31 January, 2016

Telling the Time and Writing Dates in Edward II's Reign

In the nineteenth century, Agnes Strickland in her Lives of the Queens of England made up a story that Edward II and Isabella of France's eldest child the future Edward III was born at exactly 5.40am on Monday 13 November 1312. For this curiously precise time, she cites a memorandum in Foedera 1307-1327. I have this document, and the memo, in Latin, says nothing whatsoever about the time of Edward III's birth, never mind that he was born at exactly 5.40am. This is hardly surprising, as no-one in England in November 1312 would have known (or cared) that it was 5.40am, for all that this fabricated 'fact' has made its way into numerous books since. Goodness knows what Strickland thought she had read.

The memorandum of Edward III's birth from Foedera.
(Translation: "Memorandum that Isabella, queen of England, consort of King Edward son of King Edward, bore the king his first-born son in the king's castle of Windsor, on the Monday next after the feast of St Martin in winter, in the year of grace one thousand three hundred and twelve, and in the sixth year of the king's reign." It then goes on to say that the boy was baptised by the cardinal-priest of Santa Prisca in the chapel of St Edward in the castle the following Thursday, and names his seven godfathers. Nothing at all about the time of birth.)

People in England in 1312, and, specifically in the context of this post, Edward II's household, told the time using the canonical hours: Prime or about 6am; Terce or the third hour or about 9am; Sext or the sixth hour or about midday; None or the ninth hour or mid-afternoon; or Vespers, i.e. sunset. The other canonical hours are Matins (roughly midnight), Lauds (roughly 3am) and Compline (about 9pm, which in summer in England would be earlier than Vespers/sunset), though I've never seen these used in Edward II's accounts, because the king and most of his household were asleep or relaxing at those times. His clerks did use the word 'midnight' on occasion, for example in Calendar of Chancery Warrants 1244-1326, p. 569 and SAL MS 122, p. 50, and the Sempringham annalist talked of a violent thunderstorm which took place on 17 April 1320 at 'around midnight' (entour la mye noet). Evidently, to them this meant 'an indeterminate time in the middle of the night when most people are in bed, but probably not as late as the early hours of the morning', or 'gosh, the king is still up and awake and issuing orders long after dark' rather than a precise clock time - and of course the fourteenth-century French word la my(e) noet (modern French minuit) and the English word midnight originally just meant 'in the middle of the night'. If Edward III's time of birth had been recorded, it would have been 'around Prime'. People told the time in three-hour chunks, the sixth hour, the ninth hour and so on, not in ten-minute slots.

An entry in Edward II's chamber account of February 1326, SAL MS 122, talking about la my noet, 'midnight'

On Wednesday 7 February 1308, Edward II and his new queen Isabella of France arrived in England after marrying in Boulogne, and an entry on the Fine Roll states that they landed at Dover 'on Wednesday after the Purification...about the ninth hour', or roughly in the middle of the afternoon. [Calendar of Fine Rolls 1307-19, p. 14] Edward and Isabella returned to England from their long visit to France in the summer of 1313 on 'Monday before St Margaret the Virgin, at vespers, in the seventh year of his reign,' which means around sunset or simply just 'late evening' on Monday 16 July 1313 (a time of year when the hours of daylight in northern Europe are very long). [Calendar of Close Rolls 1313-18, p. 66] This was as detailed as telling the time got in England in the early fourteenth century. Edward I was said by a chronicler to have died on 7 July 1307 'at the ninth hour', or around 3pm, or simply just in the middle of the afternoon. In this context, to talk of someone being born at precisely '5.40am' is nonsense.

In Edward II's household accounts, the date was normally written as e.g. 'the thirtieth day of January', in French or Latin, with Roman numerals used (le xxx iour de janv').  More usually, in letters and in the chancery rolls and in e.g. the memorandum recording Edward III's birth, saints' feast days were used: 'the Tuesday before the Translation of St Thomas Becket' or 'the morrow of St Hilary' or, as we see above, 'the Wednesday after the Purification' and 'the Monday before St Margaret the Virgin'. Edward III was born on the feast day of St Brice, 13 November, but Brice is an obscure saint and many chroniclers in 1312 didn't know that it was his feast day, so instead wrote that the future king was born on 'the Monday after St Martin' (St Martin is 11 November). Edward II himself was born on the feast day of St Mark the Evangelist (25 April), which is how he would have thought of the date. Sometimes religious days were also used in Edward's accounts, such as his hiring a boy-bishop in 1316 from 'the feast of St Nicholas until the Feast of the Holy Innocents', that is, 6 to 28 December. His clerks often recorded 1 January as the Feast of the Circumcision. 25 December was le iour de noel, Christmas Day.

To figure out any given date in a fourteenth-century English document, as well as having to know saints' days, you have to know the date on which the present king became king and the year he succeeded to the throne, because almost invariably English clerks recorded dates using kings' regnal years. Edward I died on 7 July 1307, Edward II's reign began on 8 July 1307, and thus his regnal year ran from 8 July to 7 July every year. His father Edward I's regnal year ran from 20 November to 19 November (because Henry III died on 19 November 1272), and his son Edward III's from 25 January to 24 January. 8 July 1307 to 7 July 1308 was Edward II's first regnal year, 8 July 1323 to 7 July 1324 his seventeenth, and so on. Edward III was born on 13 November 1312 in his father's sixth regnal year (which ran from 8 July 1312 to 7 July 1313), and died on 21 June 1377 in his own fifty-first regnal year, which had begun on 25 January 1377. Edward II was born on the feast day of St Mark the Evangelist in the twelfth year of his father's reign, 25 April 1284, Edward I died on 7 July 1307 in his thirty-fifth regnal year, and Edward II was forced to abdicate his throne to his son in his twentieth regnal year, January 1327. Occasionally, but only very occasionally, English clerks would write 'the year of grace one thousand three hundred and twelve' (as in the memorandum above recording Edward III's birth), but also invariably added the king's regnal year.

