ANNA BELFRAGE

Step inside and steal some moments in another place, another time

Archive for the tag “Edward III”

The suffering of a loyal wife

medieval loveOn a September day in 1301, the fifteen-year-old Joan de Geneville wed Roger Mortimer, the future Baron Mortimer. He was one year younger, but this was apparently no hindrance as already one year later Joan was delivered of a child.

Joan brought a lot to her husband. The eldest of three daughters born to Piers de Geneville and his wife, Jeanne Lusignan, Joan born in 1286, the principal heiress to her grandfather’s substantial holdings in Wales and Ireland. Born at Ludlow Castle, her father’s residential seat, she inherited this upon the death of her father in 1292. Her attractiveness as an heiress was tripled when her family decided to concentrate all their wealth on her while dispatching her two younger sisters to convents. What the younger sisters may have thought of all this is unknown, but as a consequence Joan became quite the prize on the marital market, and I imagine Edmund Mortimer, Roger’s dear papa, was more than delighted when he reeled in this particular bridal catch for his son and heir.

Neither Roger nor Joan would have expected to have much say in who they wed. They were both born into noble houses and knew their duty was to wed as it benefited their families. A marriage was a partnership, entered into with the express intention of producing heirs and furthering the combined family interests. If said partnership developed into genuine affection and love, that was a nice little extra.

Joan and Roger seem to have been among the lucky couples who liked each other (although I imagine a fifteen-year-old girl may well have found her younger husband unbearably childish at times). Over the coming eighteen years, Joan would be brought to bed of at twelve children that we know of, suggesting she spent little time separated from her husband, no matter where he went.

After a couple of carefree years just after their marriage, things changed when Roger’s father died in 1304, thereby making him the new Baron Mortimer. He was considered too young to manage his own affairs, and initially he was made a ward of Piers Gaveston, soon to become far more famous as Edward II’s favourite than as Mortimer’s guardian. Edward I was still very much alive and kicking when all this transpired, and it was the old king himself who arranged the lavish affair at Westminster in 1306 when the future Edward II was knighted together with hundreds of other youngsters, including our Roger.

EHFA E IIIn 1307, Edward I died. His son was a very different kind of man. Where Edward I had experienced first-hand just how important it was for a king to be king and not let himself be swayed by favourites as Henry III was prone to, Edward II very quickly became dependent on his favourites. Initially, this did not affect the new king’s relationship with young Mortimer. In fact, Roger proved himself a capable and loyal servant of the king and was sent off to handle a number of sticky situations, mostly with Joan at his side.

But then the king began developing an affection for Hugh Despenser. This Roger did not like. At all. The Despensers and the Mortimers did not get along (putting it mildly) This probably had something to do with Roger’s grandfather killing Hugh’s granddaddy at Evesham and chopping off his head. I suppose such actions are hard to forgive.

Now, the problem with Hugh (according to the Mortimers) was not the man himself. It was the fact that he was married to Eleanor de Clare, niece to the king and one of the three de Clare heiresses, all of whom had substantial landholdings in the Mortimer stomping ground, the Welsh Marches. Hugh being Hugh, he (well, Eleanor really) came away with the lion’s share of the de Clare inheritance thereby making him quite the powerful lord in Mortimer’s ‘hood. Not good. In this, Roger and Joan were in agreement.

I am not sure as to how much in agreement they were when Roger, provoked by just how often the king turned a blind eye to Hugh’s less savoury deeds, went wild and crazy and attacked Hugh’s lands. I suspect Joan was with him all the way, even if she must have felt a niggle at unease: to go after Hugh was to go after the king, and even if most of the Marcher lords didn’t rate Edward II all that highly – they were rough and ready men who needed a firm hand on the bridle—he was still their anointed king. One did not rebel against the king.

Roger carried the day in that first encounter. A cornered king was obliged to pardon Mortimer and his companions for their rebellious actions and exile his beloved Hugh. That should be Hugh in plural, as the king was very fond of Hugh senior as well, as rapacious and greedy as his son. Well, according to Mortimer.

Some months later, Edward II turned the tables on the rebels. Intelligent and brave, the king had it in him to act decisively when so prodded. (It is a bit unfortunate he didn’t combine these attributes with consistency and impartiality. If so, none of what happened would have happened) Being deprived of Hugh was a major, major prod which is why the king mustered an army and went after Roger Mortimer who was forced to submit to the king in January of 1322.

He was stripped of his titles, his lands and carried off in chains to the Tower. Joan must have believed she’d never see her dear lord again, and somehow she was left with the responsibility of trying to salvage what could be salvaged from the resulting mess. Very little, as it turned out. The king showed his more vindictive side and had Joan and her children locked up. Unfortunately, not together. The Mortimer sons in England were taken to Windsor, the unwed Mortimer daughters were sent to various convents, with very little set aside for their board. Not exactly happy years for these little girls. Joan herself (with her youngest child) was kept under constrained circumstances.

In 1323, Mortimer escaped the Tower. Things became very bad for Joan who was taken to Skipton Castle and kept under very harsh conditions. Things didn’t get better when rumours reached England (and Joan) of Mortimer taking up with the king’s disgruntled queen, Isabella. (More about her and her “disgruntledness” here. This is, after all, a post about Joan and Isabella had a tendency to outshine most of her female contemporaries)

mortimerIn 1326, Mortimer returned to England, side by side with his queen. And yes, I am one of those who believe Mortimer and Isabella not only shared a lust for power but also a bed, which must have been very difficult for loyal Joan. Especially since she’d spent close to five years in captivity because of her husband. So I’m thinking she was anything but warm and cuddly when she finally met her husband again:

An ancient building, this hall still had a central hearth, the smoke spiralling upwards to the hole in the roof. The stone flags were bare of any rush mats, and even through the thick soles of Adam’s boots, the cold seeped through. The walls were adorned with heavy tapestries, there was a table and some chairs, and after having arranged for wine, Lady Joan retired to stand by the table, fingers tugging at the skirts of the cream kirtle that did little for her complexion.
Adam bowed deeply, grateful for this opportunity to compose his features. The lady before him bore little resemblance to the lady he conserved in his memories, her previously so womanly figure reduced to that of a stick-like waif, her narrow wrists protruding from the embroidered cuffs of her heavy sleeves.
She was wearing a silk veil, but a heavy braid of grey hair hung in plain sight, and from the way Lord Roger winced, Adam suspected Lady Joan was taking the opportunity to show him what these last few years had cost her. While he had been safe and sound in France, his loyal lady wife had suffered years of deprivation, and her suffering must have been compounded by the rumours concerning her husband and the queen.
“My lady.” Lord Roger approached her with his hands extended, as if to take hold of hers.
Lady Joan backed away. “My lord husband,” she said stiffly, emphasising the last word. “Long have I awaited your visit.”
Lord Roger looked away. “I’m sorry that I didn’t come sooner, but I—”
She waved him quiet. “So now what?” she asked.
“I…” Lord Roger wet his lips. “I brought you a gift.” He gestured, and Adam presented Lady Joan with the carefully wrapped bundle.
“A gift?” Lady Joan undid the cloth, revealing three books. Beautiful books, even Adam could see that; one of them reminiscent of Queen Jeanne’s book of hours. For what seemed like an eternity, Lady Joan just stood there, studying the books.
“Thank you,” she finally said. “And now what?” she repeated. “Will we return to Wigmore together, husband?” Yet again, she emphasised the last word. Yet again, Lord Roger looked away.
“Ah.” Lady Joan nodded, and her hand closed on the uppermost book. “For close to five years, I have been held captive. Five years in which my life has shrunk to four walls and a constant fear – for you, for our children. Five years spent mostly on my knees, praying for your safe return, for the sanity of our daughters, locked away among the nuns, for the lives of our sons, held prisoners by the king. I have prayed and prayed, and what have you done? What?” The book flew through the air, hitting Lord Roger full in the face. “You, husband, have shamed me! Before the entire court in France, before our sniggering countrymen, you have paraded that whore of a queen as your mistress, while I – I, your loyal wife, mother to your children – have suffered on your behalf. And this…” She picked up the next book and hurled it at him. “This is how you see fit to repay me? By buying me books?”

Right: let’s leave her there, shall we?

Eduard3Edward II was deposed, his young son crowned in his stead with Mortimer and Isabella as his regents. Over the coming years, Mortimer would spend most of his time at court, with Isabella. Did he communicate with his wife? He must have, as they had all those children in common and a huge joint estate to manage. Did he and Joan resume marital relations, find their way back to the intimacy pre 1321? I have my doubts. Joan de Geneville does not strike me as a woman who would have been content with the crumbs from the royal table, so if Roger Mortimer was sleeping with the queen he was probably not sleeping with his wife. Did Joan miss him? Did she regret the loss of what they once had? I believe she must have – after all, once upon a time they went everywhere together, and now she was the third wheel in an intense and devouring relationship, her husband more interested in the wielding of power together with Isabella than in her. Very sad, IMO. Not nice, Roger.

Mortimer Munro-Essay-1200

Mortimer being taken down

In 1330, Edward III ousted Mortimer and dear mama from power. Isabella was “allowed” to retire and think things over, Mortimer was tried, convicted of treason and executed. In a repeat of 1322, all Mortimer’s lands were attainted—including Joan’s dower lands. Once again, Joan was tainted with the brush of treason and for a while she ended up in captivity. Again. Most unfair and unchivalrous of a young king who otherwise prided himself on being a good and valiant knight.

Already in 1331, some parts of Mortimer lands were returned to Edmund, Joan’s and Roger’s eldest son. In 1336, Joan received full restitution of her lands and could go back to managing her affairs – and those of her children that required managing. By then, her eldest son was long dead and the hopes of the Mortimers rested on the very young shoulders of Roger Mortimer, her husband’s namesake and their grandson. Not that Joan had much say in how the young Roger was brought up, but this little Mortimer was fortunate in his stepfather and would go on to make quite his mark on the world.

I hope Joan found some peace and contentment during the last few decades of her life. She had family to visit, grandchildren to take pride in, she had wealth and comfort. But now and then I suspect she thought of her Roger, of the very young lad she married and loved before she lost him to other ambitions, other goals.

Joan died in 1356 and was buried at Wigmore Abbey. This is where I would have liked to end this post by stating that as Joan had petitioned the king to have Roger’s remains returned to her to be reinterred at Wigmore abbey, she was laid to rest side by side with her husband – loyal to the end, one could say. Unfortunately, there is little to prove she succeeded in her petition, and so Joan de Geneville was buried to lie alone, far from the man who’d so shaped her life.  I’m thinking that by then she no longer cared.

