31 August, 2017

The Tale That Edward II Removed Isabella's Children From Her

I've written before about the deeply unpleasant tale invented in the late 1970s that Edward II cruelly removed his wife Isabella's three younger children John of Eltham, Eleanor of Woodstock and Joan of the Tower from her care in September 1324 when he confiscated her lands. See here and here. Search for this notion in vain in any primary source from the fourteenth century or any work whatsoever written before 1977; you won't find it, because it was made up by Paul Doherty in his doctoral thesis about Isabella that year. Since then, numerous other historians and novelists have repeated the tale as though it's certain fact: a prime example of how what we might call 'fake news' can spread and spread and be seen as 'truth' even though there is no evidence whatsoever in support of it.

Here's Doherty's claim repeated in his 2003 book Isabella and the Strange Death of Edward II (he insists on spelling the name Despenser as 'de Spencer' for some reason):

Here's the footnote, number 26, near the bottom of the page. See how Doherty cites 'E 403/201, mem[brane]s 14-15'.

I have gone to the National Archives and looked at this document (the E stands for Exchequer, incidentally). Here it is - that number looks a bit like an 8 but is actually a 3. The documents in series E 403 are Issue Rolls from the Exchequer of Receipt; see here and here.

Firstly, notice the date on the document: '16 Edw II, Michaelmas'. Michaelmas is 29 September and the period of the year following it; '16 Edw II' means Edward II's sixteenth regnal year, which ran from 8 July 1322 to 7 July 1323 (his father Edward I died on 7 July 1307, so Edward II's first regnal year ran from 8 July 1307 to 7 July 1308). So already we see that Doherty's claim must be wrong; this document belongs to September 1322, not September 1324. Therefore it cannot possibly relate to Edward II taking his children away from the custody of their mother at the time he confiscated her lands when he was at war with her brother Charles IV of France, which occurred on 18 September 1324. The Issue Rolls dating to the relevant time period, Michaelmas/September 1324, are E 403/210, 211 and 212, not E 403/201.

Secondly, there are no 'membranes 14-15' in this document; there are eight membranes in total, written in Latin, much of it in double columns, stitched together to make one longish roll. Here's a pic of what it looks like.

Below is the end of the document. It's clear from the photo that this is the end of the document. It has the number 8 written on it in pencil at the bottom (next to my fingers), because it's the eighth and last membrane. So where are the 'membranes 14-15' Doherty cited in his endnote?

As I pointed out recently, Edward II's niece Eleanor Despenser née de Clare was looking after Edward and Isabella's second son John of Eltham (b. 15 August 1316) by 3 July 1322 at the latest and perhaps earlier. This alone proves that John at least was not 'removed' from his mother in September 1324. This information is in plain sight in the Calendar of Memoranda Rolls, which have been translated into English and printed into a nice easy-to-read book. As far as I've seen up to now, E 403/201 doesn't even mention the king and queen's children, or the women (Eleanor Despenser and her sister-in-law Isabella Hastings) into whose custody the children were given supposedly against Queen Isabella's wishes. Seeing as the cited membranes do not actually exist, I don't know where this alleged evidence of 'the king cruelly removed Isabella children from her!' is supposed to be, or what the evidence itself is meant to consist of. Even if there is a payment somewhere to Isabella Hastings for looking after Eleanor of Woodstock and Joan of the Tower, I'm not sure how that would prove the children were 'removed' from the queen anyway. Or should we think there's some entry that records a payment to soldiers for 'going to the queen's household and cruelly ripping her children out of her arms'? I really don't think so. And the issue that the document dates to September 1322, not September 1324, remains.

