27 November, 2016

My Edward II Talk on Youtube

I recently gave a talk about Edward II at the International English Library, Düsseldorf. It's now available on Youtube, in three parts, including the question and answer session at the end.

Part One: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=gj5TdVkR108

Part Two: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ksbsLvijxjA

Part Three: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=jV170dZXmWE This includes the question and answer session.

Not sure why the links aren't working, but you can copy and paste them into your browser. Enjoy! :-)

24 November, 2016

24 November 1326: Execution of Hugh Despenser the Younger, Lord of Glamorgan

690 years ago today on 24 November 1326, Edward II's notorious 'favourite', chamberlain and nephew-in-law Hugh Despenser the Younger, lord of Glamorgan, was executed in Hereford, in the presence of Edward's queen Isabella and her own 'favourite' Roger Mortimer.

Hugh was most likely in his late thirties at the time of his death; his date of birth is not known but was probably in the late 1280s. He had been married to Edward I's eldest granddaughter Eleanor de Clare for just over twenty years at the time of his death, since 26 May 1306, and they had at least ten children together. As I've pointed out before, Hugh was a high-ranking English nobleman, not a nobody or simply a humble knight: he was the grandson and nephew of earls of Warwick, step-grandson of the earl of Norfolk, and so on, and his marriage to Eleanor de Clare was arranged and attended by her grandfather Edward I, who paid two thousand pounds to Hugh the Elder for the privilege. Hugh the Younger was appointed Edward II's chamberlain in 1318, and used his proximity to the king to work his way into Edward's favour, until Edward - apparently - became as infatuated with him as he ever had been with Piers Gaveston. Edward refused to expel Hugh from his court and his side even when his very kingship depended on it.

Hugh had made a very bad enemy in Queen Isabella, who loathed and feared him. There is no reason, though, to think that he raped her, an invention of two authors of the early twenty-first century and based on no primary source evidence whatsoever. In late 1325, Isabella, at the court of her brother Charles IV in Paris, declared publicly that she would not return to her husband unless he expelled Hugh from his side and his court, and took to wearing widow's weeds to emphasise the death of her marriage thanks to Hugh's intrusion. Edward refused, which left Isabella with little option but to remain on the continent and ally with Edward and Hugh's greatest enemy Roger Mortimer, the only man with the ability and desire to help Isabella rid herself of the hated Hugh Despenser and his father the earl of Winchester.

Hugh was captured in South Wales on 16 November 1326, with the king and a handful of others. Edward II was taken to Kenilworth Castle in Warwickshire and treated with all the honour, respect and dignity due to the king; Hugh was treated with every indignity possible. According to the Brut chronicle, he refused all food and drink and so "was almost dead for fasting." He was tied to a mean horse with the royal sergeant-at-arms Simon of Reading - a man who was not, despite what some modern writers have claimed, one of Hugh's 'henchmen' or his marshall or a knight - forced to carry his coat of arms upside down as a sign of his disgrace. A crown of nettles was placed on Hugh's head, Biblical verses were scrawled over his skin, and trumpets were blown loudly in his ears. In the public square of Hereford, in front of Queen Isabella, Edward II's half-brothers the earls of Norfolk and Kent and a few others, Hugh was given a mock trial and charged with a long list of offences: some were true, some were a little bit true, some were so ridiculous I wonder if anyone present could keep a straight face.The gallows on which he would be hanged had already been constructed before his so-called trial.

Hugh Despenser the Younger, lord of Glamorgan, was tied to four horses and dragged through the streets of Hereford. He was partly strangled on a gallows fifty feet high - the obscure Simon of Reading, who was not charged with any offence, was hanged on a smaller gallows next to him - then cut down and subjected to the most terrible brutalities before death finally claimed him. Hugh had done the same thing to the Welsh nobleman Llywelyn Bren in Cardiff eight years previously. Four years later in December 1330, Edward III gave permission to Hugh's family and friends to retrieve his head and the four parts of his body from London Bridge, Carlisle, York, Bristol and Dover where they had been displayed since November 1326, and to bury him at Tewkesbury Abbey, where his tomb can still be seen.