9789198324518P.S. The excerpt above is from Days of Sun and Glory, the second in my series about Roger, Isabella and the people dragged along in their wake.

In which a young king bites the dust and learns a lesson

In 1327, a very young Edward III mustered his forces and rode north. He had had it with the Scottish rogues who were ravaging the land, and all of Edward’s adolescent body quivered with anticipation at seeing the Scots eat dust.

ehfa-retour_d_isabelle_de_france_en_angleterre

Isabella returning to England – after having treated with Robert

Thing is, other people in high places—notably the king’s mother Isabella and her lover and co-regent, Roger Mortimer—weren’t all that keen on a full out war with Scotland. In fact, Mortimer and Isabella had treated with Robert the Bruce prior to invading England in 1326, and what they’d dangled before the nose of the wily Scottish king was a permanent peace treaty—assuming Bruce did not take advantage of the turbulent situation caused by Isabella and Mortimer ousting Edward II and his favourite, Hugh Despenser.

Robert the Bruce wanted peace. His country needed peace. So Robert held his horses and watched from afar as Mortimer and his paramour forced through Edward II’s abdication and then rapidly crowned the boy-king.

Obviously, finalising the treaty with Scotland was not the first item on Isabella’s and Mortimer’s agenda. They had a kingdom to heal, an administration to put in order, muttering barons to be put in their place.

On the other side of the border, Robert the Bruce grew impatient. (He was getting on, all of fifty-three, and wanted to leave things in order, which included said peace treaty) When the negotiations were yet again put on hold – or broke down, depending on whose POV you applied—the Scottish king decided to do some serious prodding. He ordered his two captains, James Douglas and Thomas Randolph to invade northern England and create some havoc. A lot of havoc, as it turned out, the raiding Scots leaving burned farms and destroyed villages in their wake.

Which is why, in July of 1327, Edward III did all that mustering. Okay, if we’re going to be correct, it was not the fourteen-year-old king who called to arms, no matter how eager he was to teach those dastardly Scots a lesson. Rather, it was his Regents who came to the reluctant conclusion they had to do something to contain the Scots, albeit that they still hoped for a diplomatic solution.

Anyway: an impressive English army took the field, lead by the Earl Marshal of the realm (Edward’s uncle, the earl of Norfolk), the earl of Kent (Edward’s other uncle) and the earl of Lancaster (much, much older cousin to the king). Roger Mortimer was there as well, and while not given an official command, I think it’s a safe bet to assume he was very much on top of things—it sort of went with his nature.

weardale-st_george_bnf_fr_241_101v

St George, Edward’s favourite saint

Edward was of the firm opinion that Scotland was his kingdom. Bannockburn was but a minor setback, and now he was going to teach these Scotsmen a lesson. The fact that not one single Scot agreed with this interpretation was neither here nor there according to our young hero.

Edward had his forces ride under the cross of St George, bright red crosses flapping in the wind as the English army advanced. As an aside, Edward III had a serious thing about St George, whom he considered a far more appropriate saint for his bellicose ambitions than Edward the Confessor. This is why he founded a college dedicated to St George at Windsor (which then sort of took over the chapel previously dedicated to St Edward) and why the red cross is part of the insignia for the Order of Bath. Right: not today’s topic.

weardale-war_of_independence_figures_by_wm_hole

A Victorian depiction of Sir James (white stars on blue)

James Douglas was just as canny, just as capable, as any of the commanders on the English side. This hero of the Scottish people had stood by his king through thick and thin and would continue to do so as long as he had breath in his body. He had only one objective with his raiding: to force the English back to the negotiation table, there to recognise Scottish independence and Robert the Bruce as Scottish king. It made Edward almost choke just to think of doing so. His grandfather had fought long and hard to bring the Scots to bay, and our Edward was not about to give back what he considered his.

So off the English army went, eager to corner the Scots and force them to fight. Douglas was having none of it. His mounted men easily outpaced the English army, and so it was that as Edward and his men rode one way, they’d see fires burning in the other direction. If they turned towards the destruction, chances were new fires would spring to life behind them. Very frustrating. I imagine Edward took every opportunity offered to call these elusive Scots craven and misbegotten creatures.

The Scots were neither craven or misbegotten. After some weeks of playing the scarlet pimpernel with the English (you know: they seek him here, they seek him there, the Frenchies seek him everywhere. Is he in heaven or is he in hell, that demned elusive pimpernel) Douglas found a nice, strong position and set up camp. He also had one of his English captives released, ordering the man to find Edward and tell him the Scots were waiting to do him battle.

“Yes!” Edward punched the air upon hearing this. His commanders were less delighted, and in particular Mortimer had far too much respect for Douglas to believe Sir James had set himself up as an easy kill. He hadn’t. Douglas had chosen his position carefully. A hill, defended by the river Wear and steep slopes, with Douglas’ colours—three silver stars on a blue background—flapping lazily in the wind. Mortimer groaned inwardly—even more so when Edward started talking about what strategies to use to pulverise the Scots. (As yet another aside, Mortimer and Edward shared a fascination for new technology, so on this campaign they’d brought along some rather primitive versions of the cannon. Ergo the pulverisation above)
“You can’t fight them up that hill,” Mortimer told his young king.
“Of course, I can. But I’ll start by inviting him to come down and meet us on the flat ground, prove he is as brave as they say.”
“He’s brave, not an idiot,” Mortimer probably replied. “What commander worth his salt would give up that position?”

Mortimer was right. Sir James politely declined Edward’s invitation to come down from his hill, and Edward decided it was time to show the Scots just who had the upper hand. He ordered his archers to advance—the English (and Welsh) archers were the best in the world, and as soon as they came within range, they’d fill those dratted Scots with more arrows than a hedgehog has spines. Douglas was fully aware of how deadly the English archers were. He waited until they were wading the river, or making a hesitant approach up the slopes before attacking them. Soon enough, there were dead archers everywhere, making it very clear Edward had no hand at all—not in this game of war poker.

An exhausted and dispirited English army settled down for the night. Weeks of chasing the Scots, of more or less constant rain, of insufficient food, had left Edward’s men weak and grumpy. Their Scottish foes were made of sterner stuff: no sooner had the summer night begun to darken, but the Scots began an all-night party, blowing horns and clashing swords against shields. Impossible to sleep in, so to all their other woes, Edward’s men could now add sleep-deprivation.

weardale-a_020_knightsCome morning, a host of pale and shivering men did their best to look intimidating and warlike, all of them probably hoping there wouldn’t be a battle this day. There wasn’t. James stuck to his hill, and come nightfall the Scots repeated last night’s procedure. Blaring horns, steel against steel, and the English tossed and turned, further plagued by the drifting scents of roasted meat.

A couple of nights of this, and then suddenly, just before dawn one night, the Scots went quiet.
“Finally!” the English exclaimed, sinking into blissful oblivion. When they woke, it was to discover Douglas had sneaked off, leading his men to a new position, if possible even more impregnable.

Edward spent some time cursing the Scottish dogs to hell and back. Didn’t help much. He ordered the English army to follow Douglas and set up a new camp.

For a change, that August day was a nice day. No rain, and once the tents had been set up and the fires lit, the English had yet another pleasant surprise: the Scots were obviously too tired to repeat the hullabaloo of the preceding nights, and so the summer night was fragrant and wonderfully silent.

The king and his earls had supper with Mortimer. Plans were drawn up for the next day. Some wine, some good food and they took to their beds—as did the rest of the men. Which is when some of them registered the sound of many horses, approaching at a gallop.

Out of nowhere—or so it seemed—came the Scots. Armed with torches and spears, they charged through the English camp. Some wielded swords to cut the guy ropes, thereby causing the tents to collapse. Others set fire to the tents, or skewered the people trapped within on their spears. Chaos. Fear. Screams. Blood. Smoke.

Like witless hens, the English ran before the Scots. Some emerged with sword in hand and began to fight back. Others died. Quite a lot of others. The Scots thundered on, making for the tent flying the royal colours. Swish, and the guy lines were cut. Like a cut soufflé, the tent fell together, trapping the young king inside. He was helpless, the Scots were only moments away from abducting him, but here came Edward’s men, here came Mortimer, sword aloft, and the Scots backed away. A horn blew. Douglas, calling for help. The horn blew again, and the Scots rode to their lord’s defence. Some moments later, they were gone, leaving a trail of carnage behind them.

edward-iii-siege-of-berwick-1333

Edward III besieging Berwick in 1332

Next morning, Douglas and his men had left, riding hard for Scotland. Standing in the shambles of his camp, the young Edward had learnt a valuable lesson: never underestimate your enemy.

Several months later, a treaty with Scotland was concluded, sealed by the marriage of Edward’s little sister, Joan, to Robert the Bruce’s little son, David. Edward didn’t want the treaty. He wanted Scotland. But other than never to underestimate, he had also learnt another lesson: bide your time. So he did. For now.

In great ambition lies destruction

On the subject of men who carry the seeds of their own destruction within, today I’d like to introduce you to Roger Mortimer. Seems apt, given that it is 686 years today since he was executed. This is a man who epitomises the consequences of too much ambition, too much greed. He was also an extremely capable person, an experienced leader of men and a man with impressive strategical skills. Not that it helped him…

mortimer

Roger and his lady queen

Had I been able to travel back in time (yes, please!) I would actually consider dropping in on Roger and giving him the friendly advice to retire from the public eye gracefully – although that could have been difficult to do, given that he was sleeping with the Queen Isabella, mother to the very young King Edward III. Clearly, bedding with queens carries the risk of untimely and gruesome death (see my post on the Earl of Bothwell) making me conclude that maybe we as a race have more in common with spiders than I am entirely comfortable with.

Roger Mortimer was born in 1287 as the eldest son and heir of Edmind Mortimer. Of mixed Norman and Welsh descent, the Mortimers were a power to be reckoned with on the Welsh Marches, and Roger was raised to shoulder this responsibility. He seems to have spent much of his childhood with his uncle, another Roger Mortimer (Roger senior is perhaps most (in)famous for having delivered Llewellyn ap Gruffyds head to Edward I) and was by all accounts a well-educated and handsome young man, who had as many friends among the aspiring clergy as he did amongst his peers.