It's entirely typical of Paul Doherty's work that he doesn't even appear to realise that Isabella Hastings, who had the care of Edward II and Isabella's daughters at some point, was not merely 'another court favourite' as he calls her, but Hugh Despenser the Younger's sister. This would have strengthened his argument. Isabella Hastings also had the care of at least one of Hugh the Younger's and Eleanor née de Clare's daughters in 1325, and their fourth daughter Margaret was raised in the household of one Thomas Houk. Are we supposed to believe that Hugh was also being 'cruel' to his wife by giving the custody of two or more of their daughters to his sister and someone else? Or do we think that maybe royal and noble women of the early fourteenth century weren't full-time primary carers of their children and that handing over their care to others was entirely normal and usual? And does giving custody of young royal or noble children to others only count as 'cruel' when the children are Queen Isabella's and we're desperate to peddle the false narrative of her endless tragic suffering victimhood at the hands of her nasty gay husband? Isabella herself never claimed, or even hinted, that her children had ever been 'removed' from her and given into the care of others against her will. She was in a good position to be clear on this point, no?

I am actually kind of appalled that a historian could think or pretend that a document of September 1322 dates to September 1324 in order to make up a fake story. I am appalled that someone was prepared to make up a tale that Edward II was so lacking in any humanity or decency that he would remove young children - his own children! - from their mother and primary carer solely to hurt and punish her. I am shocked that other, vastly better historians have repeated this tale and not even bothered to check the document being cited as 'proof' to make sure it really does say what Doherty claims it says, or even to check that the part of the document being cited actually exists in the first place. Or to question and think 'hang on, are we sure that the queen of England in 1324 was looking after her children? How could her children be 'removed' from her in the first place?' This is the same writer who gets Margaret de Clare's name wrong and calls her 'Joan of Gloucester', who gives Isabella three different ages in one short book, and who claims that Isabella refused to take an oath of loyalty to Hugh Despenser when the chronicle cited clearly states that it was Henry, Lord Beaumont who was imprisoned for refusing to take this oath. How incompetent do you actually have to be to mix up the queen of England and Lord Beaumont? You can't, is the answer; you can't be that incompetent. That must have been done deliberately, because no-one could possibly read a chronicle which has been translated into modern English and think that 'Henry Beaumont' means 'Queen Isabella'. There seems to be an astonishingly cavalier disregard for any kind of historical truth or accuracy and a wish to make up silly stories as melodramatic and salacious as possible. If this was being done in fiction, that's one thing, but the claim has been made in a university thesis and in a popular book published as non-fiction. The notion that Edward II was cruel to his own wife and his own children has been repeated as 'fact' for nearly forty years, and it is grossly unjust.

27 August, 2017

Dates of Birth in the Fourteenth Century

With the exception of royal children, whose dates of birth were usually, though not invariably, recorded - we don't know exactly when Edward II's queen Isabella of France or her brother Philip V were born, for example - dates of birth in the fourteenth century were mostly only recorded when someone inherited land. So if a person didn't inherit land, we don't know when they were born, and even when they did inherit land, we still don't always know when they were born. Edward II's first cousins Thomas and Henry of Lancaster, for example, were the greatest landowners in the realm and royal on both sides of the family, but we don't know their dates of birth: 1277/78 and 1280/81 respectively are the best guesses. And they were the sons and heirs of Edward I's brother Edmund and the brothers-in-law of Philip IV of France, hence pretty important. Henry's son Henry of Grosmont, first duke of Lancaster was probably the richest man in England in the fourteenth century, or at least the second richest after his brother-in-law the earl of Arundel, but his date of birth can only be estimated as sometime between about 1308 and 1314. Ish. Sometimes you get lucky and an important noble person's date of birth was written down by a local chronicler or monk - the chronicle of Wigmore Abbey is pretty useful for the Mortimer family, for example.

Generally, when a tenant-in-chief died and his or her heir was underage, the heir's age was recorded, either in the tenant's Inquisition Post Mortem or in the heir's proof of age when they reached 14 or 15 (women)* or 21 (men) and could take over their own lands, or both. For example: Henry, Lord Percy died in October 1314, and in his IPM his son Henry was said to have turned 13 at the last Feast of the Purification, which is 2 February (though the jurors of some counties thought he was as old as 15). The younger Henry proved his age after he turned 21, and there his date of birth was specifically recorded as 6 February 1301 - or rather, to be completely accurate, it was recorded as 6 February in Edward I's twenty-ninth regnal year.

