27 September, 2016

On 27 September 1326, at the Tower of London...

...Edward II heard of the arrival of his wife Isabella of France's invasion force in Suffolk three days earlier. Isabella, with her and Edward's son Edward of Windsor, Edward II's half-brother the earl of Kent, Roger Mortimer, John Maltravers and the others left Dordrecht on 21 or 22 September and arrived at the river Orwell in Suffolk on the 24th. Isabella and her allies had ninety-five ships with around 1000 to 1500 men in total. Edward II was at the Tower of London with the earl of Arundel, the two Hugh Despensers, his eldest niece Eleanor de Clare, and his second son John of Eltham, aged ten. On the very day the invasion force landed, an oblivious Edward II himself went out to the postern gate of the Tower and paid three shillings for two fine salmon from a fisherman called Richard Marbon. Says it all really, doesn't it?

Edward II and Hugh Despenser the Younger had anticipated as far back as October 1324 that Roger Mortimer and the other English exiles might land in Suffolk or Norfolk with the aid of the count of Hainault and Charles IV of France’s brother-in-law the king of Bohemia, though their prescience did them no good whatsoever. The site where Isabella landed lay on or near the lands of Edward’s half-brother Thomas of Brotherton, earl of Norfolk, who went to join Isabella and his brother the earl of Kent, despite having been appointed to defend the counties of Norfolk, Suffolk, Essex and Hertfordshire against the invaders. The bishops of Hereford, Lincoln, Ely and probably Norwich, and the archbishop of Dublin, also soon joined the queen. News of Isabella's arrival was brought to Edward by the crew of the ship in which Isabella herself had travelled, which was captured by some of the king’s men after she disembarked at Orwell, and sailed to London. It may therefore be that Isabella herself came close to capture on arrival.

The destruction of Edward’s fleet in Normandy some weeks before - for reasons that are not entirely clear he had tried to land a force in Normandy - and the alacrity with which the earl of Norfolk joined the rebels ensured that the small invading force, which could easily have been destroyed on arrival, progressed with no resistance. Isabella and her allies headed west in triumph and, perhaps, amazement at the absolute lack of resistance or hostility; most of Edward’s men either fled from them or joined them. According to the French Chronicle of London, "the mariners of England were not minded to prevent their coming, by reason of the great anger they entertained against Sir Hugh le Despenser [the Younger]." Five days after the landing, Isabella and the others arrived at the town of Bury St Edmunds, where she helped herself to – or ‘caused to be taken for his [her son Edward of Windsor’s] affairs’ as she euphemistically glossed the theft – £800 which Hervey Staunton, chief justice of the court of Common Pleas and an ally of Edward II, had stored at the abbey, to pay her soldiers. Staunton died a year later without recovering the money. Edward II, meanwhile, fled from his hostile capital at the beginning of October, leaving his son John of Eltham in nominal charge of the city and his niece Eleanor de Clare in command of the Tower, and travelled towards Wales with the two Hugh Despensers and the earl of Arundel. This may have been a prearranged plan, and Edward hoped to find support in Wales. Support was not forthcoming, and he was captured only six weeks later.

21 September, 2016

21 September 1327: The Death of Edward II?

Today is the 689th anniversary of the supposed death of Edward of Caernarfon, formerly King Edward II, at Berkeley Castle, Gloucestershire. Or is it? My book about his murder or survival will be published next year (around May or thereabouts, probably), in which I look at all the evidence for his death in 1327, and all the evidence that he survived past that year, in detail. I've found a couple of chronicles giving accounts of his murder, and of certain events in 1326/27, that I've never heard of before, so that's been pretty interesting. I have to admit here and now that I have no 'magic bullet' to prove that he died or that he didn't one way or another. I'm not sure that after 700 years we're ever going to know for sure, unless a new document comes to light which proves beyond doubt that Edward was in Italy in the 1330s. Oh, how I hope that one day we do find something like that! My friends at the Auramala Project are working on it. But in the meantime, I'm trying to present all the evidence for both sides as fairly and objectively as I can. I'm sure that some readers will still conclude that Edward did die at Berkeley on (or around) 21 September 1327, but as long as they're aware of all the evidence on the other side, that's fine by me. Though actually I'd prefer it if more people came to believe that he survived. :-)