No sooner had Roger survived infancy but his parents began checking out potential brides. After some scouting, they decided on Joan de Geneville, a well-dowered little Irish Heiress (well, French blood figured prominently). The happy couple were wed when Roger was only fourteen, but apparently the lad knew what to do, and a year later Joan gave birth to a son, the first of the thirteen children she was to give her husband. Thirteen!  Clearly, the young couple were very affectionate, and Joan quite often accompanied her husband as he went about his massive estates.

edward_i__ii_prince_of_wales_1301In 1306, Roger was knighted by Edward I in a massive ceremony which included Edward, Prince of Wales. More or less of an age, the two young men seemed to enjoy each other’s company, even if Roger had the distinct advantage of being in control of his own purse strings (his father was dead since some years back) while the prince depended on his father. The Edward-Edward relationship was not an easy one; Edward I was a tough old man, and there were times when his son probably felt that no matter what he did, it wasn’t good enough. In retrospect, it is easy to agree with that opinion; Edward II may have been a nice man, unjustly maligned by history, but he was not much of a king.

Anyway; the old king died, the new king took over, Joan had babies as regularly as clockwork, and Roger nurtured his career, serving the king in one capacity after the other. He was handed the rather nasty job of pacifying Ireland – and specifically of routing Edmund Bruce, Robert Bruce’s younger brother who had claimed the title of King of Ireland – and set off across the Irish Sea to do his best. Roger’s first tour in Ireland was not all that successful – the Irish did not take kindly to being pacified, one could say – but when he returned for a second tour as Lieutenant Governor, Roger managed to establish control over the Emerald Isle. Edmund Bruce was killed, Roger organised the administration, filled vacant offices, inspected his own (well, his wife’s) extensive holdings, and while he was at it he founded Trinity College in Dublin.

In 1318, Roger Mortimer returned from Ireland victorious. The king was duly grateful, but also somewhat disturbed; Roger Mortimer was a tad too capable, and Edward II was getting rather sick and tired of competent – and powerful – barons who were telling him how to run his kingdom. At the time of Roger’s return, Edward was at loggerheads with his cousin, Thomas of Lancaster, the single most powerful man in England, arguably more powerful than the king himself.

Thomas of Lancaster does not come across as a particularly nice man – nor a wise one. He constantly antagonised his royal cousin, he was more than active in separating the king from his favourites (Lancaster was personally involved in the execution of Piers Gaveston, Edward II’s boon companion) and he seems to have been quite convinced the sun shone out of his own backside. Always a man to insist on his prerogatives, he constantly needled the king, causing conflicts about almost everything. At times, Lancaster’s grievances were legitimate, as in the case of the Despensers (father and son – both favourites of the king, both named Hugh) and in 1318 a stale mate had arisen between the king and his not so loyal subject.

It may be worthwhile to take the time here to point out that Roger Mortimer hated Hugh Despenser (both of them). Hugh Despenser (both of them) hated Roger Mortimer. The families’ bad blood went back a couple of generations – it was Roger’s grandfather who had killed Hugh Despenser the younger’s grandfather at Evesham. That Despenser had sided with Simon de Montfort against the king. So when Lancaster demanded that the king be counselled by a group of barons that excluded the Despensers, Roger was all for it. The king was not, but felt forced to agree.

For some years, an uneasy truce existed between the king and his barons. While there was a council of barons to officially counsel the king, he seems to have preferred to take his counsel behind locked doors from Hugh Despenser (both of them, but mostly the younger). The barons seethed. The king was in flagrant breach of his coronation oath, and people muttered about Magna Charta and faithless kings. Roger Mortimer had so far done his best to remain a loyal servant to the king, but when the king repeatedly went against law and custom to give Hugh Despenser (both of them) whatever their little hearts desired, be it another man’s land or not, something snapped in Roger. He knew the Despensers were his mortal enemies, and Mortimer had no intention of sitting around as a sitting duck for the Despensers to shoot at.

mortimer-c5b24c86e4c809e755d803f8adbe1aebIn 1321, incensed by yet another case of unlawful behaviour by Despenser that the king chose to ignore (as I said; a bad king), Mortimer allied himself with Lancaster and began a full-scale attack on Despenser land. Mortimer was a military professional with years of experience on the field – specifically on Irish bogs. He and his men squashed whatever resistance they encountered, and by the end of the summer Mortimer had his men encamped around London. His only demand was that the king exile the Despensers – and he wasn’t alone in demanding this, as a number of English barons, including Lancaster, agreed with him. The king wailed. The king gnashed his teeth. The king acquiesced, weeping as he signed the order that effectively exiled the Despensers. He must have wept even more when he signed the pardons for his rebellious barons, seeing as they’d only acted “in the interest of the realm”.

Mortimer now had TWO (Three) powerful enemies; Hugh Despenser (both of them) and the king. Not that our baron seems to have been unduly worried – or maybe he truly believed the Despenser issue had been sorted once and for all. If so, he seriously underestimated the king. Edward showed an impressive amount of ingenuity and drive, going from baron to baron to mutter about Roger Mortimer and Thomas of Lancaster. These men, the king whispered, threatened his royal rule – and not only that, but also the power of any minor baron. However, the king went on, should these minor barons ally themselves with the king, well then…

Not only were there a number of minor lords in the king’s camp. He had a number of earls who felt more than bound by their oaths to the king, albeit that they might secretly have agreed with Roger’s objections to Despenser. One such earl was Aymer de Valence, Earl of Pembroke. This particular earl was a veteran of political intrigue, as respected by Roger Mortimer as he was by the king. Had Aymer been around to smooth things over a few months earlier, things might never have become quite as polarised. As it was, Aymer had no success in attempting a rapprochement between the king and his stubborn baron.

Things came to a head over an incident at Leeds Castle (which, just to confuse things is in Kent, nowhere close to Leeds). The castle belonged to Lord Badlesmere, and when he wasn’t around it was his lady wife who did the running of things. This lady had the temerity to refuse the queen entry to the castle, and this insult was just the excuse King Edward needed. In a matter of weeks, he had the castle besieged. The garrison surrendered on the promise of their lives, but were summarily hanged anyway. Poor Lady Badlesmere was dragged off to the Tower with her children – one of which was Roger Mortimer’s little daughter-in-law.

Shit, one could say. Mortimer decided to do some pow-wowing with Lancaster and trotted off up to Pontrefact Castle. In the south, the king continued raising an army, and suddenly the tables were turned, with Mortimer having to flee the advancing might of the king. Had Thomas of Lancaster held true to his vow to Mortimer and joined forces with him, chances are the king would have been defeated. As it was, Lancaster chose to sit in the north and sulk, muttering that he had never liked Badlesmere.

Mortimer retired beyond the Severn, but he was a pragmatic man – and a realist – and knew his chances of holding out in the long run were extremely slim. Which was when the Earl of Pembroke approached him and suggested he submit to the king, who, Pembroke said, would be merciful. Pissed off as hell, yes, but merciful.

It is testament to Pembroke’s reputation that Mortimer took him at his word, but what happened next would for ever sully Pembroke’s honour. Mortimer rode to Shrewsbury and submitted to the king, only to be brusquely informed that whatever Pembroke may have promised was no longer valid, and Mortimer should prepare himslef to die – and die gruesomly. In chains, Mortimer was dragged off to the Tower, there to await his final date with the executioner.

That date never happened. Despenser must have begged the king on his bare knees to rid the world of Mortimer, but whatever bursts of initiative had inflamed Edward in 1321 now petered out. Plus, he had an angry country on his hands, given the number of barons he had summarily executed in the aftermath of Mortimer’s rebellion – starting with his own cousin, Thomas of Lancaster, who was first defeated by the royal forces at the Battle of Boroughbridge, then convicted of treason and summarily beheaded.

Mortimer was therefore allowed to languish in captivity – alive, but deprived. However, hawks like Mortimer don’t like being cooped up, and in August of 1323, Mortimer escaped from the Tower, having first ensured the guards had been served drugged wine at their annual celebration of St Peter. The king’s Greatest Traitor was free – and hot-footed it to France, while back home his wife and children remained prisoners of the king.

mortimer-isabella2In France, Mortimer was to join forces with Queen Isabella, King Edward’s disgruntled wife (read more here) Actually, they did more than join forces – they sort of joined everything together, indulging in a passionate affair. I imagine Edward choked on his wine at the thought of his wife in the arms of his rebellious baron. He must have choked even more when he realised just what a threat those two were to his throne – in particular as Isabella had her eldest son, the future Edward III, with her.

Well, we all know how that ended, don’t we? Isabella returned to England in 1326, accompanied by Mortimer and her son. Edward and Hugh Despenser  fled westwards but were captured. Edward was imprisoned at Kenilworth and subsequently forced to abdicate. Hugh was subjected to a mock trial and a gruesome execution. Mortimer, dear peeps, had arrived. Together with Isabella, he controlled the young king and through him, the kingdom. Let’s just say that not everyone cheered at this development.

eduard3Mortimer turned his impressive organisational skills to ordering the kingdom, hiring competent officers throughout the realm. Good men, to be sure, these officers were officially the king’s men, but most of them were loyal to Mortimer first, the king second. As it should be, Mortimer probably felt. Not so much, the young Edward III thought. For now, the young king was not in a position to strike back, and initially he seems to have respected and even liked Mortimer. But as the years passed, Edward began choimping at the bit, increasingly concerned when it seemed neither of his regents (his Mama was as involved as Mortimer in running things on his behalf) had any intention of stepping down.

Late in 1328, various of the barons rebelled, led by Henry of Lancaster (brother to the dead Thomas) Lancaster demanded that he be regent, seeing as he was closer kin to the king and also a much more important baron than the upstart Mortimer. This did not go down well with Mortimer – or Isabella. And as to being a more important baron, well that was easily solved: in October 1328, Mortimer became the 1st Earl of March. Lancaster likely choked. So, more importantly, did Edward III, who felt strongarmed into giving Mortimer the title.

Anyway: in early 1329 the rebels were crushed, and Mortimer and Isabella were magnanimous in defeat, exacting fines rather than lives. Things, it seemed, had settled down, except that the kingdom was constantly plagued by rumors that the old king was alive, rumours that could potentially escalate into rebellion as men flocked to the standards of Edward II, preferring him to being ruled by an upstart marcher lord and an adulterous queen.

