23 September, 2009

Misinformation About Edward II, Pokers, Etc

This will be my last post until the end of the first week of October or thereabouts, as my holiday begins tomorrow. We're off to North Wales, so will be visiting, among lots of other places, Caernarfon Castle - birthplace of Edward II, the onlie begetter of this insuing blog! I'm so looking forward to it. I have been there before, but when I was six, so can barely remember it. Lots of pics of Caernarfon and several of Edward I's other Welsh castles to follow here on my return.

Thank you to Carla Nayland for giving me a blog award! Much appreciated, Carla.

I always find it amusing - though also depressing - to read the crap about Edward II that some people put online, and believe me, there's a lot of stupid inaccurate crap about him out there (not only online, either). The 682nd anniversary a couple of days ago of his alleged death at Berkeley Castle on 21 September 1327 has brought up the usual oh-so-tediously-predictable rash of blog posts about the red-hot poker, some rather more misinformed than others: one claimed that Edward was, and I quote, "ignobly killed, some say by his wife and/or his gay lover. Death was adminstered by a red hot poker up the bum while he was on the toilet." Oh, the boundless confusion in that one! Love the idea of Isabella and Edward's gay lover, which presumably means Hugh Despenser, conspiring to have him murdered, and the fact that Hugh had been dead for ten months at the time of Edward's supposed death be damned. (Given that there are novels which have Roger Mortimer fathering Edward III even though he was in a different country to Isabella at the time of Edward's conception, and online articles postulating that Edward I fathered Edward III, that shouldn't pose a problem if anyone feels like writing a crappy novel about it.) Or maybe it was Isabella and her gay lover? Maybe Roger Mortimer was secretly a woman! Hey, I definitely feel a crappy sensationalist novel coming on here. And if readers complain that turning Mortimer into a woman or having Despenser alive ten months after his death is stupid and disrespectful, not to mention completely impossible, I can always shriek "But it's FICTION!!!! If you want historical accuracy, read a biography!" in the shouty and also tediously predictable manner of some commentators on Amazon.

That phrase 'Death was administered...' makes me giggle: "If you could just lie on your stomach, Mr Caernarfon, and please make sure you remain absolutely still while we administer death up your back passage by red-hot poker." The bit about the toilet, by the way, actually comes from stories circulating in the late thirteenth century about the death of Edmund Ironside in 1016, and is not and never has been part of the red-hot poker myth about Edward II.

I love this particular paragraph from a blog post, which is wonderfully chock-full of wrongness: "Queen Isabella, wife of King Edward II, entertained her lover Mortimer at Nottingham Castle. Romantics believe that Isabella, who had been made a virtual prisoner by the King, received Mortimer at the castle after he had gained entry by climbing the inn’s 20 metre long chimney, which was reputed to lead to a secret passageway into the castle. Isabella eventually escaped with her lover to France from where in 1326 she overthrew her husband and subsequently caused his murder at Berkeley Castle." I can only stand back and admire as the writer manages to turn Edward III's arrest of Roger Mortimer at Nottingham Castle in 1330 into a dashingly romantic tale of Mortimer himself secretly entering the castle to see his One Twu Wuv. And as a bonus, there's the inclusion of the tired old myths that Isabella 'escaped' from England to France in 1325, and that Edward III imprisoned her in 1330 for the rest of her life - I assume the 'virtual prisoner' bit is a reference to that, unless the writer erroneously believes that Edward II imprisoned her. Actually, given the wrongness of all the rest, s/he probably did believe that. This whole thing shows that if you're going to get things wrong, you might as well get them magnificently wrong, I suppose.

Blog post regarding Isabella's death in 1358: "When she died, she asked to be entombed with Mortimer's heart placed in her casket." Nope; Isabella was buried with Edward II's heart, not Mortimer's, and with the gown she wore for her and Edward's wedding. She wasn't buried next to Mortimer at the Greyfriars church in London either, a myth still often repeated as fact.

Spotted on two so-called 'history' sites: Edward "turned over to Gaveston all of the wedding gifts Isabella brought to the marriage - including the marriage bed" and "King Philip IV of France had given Edward some fancy jewelry which was found to be hanging on Gaveston's neck the very next day." Giving Piers Gaveston the marriage bed?? Where on earth do people get this stuff, and why do they post it as 'fact'? Piers wearing Isabella's jewellery the day after her wedding - what, did Edward send it to him back in England via UPS? For pity's sake, isn't Edward II's story fascinating enough without inventing such lurid fiction? Apparently not; it seems that history has to be sexed up, dumbed down and made as scandalous as possible these days. Even the Telegraph, yes, the Telegraph of all newspapers, feels the need to write sensational articles about Edward II's GAY LOVER!!!

Extract from another recent blog post: Edward "was later deposed by Isabella and her lover, Roger Mortimer, disappearing behind the walls of Pontefract Castle." A confusion between Edward and his great-grandson Richard II, imprisoned at Pontefract in 1399 after his deposition. Berkeley, Pontefract, what's the difference? Well, OK, about 180 miles for a start. And it was hardly Isabella and Mortimer themselves who deposed Edward.

Another Spreading Misinformation About Edward II Award for stating something as fact that patently isn't: "One member of the British royalty caught having homosexual relations suffered an even more grisly fate: Edward II’s penalty was being held down while a red hot poker was jammed through his rectum and intestines." I wonder who it was who was meant to have 'caught' Edward having sexual relations with men? Number of blog posts and articles online which repeat as certain fact that Edward was gay and murdered in this fashion because of his sexual preferences: far, far too many to count.

An interesting and astonishingly farfetched notion of the consequences of Isabella and Mortimer's invasion of 1326: "In fact, with out Isabella doing what she did, most of the democratic freedoms that the world enjoys today may never have come about." And there was me thinking her sole or at least her overwhelming priority was to get herself into a position where she could grant herself staggeringly enormous amounts of money - if not, she certainly did a very realistic impression from 1327 to 1330 of a person who cared about little else but granting herself staggeringly enormous amounts of money - but nooooo, she was Isabella Of France, Bringing Democratic Freedom To The Whole World. Who knew?