20 November, 2016

20 November In Different Years

On 20 November 1311, Edward II sent a polite letter to Sir Robert Holland, adherent and friend of the king's first cousin and enemy Thomas, earl of Lancaster, which included the following: "We are very joyous and pleased about the good news we have heard concerning the improvement in our dear cousin and faithful subject Thomas, earl of Lancaster, and that he will soon be able to ride in comfort. And we send you word and dearly pray that, as soon as he is comfortable and able to ride without hurt to his body, you should ask him to be so good as to hasten to us at our parliament." It's interesting that Thomas of Lancaster does seem to have been prone to illness, though exactly what he suffered from is unclear. In 1305, he excused himself from attending twenty-one-year-old Edward, then the heir to the throne, because he was ill; Edward promised that he would visit Thomas instead, "to see and to comfort you." The two cousins were apparently on close terms then, but it all went horribly wrong, and they came to loathe each other, especially after Thomas had Piers Gaveston killed in 1312.

On 20 November 1316, Edward II's brother-in-law Philip V acceded as king of France, on the death of Philip's nephew the five-day-old King John I 'the Posthumous', son of Louis X (died 5 June 1316) and Clemence of Hungary. Philip V and Edward II seem to have been on good terms, as brothers-in-law if not necessarily as kings: shortly before his accession, Philip sent Edward bunches of new grapes, and a year later, a box of rose sugar. Edward gave a very generous gift of twenty marks on 7 August 1316 to the messenger who brought him the news that Philip's wife Joan of Burgundy had borne a son, Louis, on 24 June (the boy died when he was a few months old). Edward excused himself from attending Philip's coronation in early 1317.

On 20 November 1322, Edward II gave two shillings each to ten fishermen of Thorne, near Doncaster, "who fished in the king's presence and took great pike, great eels, and a large number of other fish." I find it hard to think of any other medieval king of England who would willingly have stood by a river in winter watching men fish. This, though, was entirely normal of Edward II, who seemed to love nothing more than chatting to fishermen. And carpenters, and shipwrights, and ditchers, and blacksmiths, and any other of his 'lowborn' subjects he happened to encounter. One of my favourite Edward anecdotes dates to September 1325, when Edward paid compensation to a Thames fisherman called Colle (i.e. Nicholas) Herron, whose goods had been burned in some accident "the last time he was with the king." That's right, the king of England spent time hanging out with a fisherman called Colle Herron, and more than once at that. There are countless dozens of similar entries in Edward II's household accounts. Then of course there's the famous John of Walton, who in July 1326 was said to have "sung before the king every time he passed through these parts by water," i.e. along the Thames, and who was also a fisherman.

11 November, 2016

Tenants in Chief, Wardships and Inheritance in the Fourteenth Century

A blog post explaining the concept of tenants in chief in the fourteenth century, inheritance, Inquisitions Post Mortem and so on. It's more interesting than it sounds, honestly. :-) Necessarily simplified as this is a blog post aimed at a general audience, not an academic one.

Under the feudal system, tenants in chief were the people who held land directly from the king. Most of them were men, some were women, though the latter only controlled lands in their own right when they were widows. Otherwise, even when it was their own inheritance from their parents or other relatives, it was their husbands who swore homage/fealty to the king and controlled the lands on their behalf. Tenants in chief were always members of the nobility or high-ranking churchmen, i.e. bishops and abbots, and there were several hundred of them in England at any time. The origins of the system lay in the king granting lands in exchange for military service; women and churchmen obviously were exempt from performing military service in person but were still obliged to send men to fight the king's wars.