Officially, Edward II died already back in September of 1327. He was interred in Gloucester in December of that same year, but there are a lot of oddities re this death – like the fact that no one actually saw the dead king prior to him already having been covered by cerecloths (part of the conservation process). Also, there were murmurs as to whether the king had died or been murdered, with fingers pointing not so discreetly at Mortimer. In truth, a very infected situation, even more so when more and more people started circulating teh theory that the king was alive but imprisoned.

So, was Edward II dead? Well, I am of the opinion that he probably wasn’t – several historians agree with me, but just as many are convinced Edward II did die in 1327. Even if he was dead, I have problems believeing Isabella and Mortimer would have ordered his death – an anointed king was an anointed king, however much deposed he was. But what I believe is neither here nor ther – if nothing else because the barons back in the 14th century wouldn’t give a rat’s arse about what I might think. After all, they were living these turbulent times, not reading about them with a nice cuppa close at hand.

One of the barons who genuinely seems to have believed Edward II was still alive was the drop-dead gorgeous Edmund, Earl of Kent, much younger half-brother of Edward II. Edmund even went as far as to consider how to break Edward out of captivity, and some of his missives ended up in Mortimer’s hand. What followed is one of the blacker stains on Mortimer, because at parliament in Winchester in march 130, he effectively manipulated teh procedings in such a way that he gave the young king no option but to condemn his uncle to death.

Edmund was terrified. He pleaded and begged for his life, but there was nothing to do – Edward had his hands tied and couldn’t pardon him without showing weakness. And so Kent was hauled out to die in his shirt on a cold March day. Except that the executioner had fled, not wanting any part in this. Hours of waiting ensued, the condemned man shivering in his shirt unrtil someone was found willing to cut his head off. Not pretty. At all. Edwrad would never forgive Mortimer for this – an intelligent young man, he realised just how elegantly Mortimer had played his cards to assure himself of this grisly outcome.

mortimer-munro-essay-1200

Mortimer being seized

From that moment on, the clock was ticking for Mortimer. And, as described in this post, in October of 1330, the young king and his companions acted, entering the castle of Nottingham through a secret passage to take Mortimer captive and haul him off to London where he was to stand trial on a number of charges – including murdering the former king. (Elegantly played by Edward III. By accusing Mortimer of this crime, he effectively killed off any speculation that his father might still be alive. Clearly, Edward had learnt a thing or two from his regents)

Mortimer was not accorded a fair trial. Bound and gagged, he was not given the opportunity to speak in his defence. Just like at Hugh Despenser’s trial, four years before, the outcome was given. Mortimer was condemned to die, but was spared the horrors of being hanged, drawn and quartered, He was “just” to be drawn and hanged.

icarus-the-sun-or-the-fall-of-icarus-1819-by-merry-joseph-blondel

The fall of Icarus – Blondell

On the cold morning of November 29, 1330, he was led out to the waiting horses, dressed in the black velvet tunic he’d worn to Edward II’s funeral. He was tied to the horses, dragged through the streets of London all the way to Tyburn. By then his tunic was in tatters, and what remained was torn of him, so that he stood naked while the noose was tightened round his neck. Some final words, a prayer, and up he went, life being strangled out of him as the noose tightened. And so, dear peeps, died Roger Mortimer, a man so driven by ambition he did not realise just how close he was flying to the sun until it was too late.

Personally, I have a fondness for Mortimer, which is probably why I’ve built my entire 14th century series round his rise and fall. It is also why I’ll be raising a glass in honour of his memory today. A man larger than life deserves as much, methinks.

An arranged love-match – of Philippa and her Edward

medieval loveIn 1326, a not yet fourteen-year-old boy was betrothed to a girl two years or so his junior. He was Edward, soon-to-be Edward III of England. She was Philippa, one of Guillaume of Hainaut’s four daughters. The betrothal cemented the alliance between Isabella of France and Count Guillaume, whereby the count placed ships and men at Isabella’s disposal for the upcoming conquest of England. It is said that the bride-to-be took an immediate liking to her prospective groom, weeping bitterly when he left.

In setting his name to the contracts, Edward openly defied his father’s will – King Edward II had repeatedly written to his son and told him that under no circumstances was he to enter into a marriage contract without his, the king’s, agreement – but what choice did the adolescent boy have? His mother would have him sign, and he was with her, under her daily influence.

Edward II opposed the marriage precisely because it gave Isabella access to the fighting men – and the ships required to transport them – she required to invade England. Not that Isabella would be captaining these men, that job fell to her partner and lover, Roger Mortimer.

EHFA E II

Edward II trying out his crown

However, prior to the events that led to Isabella openly challenging her husband, Edward II had also toyed with marrying his eldest to one of Count Guillaume’s daughters, had even gone so far so as to have his trusted man, Walter Stapledon, Bishop of Exeter, travel over to inspect the goods, so to say. A description still survives, but it is unclear whether it refers to Philippa or to one of her sisters. Whatever the case, the bishop describes a dark-haired girl with dark eyes, a full mouth, good teeth – well, at least some of them. All in all, the bishop found her pleasant enough to look like, and one hopes young Edward agreed, that distant June day when he first clapped eyes on the girl who was to become his wife.

To be quite honest, we have no idea what Philippa may have looked like, but seeing as she lived in the fourteenth century, poor Philippa was burdened with a hairdo that is decidedly unflattering. If you look at her effigy in Westminster abbey, what you mostly see are those heavy arrangements of braids framing her face. Mind you, that effigy depicts Philippa as an adult woman, so maybe she was a bit more daring in her youth – maybe there were days when she wore her hair loose and covered by a sheer veil. Probably not – and definitely not after she’d married Edward. Married women were supposed to keep their hair firmly under control – i.e. covered, as it was a well-known fact men went all gaga at the sight of curls billowing in the wind.

We know little of Philippa’s youth. Her father married Jeanne of Valois, a cousin to Isabella of France, and assuming Jeanne’s father, Charles Valois, was as great a believer in education as Isabella’s father (and Charles’ brother), Philippe IV, was, Jeanne was literate and well-educated, something she surely passed on to her many daughters. Whatever the case, the Hainaut children spent most of their time in Valenciennes, Guillaume’s principal city, but would also have been regular visitors at Le Quesnoy – of WWI fame for ANZAC soldiers – where Guillaume and his family enjoyed such noble pastimes as hunting and hawking.

Due to Edward and Philippa being related – they were second cousins through their mothers – no wedding could take place without a papal dispensation. Not that Count Guillaume had any hurry in securing the dispensation. After all, should the invasion backfire, chances were Edward II would punish his eldest son by having him imprisoned or even executed.

Eduard3

Edward III being crowned

In the event, the invasion was a success. Capably led by Mortimer, Isabella’s forces soon had England under control. Edward II was imprisoned at Kenilworth Castle, his hated favourite Despenser was executed, and next on the agenda was to make Prince Edward King Edward, which was achieved by forcing Edward II to abdicate. So in February of 1327, Edward III was crowned, and on the other side of the English Channel, preparations began for Philippa’s wedding.

As many other young ladies of the time, she was actually married twice: the first time by proxy, i.e. Edward sent over a man to stand in his stead, the second time in January of 1328 in York – this time the real thing in the half-finished cathedral with her young and handsome husband at her side.

Without any surviving diaries or letters, it is of course difficult to assess just how successful this marriage was, but by all accounts Edward III was faithful to his wife, and the regular appearance of more babies indicate they enjoyed each other’s company behind the bed hangings. Mind you, it took some time for baby number one to arrive – but this may have been due to consideration. Philippa was not quite fourteen when they wed, and in general consummation with such young brides was not encouraged.

At the time of their wedding, Edward must have been in the grip of conflicting emotions: he’d recently seen his father buried after his death back in September (some people say Edward II didn’t die, but let us bypass that for now), his mother had awarded herself a huge income which seriously depleted the royal coffers, Roger Mortimer was effectively in charge of running the country (albeit together Isabella), and Edward was beginning to suspect neither Isabella nor Roger would be all that keen on stepping down from their position of power. So what did that make him? A leashed lion? For a young man determined to become a perfect king, that was not an option.

I imagine he found a confidante in Philippa, someone as firmly in his own corner as he himself was. Philippa might initially have been unfamiliar with the power games at court, and I guess she was quite intimidated by her mother-in-law, who still went by Queen Isabella, when in fact she should have been the Queen Mother Isabella. Thing is, Philippa was as yet uncrowned, and Isabella showed little interest in ensuring she was. From where Isabella was standing, England was better off with one crowned king – her son – and one crowned queen – herself.

Philippa_of_Hainault-miniIn 1330, Edward pushed through the coronation of his wife, by then pregnant with their first child. In an act of defiance, he swept his arms wide and told Philippa to go wild and crazy when it came to her coronation outfits, and she definitely did, changing from one precious combo to the other during the festivities. Mama Isabella was probably not entirely pleased at being upstaged, but public opinion was moving in the direction of Edward and Philippa, and after the little queen proudly presented her husband with a son and heir in June of 1330, Isabella should have realised power was slipping through her fingers. Edward III now had every reason to act – and act quickly – so as to retake control of his country. Which he did – or rather his friends did, which is how Mortimer ended up dead and Isabella ended up marginalised.

Philippa was now queen not only in name but also in fact – and she did a good job of it, the perfect medieval consort who advised her husband in private, interceded on behalf of the weak and needy, and oversaw the raising of their large and mostly happy family. She was his pillar of strength, the companion from his youth that became his companion through life, the person he could always trust to have his, Edward’s, interests at heart.

Philippa was also a patron of the arts, was held in high regard by men such as Jean Froissart, and owned and commissioned several illustrated manuscripts, some of which are still around. Over a period of 25 years, she gave birth at least thirteen times, which means she was just sixteen when the first baby was born, over forty when the baby of the family, Thomas of Woodstock, saw the light of the day. Edward clearly enjoyed her company – and vice-versa – which explains why she accompanied her bellicose husband on various of his campaigns – both to Scotland but also to France, where she forever earned the reputation of being a gentle and good queen when she begged Edward to spare the burghers of Calais.

BattleofSluys

Battle of Sluys – from Jean Froissart’s Chronicle

I remember the first time I heard this story. My teacher, Mrs Miller, had a stochastic approach to the Hundred Years’ War, so that we went from Sluys to Agincourt and then back to Crecy, mainly because she had all these lovely Jean Froissart posters that she used for inspiration and tended to get them mixed up. At the time, I was seriously confused: one moment, we’re talking about Edward III and his naval victory over the French (Sluys, 1340), the next we’re at Agincourt (and yes, Shakespeare was quoted) with Edward III’s great-grandson Henry V, then we’re back to Edward III at Crecy, now accompanied by his young, just as bellicose, son Edward (whom Mrs Miller never called anything but The Black Prince, which really had me wondering if he was a bad guy. I was ten, okay?)