18 September, 2016

18 September 1324: Edward II Confiscates Isabella's Lands

692 years ago on 18 September 1324, during the little-known War of Saint-Sardos between Edward II of England and his brother-in-law Charles IV of France, Edward took the county of Cornwall into his own hands, supposedly because it lay on the coast ‘in the more remote parts of the realm’ and might be invaded by the French. Cornwall was owned by Edward's queen, Isabella, who was also Charles IV's sister. The king also seized all of Isabella’s other lands and castles on this day, though he failed to explain how inland counties such as Wiltshire and Oxfordshire might be vulnerable to a French invasion. [1] Edward assigned Isabella instead an income from the Exchequer, said by several fourteenth-century chroniclers to be merely a pound a day, a gross underestimate: in fact she was granted 3920 marks or £2613, six shillings and eight pence annually, a little over seven pounds a day, considerably lower than her pre-September 1324 income of £4500 but hardly a ‘fraction’ of it, as sometimes stated. [2] Sophia Menache points out that it is doubtful if Isabella ‘suffered a substantial economic setback’ in 1324, though the queen was, understandably, outraged at the loss of her lands. [3] She and her household could certainly live on the amount: the earl of Lancaster had in 1314 reduced Edward’s expenses to ten pounds a day for a household more than twice the size of the queen’s, and Edward’s father, during one of their quarrels in 1305, allowed him only £155 a month or just over five pounds a day for his household costs. [4] Edward had taken his stepmother Queen Marguerite’s lands and castles into his own hands in late 1317, so the move was not unprecedented, yet Edward soon restored Marguerite’s lands to her, and it is hard to escape the conclusion that his seizure of Isabella’s estates was intended punitively. [5] Precisely what Edward’s motives in punishing his wife were is uncertain, though the queen herself blamed Hugh Despenser the Younger and his ally Walter Stapeldon, bishop of Exeter and treasurer of England. Isabella’s French attendants, excepting her chaplain Peter Vernon, were not exempt from the arrest of Charles IV’s subjects – although Edward did permit other French people to remain in England – and were either imprisoned or forced to return to their homeland. [6] Charles IV was justifiably furious at the treatment of his subjects. [7] Supposedly Isabella managed to smuggle a letter to her brother complaining that she held no higher position at court than that of a servant and that Edward was a ‘gripple miser’, i.e. mean to her but generous to another, although this was only recorded at the end of the fourteenth century by the chronicler Thomas Walsingham, who had no access to Isabella’s correspondence.

Yet the loss was not only financial. It was proof that Isabella’s husband saw her no longer as his loyal and supportive partner of more than a decade and a half, but as an enemy, no longer as his loving wife but merely Charles IV’s sister, to be blamed for Charles’s actions and punished. It must have been devastating for Isabella, who had done nothing wrong. What was going through Edward’s mind when he decided to treat his queen in such an appalling and absurdly unfair way is hard to imagine. Edward could be vindictive to the point of cruelty towards people he loved who he thought, rightly or wrongly, had betrayed him, and somehow Isabella had come to reside in that category in his mind. Edward’s seizing her lands and, in doing so, implicitly making a public declaration that he no longer loved and trusted her, was almost certainly the thing which was soon to push her into opposition to him.


1) Calendar of Fine Rolls 1319-27, pp. 300-02, 308; Calendar of Close Rolls 1323-7, pp. 223, 260; Foedera 1307-27, p. 569.
2) The Chronicle of Lanercost 1272-1346, ed. Maxwell, p. 249, is one of the chronicles which gives Isabella’s income as a pound a day; see M. C. Buck, ‘The Reform of the Exchequer, 1316-1326’, p. 251, T. F. Tout, The Place of the Reign of Edward II in English History, p. 140, and Tout, Chapters in the Administrative History of Mediaeval England, v, p. 274, for her real income.
3) Sophia Menache, ‘Isabelle of France, Queen of England – A Reconsideration’, p. 110.
[4] Tout, Chapters, vol. 3, p. 275.
[5] CPR 1317-21, pp. 38, 46, for the seizure of Marguerite’s lands.
[6] CCR 1323-7, pp. 204, 206-7, 209-11, 216.
[7] Pierre Chaplais, ed. The War of St-Sardos, pp. 128, 130.