Special rules applied to tenants in chief. They weren't allowed to marry without the king's permission, although fairly often they did, and the chancery rolls of the fourteenth century are full of entries relating to the king temporarily confiscating lands and handing out huge fines usually running to a few hundred pounds, i.e. hundreds of thousands in modern terms - but hey, these people were really wealthy, they could afford it - to his tenants in chief who had married without royal consent. Women who were tenants of chief in their own right or the widows of such also required the king's permission to marry again. You sometimes see entries on the Patent Roll like "Permission to Eleanor late the wife of Sir John Darcy, tenant in chief, to marry whomsoever she will of the king's allegiance."

Tenants in chief had to swear fealty to the king whenever there was a change of personnel, as it were: whenever there was a new king of England, all tenants in chief had to swear an oath to him, and when one of them died, his heir had to swear after he came into his lands. When a tenant in chief died, his lands were temporarily taken into the king's hands by the escheator - there were two in England, one on either side of the River Trent - and an Inquisition Post Mortem was held in every county where he (or she) had held lands to establish which lands there were, how they were held, i.e. some from the king directly ('held of the king in chief') and some from other tenants in chief, and the terms of holding the lands. IPMs also established the heir or heirs to the lands, and their age. Often this is very specific with the exact date given, usually when the heir was under age, but generally the age varies according to how old the jurors of various counties thought the person(s) in question might be, sometimes only by a year or two but occasionally by as much as thirteen years. The 1307 IPM of the countess of Pembroke, for example, gives the age of her son and heir Aymer de Valence as anywhere between 24 and 37, so Aymer might have been born any time between 1270 and 1283. Thanks, that's very helpful. On the other hand, the IPM of Patrick Chaworth taken after his death in early July 1283 gives the exact date of birth of his daughter and heir Maud (older half-sister of Hugh Despenser the Younger): she was 'aged one at the feast of the Purification last,' i.e. Maud was born on or perhaps shortly before 2 February 1282. Two IPMs also give the exact age of Maud Chaworth's stepfather Hugh Despenser the Elder: he was born on 1 March 1261.

Here's one brief example of an entry in an IPM: it's that of Edward II's nephew Gilbert de Clare, earl of Gloucester, killed at Bannockburn on 24 June 1314. (The full IPM goes on for just under thirty pages.)
"Inq. Tuesday after the Assumption 8 Edw. II.
Great Berdefeld. The manor (extent given), including stallage and toll of the market, and the farm of the market of Donemowe, held of the king in chief by service of 1 knight's fee...
If the countess is not pregnant, his next heirs are his sisters Eleanor the wife of Hugh le Despenser the younger, aged 22 and more, Margaret late the wife of Piers Gaveston, aged 20, and Elizabeth, late the wife of John de Burgh, aged 19." In the various county inquisitions, Eleanor Despenser's age is given as anywhere between 20 and 25 (she was born in October or November 1292, so was actually 21 at the time of her brother's death and when the inquisitions were taken in the following weeks). The age of the third sister Elizabeth was stated to be anywhere between 16 and 20 (she was born in September 1295 so was 18 going on 19 when her brother died).

The heir(s) of a tenant in chief, if of age - at least twenty-one for men, and fourteen or fifteen for women depending on whether they were already married or not - had to pay a sum of money called a 'relief', basically inheritance tax, swear homage to the king as his/her liege lord, and was allowed to enter his lands. If the heir was still under age, the king became his or her guardian, even if the heir's mother was alive, and the child or adolescent was known as the king's 'ward'. Edward II, for example, became the guardian of Piers Gaveston's five-month-old daughter Joan on Piers' death in June 1312, even though Joan's mother, Edward's niece Margaret de Clare, was alive. It was Edward who later arranged Joan's future marriage to the earl of Ulster's grandson John Multon, having made an unsuccessful attempt to marry her to Thomas Wake, another royal ward. This was entirely normal and expected, not Edward being cruel to his niece; a lot of people in modern times misunderstand this concept. The king could choose to keep the heir as his own ward, or give or sell the wardship (usually including the rights to the heir's marriage) to another person; this was one of the main ways a king could distribute patronage. It could be most lucrative for the recipient. Say a tenant in chief with lands worth five hundred pounds a year died when his son was only four. This meant that the heir's guardian would receive the tenant in chief's income for seventeen years until the son came of age. The guardian simply had to maintain the heir in suitable style, and hand over the lands at the end of the period in the same condition in which he or she found them.