Anyway, after more or less annihilating the French at Crecy in 1346, in September of that same year Edward turned north – to Calais. At the time, this town was protected by impressive walls, and no matter how many men Edward threw at the town, the defences held. Months of this did not improve Edward’s temper, but he was determined to win Calais, so in February of 1347, he effectively closed off all lines of supply into the town. The siege of Calais had begun.

The_French_defeated_before_Calais_by_Edward_IIIThe stubborn townspeople refused to give up, hoping their king would come to their aid. Philippe of France did show up, but he was still smarting after the loss at Crecy, and he was severely outnumbered and “outstrategised” by Edward, which made Philippe decide it was best to retreat and fight another day. Abandoned by their king, in August, Calais gave up.

By then, Edward was seriously pissed off with the town for holding out for so long – it sort of put a dent in his calendar. Plus, he had hoped to force the French king into a decisive battle outside Calais, but Philippe had evaded that trap. So when Calais finally surrendered, I reckon Edward was seriously tempted to do unleash his men on the town. But as Edward was in France claiming the French crown, he realised this was probably not a good way of endearing himself to his French subjects, so instead he offered the people of Calais a way out: if six of them would come before him and offer him the keys of the city, give themselves up unconditionally, he would spare the rest.

Death. Those six Calais burghers had no illusions as to what fate awaited them – especially as Edward ordered that they wear nothing but their shirts and a noose round their neck – ready to hang, if you will. They prostrated themselves before the smouldering Edward and begged for their lives. He ordered their heads to be cut off – ASAP.

Queen_Plippia_intercending_for_the_Burghers_of_Calais_byJ.D_PenroseThis is when Philippa stepped forth from the shadows of history to hog the limelight. Heavily pregnant, she kneeled before her husband and begged him to show mercy. Mrs Miller tended to embroider this bit: the queen, all in white, sank to her knees before her seated husband and approached him on her knees, repeatedly asking that he spare the burghers as otherwise she feared God would rob them of the child presently in her womb. Mrs Miller tended to get emotional here, a hand drifting down to her very flat abdomen (Mrs Miller was well past childbearing at the time).

Edward was very fond of his wife, and, according to Mrs Miller, never had she looked more beautiful to him than she did as she kneeled abjectly before him. Hmm. I hope she had. Whatever the case, he was so touched he spared the six burghers and everyone lived happily ever after. Except that they didn’t – at least not the citizens of Calais who were evicted out of their town by Edward and replaced by his men. Neither did Philippa’s baby. A son, Thomas of Windsor, was born in 1347 but died within a year.

Anyway, after the events at Calais, Philippa went back to being the mild wife she’d always been, never questioning her husband in public, however much she may have argued with him in private. Not that I think they did argue. I think they had a happy and fulfilling marriage, one in which they enjoyed spending time together, sharing their thoughts with each other. Edward found in Philippa and their children the family he’d lost as a child when his mother and father ended up on opposite sides of a battlefield. In her, he had a loyal and devoted spouse. In him, she found a man who cherished her and honoured her.

In the 1360s, Philippa fell ill. A wasting disease that had her growing weak and him somewhat desperate. Yes, this is when Edward also began his association with Alice Perrers, his only known mistress, but his devotion for his wife and his distress at her continued illness was evident.

In July of 1369, Philippa sent for her husband, presently preparing for yet another campaign. He rushed to her side at Windsor and found her wan and pale in her bed. They held hands as she had him promise that once he died, he’d be buried beside her. Edward wept and gave her his word, gripping the hand of the woman who’d been his mainstay through life.

Philippa was all of fifty-five when she died, and had lived through the misfortune of seeing nine of her children die before her. Her husband was devastated and never quite recovered from her death. Soon enough, he would fall under the spell of Alice Perrers, even more so as his mind deteriorated, but in his heart Philippa ruled uncontested. Of that I am sure.

In my latest release, Days of Sun and Glory, I have included a first meeting between the adolescent Edward and a girl who still climbs trees and wears her hair in braids.

9789198324518After supper, the count and Lord Mortimer retired to discuss military matters with the men. Prince Edward scowled as the men left, but when Countess Jeanne invited him and the queen to her apartments, generously including most of Queen Isabella’s retinue as well, he bowed politely and accepted, throwing smouldering looks at his mother.
Entertainment came in the shape of a troubadour, who sang them a selection of verses from the Roman de la Rose, which made Prince Edward shift on his seat while the three unwed Hainaut daughters blushed and tittered.
Fortunately, the troubadour had an ear not only for music, but also for his audience, and he changed to livelier tunes, accompanied by a man on a vielle and an old lady on a guimbarde, and Philippa rose to her feet and danced, graceful and lively. Her sisters followed suit, but it was Philippa the prince followed with his eyes, and when the young girl approached him, he took her hand and allowed her to lead him out to dance.
Afterwards, a flushed prince retired to sit on the window seat.
“Does she please you, my lord?” Kit joined him. The potential future Queen of England was standing on the opposite side of the vaulted room, dark braids framing her face. The child had the most remarkable eyes: large and somewhat almond-shaped, they were the colour of ripe hazelnuts and seemed to glow from within when she looked at the prince.
“What does it matter what I think?” Prince Edward said morosely.
“Your mother is bartering your future for weapons and men,” Kit said with asperity. “It seems only fair that you should end up with a bride you feel some affection for.”
Edward shrugged. “I am a prince. Princes do not marry for love.” He gave her a pained look. “My father never loved my mother. She was a child and he was a man.”
“But you and Lady Philippa are of an age – a far better foundation for a good marriage, don’t you think?” Kit nudged him in the ribs. “She’s quite pretty.”
Prince Edward went the colour of a boiled lobster, while muttering that aye, he thought she was. “She is so…uncomplicated, so sunny,” he continued. “I could do with a sun in my life.”
Kit was tempted to hug him. Poor lad; not quite fourteen and already so disillusioned.
“Well, we all need someone to brighten up our days, don’t we? Tell your mother you want Philippa. Let her sort out the practicalities with the count.”

As you can see – and surely it is not much of a surprise by now – I do believe in love at first sight, even if in this case it was probably more of a puppy love 🙂

Ba, ba, black sheep

wool 50px-PipeandbelldavidI seem to be on a woolly streak of late. First a post about tartan some days back, and today a post about sheep. Well: it’s not about sheep, it’s about wool, and seeing as no sheep equals no wool, that per definition means you cannot talk about one without mentioning the other.

Sheep have a reputation for being incredibly stupid. Not that I can boast of any in-depth relationship with a sheep, but what interaction I’ve had rather indicates that they couldn’t care less about us humans, they’re more into grazing and staring unstintingly at us if we get too close. I can also tell you they weigh a lot. With or without their fleece, lifting a sheep requires serious arm muscle.

Sheep are one of those animals that were domesticated very early on. Originally, mainly as meals-on-hooves, but over time as a source of wool, our forebears having discovered that wool is quite the thing if you want clothing that retains warmth even if it is damp. I imagine those nomads from whom we all descend quite often found themselves at the mercy of the weather, ergo damp clothes were probably a recurring event in their lives.

Wild sheep tend to be brownish. Domesticated sheep quickly went white, seeing as it is far easier to dye white wool brown than brown wool white, if you see what I mean. It was something of a lucky coincidence that white is a dominant trait – at least for our forebears who were doing their first forays into genetics – and so sheep are mostly depicted as being white. Except for the black sheep, that is. The scapegoat, if you will, the one who does not conform. (Incidentally, in Sweden the nursery song is Bä,bä vita lamm – Ba,ba, white lamb. Obviously, us Swedes don’t rate black sheep all that much…)

wool British LibraryAnyway: man ambled about with his sheep, his goats. At some point, man domesticated cows and pigs, and pigs aren’t that much for ambling really. I mean, they like a good day out in the forest eating acorns, but walking long, long distances to graze isn’t quite a piggy thing. Besides, man had discovered how to sow crops, and wheat and stuff does not go walk-about, which is why man eschewed the nomadic existence to instead become a farmer. Well, not all men. Some preferred to hunt and trade their meat for whatever the farmer produced.

Over time, man began amassing wealth. Lots of land was wealth. Lots of sheep, cows, goats were wealth. Lots of wives…yes, also a sign of wealth, but hopefully even that ancient male distinguished between his sheep and his women. And I guess most men weren’t rich enough to have more than one wife, which probably markedly upped the potential for domestic bliss. Women are somewhat possessive when it comes to their men.

1899-43305Civilisation picked up speed, and we’re going to whizz by huge chunks of it, and suddenly we are in medieval England. At the time, sheep were everywhere, one could say. Sheep were the mainstay of English wealth, the English sheep having quite the reputation for their high quality wool. Monasteries financed their human flock by keeping huge flocks of sheep, the man of the manor did the same, the income generated by the wool adding that little extra to a life mostly dominated by a lot of pea-soup and porridge. Wool was used to pay the ransom for Richard Lionheart (50 000 sacks of high-quality wool were put forward to contribute. To put into perspective, approximately 40 000 sacks of wool were exported during the peak years of the wool trade in the 14th century).

Effectively, England was a raw material producer. English sheep were sheared, the fleeces were washed, skirted, picked and bundled and transported abroad where others carded and spun after which the wool thread was woven into high quality cloth by Flemish or Italian weavers. Eventually, some of all this high quality stuff found its way back to England where it was bought by the well-to-do. The added value in this financial operation remained in other than English hands, with Flemish and Italian cloth merchants growing very fat and happy.

wool El_Buen_Pastor

El buen pastor, Murillo (and that’s a Merino)

BUT. No wool, no cloth, no income. Obviously, there was more than English wool around – specifically a lot of Spanish wool. Truth be told, Spain was the leading supplier of high quality wool, even more so since they cross-bred English sheep with their own native breeds in the 12th and 13th century, thereby creating that jewel among sheep, the Merino. Merino wool was of superior quality to anything else on the woolly planet, and prior to the 18th century attempting to smuggle a Merino out of the country was punishable by death. Before Spain “discovered” all that gold in the New World, their primary source of wealth, just as for England, were their sheep.