I sometimes see my blog posts reposted online having been run through an automated translator and then put back into English, with hilariously awful results. Here's a typically bad translation of this post, which translates "life went on as normal for Edward to a great extent" as "life-force went on as unextravagant in guy of Edward to a Brobdingnagian expanse," "he still found time to have a bit of fun and take some outdoor exercise" as "he soothe base spell to essential a measure out of making whoopee and consume some out of doors anguish," and "bright blue English cloth" as "bright smutty English constitution." So there you go; in 1326, Edward II was making whoopee and consuming anguish with bright smutty cloth. You read it here first.

And finally, some recent blog searches. On the topic of searches and red-hot pokers, a recent episode of the TV show The Tudors had someone being tortured by having a red-hot poker inserted inside him, which increased my blog hits noticeably as people went online to search for it. Cheers for that, writers! If I had a pound for every time someone hit this blog searching for 'red-hot poker' in the last few years, I'd be a very rich woman.

Hot pocker deaths in the Tower of London

queen isabell sexual escapeds Don't know what they are, but they sound like fun.

if edward II were alive today he'd be presenting a TV show about keeping fit? A builder? A plumber? Answers on a postcard.

Edward II Spanish Warrior Now that's how Edward should have branded himself at the start of his reign, before everyone realised that he had no ability as a general whatsoever.

edward I bought cabbages off peasants Edward I would have died a thousand deaths before doing something like that. Edward II did, though.

what happened 700 years ago

who lived 700 years ago I do love vague searches.

murder caese involving the name Gurney

queens of england admitting adultery -diana -tudors

hot templars


john di warenne The earl of Surrey turns Italian.

who was john warenne The earl of Surrey who couldn't keep it in his pants.

most gruesome and terrible execution methods and deaths in history Remember, we're looking for gruesome and terrible deaths. Merely gruesome just won't cut it.

edward 11 good or bad Duh, good, obviously. Oh, you mean objectively? Well...

extreme lashes neartest to rochester ny I'm going to go out on a limb here and say that my blog didn't prove terribly helpful in answering that question.

was isabella of castille cursed for the reconquista Ditto.

what problems did edward the confessor's death cause? And ditto.

ow did eleanor of aquitaine endure imprisonment for such a long time

nigel brotherton fair maid norway Ah yes, Edward II's well-known half-brother Nigel of Brotherton.

would a red hot poker up the bottom kill you Let's hope none of us ever have to find out.

perverted girl isabel translations

edward II wicked men blogspot

names for early people

Edward V1- bizarre fact

photos of 1306 era

1312 husband poisoned wife for not have male baby

king of england with the nickname nan an gang Ummm, huh?

See you in a couple of weeks! Posts to come include pics of North Wales, the next part (finally!) of my biography of the wonderful Henry of Grosmont, and another joint piece by my friend Rachel and myself on the Support Group For Historical People Unfairly Maligned In Crap Novels. And of course lots more posts about Edward II, who might have been a disastrous king, completely out of step with contemporary expectations of a ruler and lacking in regal dignity, but at least he was a person you can imagine having a right good laugh with, the life and soul of the party. Or, as an online translator insists on putting it, "Edward muscle essential been a catastrophic regent, unambiguously gone away from of not in harmony with newfangled expectations of a ruler and lacking in paramount repute, but at least he was a herself you can devise having a fair and square movables money on the floor with, the life-force and chain of the ball."

17 September, 2009

The Illegitimate Children of John de Warenne

Because for some reason they've been taking up lots of space rent-free in my head recently, here's a post about the affairs and the many illegitimate children of John de Warenne, earl of Surrey and Sussex. John, born 1286 and died 1347, had an utterly disastrous marriage to Edward II's niece Jeanne de Bar, and it occurs to me now that we should have included the unfortunate countess in Queen Isabella's tragic wives' support group:

Jeanne: My husband had left me for his mistress by the time I was fourteen, and he lived openly with her and ignored me even after he was threatened with excommunication for abandoning his lawful wife, and left my Uncle Edward to take care of me and pay all my living costs. Yes, Izzy, that's the same man as the husband you keep whinging about. John fathered nine children that I know of, some by his long-term mistress Maud Nerford and some by other women but none by me, and spent literally decades trying to get our marriage annulled. The git tried to bribe me with an income of 200 poxy quid a year if I agreed to the annulment. In the end, he was so desperate to get rid of me so he could marry his new mistress, who to add insult to injury was years younger than some of his own children, that he pretended to the pope that he'd had an incestuous affair with my Aunt Mary. Mary wasn't only seven years older than him, she was a nun!

Isabella: Pffft, Jeanie, the Rules For Writing About The Fourteenth Century, section 15, clause 8 ("How to decide if a wife is tragically neglected") clearly state that if your husband cheats on you with women, no matter how blatantly, or how much he humiliates and belittles and ignores you, or how many children he fathers on his numerous mistresses, he's a romantic Hetero Hero and you just have to suck it up. Whereas I, with a husband who prefers men, am entitled to, ooooh, simply tons of sympathy. Don't be glaring at me like that; I didn't make the rules.

John and Jeanne married at Westminster on 25 May 1306, when he was almost twenty and Jeanne probably only ten, and certainly no more than eleven. Evidently sick of waiting for his little wife to grow up, John looked elsewhere, and his biographer F. R. Fairbank commented in 1907 "his wife when they married was a child, and half his own age; it is not wonderful [i.e. not to be wondered at] that the marriage was not a success. He was probably not one whit worse than the great majority in his own station." [1] Hmmm, a man marrying a girl half his age and having outside interests; does that remind you of anyone?