There were of course strict rules relating to the inheritance of lands. Men were favoured, of course, and primogeniture was in operation, meaning that the eldest son inherited everything. In case there was no male heir, as above in the case of the earl of Gloucester, women inherited equally, primogeniture not applying to female heirs (at least in England; it did in France). Therefore the earl of Gloucester's three sisters inherited equally, though understandably it proved impossible to divide his estates and their value into three completely equal shares. William Marshal (d. 1219) and Isabella de Clare, earl and countess of Pembroke, had five sons and five daughters. None of the sons fathered a single child between them; if they had, the child would have received the entire Pembroke inheritance, whether male or female. The five daughters all had children, however, so the inheritance ended up being split between literally dozens of people, the sisters' children and grandchildren. on the death of the fifth Marshal son in 1245.

Widows of tenants in chief were entitled to hold a third of their husband's lands for their lives until they died, even if they married again. On a widow's death, the lands she held as her dower passed to her husband's heir, who would often be her own son or grandson. Maurice, Lord Berkeley, grandson of Roger Mortimer, died on 8 June 1368 when his eldest son Thomas was fifteen. Thomas inherited part of the Berkeley inheritance when he turned twenty-one in January 1374, but two-thirds of it remained in the hands of two Berkeley dowagers: Thomas's mother Elizabeth, daughter of Hugh Despenser the Younger, who lived until 1389, and his step-grandmother Katherine Cliveden, widow of Maurice's father the elder Thomas, who lived until 1385. Thomas thus had to wait until he was thirty-six to gain his full inheritance. Long-lived dowagers could keep a large part of inheritances in their hands for decades. When a woman who had inherited and held lands in her own right died before her husband, a custom called the 'courtesy of England' allowed a widower to keep all of his late wife's lands in his own hands until his own death, as long as they had had at least one child together. For example, Thomas, Lord Berkeley above (b. 1353) married Margaret Lisle, heir of the Lisles, and kept all the Lisle lands after Margaret's death in 1392 until his own death in July 1417. They then passed to his and Margaret's only child Elizabeth, countess of Warwick.

Some more concrete examples:

- Henry III's younger brother Richard of Cornwall died in 1272. His elder son, Henry of Almain, had been murdered (by his de Montfort cousins) in Sicily in 1271. Richard's heir was therefore his younger son Edmund, who succeeded him as earl of Cornwall; Edmund was over twenty-one when his father died, and therefore did not enter royal wardship. When Earl Edmund died in 1300, he left no children, and he had no (legitimate) siblings or nieces and nephews. His heir was his first cousin Edward I, son of Henry III - Edmund of Cornwall's mother and Edward I's mother were also sisters so they were first cousins on both sides - and Edmund's nearest male relative.

- William, Lord Leyburne, died in 1310. His eldest son Sir Thomas Leyburne had died in June 1307, and William's heir was his granddaughter Juliana (b. 1303/04), Thomas's only child, even though William had younger sons still alive. Juliana became the ward of Edward II, though her mother Alice Toeni, countess of Warwick, was alive, and Edward gave or sold her wardship and the rights to her marriage to Aymer de Valence, earl of Pembroke. Aymer arranged Juliana's marriage to his nephew and co-heir John, Lord Hastings. Juliana was also the heir of her grandmother Juliane de Sandwich, Lady Leyburne, who herself was the heir of her father and uncle. Juliana Leyburne's mother Alice Toeni was also the heir of her brother, though the Toeni inheritance did not pass to Juliana but to her younger half-brother Thomas Beauchamp, earl of Warwick (a male heir, if there was one, taking priority over his sisters even when they were older).