So imagine you were the purchaser for a Tuscan mill. Off you went to scour the various markets for high quality fleece, and in this case you decided to skip the expensive Spanish stuff and look for a bargain elsewhere. England was full of sheep – and other merchants swooping down to buy up what they could. Chances were you might end up with no wool unless you got there early or offered a premium price. Alternatively, a new approach was needed to ensure constant supply.

The Italians, being a savvy people with an innate aptitude for trade, had already in the early 13th century developed some sort of rudimentary financial market. Initially, it was more a question of advancing money to a farmer with the future crop as collateral, but soon enough these agrarian “futures” spread to other things. Like wool. That monastery out in the wilds really, really needed a new church, but at the rate of their annual income it would take them twenty years to finance it. Enter the creative wool-buyer:
“I tell you what: I’ll advance you the amount you need, and instead you sell me your wool for the coming twenty years at a fixed price.”
“What, all my wool?” the abbot said, and then they’d haggle for a while, before agreeing on fixed quantities and fixed prices.

As a financial professional, I must admit to being quite fascinated by these very early “futures” – goes to show that trade in medieval times was, in its own way, far more innovative than we generally give it credit for. The transactions were documented – several hundreds of these contracts survive, detailing the seller, the buyer, the price and delivery schedules. Advances have been recorded, there are contractual consequences should the seller not deliver, and all in all, these are quite sophisticated financial instruments. I would imagine that in some instances these contracts were sold on, but in general the purpose was not to speculate on the price in wool, but rather safeguard its supply.

Now the English kings were fully aware of how important the wool trade was for their economy. At times, desperate times required desperate measures, which was why in the 1290s Edward I confiscated all the wool from foreign merchants in England. He then sold it again and lined his coffers with the money required to continue his bellicose efforts. Wool was also taxed, creating a nice steady revenue – soft, fluffy stuff financing hauberks and swords, war-steeds and crossbows.

wool Edward_III_of_England_(Order_of_the_Garter)

Edward III, early 15th c depiction

Edward I’s high-handedness was quite the blow to the advance contracts on wool. And in 1337, his grandson, Edward III, attempted to create a wool monopoly, the Wool Company, with designated buyers purchasing all English wool and selling it on as it benefited the crown. Not only did Edward “borrow” the income generated by all this wool to finance his armies, he also took the opportunity of starving the Low Country textile mills of wool, thereby causing substantial unrest and poverty among the former textile workers. This was Edward’s way of punishing the Flemish rulers for their support of the French King in what was soon to escalate to the Hundred Years’ War.

Ultimately, the Wool Company was not successful, but it was definitely the death-knell to the innovative structure of the wool future, seeing as the number of new advance contracts declined sharply afterwards.

wool 07-5376373England’s wool export, however, continued to thrive, and throughout the 14th century wool remained the single most important source of wealth for England, which is why Edward III ordered that his Lord Chancellor should sit on a bale of wool, the “Woolsack”, a constant reminder to all those present that without those little critters that went ba-ba, England would plunge into obscurity and poverty.

These days, Australia is the world’s biggest wool producer, followed by the US, China and New Zealand. Together, they produce 60% of the total world production, while the UK, once such a dominant player, delivers 2% or so. And Spain is no longer on the top-ten list, although indirectly it is, seeing as the Merino remains one of the most important sheep breeds around.

P.S. Should you want to know more about the wool trade and those advance contracts, I recommend “Advance Contracts for the sale of wool in medieval England: an undeveloped and inefficient market?” by Bell, Brooks & Dryburgh (University of Reading)

Never a pawn, ever a queen

Millais 1280px-John_Everett_Millais_-_Isabella

Millais – “Isabella” (question is, which Isabella)

Okay, I can’t resist her any longer. She’s played bit-parts in some recent posts, but today’s protagonist is of the firm conviction she deserves her moment in the limelight – by birth, if nothing else, seeing as the lady in question is rather fond of her bloodlines. So, having been browbeaten into submission, I give you Isabella of France.

Some call her a she-wolf. Towards the end of his reign, her husband probably called her a treacherous, adulterous whore. And as to Isabella, she’d restrict herself to a Gallic shrug and say “I did what I had to do. For my son.” Hmm. Not only for her son…

We shall breeze through Isabella’s early years – no matter that she pouts in protest.
“But my Papa, mes frères?” she demands when it seems I intend to skip her precious Capet family. Sorry, honey: this is not about them, remember? It is about you.(And if you want to read up about her beloved frères, why not stop by here?)
“Ah, oui,” she agrees, shining up like a beacon. So, in summary, Isabella was considered the most beautiful of women, and yes she was splendidly attired when she married Edward II in 1308 at the tender age of twelve, and yes, she was upstaged by Piers Gaveston, Edward’s current male favourite.
“Upstaged?” Isabella sniffs. “Mais non. Piers was fond of me.” As was the king, to some extent. But the king loved Piers, this upstart baron who had the rest of the English nobles gnashing their teeth.

Royal 20 A.II, f.10

Edward II

Very briefly, Piers Gaveston was the second son of a Gascon minor lord. Piers entered Edward’s life when Edward was a young man not yet twenty, and an immediate – and some say unwholesome – affection sprang up between the two men. When Edward became king, he showered Piers with honours and offices, thereby alienating the other barons.
As this post is not about Piers, we will leave him to his fate for now but can conclude that ultimately the royal favourite was executed in June of 1312 – murdered, some would say – at the behest of the the barons led by Thomas of Lancaster.

Edward without Piers was an unhappy man. It was some consolation when Isabella presented him with a son and heir in November of 1312 and the next few years seem to have been good years for Isabella and Edward – she grew into her role as royal consort, and whether or not theirs was a passionate affair, there were more children. Things trundled along, the king never entirely happy with his barons, the barons never entirely taken with their king.

Enter Hugh Despenser, and the relative stability of the realm was a thing of the past. The barons cast but one look at Hugh Despenser – and his father – and shuddered. The Despensers were greedy for wealth, for land, for power, and once Hugh the younger had established himself as the king’s beloved favourite, all he had to do was snap his fingers to have his wishes come true.

At this time – around 1318 – Isabella was no longer a child. She was a mother, a queen, and was seriously disinclined to be shoved into the background by a new male favourite.
Hell hath no fury like a woman scorned,” William Congreve wrote some four centuries after these events, but yes, Isabella felt scorned – and she blamed Hugh Despenser. The barons wholeheartedly agreed, and when the king turned a blind eye to Despenser’s unlawful execution of one of Roger Mortimer’s Welsh clients, a Llewellyn Bren, things came to a head.

EHFA Wheel of fortune

That fickle wheel of fortune…

In 1321, the barons, led by Thomas of Lancaster, Humphrey de Bohun and Roger Mortimer, rebelled. The king was forced to exile his beloved Despenser – both of them. Enraged by this humiliation, the king plotted revenge. Some months later, he had managed to turn the tables on the barons. Mortimer ended up in the Tower, de Bohun and Lancaster ended up dead.

The Despensers were reinstated. The king was overjoyed. Isabella was not. Mortimer managed to escape to France, promising to return and claim what was his. Edward and Hugh shivered in dread at this threat, and England became a dark place where it sufficed with a whispered accusation of being a Mortimer supporter for a man to lose his liberty, if not his life. Isabella became increasingly isolated, living on the fringes of a court dominated by the royal chamberlain, Hugh Despenser.

It is doubtful whether Isabella and Mortimer were in cahoots already at this point in time. In my books, I have taken the liberty of suggesting they were – it makes for a better story – but nothing indicates Isabella had ever been anything but a dutiful wife. It is therefore quite incomprehensible why Edward, on Despenser’s advice, chose to deprive Isabella of her dower lands and the related income. In one move, he had angered and humiliated his wife.

Things took a turn for the worse when the brewing conflict between England and France over Gascony exploded into outright war. It was to a large extent Hugh Despenser’s advocated policies that led to the Gascony situation. It was assuredly because of the Gascony situation that Edward II exiled Isabella’s French retainers, many of whom had been with her since 1308. In doing so, he definitely pushed Isabella into the enemy camp.

There was nothing Isabella could do but bear it. No matter that she was a queen, she had little real power, and even less so when deprived of her income. But she did have her brains – and her looks – and somehow she lulled her husband into believing she had forgiven him – or at least accepted her reduced situation.

In 1325, England decided to treat for peace with France. Edward chose Isabella as his negotiator – as sister to the French king, she was an excellent choice. She was sent over to France with a household handpicked by the king and Despenser and negotiated a peace treaty which called for the English king to do homage for his Gascony lands. “I did my job,” she whispers in my head (yes, she spends a lot of time in my head). “But I vowed never to return to Edward – not unless Despenser was banished.”

Fat chance. Edward was utterly dependent on his beloved Hugh, which was why he listened when Hugh begged him not to go to France but send his eldest son instead. Hugh feared for his life should he be left behind in England. A correct assumption, I believe.

edward 220px-Isabela_Karel_Eda

Isabella, future Edward III and Charles of France

In sending his son, Edward effectively handed Isabella the sword upon which he would eventually fall. The heir to the English throne arrived in France invested with the Duchy of Aquitaine, which in itself generated an important revenue stream. More importantly, the prince’s hand in marriage could be bartered for men and ships. And finally, with the young prince at her side, Isabella could paint a potential invasion as a legitimate venture, intended to release the English from the heavy yoke of the Despensers.

By late 1325 it was evident Isabella had no intention of returning to her husband’s side – or of sending her son home. Instead, she was spending more and more time with Roger Mortimer and rumours began to fly. A match made in heaven, those two: ambitious, intelligent and ruthless when so required. Personally, I am convinced theirs was a relationship built on hot, searing passion – and I’m thinking Mortimer didn’t mind rubbing Edward’s nose in the fact that he was sleeping with the queen.

Some people seem to think Isabella was some sort of pawn. To me, it is apparent Isabella and Mortimer were equal partners – she needed his military expertise, he needed her and the prince to legitimise his actions. Besides, there was that constant, simmering attraction, that which had Mortimer heatedly declaring that he would rather kill her than allow her to return to the king. After all those years with a man who did not set her first, I believe it was a novel and exhilarating experience for Isabella to find herself swept off her feet by the charismatic Mortimer.

By betrothing her son to Philippa of Hainaut, Isabella acquired the ships and men required to invade England. In September of 1326 she landed in Suffolk, declaring that she – and her army – were here on behalf of her son, thereby making Prince Edward complicit in the rebellion that would ultimately cost Edward II his throne. I don’t think the young prince was all that happy about this – in fact, at fourteen he must have been terribly conflicted.