On 16 August 1309, Edward II gave John licence "to make whom he please heir of the lands which he holds," as long as he "will not disinherit any heir he may have by the king's niece," which suggests that even then, despite her extreme youth, John wasn't sure if he would ever have children with Jeanne and that their marriage was not a success. [2] John had an illegitimate son called William born sometime before 24 August 1310 (see below), and it may have been his birth or imminent birth which prompted John to ask this favour of the king. In the spring of 1313, John and Jeanne's marriage collapsed completely: Edward sent William Aune to bring Jeanne to him and subsequently paid all her expenses at the Tower of London, and specifically invited her to come with him on his trip to France that year. John meanwhile was openly living with his mistress Maud Nerford and was threatened with excommunication on this account in 1313, a sentence finally carried out three years later. He had at least three sons with Maud, and in 1316 made strenuous though ultimately unsuccessful efforts to annul his marriage to Jeanne, marry Maud and make these boys his heirs. By the autumn of 1320, though, his relationship with Maud had ended: he petitioned parliament to ask for her brother John to be removed from a commission of oyer et terminer in Norfolk on the grounds that John Nerford and his fellow commissioners were doing all the harm they could to John, because he had "banished Maud de Nerford from his heart and ousted her from his company." [3]

By the end of John's life, he was living with another highborn mistress, Isabel Holland, and was once more attempting to annul his marriage to Jeanne in order to marry Isabel instead. In June 1346, he made an arrangement with Edward III regarding the settlement of his lands which makes it clear that despite his age - he turned sixty that month - he hadn't given up hope of marrying and fathering a legitimate heir by Isabel, who was over thirty years his junior (even her mother was three or four years younger than he was). [4] In his will of 24 June 1347, John referred to Isabel as ma compaigne, the same way men of the era referred to their wives - but however John might have wished that she was, Isabel wasn't his wife as he never managed to annul his marriage to the childless Jeanne de Bar, and although he fathered lots of children by other women, his heir was his sister Alice's son Richard 'Copped Hat', earl of Arundel. (His Yorkshire lands passed to Edward III's son Edmund of Langley, John's godson.) John completely ignored his wife of forty-one years in his will but left numerous possessions to his mistress Isabel, including all his beds, half his livestock, various gold rings, chapel vestments, a gold cup and a large amount of other valuable plate, and "all the residue of all my goods and chattels" after his bequests and debts had been paid.

John left bequests to three daughters in his will. I don't know the identity of their mother(s):

- Joan de Basing ('Johanne de Basyngg' in the original spelling) who received a cup of plain silver from her father. Judging by her last name, she was already married. Joan was the name of John's mother, which implies Joan de Basing was his eldest daughter, as does the fact that she was named first in the list of his daughters.

- Katherine, who according to several genealogy sites - I don't know what primary source is the basis for this statement, and I can't confirm it - married Sir Robert Heveningham after her father's death. She certainly received a bequest of ten marks (six pounds, sixty-six pence) in John's will. ('Katerine' in the original, no surname given)

- Isabel, a nun at Sempringham, who received twenty pounds (vynt l) from John. ('Isabell') [5]

John had six illegitimate sons that I've been able to find. Here's a list of them.

- Ravlyn

John's most obscure son and only mentioned, that I've found, in a petition presented to parliament in 1334 by one Ralph le Botiller. This petition calls him Ravlyn fitz al Counte de Garrein, "Ravlyn, son of the earl of Warenne," and records le Botiller's complaint that John had sent Ravlyn and some members of his household to attack two of his (le Botiller's) manors in Cheshire and steal or destroy his possessions. Ravlyn is not mentioned either in his father's will of June 1347 or in a letter John sent to Edward III in April 1346 naming his other two secular sons, perhaps because he was dead by then. [6]

- John and Thomas

By 1316, John de Warenne had two sons by Maud Nerford, and in August that year persuaded Edward II to accept them as his heirs: he surrendered his lands to Edward and received them back "with remainder to John de Warenna son of Matilda de Neirford and the heirs male of his body, and failing such issue to Thomas de Warenna, son of the said Matilda..." [7] John evidently was the elder of the two and presumably named after their father; Thomas may have been named after Thomas Nerford, one of Maud's brothers.

Confusingly, there are a few references at the beginning of the 1300s to John and William, sons of John, earl of Warenne, both of whom had been, according to letters of the pope, ordained priest while still under age. [8] As our Earl John was only born in 1286, these two must have been the illegitimate sons of his grandfather John de Warenne (1231-1304), the previous earl of Surrey and Warenne, and thus John's uncles. His sons John and Thomas had both joined the order of the Hospital of St John of Jerusalem by November 1345, and their mother Maud Nerford was dead by then. [9] Neither of them appeared in their father's will.

- Edward

Almost certainly another son of Maud Nerford, as he owned lands in Norfolk which had previously belonged to her. John called him "Edward de Warenne, my son" - plain 'Edward', not 'Sir Edward' - in his 1347 will, and left him twenty pounds. Edward was also mentioned in a letter John wrote to Edward III in April 1346, saying that his sons Edward and William were ready to serve the king abroad. [10] He was presumably born after August 1316 as he was not mentioned in John's land settlements at that time, and before his father "ousted" Maud Nerford from his heart and company in or shortly before 1320. He may have been named in honour of Edward II, or possibly after his father's first cousin Edward Balliol, son of John Balliol, king of Scotland (himself probably named after Edward I). He is named as "Edward de Warenn, knight" in an entry on the Close Roll of 23 February 1349. [11]

Edward de Warenne married Cecily, daughter of Nicholas de Eton, and founded the Warren family of Poynton, Cheshire. His eldest son, named John after his father, was born in 1343 or 1344; he had other sons named Edward and William. Edward de Warenne had died by 1369, and his son John died in 1392. See this thread for more information.