17 September, 2016

Eleanor of Castile and her Viscera

Edward II's mother Eleanor of Castile died in Harby, Nottinghamshire on 28 November 1290, when she was probably forty-nine and Edward, her youngest child, only six. The queen left five daughters too: Eleanor, Joan, Margaret, Mary and Elizabeth, Edward's older sisters. Queen Eleanor's body was buried at Westminster Abbey near her father-in-law Henry III, her heart was given to the Dominicans of London (separate heart burial was pretty normal for royals at the time), and her viscera were given to Lincoln Cathedral. Now, I can't help finding it a bit weird and squicky that Eleanor's viscera have their own burial site, but they do. Sadly her effigy there was destroyed in the seventeenth century and what you see now is a nineteenth-century reconstruction, but it's well worth a look.

10 September, 2016

Edward II And Germany

Edward II never visited Germany during his reign, and had little contact with it or with its rulers, apart from Albrecht von Habsburg, king of Germany, who attended Edward's wedding to Isabella in Boulogne in January 1308 and who was assassinated by his nephew only a few weeks later. The list of goods Edward left behind at Tynemouth in May 1312 includes "a buckle of gold with two emeralds, two rubies, two sapphires and eleven pearls, with a cameo in the middle," a present to Edward from the queen of Germany (I presume this means either Elisabeth of Görz-Tirol, wife of Albrecht, or Margaret of Brabant, wife of Heinrich VII of Luxembourg and sister of Edward's brother-in-law Duke John II of Brabant). Edward did have cousins in Germany, the descendants of his father's first cousin Margarethe von Hohenstaufen or Margaret of Sicily, only surviving child of the Holy Roman Emperor Frederick II and his third wife Isabella of England. Isabella was the sister of Henry III. There's not much else that can be said about Edward II's connections to Germany, really.

All that changed in Edward's presumed 'afterlife', when two pieces of evidence place him, or someone claiming to be him, in Germany on two different occasions in the 1330s - i.e. years after his official death on 21 September 1327. The Fieschi Letter says that Edward escaped from Berkeley Castle in 1327 and made his way to Corfe Castle, then to Ireland, then to the continent to visit the pope in Avignon, then to Brabant, then to Cologne. In Cologne, the Letter says, Edward wished to visit the Shrine of the Three Kings: see my recent post about it here. This would probably have been in 1331, as the Letter states that Edward left Ireland nine months after the execution of his half-brother the earl of Kent on 19 March 1330, so he would have left Ireland shortly after his son Edward III's execution of Roger Mortimer on 29 November 1330. Allowing a few weeks or months for his (alleged) travels around the continent, Edward would have reached Cologne sometime in 1331, or even 1332 if he wasn't travelling fast, and there is no reason to suppose that he was, especially as the Fieschi Letter says he was dressed as a hermit. After worshipping at the shrine of the Three Kings, the Letter says that Edward "crossed over Germany" on his way to Milan, and indeed the obvious route is to follow the Rhine south through Germany.

Another piece of evidence places a man claiming to be Edward II in Cologne and Koblenz in early September 1338. This is the wardrobe account of Edward III, then in Germany meeting the emperor Ludwig of Bavaria, which has two entries relating to a William le Galeys, 'the Welshman', "who asserts that he is the king's father." William (Edward?) was picked up in Cologne and taken the sixty or so miles south to Koblenz, where his son and the emperor were staying. Hmmm, what are we to make of this? He certainly wasn't executed as a royal pretender.

So, supposedly, Edward of Caernarfon visited Germany twice in the 1330s, once in c. 1331/32 and once in 1338. The same part of Germany as well, Cologne and Koblenz (if Edward did follow the Rhine south through Germany to Milan in 1331/32, his journey would have taken him through Koblenz, which stands on the confluence of the Rhine and Moselle rivers). I therefore decided in my forthcoming book about his murder or survival that it would be a really good idea to take a look at who was ruling western Germany at this time, and see if I could come to any conclusions about who might have known the former king of England was crossing their territories. Results in the book, published in a few months! :-)

03 September, 2016

Philip Of Taranto, His Brother John of Gravina, And Their Marital (Mis)Adventures