We don't know the date of birth of Hugh Despenser the Younger even though he was the most powerful man in the country for much of the 1320s, because he never inherited his father's lands (the Despensers being executed within a month of each other in 1326), but we do know the date of birth of his older half-sister Maud Chaworth because she was the heir of her father Patrick and he died when she was a baby: on or around 2 February 1282. This, again, is the Feast of the Purification. Jurors on IPMs generally just gave the nearest major feast day to the heir's actual birthday, so as with Henry Percy above, Maud Chaworth may not have been born exactly on 2 February. The date of birth of Hugh the Younger's nephew Philip Despenser is known, ditto that of another nephew of his, Amaury St Amand, as their fathers died when they were underage and they inherited their lands. Hugh Despenser the Elder's date of birth is also known, 1 March 1261, because he was the heir of his mother Aline Basset and his father's cousin John Despenser, and they died in 1281 and 1275 respectively before he turned 21. Edward I's eldest grandchild Gilbert de Clare, heir to his father the earl of Gloucester and Hertford, was born between 23 April and 11 May 1291, according to his parents' IPMs.

* 14 if they were already married, 15 if not.

Some other examples: Isabella Verdon, daughter of Edward II's niece Elizabeth de Burgh née de Clare, was born on 21 March 1317, and proved her age on 20 February 1332; she was one of the four daughters and co-heirs of Theobald Verdon. Her older half-sister Margery Verdon was born on 10 August 1310 and proved her age on 10 March 1327. Philippa of Clarence, only child and heir of Edward III's second son Lionel and the great heiress Elizabeth de Burgh the younger, was born on 16 August 1355 and proved her age on 24 August 1369. Henry Percy, above, was born on 6 February 1301 and proved his age on 26 February 1323. John, Lord Mowbray was born on 29 November 1310 and proved his age on 31 July 1329 (he was allowed to take over his lands several years early as a special favour). Thomas Beauchamp, earl of Warwick, was born around 2 or 14 February 1314: the IPM of his father Guy in August 1315 stated that he had turned one at the Purification or the feast of St Valentine last past. Edmund Mortimer, third earl of March, was born around 25 January or 2 February 1352.

Edward II's half-brother Edmund, earl of Kent, had three or possibly four children: Edmund, John, Joan and perhaps (or perhaps not) Margaret. The younger Edmund died in infancy in 1331 and never inherited his father's title and lands, and hence his date of birth was never recorded. John the younger son proved his age when he was 21 in 1351 and demonstrated that he was born on 7 April 1330, nineteen days after his father's execution. He died on 27 December 1352, childless, and his heir was his elder sister Joan, later the mother of Richard II. The jurors on John's IPM stated that Joan had turned either 25 or 26 at the feast of St Michael in 1352, i.e. she was born around 29 September in 1326 or on the same date in 1327. She was not born in 1328; this was a mathematical miscalculation someone made decades ago when looking at John's IPM, which has been repeated ever since. This does at least give an indication as to which historians actually bother to look at the primary source evidence and work out Joan's correct date of birth rather than just endlessly repeating the error or wrongly claiming that there is no evidence for when she was born - in short. Even a new biography of her states that her date of birth is not known. Errrrrm. Joan was either the eldest or the second Kent child, and if she was born in September 1326 she was certainly the eldest and born almost exactly nine months after her parents' wedding. Somewhat curiously, though, Edward II's other half-brother Thomas of Brotherton, earl of Norfolk, left his two daughters Margaret and Alice as his heirs when he died in 1338, but their dates of birth were not recorded. Margaret gave birth to her first child in 1338, so is unlikely to have been born after 1322 or 1323. It's always a bit of a lottery with dates of birth and whether we know them or not. Mostly we don't. We do know when Thomas and Edmund were born as they were sons of a king: 1 June 1300 and 5 August 1301.