- Sir William and Prior William

John de Warenne had two sons called William, one a prior and the other a knight, by an unknown mother or mothers. William was the name of John's father, Sir William de Warenne, son of the earl of Surrey who died in 1304 and killed in a jousting tournament in 1286 when John was a baby, so it's not at all surprising that John would use the name for his sons. One of them, probably the knight, had been born by 24 August 1310, when John (then aged twenty-four) granted "his son William de Warenna and the heirs of his body" the manor of Beeston in Norfolk. Although John gave the manor of Beeston to Earl Thomas of Lancaster in 1318, Sir William de Warenne was holding it in January 1333. [12] It is strange, therefore, that William was not mentioned in John's land settlements of 1316, when John named his sons John and Thomas as his heirs. Perhaps this means that William was not Maud Nerford's son and she persuaded Earl John to make her own sons his heirs? Or perhaps John had envisaged a career in the Church for William, then changed his mind? I can only speculate. On the other hand, Sir William witnessed a grant of land from his father to his (Earl John's) lardener Henry de Kelsterne in January 1332 with Thomas Nerford, Maud Nerford's brother - which may imply a relationship between William and Nerford, or may only mean that John de Warenne held onto his connections to the Nerfords even after his relationship with Maud ended. [13]

John's other son William was prior of Horton in Kent and of Castle Acre in Norfolk, and was named in numerous papal letters, warrants, writs etc as the illegitimate son of John de Warenne. I don't know the identity of his mother, but according to a declaration of 1338 that he was a true-born Englishman and not a foreigner, he was born at his father's Yorkshire castle of Conisbrough. [14] In his will, John left "Master [daunz] William de Warenne, my son, a Bible which I had made in French." In October 1348 and again in February 1351, Edward III appointed several sergeants-at-arms to arrest William and a fellow monk of Castle Acre on the grounds that they "have spurned the habit of their order and are vagabonds in England in secular habit" who were "to be chastised according to the rule of their order." William was, according to a papal letter, still alive in early 1364. [15]

John's son William the knight seems to have been a great favourite of his father, judging by the number of things John bequeathed to "Sir William de Warenne, my son" in his will, which included 100 marks (sixty-six pounds), a silver-gilt helmet and coronet and all his armour for jousting. John also left a gold brooch to William's wife, and although his will didn't give her name, it appears in a papal grant of April 1344: Margaret. [16] Sir William was one of the three leaders of a company of archers and men-at-arms raised by his father in November 1339, and accompanied his (half-?) brother Edward de Warenne on campaign abroad in April 1346. [17] Like his (half-?) brothers Edward and William the prior, he was openly and frequently acknowledged as the earl of Surrey's illegitimate offspring and sometimes witnessed John's charters as "the grantor's son," and also received grants of his own from John on occasion. In June 1364, Edward III granted him an annuity of forty marks "for long service," and William was still active in November 1368, when he and other men were accused of hunting without permission in the lands of Hugh Hastings in Yorkshire. [18]

1) F. Royston Fairbank, 'The Last Earl of Warenne and Surrey and the Distribution of his Possessions', Yorkshire Archaeological Journal, xix (1907), p. 264.
2) Calendar of Chancery Warrants 1244-1326, p. 296.
3) The National Archives SC 8/87/4348.
4) Fairbank, 'Last Earl', pp. 249-250.
5) John's will can be read online in English and the original French.
6) Rotuli Parliamentorum, vol. II, p. 88; TNA SC 8/156/7772.
7) Calendar of Patent Rolls 1313-1317, pp. 528-529; Chancery Warrants 1244-1326, pp. 576-578; TNA SC 8/280/13971.
8) For example, Calendar of Papal Letters 1305-1341, p. 11.
9) Cal Pat Rolls 1345-1348, p. 16.
10) Fairbank, 'Last Earl', p. 248.
11) Calendar of Close Rolls 1349-1354, p. 11.
12) Cal Pat Rolls 1307-1313, p. 330; Cal Pat Rolls 1330-1334, p. 404; Calendar of Fine Rolls 1337-1347, p. 52; TNA C 143/85/11.
13) Cal Pat Rolls 1340-1343, pp. 511-512.
14) Calendar of Inquisitions Miscellaneous 1308-1348, p. 397, and Cal Close Rolls 1339-1341, pp. 18, 82, say that William was born at Conisbrough Castle. See also Cal Papal Letters 1342-1362, pp. 12, 124, 139, TNA SC 8/247/12337.
15) Cal Pat Rolls 1348-1350, p. 244; Cal Pat Rolls 1350-1354, p. 78; Cal Papal Letters 1362-1404, p. 6.
16) Cal Papal Letters 1342-1362, p. 145.
17) Cal Close Rolls 1339-1341, p. 302.
18) Cal Pat Rolls 1338-1340, p. 411; Cal Pat Rolls 1343-1345, p. 570; Cal Pat Rolls 1361-1364, p. 511; Cal Pat Rolls 1367-1370, p. 200.

10 September, 2009

And Your Weather Forecast For The Early Fourteenth Century Is...

...demons yelling, an immense eye darting fierce lightning all over the north of England, lightning which turns clerics into pitch, the sky becoming the colour of blood, oppressive heat which kills livestock and destroys crops, oppressive cold which kills livestock and destroys crops and nonstop rain for two years which kills livestock and destroys crops, so we advise remaining indoors for, ooooh, the next few decades. But don't worry! It's just God demonstrating his displeasure with the English for being wicked. Or possibly it's because Saturn is in the ascendant. The finest minds in England are still debating that one.

I've been toying for a while with the notion of writing a post on the weather of Edward II's era, and when I found this vivid and utterly brilliant description of a violent (and by the sounds of it, terrifying) thunderstorm recently in the Chronicle of Lanercost, I just had to post it here. The storm took place in the north of England during the night of 11/12 July 1293, when the future Edward II was nine:

"Early in the morning...we beheld in the east a huge cloud blacker than coal, in the midst whereof we saw the lashes of an immense eye darting fierce lightning into the west; whence I understood that Satan's darts would come from over the sea. Sure enough on the Sunday following, there began and continued throughout the night over the whole of the west part of the diocese of York, thunder and lightning so prodigious that the dazzling flashes followed each other without intermission, making, as it were, one continuous sunlight. Not only men were terrified and cried aloud, but even some domestic animals - horses, for certain. In some places houses were burnt or thrown down, and demons were heard yelling in the air."