Philip of Taranto (10 November 1278 - 23 December 1332) and his younger brother John of Gravina (c. 1294 - 5 April 1336) were second cousins of both Edward II and Philip IV of France: their paternal grandmother Beatrice of Provence, wife of Louis IX of France's brother Charles of Anjou and queen of Sicily, was the youngest of the four Provençal sisters who all became queens. Philip IV's paternal grandmother Marguerite, wife of Louis IX of France, was the eldest, and Edward's paternal grandmother Eleanor, wife of Henry III of England, the second eldest. Philip of Taranto and John of Gravina were two of the fourteen children of Charles of Naples and Marie of Hungary. Their siblings included Charles Martel, titular king of Hungary, father of Clemence of Hungary, who married Isabella of France's eldest brother Louis X as his second wife; Robert 'the Wise', king of Naples and Sicily, grandfather of the famous Joan, queen of Naples and Sicily who was murdered in 1382; Louis, bishop of Toulouse, canonised in 1317 a few years after his death; Marguerite, countess of Anjou in her own right, who married Isabella of France's uncle Charles of Valois and was the mother of Philip VI of France and the grandmother of Edward III's queen Philippa of Hainault; and the queens-consort of Aragon, Mallorca and Sicily.

Philip of Taranto was married firstly to Thamar Angelina Komnena, part of the house of the despotate of Epirus, which was a successor state of the Byzantine Empire (Epirus is in modern-day Albania and northwestern Greece). She was the daughter of the despot Nikephoros I Komnenos Doukas, and her mother Anna was the niece of the Byzantine Emperor Michael VIII Palaeologus. Via Thamar, Philip was the king of Albania and despot of Epirus as well as the prince of Taranto (Italy) and Achaea (Greece). Philip and Thamar married in 1294 and had half a dozen children together, including the queen-consort of Armenia, the despot of Romania and the duchess of Athens.

In 1309, Philip accused Thamar of committing adultery with no fewer than forty men, and imprisoned her. She died in prison in 1311. Whether Thamar Angelina Komnena really committed adultery, or whether this was a convenient charge for her husband to rid himself of her so that he could marry another well-connected wife and gain more lands, is unclear, though I strongly suspect the latter (I mean, forty men? Wow.)

On 29 July 1313, Philip, then almost thirty-five, married his second wife, who was only about ten or eleven at the time. She was Catherine de Valois, eldest daughter of Catherine Courtenay (1274-1307), titular empress of Constantinople in her own right, and Charles, count of Valois, brother of Philip IV and uncle of Edward II's queen Isabella. Catherine de Valois inherited her mother's claim to the Latin empire of Constantinople, was the younger half-sister of Philip VI of France, and the aunt of Edward III's queen Philippa of Hainault, whose mother was Jeanne de Valois. The first wife of Catherine de Valois's father Charles de Valois was Marguerite of Anjou-Naples, eldest sister of Philip of Taranto. Yes, this means that Catherine married the brother of her father's first wife, who was the uncle of her older half-siblings. At this point, I just LOL. The wedding took place on the same day as the wedding of Philip de Valois (the future King Philip VI), who was the bride's half-brother and the groom's nephew, and Joan of Burgundy.

At the end of March 1321, Edward II - then attempting unsuccessfully to prevent the imminent Despenser War - wrote to Philip of Taranto’s elder brother Robert ‘the Wise’, king of Naples, Sicily and Jerusalem, regarding the abduction by their brother John of Gravina, duke of Durazzo, of Matilda of Hainault, princess of Achaea. Edward asked Robert to ensure that John freed Matilda and allowed her to complete her marriage to Hugh de Palicia or Palice, to which she had been travelling when John of Gravina captured her. John was duke of Durazzo and count of Gravina, and was born in about 1294; he was the youngest of the many sons of Charles of Naples and Marie of Hungary, though had a younger sister, Beatrice. The brother closest to John in age was the excellently-named Peter Tempesta, meaning 'storm', who died childless in 1315 and whose heir to the county of Gravina John was. Matilda of Hainault was a first cousin of Edward III's father-in-law William, count of Hainault and Holland, and inherited the principality of Achaea  from her mother Isabelle of Villehardouin. She had already been widowed twice, from the duke of Athens and the titular king of Thessalonica, Louis of Burgundy (one of the brothers of Joan of Burgundy, queen of Philip VI of France, above). In the end, John of Gravina repudiated Matilda in 1321, and married instead Agnes of Périgord later that year, while Matilda married Hugh de Palice after all and died childless in 1331.