As I've pointed out here before, IPMs are incredibly helpful evidence, but they are also often annoyingly vague: Edward I's cousin Aymer de Valence was, according to the evidence of his mother's IPM, somewhere between 24 and 37 in 1307. Haha. He was over the age of 21, so to the jurors, it didn't matter a great deal. Thomas of Lancaster's IPM was belatedly held in 1327 five years after his execution, and his brother and heir Henry was said to be '30 and more' or '40 and more'. He was actually about 46 then. Often jurors would just say that the heir was 'of full age', which ultimately was really all that mattered. The Staffordshire jurors on the IPM of Henry of Grosmont, duke of Lancaster, said confidently in 1361 that his younger daughter Blanche had turned nineteen at the last Feast of the Annunciation, i.e. she was born on or around 25 March 1342, but a year later at the IPM of Blanche's sister Maud said that Blanche was '22 and more' in 1362 and thus contradicted themselves. Oh thank you. (It is impossible for Blanche to have been 22 or more in 1362.)

For the overwhelming majority of the population, dates of birth didn't matter a great deal or make much difference to anything and were never recorded. I love fourteenth-century proofs of age - see here, here, here and here - for the lovely insights into how people remembered things. 

25 August, 2017

Sleeping Arrangements

As I wrote recently, Edward II had six chamber vadletz/portours who slept inside his bedchamber, perhaps not every night (I assume they left when he wanted to be intimate with someone?), but often.

In January 1325, the six were: Will Shene, Henry Lawe, Roger aka 'Hogge' May, Walter aka 'Watte' Pramtout, John Petman and John Goez or Goetz or Gos.

In July 1326, they were almost the same: Will Shene, Henry Lawe, Roger May, Walter Pramtout, Henry Hustret and John Joctyman.

Will Shene married his wife Isode at Henley-on-Thames, where he came from, on 17 October 1325; Roger May's wife was called Anneis or Anneys, i.e. Agnes, sometimes nicknamed Annote, who also joined the king's chamber as a vadlet and sometimes stitched shirts for Edward; Henry Lawe's brother Syme was also a valet of the chamber, and their sister Alis Coleman brewed ale for the king; Henry Hustret's father Richard or Hick was also a valet of the chamber.

Edward rewarded the six men with a gift of cash in the summer of 1326 because they woke up at night whenever he himself woke. In January 1325, they were named as the men veillauntz e trauaillauntz oue le Roi. Veiller can mean staying awake, or staying up late, or working late and being diligent, so this means 'staying up late and working with the king'. As the men were lowborn and of low rank, I assume they didn't speak French, and that Edward communicated with them in English.

Here's the bit about 'working with the king', in all its glory. I love Edward's chamber accounts. Just wished more of them survived...

20 August, 2017

La Rosere, London: Edward II's House

In Edward II's chamber account of 1324/25, there are a few references to a house in London which he had recently bought or leased and was called La Rosere. It stood opposite the Tower of London in Southwark, on the other side of the River Thames. On 7 March 1325, Hugh Despenser the Younger gave a gift of twenty shillings to a group of carpenters working on the residence. In 1324/25, there are also references to a house called La Cage, near or next to La Rosere, which Edward also purchased.

There's an article about La Rosere here. Not a great deal is known about it (hence the shortness of this post!). Edward II also owned a cottage within the precincts of Westminster Abbey which he called Borgoyne or Burgundy, and according to the disapproving Westminster chronicler - who loathed Edward - jocularly called himself 'king of Burgundy'. Edward spent a lot of time in 1325 and 1326 at Burgundy. In July 1326, he personally supervised a group of twenty-seven workmen digging a ditch around the cottage - isn't that just sooooo Edward? - and bought drinks for them. Some months earlier at the beginning of December 1325 - the day after he rowed himself along the Thames from Westminster to visit his heavily pregnant niece Eleanor Despenser née de Clare at the palace of Sheen and two days after he sent his last-ever letter to his queen - Edward had personally supervised the purchase of carthorses at Burgundy. Because that was you did when you were a king of England called Edward II, obviously. You watched workmen digging ditches and servants buying carthorses. Ah, my unconventional Edward.