Isn't the description of the yelling demons and the immense eye completely fantastic? And here's the same chronicle describing another thunderstorm, which damaged a church at Staveley near Chesterfield in Derbyshire on 29 September 1291: "suddenly, about the first hour of the day, the air became thick and dark, and by a single stroke of lightning much damage was caused all at once...it blackened all the right side of the image of the glorious Virgin over the altar, and did to death a certain cleric who was kneeling in prayer at the right end [of the altar], having there performed his mass, so suddenly that it turned that part of his body which was nearest the wall from head to foot, together with his garments, into something like pitch, the rest of him remaining entire...Such mysteries as these deserve to be shrewdly investigated at leisure and to be gravely considered." [1] (I have shrewdly investigated these mysteries, and gravely concluded that yelling demons were to blame.)

Anyway, here's a post about some weather conditions in England between 1305 and 1326 I've collected from various contemporary chronicles. It's notable that the English weather in the early fourteenth century was much more extreme then than it is these days, with lots of very cold winters and very hot summers, and the freakishly wet weather of the mid-1310s which caused the Great Famine.

The Flores Historiarum says that in the summer of 1305 - when the future Edward II was twenty-one and his father had two more years to live - England experienced "such a burning heat, and such a blight and drought throughout the summer, that the hay failed in most parts of the country, and the beasts of the field died for want, and a double heat (both while the sun was in Libra as well as he was in Leo) oppressed mankind. The consequence was, that small-pox and disease prostrated both children and young men, and rich and poor, and they were also afflicted with freckles and spots, and a great many young men and maidens died of the small-pox."

1305 was a year of extreme weather: this unusually hot summer was followed by "a winter of extreme cold, oppressing mankind much," with snow and ice on the ground from 15 December 1305 to 27 January 1306 and again from 13 February to 13 April 1306. "And the fish died in the ponds, and the birds in the woods, and the cattle in the fields. And many of the birds of heaven were so wasted away that they were caught without any net or snare by the hand of man." [2]

Bitterly cold winters were something of a feature of the early fourteenth century. The Croniques de London says that one year, presumably meaning the winter of 1307/1308 - the description of the weather follows the writer's statement that Piers Gaveston returned from exile and became earl of Cornwall, which happened in August 1307 - "there was such great ice on the Thames that many people went by foot on the ice to Southwark, and back to London." The winter of 1309/1310 saw the Great Frost, which the London annalist describes as follows: "There was such cold and such masses and piles of ice on the Thames and everywhere else that the poor were overcome by excessive cold," and adds that the river froze so solidly, bonfires could be lit on it. All the winters between 1312 and 1317 were also bitterly cold with much snow and frost, though on the other hand, some winters of the era were considerably less harsh: those of 1322/1323 and 1323/1324 were dry and mild, for example. [3]

The Sempringham continuator of the Livere de Reis de Brittanie, an enthusiastic recorder of the weather, says that there was a total eclipse of the sun on 1 February 1309 and "he had only half his light," though the writer claims, implausibly, that the eclipse lasted from midday until five in the afternoon. He also says that there was a total eclipse of the sun on 5 September 1290, and that the weather around the Feast of the Nativity of St John the Baptist that year - 24 June - was "rainy and cold," which will come as no surprise to anyone who's ever spent a June in England. [4] Off-topic but interesting here: a couple of weeks after the eclipse of 1309, a whale supposedly eighty feet long was caught in the Thames, to the great excitement of both the London and Pauline annalists. [5] In June 1315, Edward II gave a pound each to sailors named Thomas Springet, William Kempe and Edmund of Greenwich "for their labour in taking a whale, lately caught near London Bridge," which possibly was the same whale ('lately' in the fourteenth century could mean anything up to a few years). Also off-topic but interesting: the bishop of Nazareth was visiting England around the time of the total eclipse in 1309. [6]

According to the Livere de Reis, "thunders were heard, and there were sulphurous lightnings" on 24 October 1310. (But no immense eyes or yelling demons, sadly.) The first few months of 1312, when Piers Gaveston returned from his third exile, were dry and mild, and Lanercost says that on 5 July that year there was "an eclipse of the sun about the first hour of the day, and the sun appeared like a horned moon, which was small at first and then larger, until about the third hour it recovered its proper and usual size; though sometimes it seemed green, but sometimes of the colour which it usually has." There was a great storm in October 1313, and the following winter was another harsh one; spring came very late in 1314 after a bitterly cold April, and the beginning of that summer was also very cold. In fact, summer barely came at all in 1314, as by August, and maybe earlier, the endless rain which would destroy crops and lead to the Great Famine had started. It rained constantly for the rest of 1314, the misery only, one hopes, alleviated somewhat by a cold and frosty winter. [7]

1315 was also remarkably wet, even by English standards, and it rained more or less nonstop all year with the added bonus of gales in October. Edward II spent a month between mid-September and mid-October 1315 swimming and rowing in the Fens with "a great concourse of common people," intending to "refresh his soul with many waters," in the disapproving and sarcastic words of the Flores. Evidently the endless pouring rain and gales didn't put the hardy king off enjoying the great outdoors. The rain continued at least until the spring of 1316 and maybe later, at least in some parts of the country: some southern chroniclers report that the summer of 1316 was dry, though the chronicle Gesta Edwardi de Carnarvan, written at Bridlington in Yorkshire, says that it continued to be very wet. This probably represents a north-south divide in the weather, and at any rate, the endless rain had already wreaked its horrendous damage and at least five percent of the population of England died of starvation or associated disease.

