found eventually. Edward got so mad he summoned all the mightiest men of his realm at once to the Tower unless they were fighting in France. Once those men had assembled at haste to Tower Edward had some words with them and took off again.

Ian Mortimer said...

Hi Kathryn

To put the running bit into perspective, it's not that amazing. We're only talking about 4-5mph and sometimes slower on long trips (see the chapter on medieval speed in my book Medieval Horizons). That is barely more than a fast walk. The last marathon I did, as a 54-year-old (in 2021) averaged just under 8mph. Those speeds weren't sustained by messengers until the sixteenth century (except by using relays). So I reckon Edward II's archers - young and able, and fitter than me no doubt - wouldn't have worried about 28 miles per day.

All the best

Kathryn Warner said...

Hi Ian! What amazes me really is that they ran those distances so regularly, usually several times a week or more, and in all kinds of weather conditions! The relentless travelling of the royal court never ceases to astonish me. All the best!

David Skidmore said...

I think of the condition of the royal residence after having all those people (and livestock) being there for a given period. Getting out and about would have been a very good idea. I've read that Versailles in the late 17th Century got extremely putrid so Louis XIV wisely took his court off to Fontainebleau or one of the other palaces for a period. I imagine Edward II's various abodes would need a thorough going-over.

Jacob W A Peatey said...

Kathryn, really interesting post, thank you.

I often wonder what a typical day for Edward must have been like, when so many of them required this amount of travel - several hours' worth, surely? I remember reading Christine de Pizan's account of the typical daily routine of Charles V of France and there wasn't really any travelling included. Of course, this is in the second half of the fourteenth century - and I have no idea whether French kings (or maybe just Charles himself) tended to more sedentary than English ones - but it's interesting to wonder how all Edward's duties as king (if they were at all similar) would have fit into his day. I presume he wasn't witnessing charters or hearing petitions on horseback or dictating letters to his clerks while they were running alongside him? All that must have been done when he was stationary - and while I imagine a lot of the logisitcal parts of this travelling would have just happened in the background, so for Edward when he left one place, it was simply disassembled, moved, and then reassembled elsewhere for him to inhabit for a night or two, it must have taken time to get going, get there, get settled again. And eat, of course. A very time-consuming, probably often miserable, wet and windy, and repetitive day-to-day.

Though, I like to imagine that he would have spoken to people as he passed them in the countryside, or taken an interest in the work they might have been doing in the fields. Would ordinary people come along for a mile or two, just to see and maybe speak with their king?

Whatever happened, it would be easy to imagine Edward enjoying spending so much time outdoors. He must have had plenty of time to talk with his riding companions, whoever they were on a given day. And probably listen to music on the go? Maybe play I-spy? Who knows? Certainly laugh at poor Morris when he fell off his horse.

Anyway, and as you might be able to tell from the above rambling (I could go on), a thought-provoking topic.

Kathryn Warner said...

Thank you for the great comments, David and Jacob! Much to think about and ponder, and I'm so glad the post has proved interesting and thought-provoking to you!