18 August, 2017

Three Letters from Edward of Caernarfon, 1305

Hundreds of Edward of Caernarfon's letters from the year 1304/05 fortuitously survive, as they do not for any other year before his accession in 1307, and were printed by Hilda Johnstone in the 1930s. Here are three of them; translations are mine, from the original French.

I find this first one, sent to his first cousin Thomas, earl of Lancaster on 22 September 1305, extremely poignant given that they later became deadly enemies and loathed each other. Edward never forgave Thomas for having Piers Gaveston killed in 1312, and in March 1322 had him executed.

"To the earl of Lancaster, greetings and dear affection. Very dear cousin, we hold you well excused that you have not come to us, and your illness weighs heavily on us, and if we can come to you we will do it gladly, to see and to comfort you. Very dear cousin, may our lord etc [have you in his keeping]. Given as above [in Windsor park, 22 September 1305]."


Another was sent to Edward's sister Joan of Acre, countess of Gloucester and Hertford, who was twelve years his senior, on 6 August 1305. This one came during a period of about a month when Edward I and his son had quarrelled badly, and Edward of Caernarfon was banished from court and most of his household dismissed. Joan had evidently invited her little brother to come and stay with her.

"To the noble lady his very dear sister, my lady Johanne, daughter of the noble king of England, countess of Gloucester and Hertford, from Edward her brother, greetings and dear affection. Very dear sister, we have well understood what Bartholomew du Chastel told us on your behalf, and we have give him our reply, which he will tell you. And know, very dear sister, that we would gladly see you, but our lord the king our father has ordered that we remain in the parts around Windsor between now and parliament, and until he orders something else, we wish to obey his commands in all things, without doing anything to the contrary. Very dear sister, may our lord have you in his keeping. Given as above [6 August]."


And the third to Hugh Despenser the Elder, on 19 September 1305. Hugh was then forty-four, and his son Hugh the Younger about sixteen or seventeen. Hugh the Younger is not mentioned at all in any of Edward's surviving letters this year; Edward more or less ignored his existence until many years later. Hugh the Younger married Edward's eldest niece Eleanor de Clare a few months after this letter, on 26 May 1306.

"Edward etc, to his dear friend Sir Hugh Despenser, greetings etc. We thank you dearly for the raisins which you sent us via your servant, which came to us [quickly, in time? I'm not sure what tot en temps means] this Sunday in broad daylight, before we went to eat, and could not have arrived at a better time. And please do not take it amiss that we are sending you such meagre..."

My photo of the next two lines of the letter is blurred and I can't read it very well, but he finishes by promising to write more as soon as he can, and the ending is "May our lord etc. Given as above."

04 August, 2017

Win a FREE copy of my new book!

I'm offering a free, signed hardback copy of my new book Long Live the King: The Mysterious Fate of Edward II! All you have to do to win is leave a comment with your email address, either here or on my Edward Facebook page, or if you prefer, you can send me an email at: edwardofcaernarfon(at)yahoo(dot)com. It doesn't matter where in the world you are, as long as you have a postal address I can send the book to! You can ask for any dedication you like as well.

The closing date is Wednesday 16 August, midnight Central European Time. The following day, I will randomly select a winner and notify you via email, at which point you can give me your postal address and any special dedication you'd like me to write in the book.

Long Live the King is a thorough investigation of both a) Edward II's murder in 1327, what chronicles say about it, the fate of his alleged murderers, his funeral in Gloucester, etc, and b) his possible survival after that date, citing all the evidence in its favour. There's a long section called 'Arguments For and Against' both his murder and his survival, Appendices quoting the Fieschi and Melton Letters and other evidence in both English and the original French and Latin, and an Afterword and appeal for help by my friend Ivan Fowler of the Auramala Project. (Please check out their website; they're doing fab research into the possibility of Edward's survival in Italy.) My aim was to provide readers with all the wealth of evidence both for and against Edward's murder in 1327, and let you make up your own minds. It's intriguing that there's so much evidence for both. Will we ever be able to establish for certain whether Edward died at Berkeley Castle in 1327 or not?

Best of luck!