Here's how the Vita Edwardi Secundi reported the awful weather:

"Alas, poor England! You who once helped other lands from your abundance, now poor and needy are forced to beg. Fruitful land is turned into a salt-marsh; the inclemency of the weather destroys the fatness of the land; corn is sown and tares are brought forth. All this comes from the wickedness of the inhabitants. Spare, O Lord, spare thy people! For we are a scorn and a derision to them who are round about us. Yet those who are wise in astrology say that these storms in the heavens have happened naturally; for Saturn, cold and heedless, brings rough weather that is useless to the seed; in the ascendant now for three years he has completed his course, and mild Jupiter duly succeeds him. Under Jupiter these floods of rain will cease, the valleys will grow rich with corn, and the fields filled with abundance." [8]

The winter of 1316/1317 was another very cold one, but thanks to Jupiter (!?) the summer of 1317 was - finally and no doubt to the huge relief of the long-suffering inhabitants of England - hot and dry. The Sempringham continuator of the Livere de Reis says, oddly, that in 1317 "there issued from the earth water-mice with long tails, larger than rats, with which the fields and meadows were filled in the summer and in August, also the towns and homesteads in the following winter." According to Lanercost, "before noon on the sixth day of September there was an eclipse of the sun." The Sempringham continuator went through a particularly enthusiastic phase in late 1319 and early 1320 of describing the weather conditions, so we know that:

- on 1 December 1319, "there was a general earthquake in England, with great sound and much noise."
- on the morning of 26 January 1320, there was a "wonderful eclipse of the moon of many various colours."
- and on 17 April 1320, "about midnight, there were frightful thunders heard, with lightning, and immoderately high wind." [9]

The winter of 1320/1321 was very wet and mild, with floods in the first few months of 1321; either these had receded by early May, when the Marcher lords and their allies began attacking the Welsh and English lands of the two Hugh Despensers, or the Marchers got very soggy. Winter 1321/1322 was yet another very harsh one: the Rochester chronicler says that snow lay on the ground for most of the first three months of 1322 and that the roads were hazardous, impeding Edward II’s progress through his kingdom on his campaign against the Marchers. A letter of Edward to all his sheriffs of 11 March 1322 says that he had been "unable to pass by the fords for several days by reason of the great flood in those parts," meaning the area around Tutbury and Burton-on-Trent in Staffordshire, and the Sempringham continuator, with his usual interest in the weather, says that the earl of Lancaster lost many supplies "through a great flood of water" when travelling from Pontefract to Tutbury on 1 March. Presumably a temporary thaw and a mass of melted snow caused the flooding. Presumably also, it subsequently froze again: when the earl of Lancaster was executed at Pontefract on 22 March, the Brut says that a crowd of onlookers "caste on hem meny balles of snowe." [10]

On 31 October 1322, both the Livere de Reis and the Brut observed an interesting phenomenon: the Livere says that the sky was "of a colour like blood" from Terce to Vespers, or nine a.m. to sunset, and the Brut says that the sun "turnede into blode, as the peple it saw. And that durede [lasted] fro the morne, til hit was xj of the Clokke of the day." Edward II then was in York, following his humiliating flight from the Scots at Rievaulx Abbey two weeks before, and I assume he must have seen it. For two chroniclers to record this, both naming the same day, implies that it was a widely-observed phenomenon. [11]

I can't find the reference now, but I seem to remember a statement in one chronicle - the Flores? - that sometime in 1322 or 1323 there was such torrential rain it was as though it was pouring out of a spout. It might have been the autumn of 1322 when Edward II was failing yet again on his latest Scottish campaign and the weather seems to have been pretty abysmal. October and November 1323 saw fine dry conditions, though, and generally speaking, mild and friendly weather prevailed during the last few years of Edward II's reign, although the spring of 1325 was very wet. During the summer of 1326, according to the Pauline annalist, England experienced another drought, and the Thames and other rivers receded alarmingly. This perhaps explains the entry in Edward II's chamber journal of 24 July 1326: the king gave sixpence to a Jack le Frenche of Walton, who "brought to the king by his command water from a well." [12] Edward was perhaps very thirsty in the heat!

I think what's especially fascinating isn't just the discovery that England 700 years ago had more extreme weather than it does these days, but the attitudes revealed by the chroniclers - the beliefs that a thunderstorm is the work of Satan and that years of awful weather and famine are either a) God punishing the English for being wicked or b) to be blamed on the movements of the planets. At any rate, I'll certainly be listening out for those yelling demons next time there's a thunderstorm.


1) The Chronicle of Lanercost 1272-1346, ed. Herbert Maxwell, pp. 82-83, 103.
2) The Flowers of History, ed. C. D. Yonge, vol. 2, p. 582.
3) Croniques de London depuis l'an 44 Hen III jusqu'à l'an 17 Edw III, ed. G. J. Aungier, p. 35; Annales Londonienses, in Chronicles of the Reigns of Edward I and Edward II, ed. W. Stubbs, vol. 1, p. 158; Annales Paulini in Ibid., p. 268; Derek Vincent Stern and Christopher Thornton, A Hertfordshire demesne of Westminster Abbey: profits, productivity and weather, pp. 98-99.
4) Le livere de reis de Brittanie e Le livere de reis de Engleterre, ed. J. Glover, pp. 325-327.
5) Annales Londonienses, p. 157; Annales Paulini, p. 267.
6) Frederick Devon, Issues of the Exchequer, p. 126; Annales Paulini, p. 266.
7) Livere de Reis, p. 329; Lanercost, p. 198; Stern and Thornton, Hertfordshire demesne, pp. 98-99.
8) Vita Edwardi Secundi, ed. N. Denholm-Young, p. 70.
9) Livere de Reis, pp. 333, 337; Lanercost, p. 218.
10) Historia Roffensis, folio 38v; Calendar of Close Rolls 1318-1323, p. 522; Livere de Reis, p. 341; The Brut or the Chronicles of England, ed. F. W. D. Brie, part 1, p. 223.
11) Brut, p. 228; Livere de Reis, p. 347.
12) Annales Paulini, pp. 312-313; Society of Antiquaries Library MS 122, p. 78.