To give a couple of examples: Edward II lost the battle of Bannockburn on the feast of the Nativity of St John the Baptist near the end of his seventh regnal year, 24 June 1314, a fact of which Edward must have been painfully aware, as John the Baptist was one of his favourite saints. 27 August 1321 would be written as 'the Friday before the Beheading of St John the Baptist in the fifteenth year of the reign of our lord King Edward.' Often, in order to clarify which king was meant, clerks would write 'King Edward son of King Edward'. The whole formula doesn't exactly have the virtue of conciseness. Edward II was almost never called 'Edward II' in documents of his era, only 'King Edward son of King Edward', sometimes 'King Edward son of King Edward son of King Henry'. On occasion, however, you see a document referring to 'King Edward the second of this name after the [Norman] Conquest'. Somewhere, I can't remember now where I've seen it, there's a document in which the new king Edward III in 1327 is called 'King Edward son of King Edward son of King Edward son of King Henry.' His clerks evidently realising that this would be a most inefficient way to refer to their fourteen-year-old king on every occasion for the rest of his life, he began to be called Edward III, often with the cautious addition of 'after the Conquest' (there were three kings of England before 1066 with this name: Edward the Elder, Edward the Martyr and Edward the Confessor, so really Edward II should be Edward V).

17 comments:

Kasia Ogrodnik said...

Fascinating post, as always. Thank you, Kathryn.

Kathryn Warner said...

Thanks, Kasia! By the way, you're in the acknowledgements of my forthcoming Isabella book :)

matt said...

How civilised to record the time in three hour chunks.
We should take a lesson from Edward.
Less stress. No need to rush so much.

Kasia Ogrodnik said...

Me? THANK YOU!!! Wow! I am so deeply honoured. I don't know what to say, really :)

Kathryn Warner said...

You're most welcome! :)

Kathryn Warner said...

I agree, Matt! :)

Kate S said...

Thank you. This is not very helpful to fiction writers, I think. Whenever you would write "It happened around the third hour" your reader will think of three o'clock, and you can't always explain it at length, it would be unbearable.))))

Kathryn Warner said...

Heh, I see the issue. :)

Carla said...

Bede had an even worse problem with identifying years in the 8th century, where he often had several kings of different kingdoms to deal with, all with different regnal years, so e.g. a synod might be 'in the Xth year of King A, in the Yth year of King B, in the Zth year of King C' and so on. I've seen a theory that that was one reason why he used AD years in his Ecclesiastical History, and that certainly seems plausible to me. Interesting that regnal years are still apparently the norm centuries later.

Kate S - how about using terms like 'middle of the morning' or 'late afternoon' as an alternative? A modern reader should get the gist of those without much trouble. If the plot needs more precision (e.g. a murder mystery might depend on who was where when), you could perhaps use the church terms e.g. Prime or Compline, and explain them if necessary - if it is only on a few occasions, and where the time really matters, explaining them shouldn't be too much of a burden. Only a thought!

Monte Watson said...

Thank you for another wonderful, informing post. Of course, I was very keen on that list of godfathers for Edward III. I was able to identify the secular lords at first glance: Louis, Count of Evereaux; John of Brittany, Earl of Richmond; Aymer de Valence, Earl of Pembroke; and Hughes Despencer (I assume the elder?). Let me know if I got any of those wrong.

Can you help me with the first three? I googled the Bishopric of Bath and Wells, so I think the "J" was John Drokensord, the Bishop there at the time of Edward's birth. I have no idea who the other two are. Thanks again!

Kathryn Warner said...

Arnaud d'Aux, bishop of Poitiers and the pope's chamberlain, John Droxford, bishop of Bath and Wells, Walter Reynolds, bishop of Worcester and later archbishop of Canterbury, Louis, count of Evreux, John of Brittany, earl of Richmond, Aymer de Valence, earl of Pembroke, and Hugh Despenser the Elder.

Jerry Bennett said...

Thank you for yet another interesting post Kathryn. Can I ask one question here? Did the royal clerks ever refer to kings or other notable individuals by their place of birth, such as Edward of Caernarfon? I have seen that name used so often in history books that I assumed it was common at the time, and the same can be said for Edward of Windsor, Henry of Grosmont, Joan of Acre, John of Ghent etc. Or is this something that came into use at a later date. It could have got around the "Edward, son of Edward, son of Henry" problem.

Kathryn Warner said...

Edward was called Edward of Caernarfon by his friend the archbishop of York in 1330, for instance. Not when he was king, as he'd be 'our lord the king'. His children were very often called by their birthplaces in the chancery rolls during Edward's reign, including by Edward himself, when he had prayers said soon after John's birth in 1316 for 'Edward de Wyndesore our older son, and Johan de Eltham our younger son'. Edward's chamber account of 1326 also calls the boy 'Sire Johan de Eltham'. Edward of Windsor was called 'my lord the earl of Chester' in the same document. I'm not sure about Henry of Grosmont and Joan of Acre - myself, I use Grosmont to distinguish him from his father, but I'm not sure if contemporaries did.

Anerje said...

Hmmm - my comment didn't show. It might get repeated but anyway I really enjoyed telling the time the Medieval way.

Kathryn Warner said...

I didn't get your comment, Anerje :/ Stupid Blogger.

Kate S said...

Carla - yes, that seems an only option, not exactly as they would say then, but something the reader can understand now. The sun was high yet, but not high enough to travel to the next town, so they starsed to look for shelter.)))

sami parkkonen said...

You are The expert!