- Theobald, Lord Verdon, died in July 1316. He had three daughters from his first marriage to Maud Mortimer, and left his widow, Edward II's niece Elizabeth de Clare, pregnant. If she had given birth to a boy he would have been heir to the entire Verdon estate, but it was a girl, Isabella. She shared her father's estate equally with her three older half-sisters. Edward II gave the wardship of the eldest Verdon sister, Joan, to his friend Sir William Montacute, who arranged her marriage to his eldest son John (the teenage groom died a few months later).

- The aforementioned Aymer de Valence, earl of Pembroke, died in June 1324, leaving no children from either of his two marriages. Aymer had had three sisters, two of whom had children: they were John, Lord Hastings, and the sisters Joan and Elizabeth Comyn. These three inherited Aymer's estate equally; because it came through the female line, John Hastings had no priority over his female cousins, though Laurence, his son with Juliana Leyburne, was Aymer's successor as earl of Pembroke.

- Edward II's niece Margaret de Clare had two daughters with her two husbands, Joan Gaveston and Margaret Audley. They were her joint and equal heirs to Margaret's share of the de Clare fortune until Joan's death in January 1325, and thereafter Margaret Audley was the sole heir. If Margaret de Clare had borne a son at any point, he would have been sole heir to his mother; if she had borne more daughters, they would all have been equal heirs with Margaret Audley.

- Richard FitzJohn, lord of Shere in Surrey, died in September 1297. He had four sisters, two of whom were still alive in 1297, and the other two had left children. His five heirs at the time of his death were: Maud Beauchamp née FitzJohn, countess of Warwick, his eldest sister (d. 1301; maternal grandmother of Maud Chaworth and Hugh Despenser the Younger; Maud's share ultimately passed to her son Guy Beauchamp, earl of Warwick, and then to his son Earl Thomas, who also came into the Toeni inheritance, as above); Robert, Lord Clifford, grandson of the second FitzJohn sister the late Isabel Vipont, and Robert's aunt Idonea Cromwell, Isabel Vipont's daughter; Richard de Burgh, earl of Ulster, son of the late third FitzJohn sister Aveline; and Joan le Botiler, the fourth FitzJohn sister.

It's interesting to note that quite a few of the English earls of Edward II's reign had no children: Gloucester, Lancaster, Pembroke, Richmond, Surrey. Thomas of Lancaster's heir was his brother Henry, and John de Warenne, earl of Surrey's was his sister Alice's son Richard Fitzalan, earl of Arundel. The earls of Cornwall (Piers Gaveston) and Lincoln (Henry de Lacy) each had one daughter. Edward II's half-brothers the earls of Norfolk and Kent were both ultimately succeeded by a daughter, Margaret Marshal and Joan of Kent, Richard II's mother.

There's surely a great deal more I could write on this topic, but this post is long enough already, so I'll leave it to another time!

02 November, 2016

The Edward II Musical; And I Talk On A Radio Show

If you're likely to be anywhere near New York this month, you really need to go and see this. My awesomely talented friend Erik Ransom has written and is starring in a musical about Edward II, More Than All The World. I soooo wish I could go and see it. It opens this Friday, 4 November 2016, and runs for sixteen days; you can buy tickets and get directions to the theatre (The Theater for the New City) at the link above. Yay, an Edward II musical! Best of luck to Erik, the director Rachel Klein, and all the cast and crew. Edward would love it. :-)

This coming Sunday, 6 November, I'll be taking part in a discussion about the battle of Bannockburn on the Irish radio station Newstalk. It starts at 7pm GMT and will go on for an hour, and the other participants are Professor Sean Duffy of Trinity College, Dublin, and Professor Michael Brown of the University of St Andrews. The station website is here, and the programme, Talking History, is here: there's a button in the top right corner called 'Listen', wherever you are on the site, if you'd like to hear the debate! Remember, 7pm to 8pm GMT this Sunday, 6 November. As far as I can work out - it's a little confusing as Europe went back an hour to winter time last weekend and I think in North America you'll be doing that this coming weekend - that'll be 2pm East Coast US time. (But please do double check the time difference!) It's also 8pm Central European Time.