04 September, 2009

Isabella of France and the Support Group for Tragic Queens

This is a post written partly by me and partly by my friend Rachel, who recently found online a statement that Isabella of France's marriage was a "grotesque travesty" and called Edward II her "husband" in inverted commas, which led to much disbelieving snark on our part; the disastrous ending of Edward and Isabella's marriage tends to obscure the fact that their relationship was for many years far more successful than is commonly supposed, and seriously, of all the horrendously dysfunctional and abusive marriages in history, theirs is the one described as a "grotesque travesty"? Edward and Isabella's marriage was no worse than a lot of other arranged marriages and a damn sight better than some, not that you'd know it from the many online articles and published books which portray Isabella as the most cruelly suffering wife and Edward II as the most abusive and neglectful husband who ever lived. That whole 'She-Wolf' thing went out of the window a long time ago; these days, we're far more likely to get Isabella of France: Tragic Neglected And Nobly Suffering Victim Of That Nasty Cruel Gay Edward II And His Horrid Male Favourites.

So Rachel had a brilliant idea: what would happen if Isabella joined a support group for Medieval and Renaissance Queens and Noblewomen with Crap Husbands? Here's what we came up with.
(And please also see our Support Group for People Unfairly Maligned in Historical Fiction.)

Isabella: I had the most grotesque travesty of a marriage EVER!

Blanche de Bourbon: Oh, you poor thing. Well you're among kindred spirits here. Did he beat and torture you?

Isabella: Well ... not as such ...

Anne Boleyn: My husband not only cheated on me with at least two women that I know of, but had me arrested, accused me of cheating on him with five men, one of whom was half my age, and one was my own brother, which is so beyond offensive it defies description. He then had me convicted of plotting his death, had our marriage annulled (how I could have committed adultery in those circumstances is beyond me), bastardised my daughter, and then had me and five innocent men beheaded so he could marry one of my ladies-in-waiting.

Blanche de Bourbon: I hear you ... My husband King Pedro of Castile imprisoned me three days after our wedding and went off with his long-term mistress Maria de Padilla, kept me in solitary confinement for eight years and then had me murdered. I was only twenty-two when I died, the queen of Castile who was never crowned, whom no-one ever saw, who lived in a dungeon. They don't call my husband 'the Cruel' for nothing, you know.

Isabella: I SO understand! That's exactly what happened to me!

Anne Boleyn: Really? What a bastard.

Isabella: Errr ... noooo ... Not so much the imprisoning and murdering thing. We ended up imprisoning him actually. But I didn't murder him! I mean. He wasn't murdered. But even if he was, I didn't do it and anyway, he would have deserved it. But it was still a horrible marriage!

Joan Mortimer: "We"? Just enlighten the other ladies here ... who's "we"?

Isabella: That's ... Never you mind. The point is, my husband liked his lovers better than me! He flaunted them mercilessly.

Catherine de Medici: I feel your pain, Izzy, because I know ALL about flaunting mistresses. My husband Henri II was so infatuated with that cow Diane de Poitiers that he had his letters signed HenriDiane, and everyone treated her as though she was the real queen of France and I was nobody.

Maria of Portugal: Ohhhh, don't talk to me about powerful mistresses. My husband Alfonso XI of Castile kept me a virtual prisoner while his mistress Leonor de Guzman wielded enormous influence at court and had ten children with my husband, seven more than he had with me. My father the king of Portugal even invaded Castile to avenge the insult to me.

Constanza of Castile: Is this the meeting for tragic neglected queens and noblewomen? I was a teenager and beautiful, so everyone said, when I married John of Gaunt, but within months of our wedding he began committing enthusiastic adultery with that horrid Katherine Swynford and had all those kids with her. But rather than being offended on my behalf - me, rightful queen of Castile in my own right! - people hundreds of years later keep going "awwww, John and Katherine are, like, soooo sweet and romantic!" and behave as though I was nothing more than an object in the way of Twu Wuv 4ever who finally did the decent thing by dying because it allowed them to fulfil their romantic destiny and get married.

Joan Mortimer: I know the feeling too ... MY husband moved his mistress into MY castle. Oh wait, Izzy, you already know that. Don't you?

Isabella: Joan, honey, if you'd been able to satisfy Roger properly, you wouldn't have lost him to me, would you? Because obviously Roger only had a relationship with me because he truly loved me and not at all because he needed me and my son as figureheads so that he could invade England and avenge himself on my husband, or because he got the chance to rule England through me and my son for nearly four years and make himself earl of March and the richest man in the country. All of that was just a total coincidence. And Constanza, honey, my grandson John is straight, and hetero adultery is romantic, OK? Like me and Roger. Get with the programme. In fact, Katherine Swynford, Mary Boleyn and I are holding a workshop later called "Female Empowerment Through Shagging Married Men" so maybe you'd like to sign up for that and learn something rather than whinging about being a wronged wife, hmmmm? And ladies, you're all missing the main point: your husbands may well have flaunted their lovers in front of you, but at least the lovers were female! My husband's favourites were men!

Catherine de Medici: Oh, well that makes all the difference. I suppose he had rampant orgies with hundreds of young men in front of you?

Isabella: Errr ... no.

Anne Boleyn: Oh. Well, he must have been an incorrigible paedophile, then - couldn't keep his hands off prepubescent boys?

Isabella: Umm ... no. His male favourites were adults. But there were *two* of them.

Anne of Denmark: Oh PLEASE! You should have seen the way MY husband carried on. You'll have to do better than that.

Elisabeth Charlotte, duchess of Orleans: Mine too! My husband Philippe paraded an endless succession of male lovers in front of me, and allowed them to humiliate and belittle me in public. He did exactly the same thing to his first wife, Minette.

Isabella: Well, Edward ... um ... took my children? Set them up in separate households?

Eleanor of Aquitaine: Isn't that normal procedure? My kids grew up all over the place. And are you saying that you were the only queen in the entire Middle Ages and for long afterwards who was the full-time primary carer of her children?