Instead of leading his army to meet the relatively small rebel force, Edward II fled west with Hugh Despenser. Isabella and Mortimer went after, and wherever they went, they were welcomed with open arms, the aggrieved people hoping this would spell the end of the Despenser terror. They rode together, Isabella and Mortimer. Side by side, they led their army in pursuit of the fleeing king.

EHFA 1024px-Bristol1326

Isabella before the walls of Bristol

In October, the queen and her lover arrived in Bristol. The older Hugh Despenser was behind the walls, but after a week he gave up – and was summarily tried and executed. In November of 1326, the king was captured. With him was Hugh Despenser Jr. Edward II was carried off to Kenilworth, Despenser ended up on a gallows in Hereford, dying excruciatingly while Isabella and Mortimer wined and dined in front of him.

Some months later, the king had been forced to abdicate – he’d be declared dead in September of 1327 – Edward III had been crowned, and Isabella and Mortimer confirmed as his regents. Isabella had also ensured she’d been more than compensated for her lost dower lands: her son, the new king, had been “encouraged” to grant her an annual income of 20 000 marks, equal to approximately a third of the total royal income. The lady was, putting it mildly, greedy. Note also that no equivalent grant – or anything even close to it – was made to Mortimer.

EHFA Isabella_and_Roger_Mortimer

Isabella – in armour – with Mortimer and her army

Over the coming years, Isabella and Mortimer did everything together. They travelled together, planned together, ruled together, disappeared for months at a time together. Peace and order was restored to the kingdom, capable administrators appointed throughout the realm. Except, of course, that some barons remained unhappy, chief among them Henry of Lancaster, younger brother to Thomas of Lancaster. Henry felt he deserved the role as regent. Isabella and Mortimer obviously did not agree. In late 1328, Henry rebelled, and quite a few flocked to his banner, disenchanted with the regents’ – and especially Mortimer’s – growing power.

The uprising was put down – ever the kick-ass lady, Isabella donned armour and rode side by side with Mortimer through the night to surprise Henry at his camp at Bedford. Lancaster had no choice but to submit. Mortimer and Isabella showed leniency, fining the participants rather than executing them for treason. It seemed the kingdom had finally found peace.

Except, of course, that the young king had no intention of remaining forever under the control of his mother and her lover. In this matter, Isabella showed a remarkable lack of perceptiveness. She should have recognised her own ambition in her son, seen how the boy grew into a young man – a man determined to be the perfect king, and perfect kings are rarely managed by their mothers.

When Mortimer tricked the king’s uncle, Edmund of Kent, into treachery – which led to Kent’s execution for treason – something snapped in the young King Edward. Partly, I suspect he feared that Mortimer – and loving Mama – had no intention of ever relinquishing their power. Partly, he was enraged at having been played as a pawn in the matter of Edmund. And so, our young king retired to his chambers and began to plot.

As described in a previous post, Isabella and Mortimer were ousted from power in Nottingham – quite the cloak-and-dagger stuff, involving a determined band of conspirators and a secret tunnel. Mortimer was dragged off to face trial and subsequent execution, Isabella was taken to Berkhamstead Castle, there to contemplate her manifold sins – or rather wise up to the fact that her son expected her to return all the lands and incomes she’d appropriated over the last few years. Not being stupid, she did just that – and in return she was granted lands and income equivalent to her dower, which left her more than comfortably off.

At the time of Mortimer’s execution, Isabella was thirty-five. In some aspects, her life was over, but soon enough she was a well-received guest at her son’s court. There must have been dark and dreary days when she missed her lover and the thrilling sense of power, but ultimately Isabella was a pragmatist. She’d had her days in the sun, and such halcyon days came at a price. When she died, in 1358, she chose to be buried in her wedding finery and with Edward IIs purported heart. A repudiation of Mortimer? Not necessarily – but Isabella was a Capet, the daughter of a king, the wife of a king, the mother of a king. Of course she wanted to be buried as a widowed queen!

To close this post without touching upon the fate of Edward II would be like baking a chocolate cake without chocolate. As we all know, Edward supposedly died in September of 1327 – some say murdered by Mortimer (and Isabella). I find it doubtful that Isabella would ever have countenanced murdering her deposed husband – or that Mortimer would have lowered himself to do so. In fact, I am not entirely convinced Edward II did die in 1327 – I am rather fond of the recent theories that indicate he lived abroad for a number of years. If so, maybe Isabella was one of those behind the scheme to smuggle her husband out of England and give him his freedom in return for his oath never to return. Maybe. Or maybe that’s me being romantic again. One of my major faults, they tell me…

A tunnel, a tunnel, a kingdom through a tunnel

Some weeks back, I introduced you to Ralph Stafford, a gentleman (?) notorious for having abducted his second wife, Margaret Audley. When the bride’s parents protested, the king, Edward III, ruled in favour of Ralph. The king, you see, was indebted to Stafford – and to a bunch of other young men – for their role in the events that led to Roger Mortimer being toppled from power.

Edward a_little_prince_likely_in_time_to_bless_a_royal_throne

Edmund B Leighton – I just couldn’t resist it – the proud queen and her son…

I’ve been living in a very close relationship to dear Roger Mortimer for quite some years by now – he is the indirect protagonist of my ongoing series The King’s Greatest Enemy. Accordingly, I’ve also spent quite some time with Edward III, watching him grow from a confused boy torn in two between his parents to a young man seething at having his powers usurped by that damned Mortimer. I am quite fond of both of them, and as to my protagonist Adam de Guirande, he loves them both, which inevitably is going to cause him tremendous heartache and pain.

Anyway: for those of you who do not walk about with a summary of the events 1322 – 1330, a brief recap may be required. In 1322, Roger Mortimer was imprisoned by Edward II for having risen in rebellion against his liege. The expectation was that very soon he’d hang before being disembowelled and quartered. For some reason, Edward II chose not to execute Mortimer, and instead our daring Roger orchestrated an escape from the Tower and fled to France, where he was warmly welcomed by King Charles.

The French king was the brother of Edward II’s wife. Isabella. Poor Isabella had spent the first years of her marriage playing second fiddle to Piers Gaveston, Edward II’s beloved Gascon favourite, and by 1322 she was yet again forced out of the king’s affections by a certain Hugh Despenser. Well, to be correct TWO Hugh Despensers, as there was a father and a son. The Despensers were greedy men. Edward was more than happy to give them what they wanted, trampling roughshod over the rights of his other barons. While the king was fond of the older Hugh, it was the son who claimed the king’s heart, and even if we will never know just how intimate the two men were with each other, it is obvious Edward valued Hugh more than his wife.

Things weren’t helped by the fact that England and France were effectively at war over Gascony. Isabella toed a fine line between loyalty to her husband and loyalty to her brother, and at some point King Edward decided she was not to be trusted, which was why he deprived her of all her incomes, all her dower lands. Major, major faux-pas. If not before, this high-handedness definitely pushed Isabella over into the enemy camp, at present an ever growing collection of disgruntled English barons headed by the charismatic and capable if exiled Roger Mortimer.

Edward III tribute-of-edward-iii-to-philip-1460The Gascony situation went from bad to worse – Isabella’s uncle, Charles de Valois, crushed the English troops – and Edward realised he needed to negotiate some sort of peace or lose his French lands. Suggestions were made that he send Isabella. Edward was not entirely comfortable with this – he was no fool, however incompetent a king he was, and he knew his wife had not forgiven him for taking her lands away from her. Still; Isabella was a wise choice and in 1325 off she went, Edward first having assured himself Mortimer was nowhere close to the French court.

Isabella negotiated a peace treaty, and all that needed to be done was for Edward to come to France and do homage. Hugh Despenser panicked at the thought of being left alone in England with the king away in France. He feared (probably quite correctly) that the barons would take the opportunity of murdering him. Instead, he convinced the king to send his young heir, Edward of Windsor, to France. Hmm. Yet again, the king was doubtful, and he spent days and weeks mulling this over. In the end, Hugh’s pleading won the day, so Edward II had his son made Duke of Aquitaine and sent him over to France and his waiting mother. He was never to see his son again.

EHFA Isabella_and_Roger_MortimerMeanwhile Queen Isabella and Roger Mortimer had joined forces. Well, to be quite correct, they joined more than forces, engaging in a passionate love affair that had the sheets sizzling and the entire French court gossiping. Two handsome, intelligent and determined people formed a pact to see England rid of the yoke of the Despensers, and once Prince Edward had joined them, they had the wherewithal with which to do it.

Prince Edward was betrothed to Philippa of Hainault. This was to prove a happy and succesful marriage, but at the time it was an expedient move, pledging the prince’s hand in marriage in return for the ships and men required to invade England. What Prince Edward thought of all this is unknown. What his father thought is somewhat more well-known. He wrote his son several letters in which he ordered him to return home and act the dutiful son. Except, of course, that Queen Isabella had no intention of allowing her son to leave…

Isabella BNMsFr2643FroissartFol97vExecHughDespenserIn 1326, Queen Isabella returned to England accompanied by her son and her lover. In a matter of weeks, all resistance crumbled, and in November of 1326 Mortimer and Isabella had the distinct pleasure of watching Hugh Despenser’s agonising death while partaking of a light meal. The king was imprisoned, obliged to abdicate, and come February 1327 England had a new king, the fourteen-year-old Edward III. Some months later, his father was purportedly dead, his funeral a magnificent affair in Gloucester.

Obviously, the boy king couldn’t rule on his own. Obviously, the self-evident choice of regents were Isabella and Mortimer. Well; as per Isabella and Mortimer. Others did not agree. Henry of Lancaster proposed himself as regent, and the young king’s uncles, Edmund of Kent and Thomas of Norfolk, also wanted a say. Not about to happen. Isabella trusted Mortimer and no one else, and soon enough the lovers had the kingdom under their thumbs. Note the plural – their thumbs. Isabella was no meek woman, she was an equal partner in this great endeavour.

Isabella w Hugh D the eder & Earl of ArundelThe barons weren’t all that much happier under Isabella and Mortimer than they’d been under Despenser. Not so much due to misuse of power – Mortimer set up an efficient administration and returned the rule of law to the kingdom – as due to the fact that it was the queen mother and her lover who held both reins and purse-strings. There were some rebellions, and in March 1330 the king’s uncle, Edmund of Kent was accused of treason and executed. Kent clearly believed the former king was very much alive, which begs the question if maybe he was.