Isabella: Well ... yes, it's normal procedure and I didn't see the kids that much anyway, but ... but ... aha, here's one way the bastard made me suffer! He wasn't interested in me at all at our wedding or for ages afterwards, even though I was officially The Most Beautiful And Desirable Woman In All France!

Eleanor of Aquitaine: Ummm, you were twelve when you married, weren't you, and Edward was in his twenties? Why would he be interested in a pubescent? Did he refuse to have sex with you later when you'd matured?

Isabella: Yes! Oh, OK, no, not exactly. We conceived our first child four years after we got married.

Eleanor of Aquitaine: Honey, I was older than you when I got married, and my first child was born eight years after the wedding. But then, I married Louis VII, who should have been a monk. Later I married Henry II who gave me lots of children, though there was that whole imprisoning me for sixteen years thing as well, of course, and I was only released because Henry died and my son Richard let me out. Henry would gladly have seen me die in prison.

Berengaria of Navarre: That would be my husband Richard, whom in eight years of marriage I almost never saw and who may or may not have had sex with men and who had prostitutes brought to him on his death-bed?

Alais of France: The same Richard who was betrothed to me for more than twenty years but who publicly refused to marry me and claimed that I had been his father's mistress? Can you even begin to imagine the humiliation?

Eleanor of Aquitaine: *Sticks fingers in ears* Lalalalalala my son Richard is perfect lalalalalalala I can't hear you. By the way, Izzy, how long did Edward imprison you for, did you say?

Isabella: Ummmm. He didn't, as such. But he gave our wedding gifts to his first favourite Piers Gaveston!

All: Oh, that is soooo unacceptable.

Isabella: Well, in fact he only sent them from Boulogne to Gaveston, his regent back in England, to store in a safe place for us, and Gaveston didn't actually keep them. But one chronicler thought he kept them, so that totally counts. And Edward let his other great favourite Hugh Despenser rule the country although he had no right to, and take whatever lands he wanted, and Edward just plain ignored me. Me, his faithful and supportive wife!

Joan Mortimer: You mean like you let your great favourite Roger Mortimer otherwise known as my husband rule the country although he had no right to, and take whatever lands he wanted, and Roger just plain ignored me? Me, his faithful and supportive wife!

Isabella: Well, obviously that's entirely different. Did you not hear the parts about hetero adultery being romantic and women who sleep with married men being empowered, dearie? Honestly, do keep up. And here's more of my shockingly awful suffering: Edward confiscated my lands in September 1324 when he was at war with my brother the king of France because he claimed there was a danger of a French invasion, and lowered my income from £4500 to £2613 a year! Have you ever heard of such appalling abuse??

Philippa of Hainault: Remind me again, mother-in-law dearest, how you treated your son and me financially during your regency? You know, your son who was the king of England? How much money did you allow him to have, while you granted yourself the largest income anyone in England received during the entire Middle Ages and gorged yourself on lands and took for yourself all those piles of money Robert Bruce gave England in exchange for your desperately unpopular peace treaty? Did you give him lots of money, or really in fact not lots at all and a pitifully, humiliatingly small amount? Remember how you inherited £78,156 from Edward II's treasury and left your son a rather less than enormous £41 only four years later? What happened to the other £78,115 and the £20,000 from Bruce?

Isabella: Those questions are beneath my contempt, Pippa, sweetie. Run along and push out a few more kids, and just you remember who the real queen of England is round here. I still say that my marriage was utterly appalling. OK, maybe Edward didn't kill me or torture me or beat me or imprison me, but I am The Tragic Suffering Wife Par Excellence!

Eleanor of Woodstock and Joan of the Tower: Oh really? Don't you remember us, Mum? Eleanor's husband tried to repudiate her on the grounds that she had leprosy but really because he was just fed up with her, and Joan's husband gave his mistress Katherine Mortimer so much power at court that a group of his Scottish nobles had her murdered in disgust!

Alice of Norfolk: And what about me? My husband Edward Montacute beat me up so badly I died of my injuries, and my first cousin Edward III, your son, didn't lift a finger against him. And I'm the granddaughter and niece of kings! But you're right, Izzy, your husband reducing your income, even though you were still one of the richest people in the country, is an indication of true suffering that puts mine and all the other women's here into perspective. *Rolls eyes*

Isabella: Pfffft, Ally, you don't know the meaning of true marital suffering. Your husband may have beaten you to death, but at least he didn't lower your income. He didn't try to annul your marriage either, but That Awful Edward sent the friar Thomas Dunheved to the pope to do just that to me!

Katherine of Aragon: You poor thing, how I feel for you. My husband spent years trying to get me to admit that our marriage had never been valid and that I'd basically been nothing more than his mistress for twenty-odd years, and that our beloved daughter was a bastard. Me, a Spanish infanta and child of two great sovereigns! And all so he could marry one of my ladies-in-waiting. *Glares at Anne Boleyn* He packed me off to live in a cold damp castle in the middle of nowhere with a minimal staff, and wouldn't let me see my daughter even when I was dying. Did Edward do something similar to you?

Isabella: Well, in fact the annulment thing was just a rumour flying around England in 1325 like lots of other silly untrue rumours and Edward actually sent Thomas Dunheved to the pope to complain about the archbishop of Dublin, and two chroniclers got the wrong end of the stick. Come to think of it, they weren't even in the right wood. But it still counts because Edward might have tried to annul our marriage if he'd been even remotely willing to risk the pope declaring our children illegitimate, which obviously he wasn't because he was arranging marriage alliances for them in Spain at the time. But anyway, I beat you all in the battle of Most Tragic Neglected Wife In All Recorded History, and you know why?

All: Why??

Isabella: Because numerous books, and articles on something called the internet, will be written in the early twenty-first century declaring that I had the most appallingly abusive and horrible husband ever and that my marriage was "unendurable" and a "grotesque travesty" and also that every tiny little thing I ever did wrong wasn't at all my fault because I was such a tragically abused victim of nasty unscrupulous men. So HA!