King Edward couldn’t forgive the execution of his uncle. Besides, in June of 1330 he became a father, and all of him itched to be rid of his regents. And so the tunnel plot came into being, although I seriously doubt anyone called it the tunnel plot.

Main players in this were Ralphie boy, Sir William Montagu, Robert Ufford and a number of other men who all had that in common that they were the young king’s men, not Mortimer’s. At the time, Mortimer had surveillance on all of them, and as he feared something was a foot he subjected some of them to intense questioning, Montagu among them. It was but a matter of time before Mortimer found sufficient evidence to lock them all up – or execute them – which was why Montagu urged that they “bring the dog down before it bites us all”. There was unanimous consent among the plotters. Time was ripe.

The setting for the planned overthrow was Nottingham Castle, known as one of the strongest and most impregnable castles in the kingdom. Well, except for the tunnel, that is.

In October of 1330, Parliament was convened in Nottingham. At the time, the Mortimer-King Edward relationship was strained – it had been ever since Earl Edmund had died back in March. King Edward’s relationship with his mother was not much better – I imagine what we have here is a mother refusing to acknowledge her son is an adult, not so much because she wanted to constantly tweak his childish chubby cheeks but because she rather liked being in control.

Nottingham Castle was a huge complex, but with all the people staying there to attend Parliament, things were a bit cramped, and most of Mortimer’s men were given lodgings in the outer wards. The king and his boon companions were present, but on this particular October evening the king complained of feeling ill. He retired to his rooms alone – well, as alone as a medieval monarch ever was. Mortimer, Queen Isabella, the bishop of Lincoln and a few others repaired to Mortimer’s rooms, situated at a convenient distance from that secret tunnel.

Now, before we go any further, I must clarify that I seriously doubt Mortimer would not have been aware of a secret passage. He was nothing if not a meticulous man. Thing is, the passage had doors both ends, and these were always kept locked. Mortimer could not know that Montagu et al had managed to find a keyholder and oblige this young man to unlock the doors.

Mortimer 008

19th century depiction of Mortimer being taken

Things quieted down. From Mortimer’s chambers came the odd laugh, the sound of voices in deep discussion. From the door behind which was the tunnel came a squeak. One by one, the plotters emerged, swords at the ready. One of Mortimer’s men saw and attempted to raise the alarm, but it was too late. The door to Mortimer’s rooms were kicked open and in swarmed the determined young men. Mortimer’s long-time squire Richard de Monmouth threw himself in front of his lord in a desperate attempt to save him. Richard died. Mortimer made for his sword. Queen Isabella screamed for help.  How she screamed! Over and over she screamed, while her lover was overpowered and bound.

Despite Isabella’s screams, no help was forthcoming. Instead, a gagged Mortimer was dragged out of the room. They were never to see each other again. Isabella was carried off to Berkhamstedt Castle. Mortimer was hauled down the secret passage and hoisted onto a horse. Moments later, they were on their way, making for London. The king rode with them, and in Leicester he was all for hanging Mortimer on the spot, but was convinced it was best to have him face a trial by his peers.

On November 26, 1330, a gagged Mortimer was brought into Westminster Hall and accused of a long list of crimes, among which figured murdering the previous king. Hmm. Unable to defend himself, he was found guilty – well, chances are he’d have been found guilty anyway – and hanged. Twenty-four years later, his conviction was overturned – a bit late in the day, one would think.

Queen Isabella made her peace with her son and lived out the rest of her days as the perfect widow. Who she truly grieved for – her husband or her lover – we will never know. My bet is on Roger, the man who for some years encouraged her to soar, fly as high as she wished. Unfortunately, both Roger and his Isabella had forgotten the story of Icarus. Fly too close to the sun, and chances are you will crash and burn.

Edward III Siege of Berwick 1333

King Edward went on to become one of the more capable of English kings. Determined to be a better king than his father, he never fell under the sway of a favourite – well, except as an old man when his mistress Alice Perrers called the shots.

And as to Montagu, Stafford, Ufford and all the rest, they went on to become successful magnates. And one of them, as we know, became filthy rich through abducting his (much younger) wife. Details, schmetails, the king felt. His loyal Ralph could do no wrong and besides, maybe the bride wanted to be abducted. Hmm. Double hmm.

Taking matters (or her) in his own hands

Stafford_1430Today, I’d like you to meet Ralph Stafford. I will come clean right from the start and say that I am in two minds about this gentleman, but I’m guessing my opinion is pretty irrelevant to a man who has been dead 600 years and counting. It’s not as if dissing him on FB is an option…

Ralph was born around the turn of the 14th century, the son of a minor baron. Essentially, our man of the day is famous for two things: he was an active participant in the tunnel plot which led to Roger Mortimer’s arrest and subsequent execution in 1330, thereby allowing Edward III to finally begin ruling in his own name, and he had a most unconventional approach to finding himself a bride.

The tunnel plot we will return to in another post (think nervous young men, a tunnel under Nottingham Castle, smoking torches, and the certainty that if they failed, they’d all be dead come morning), so today we shall take a look at Ralph Stafford, the not-so-subtle seducer.

Ralph was, as stated above, the son of a minor nobleman. Yes, he was titled, but he didn’t quite have the means to go splashing about as nobles of the day were expected to do. Ralph had to be careful with his income, and in a court headed by King Edward III, by all accounts a young man who was rather fond of dressing grandly, it was hard to keep up.
Plus, of course, a nobleman needed horses and servants and armour – and a wife.

In 1326, Ralph married his first wife, a Katherine Hastings of which we know little beyond her name and the fact that she gave Ralph two daughters before passing away. Obviously, under such circumstances it was expected the relatively young Baron Stafford would marry again – if nothing else to produce a male heir.

Edward III Siege of Berwick 1333

Ralph’s career was helped by his involvement in the tunnel plot. King Edward was grateful to the men who had rid him off the Mortimer yoke, and Stafford was given ample opportunity to put his best foot forward, which he did both in the king’s various Scottish campaigns but also as an ambassador abroad, accompanying senior nobleman Hugh de Audley on various occasions.

Hugh de Audley was the former brother-in-law to Hugh Despenser – Edward II’s favourite who to some extent caused the conflict that led to Edward II being deposed and replaced by his son (with proud mama Queen Isabella and Roger Mortimer taking over the day-to-day ruling). Hugh’s wife, Margaret de Clare, was one of three sisters to Gilbert de Clare, Earl of Gloucester, who died at Bannockburn. In one fell swoop, the de Clare sisters (or their husbands) became filthily rich – albeit that Lord Despenser, married to Eleanor de Clare, did his best to hog the lion’s share.

By the time Ralph entered Hugh’s orbit, Despenser was long since dead and Margaret de Clare had been assigned a fair share of her patrimony, making Hugh a very rich man. The Hugh and Margaret marriage had resulted in one child, yet another Margaret, who was born in 1320 or thereabouts. Margaret junior was therefore a VERY rich and eligible heiress. Plus, as an extra layer of icing to this already quite irresistible cake, through her mother she was the great-granddaughter of Edward I.

At the time, Ralph remained a relatively poor Lord Stafford. He was close to twenty years Margaret’s senior, and yet he was so smitten he upped and abducted her in 1336. Question, of course, is was he smitten with her, or her money?

ISOTS launch Redgirl_and_knight01

..not the way it was?

Now, I’m hoping it wasn’t only about the money. Yes, yes, I know: it just goes to show I’m an incorrigible romantic, but still. I’m hoping he liked the way she laughed, or that she found him gallant and handsome despite him being as old as 35. Maybe there was something about his eyes that made her blush, or perhaps it was the curve of her hips that had him thinking of beds and pillows. Not only about the money, despite her being worth ten times as much as him.

The fact that Ralph had to resort to abducting his bride indicated Hugh de Audley had other plans for his precious daughter. With her lineage and money, she’d attract suitors like a queen bee does drones, and Hugh was probably thinking minimum an earl. Instead, that uppity Stafford took it upon himself to steal her away – his precious Maggie, in the arms of a bride-snatcher! Hugh threw a hissy-fit. So did his wife. Off they stormed to see the king and demand redress.

At the time, having abducted Margaret – and I imagine he would also have made sure he’d bedded her – Ralph had the upper hand: the de Audley daughter was spoiled goods, and the parents had little choice but to bow to the inevitable and allow them to wed. But their pride was smarting, besides which they may have been genuinely concerned for their poor daughter, especially if there were none of the romance ingredients I hoped for above. After all, it happened now and then that women were forcibly abducted and ashamed into marrying men they definitely did not want. (Like poor Alice de Lacy)

The king, however, would not hear one cross word against his trusted Ralph. Instead, he advocated ensuring the happy couple was married as soon as possible. Seeing as Edward was happily married to his Philippa, I am hoping he’d not have reached such a conclusion without verifying the bride was not totally adverse, but who knows…

Hugh blustered. He cursed. His wife wept and begged. The king insisted this was for the best, and so as to sweeten this unpalatable situation, he made Hugh de Audley an Earl, investing in him the title of Earl of Gloucester, dormant since Gilbert de Clare’s rather unnecessary if gallant death at Bannockburn.
“An earl?” Hugh de Audley said. “Me, Sire?”
“Assuredly you!” Edward clapped him on the shoulder. “A good man, a trusted servant – and a soon to be father-in-law to my very, very dear friend Ralph.”
“Oh.” Hugh looked at his wife, back at the king. “An earl, you say?”
The king inclined his head to Margaret. “Earl of Gloucester, in honour of your wife’s illustrious ancestors.”
Margaret beamed – until she recalled she shouldn’t be beaming, she should be most aggrieved, what with her poor daughter and all that.

ISOTS pic 2And so, in 1336 Margaret de Audley was married to Ralph Stafford. Our formerly borderline poor nobleman was now among the wealthier men in the land – and he had a wife who would go on to give him eight children. I take that as some sort of proof they were at least tolerably happy with each other.

Ralph was to become wealthy in his own right. As one of the king’s most trusted men, he was given several lucrative positions – plus the war in France gave ample opportunities for rich ransoms. And in 1350, Ralph himself was elevated to Earl of Stafford, a title his descendants would hold on to until, some years down the line, his great-grandson took yet another leap upwards and became the first Duke of Buckingham. Two generations further down, and the then Duke of Buckingham was beheaded for treason in 1483 – but that, as they say, is an entirely different story.

Post Navigation

%d bloggers like this: