Monks and friars and how to tell them apart

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I used to work in an area of London called Blackfriars. It took its name from the monks of the priory built there in 1276. The Black Friars were Dominicans and wore black habits. There were other monks who were white friars, as well as Benedictines and Cluniacs and others, and I have never been able to come to grips with the differences between the various monastical orders. I wasn’t even sure that there were differences.

Since a character in my work in progress is a monk, it seemed like a good idea to work out what kind of monk he was and, perhaps, get all the different varieties sorted out. There appeared to have been a huge number of different kinds of monks wandering around fourteenth century England, but it’s even more complicated than I thought.

There were essentially two types of monks – those who lived in monasteries and those who did not. The members of the monastical orders lived in monasteries and very rarely left them after they had entered them (although it might be more accurate to say that they were not supposed to leave them). The monasteries were often large and usually owned great swathes of land. Some monks were also friars, who did not live in a monastery. We’ve all heard of Friar Tuck roaming the countryside with Robin Hood; he was a member of one of these orders. Friars belonged to mendicant orders. In the fourteenth century there were four monastical orders and four mendicant orders. The mendicant orders had no great houses and the monks lived on the alms of people who wanted to help them. They were, essentially, beggars. These were the preaching orders, usually working to convince people to give up the various heresies that threatened to overwhelm the church in the Middle Ages. When the inquisition was formed, many of its members were Dominicans, from one of these preaching orders. Many parish priests resented the mendicant monks, because they took money that the priests thought could be better used by them in their parishes. Others found it hard to accept monks who did not live up to the monastic ideal of entering a community and not leaving it again. Despite their members living as beggars, these orders eventually became very wealthy.

Monasticism has its roots in the desert monks of the fourth century. Christians in North Africa left the towns to live as hermits in the desert so that they could pray and study. They became known as particularly holy men and people would visit them in the hope that they would learn something, or that the holiness would rub off on them. Some of these visitors would become disciples of the hermits and monastic communities were born.  One such community gathered around St Benedict in the sixth century and he formalised the way in which the members should live together in his Rule. Monks were to pray and work together. Over time it became accepted that the prayers of simple monks had value and the monasteries were given money so that their inhabitants would pray for the donors.

Monks in monastic orders generally followed some form of the Benedictine Rule. The Benedictines were the oldest order, but later monks thought they had become corrupt and there were a series of reformations, which brought about the other three orders. These were the Cistercians, Carthusians and Cluniacs.

Books were produced in monasteries and this was often the sole labour of the monks and the Rule said that they were supposed to work. They would spend their time when not in church sitting at desks in the cloisters of the monastery copying out books.

Monasteries were often pilgrimage sites, because they often held relics of saints. Pilgrims came to visit the shrine holding the relic expecting miracles and left gifts behind.

Due to the communal nature of their lives, almost two thirds of the members of monastic orders in England died during the Black Death. Some monasteries never recovered. Rievaulx in Yorkshire had once held over 400 monks, by 1381 there were only 18.

By the fourteenth century monks were increasingly treated with suspicion. They came to be seen more as wealthy landowners who behaved in the same way as other wealthy landowners than as men who prayed. During the Peasants’ Revolt in 1381, monks and their churches were as much targets of attack as the property of wealthy and unpopular men like John of Gaunt. The Archbishop of Canterbury was killed.

By the sixteenth century the monasteries were easy prey for Henry VIII. Many monasteries were too small to continue effectively and others had departed so far from the rule that the monks were bad examples to the people around them. Most monasteries were dissolved,  with the Crown taking their land. The buildings themselves either fell into ruin or became the homes of wealthy middle class men. I can never read Emma without thinking that Donwell Abbey was once a place where monks prayed for their fellow men.

 

 

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Books about the Black Prince

Whilst this blog is primarily to record my own research, I acknowledge that some of its readers might be interested in the resources I use for that research. If you’re on Goodreads you can see my library, or at least as much of it as I’ve been able to record there, as well as what I’m reading at the moment.

Today my medieval shelf contains over 100 books, which rather explains why I’m running out of space for books in the house. I’ve read few of them from cover to cover, but I’ve dipped into most of them.

Since I’ve written a number of posts about the Black Prince, or Edward of Woodstock, Prince of Wales and Aquitaine, I thought I’d start with some of the books that I’ve read about him.

 

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I reviewed this book here. It’s very useful, not just because it recounts as many of the details of the Prince’s life as are known, but because it also has some interesting details about the Hundred Years’ War.

 

 

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Barber has collected source material including campaign diaries, letters and Chandos Herald’s Life of the Black Prince in one place. Only one of these is written by the Prince himself. It is a letter that he wrote to his wife after the battle of Nájera. This gives useful insights into what people of the time thought about events, even if much of it was written for propaganda purposes.

 

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This book examines aspects of the Prince’s life in relation to events or ideas in the fourteenth century. These themes include politics, the Hundred Years’ War, the Black Death and religious heresy. It’s not a particularly useful book if you’re interested in the life of the Prince, but it does have some interesting things to say about the times in which he lived.

 

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In death, as in life, Joan of Kent is always associated with the men in her life, in this case her third and last husband. This, together with the books listed above and a couple of others, was the main source of my recent series of posts about Joan of Kent.

This is a worthy attempt at a biography of a woman about whom very little is known. There is more information available about her three husbands and her sons than there is about her, so much of this book is speculation and you might not necessarily agree with the conclusions that Lawne comes to.

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Let The Sweet Smell Of Incense Rise Up

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I was recently writing a scene in a novel in which the main character appears to become unwell during mass.  His worried friends cast around for reasons why he might not be himself and one of them suggests incense as the cause, as it’s some time since he has attended mass. Then I had the dreadful thought: would there have been incense during mass in Calais in 1367? A lot of my research  (and these posts) starts in this way.

Incense was in use long before the fourteenth century in the Middle East and is recorded in the Bible, both in the Old and the New Testaments. It was used in the Temple in Jerusalem and was one of the gifts brought by the magi to Jesus in St Matthew’s Gospel. In the book of Numbers Aaron and Moses used it stop a plague, and people hoped that it would have the same effect during the Black Death and later plagues. It is a spice or gum that gives off a sweet smell when burned. This is usually achieved by placing it on burning charcoal.

The use of incense in the western church is recorded from the sixth century. The smoke as it rises up symbolises the prayers of the earthbound parishioners rising up to Heaven and the sweet smell represents the sweetness of those prayers to God.

These days, if we’re used to the idea of incense in church at all, it’s usually as dispensed via a small hand-held thurible, or censer. These are usually shaped like a ball and made of metal, with perforations to allow the smoke to escape. There is a lid through which the charcoal and incense can be inserted. Thuribles hang on chains which the thurifer holds. The thurifer is the name of the acolyte or altar server who holds the thurible. When the thurifer swings the thurible the smoke, with its attendant smell, is released. Fourteenth century thuribles were very similar, although some were much more elaborate. Rather than being spherical some were representations of churches and the perforations were in the shape of windows.

Perhaps the best-known thurible in the world is the huge one in Santiago de Compostela cathedral – the Botafumeiro. Botafumeiro is Galician for thurible. These days the Botafumeiro is 1.6m tall and looks like a very large urn. It’s suspended on ropes from the ceiling of the cathedral and it takes 8 men to set it in motion. You can see a video of it here. The current censer dates from the nineteenth century, but (smaller) censers have been swung from the ceiling here since the eleventh century, according to tradition. Millions of pilgrims must have been awed by the sight over the years, but that’s a story for another post.

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You Can’t Take It With You

Medieval coin

Recently, on the recommendation of a fellow history blogger, Toutparmoi, I read The White Company by Sir Arthur Conan Doyle. It’s about a group of mercenaries (the eponymous White Company) who, in 1367, go to fight in Spain with the Black Prince under the command of Sir Nigel Loring, who had whole book by Doyle to himself. In reality in 1367 the White Company was led by Sir John Hawkwood and was fighting in Italy, but why should facts spoil a good story.

Long before the hero gets to Spain, something occurred in the novel that gave me pause. One of the mercenaries had come to England to recruit new soldiers and he stayed at an inn in the New Forest.  When he went on his way the next day, he left all his worldly goods, which were quite substantial, in the care of the innkeeper. What a daft thing to do, I thought. They won’t be there when he gets back. But they were.

A couple of weeks after I finished the book I was reading about inns in the Middle Ages and it seemed that Doyle had done his research. Travellers did indeed leave things at inns to be retrieved later. Inns were also used by merchants to store their goods as they were transported from one place to another.

Some towns had public warehouses, where goods could be stored while their owners were elsewhere or while they were waiting for transport. Where these warehouses were not available, goods could be left in certain inns. Innkeepers would not only store goods, but could be trusted to act as part of the supply chain, sending goods on the next part of their journey.

Obviously this did not apply to all innkeepers. Some could not be trusted as far as they could be thrown, but merchants built up a network of inns all across Europe, whose owners could be trusted not to steal or cheat or collude with local officials.

These were wealthy innkeepers. They might have to hold onto the goods for some time, waiting for ships, boats, carts or horses to come through to take the goods on the next stage of the journey, and they needed capital in order to do all this. Storing and sending the goods on could involve them paying tolls and taxes, dealing with officials, and organising and paying carriers. These were often innkeepers who had either become wealthy initially in other trades or were inherently trustworthy, such as priests or notaries.

Some innkeepers acted as brokers, introducing parties who had need of one another. Others helped foreigners change money into the local currency, or other currencies if they had the means. In some towns, the inns were owned by moneychangers and coins were constantly being carried back and forth to make sure that merchants and other visitors could change currencies. Where they were not owned by moneychangers these inns would have close relationships with bankers, so that they could have available the range of currencies required.

In some places the inns were also near other ‘facilities’ required by travellers and merchants. Southwark, a town on the other side of the Thames to London, was where the roads from the Channel ports and Canterbury met before crossing the river. It was renowned for its brothels and bathhouses for centuries.

Travelling in the Middle Ages might have been more complicated than I thought.

 

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When is a clandestine wedding not a secret wedding?

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As demonstrated by the life of Joan of Kent, clandestine marriages were not always invalid marriages, nor were they solely the province of the lower classes. Joan had two clandestine marriages: one to Thomas Holland and the other to Edward of Woodstock, the Prince of Wales. Joan’s difficulty with establishing the validity of the first shows in part why the church frowned on them and tried to stamp them out.

The church had been trying for centuries to control marriages, but all that was needed for a valid marriage was for the two people concerned to say to one another that they were married. There were other conditions, of course. They could not be too closely related, as in the case of Joan and the Prince, and they could not already be married to someone else. They did not need to be married inside a church or by a priest, nor did the marriage need to be recorded officially.

Clandestine marriages were not necessarily secret, although that was so in Joan’s case. The marriage vows themselves were often made publicly. Clandestine simply meant that there was no public betrothal and no solemnisation. The public betrothal allowed anyone who had an objection to the marriage to make it before the wedding itself took place. The church wanted couples to be married with a priest in attendance. The idea was not that the priest married them, for the couple did that themselves when they made their vows to one another. They were not even married inside the church. If the couple were having a ‘church wedding’ it took place in the church porch, with the couple only going inside if a nuptial mass was to be celebrated. If they were not getting married in front of a priest, they could be married anywhere they chose.

Clandestine marriages had the disadvantage that, most often, only the couple themselves knew that it had taken place and either of them could say that there had been no marriage (or claim that they were married to someone when they were not). It happened frequently that a woman would have sexual intercourse with a man she believed to be her husband, only to have him repudiate the marriage later, usually if she became pregnant. This was the course that Joan of Kent’s relatives urged her to take when she told them that she was married to Thomas Holland. She had been young, only twelve at the time, and impressed by an older man (he was probably about twenty-four), but Joan insisted that, not only had the marriage taken place, but that it had also been consummated. It was also not unknown for a woman whose marriage prospects were slim to claim that she was married to a man who had made no such promises.

There were many discussions in the medieval church, as well as in legal circles, about what constituted marriage. Was it the promising to one another of the two people concerned? Was it the consummation? Was it the living together after both of these? In the end it came down to the promising to one another of two people able to do so, which was why it was so difficult to eradicate clandestine marriages.

 

 

 

 

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The Medieval Hall

 

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Save for the lowliest, all fourteenth century houses and castles had a hall. This was the largest space in the house and, in larger houses and castles, was built to impress. They were high and long. The walls would often be painted with secular or religious images. In richer buildings they would be covered in tapestries, which served to decorate the room, to keep it warm and to demonstrate the owner’s wealth. Although built much later, Henry VIII’s Great Hall at Hampton Court is a wonderful example of this. Amazingly, Henry’s hall was for his household, not for him.

The hall was the heart of the house and served many purposes. Meals were eaten there. In great houses the lord, his family and the most important members of his household would sit at table on a raised platform with everyone else arranged on lower tables in order of precedence.

Meals were taken at what were essentially trestle tables and the household sat on benches. These were easily put away after meals and the servants slept on the floor of the hall. Most fourteenth century furniture was capable of being taken apart and moved.

In many houses the floors were made of beaten earth covered in rushes. Much thought has been given by historians and archaeologists to how the rushes were arranged, since they were probably not just strewn about on the floor. There is an interesting discussion about it in the Secrets of the Castle DVD which I reviewed here. I’m not sure how the solution posited by Ruth Goodman would work in a large hall, though. She tied the rushes together in bundles, which seemed to work well in a tiny, single-roomed dwelling. It’s difficult to see how effective it would have been when people were walking over them every day. Another theory is that the rushes were woven into mats and placed on the floor. In the homes of the wealthy, the floors would be made of stone or tiles, depending on which materials were available locally. The Secrets of the Castle DVD also has an informative section about making tiles.

The hall was also the place where the evening’s entertainment took place. Once it was dark, very little work could take place outside, so everyone was more or less confined to the house. Tales would be told, usually well-remembered stories or tales of people’s own experiences from wars, travels and pilgrimages. In wealthier houses the stories would be read aloud from books. Other forms of entertainment were singing, music, dancing, table-top games and gambling, depending on the season of the year.

In houses where there was no solar, the family would use the hall for their daytime occupations. For women this would mean sewing, spinning or weaving. The men were more likely to be outside during the day, training to fight, hunting or attending to their business.

The photograph at the top of the post is the Medieval Merchant’s House in Southampton. It’s a fairly modest house and includes a shop, but at its centre it has a hall. The hall takes up both stories of the house and a gallery runs between the front and back bedrooms on the first floor. Halls were high because, in the days before fireplaces became common, there would be an open fire in the middle of the room, and the height allowed the smoke to rise away from the occupants.

The owner’s wealth would be on display in the hall. This could take the form of expensive furniture or furnishings, but was usually made up of plate.

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Edward III: King of England, King of France Part 2

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In 1328 Edward III had claimed the French crown, but his claim was rejected. It was not forgotten. He spent most of the 1330s demonstrating to his barons that he was capable of ruling his own kingdom. He had to show that he was no longer influenced by his mother and that he was not like his father.

His first step was to punish very few of those who had rebelled against his father. Only two men were executed when Edward led the coup that won him his kingdom in 1330 – Roger Mortimer, his mother’s lover and the instigator of the rebellion, and Simon Bereford, Mortimer’s henchman. Edward had to be very careful when dealing with those who had helped to depose his father. He needed the support of his barons, many of whom had supported Isabella and Mortimer. He learned not to be vindictive and to punish only those he could not use.

Then he dealt with the humiliating and unpopular peace treaty with Scotland that had been made in his name. This was the ‘Shameful Peace’ negotiated by Queen Isabella and Mortimer in 1328. He did this by going to war against the Scots. This also served to show that he was a very good soldier. His first victory against the Scots was at Halidon Hill in 1333. This campaign was so successful that he was able to replace the Scottish king, the child, David II, with a claimant to the crown who pleased him more, despite the fact that his ten-year-old sister was married to the king. David was taken into exile in France. France and Scotland were allies and Philippe VI eagerly espoused the young king’s cause as another reason to take on and destroy Edward III.

As well as being king of England, Edward III was also duke of Aquitaine, the last remnants of the Plantagenet empire that had stretched from the border with Scotland in the north to the Pyrenees in the south and sprawled across France. His ancestors had ruled more of France than the king of France himself. All that remained of this in the 1330s was Aquitaine. Despite its diminution in size, the duchy was coveted by French kings. Most of the Atlantic ports on the French coast were in English hands. Due to its wine trade, Aquitaine was rich. In order to retain Aquitaine its duke was supposed to swear allegiance to the king of France and promise not to bear arms against him. The kings of England had never been happy about doing this and the situation had become even more difficult since Philippe had become king. Edward III could hardly pay homage to the man he later called ‘the usurper’.

Edward II had more or less banned tournaments. He did not take part himself and feared them as gathering points for those who opposed him. His son participated as much as he could and held tournaments to celebrate important occasions – the births and marriages of his children, St George’s day, victories over his enemies. He performed bravely in tournaments, demonstrating his valour to his barons. This was important, because tournaments were training grounds for soldiers.

In 1337 Philippe confiscated Gascony on the grounds that Edward III was giving refuge to his mortal enemy. Robert d’Artois was Philippe’s cousin and brother-in-law and had gone into exile in England after a quarrel with the king. Philippe demanded his return and Edward refused to comply.

By 1337 Edward III was ready to make his claim for the French crown with force and he did so, but it was really a sleight of hand designed to distract Philippe from Gascony. It wasn’t until 1340 that he began to call himself King of France. He adopted a new coat of arms, which showed the three lions of the king of England quartered with the fleur-de-lis of the king of France. The three lions have been the arms of the kings and queens of England since the late 12th century and have not changed since the reign of Richard I. Edward III was the first to add to them, but it has been done many times since.

The fleur-de-lis was first used by French kings as a symbol of saintliness on their coronation robes in the 12th century and it became part of the royal arms in the 13th century.

In 1359 Edward began a campaign in France that was designed to have him crowned king in Rheims cathedral. Although it failed to achieve its stated aim, it led to the Treaty of Brétigny, which increased the size of Aquitaine in return for Edward’s giving up his claim to the crown of France. Although his great-grandson, Henry V, took the claim seriously, eventually winning the crown for his son, Edward III was always more interested in safeguarding Aquitaine than in becoming king of France.

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Now out – The Heart That Wins

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The third part of the Regency Spies trilogy is now available. The Heart That Wins takes place around the Battle of Waterloo.

In early 1815 it seems that the war with Bonaparte is over, but Sophia Arbuthnot is not so sure. When she learns that the exiled Emperor is about to reclaim his throne, she flees to Paris where she meets the man whose proposal of marriage she rejected two years before.

Captain John Warren has fought his way from Spain to Paris in an effort to put Sophia behind him, but now he has to face up to the choices he made as a boy. Before things can be resolved between them, they both have to face up to the choices that they made and confront the French spy who is working against them. Can first love have a second chance?

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Edward III: King of England, King of France Part One

Edward III and the garter

 

All of my novels set in the fourteenth century take place during the Hundred Years War and the war itself influences the stories. In The Traitor’s Daughter Hugh and Alais meet during a French raid on Southampton. Richard in His Ransom is taken prisoner at Poitiers and sent to England until his ransom can be raised, and thus meets Rosamunde. In The Winter Love Henry finds Eleanor in order to fulfil a promise to a brother-in-arms who fell at Poitiers. All, except the first, take place later in the war in the 1350s. The events in The Traitor’s Daughter occur when the war had barely begun in 1338. The war was, to all intents and purposes, to support Edward III’s claim to the French throne, which was made and denied in 1328. Why did it take almost 10 years for Edward to make his claim with force? First, we’ll look at the basis of Edward’s claim to the French crown.

Edward III’s mother Isabella was the daughter of Philippe IV of France. When Philippe died in 1314, the eldest of Isabella’s three brothers, Louis, became king, but a scandal perpetrated by Isabella had an effect on the continuing succession.

In 1313 Isabella had been visiting her family in France and gave purses to her sisters-in-law and her brothers. Later she saw two of the purses being carried by two Norman knights. The conclusion that she came to was that her brothers’ wives were involved in adulterous affairs with the men and she told her father. The two women were tried and imprisoned for life, while their lovers were executed.  There was a papal interregnum at the time, so the marriages could not be annulled. Louis’ wife was one of the two and she died shortly after being imprisoned. Rumours were rife that she had been murdered, since he remarried within days. He died a few months later, leaving the succession in doubt, since his wife was pregnant. His heir was born five months after Louis’ death, but lived for only five days.

Despite the claims of Louis’ daughter, Jeanne, to the crown, Isabella’s middle brother, Philippe, became king (Philippe V). Philippe said that his niece was too young (she was four), that she was illegitimate (she was the daughter of Louis’ first wife) and, most important for his nephew, Edward of Windsor, that women could not inherit the French crown. It was not a foregone conclusion that Jeanne would not become queen, however. If she had been an adult or married, she would have been able to gather some support. As it was, such support as she had drifted away quickly. Philippe had a forceful personality and a large army. He had himself crowned as soon as he could.

Although Philippe’s wife had been implicated in the scandal along with his sisters-in-law, she was acquitted of adultery, and was his queen throughout his reign. They had daughters, but no sons, and when Philippe died, his younger brother Charles became king. Given what had happened with Jeanne, there was no suggestion that any of Philippe’s daughters should become queen. What was still undecided was whether or not the crown could be inherited through the female line.

Charles IV had three wives, but only managed to produce one daughter.  When Charles died in 1328 it seemed obvious to Edward III and his mother that he, as the closest in line to his grandfather, Philippe IV, should become king of France. Isabella pushed her son forward, but her cousin Philippe de Valois was crowned king.

The main reason why the French rejected Edward III’s claim was, of course, because he was English. With a French mother, he probably saw himself as more French than English. French was his mother tongue, as it was for all his barons; he was Duke of Aquitaine; and his ancestors had controlled more of France than the king of France. The French, however, saw him as English. Unlike Philippe de Valois, he had played no part in French politics and had no influence in the country, other than in Aquitaine.

There were other disadvantages for Edward, mainly in the form of his mother. She was a scandal and had rebelled against the rightful king of England, her husband. Since she controlled her young son (he was only 16), she would have power in France and there were fears that she might use it in the same way that she had in England. It was decided, therefore, that if a woman could not inherit the crown, the crown could not pass through her to her son.

Phillippe de Valois, on the other hand, was a grown man in his 30s. He was fully French and he was in France, which Edward was not. Unfortunately, for the French, he was a dreadful soldier and Edward III was a great one, although this was not obvious in 1328.

Before he could consider winning France, Edward had to win England. Although he wrested control from his mother and her lover in 1330, it was several more years before he was able to start making good his claim to the French crown.

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Queen Isabella and the Downfall of Edward II

Isabella and her father and siblings

Isabella of France was the daughter of Philippe IV (best known for wiping out the Knights Templar).  Each of her three brothers became king of France, but died without producing any heirs. Isabella was born in 1295 and married Edward II in 1308, a year after he had become king. Isabella was a very intelligent woman and occasionally carried out negotiations on behalf of her husband, especially with her father and brothers.

Edward II is generally regarded as not having been much of a king. He was almost the antithesis of his father, the great warrior Edward I. He did not much like hunting, although he was interested in both horses and dogs. He did not joust, but he liked rowing. He also liked music. All of this set him apart from his barons. He was, however, very generous and he loved his family.

His besetting problem was that he had favourites whom he promoted at the expense of his more senior barons. The first was Piers Gaveston, an obscure Gascon, who became like a brother to the then Prince of Wales. He had been exiled by Edward I and recalled on the king’s death. Edward II was forced to exile him twice more. Gaveston was not above taking advantage of the king’s generosity and humiliating the barons who should have had the preference that he received. None of this seemed to worry Isabella, despite persistent rumours that the two men were in a homosexual relationship.

The third time Gaveston returned from exile, in 1311, he was captured before he could reach Edward II and killed. The king was heart-broken.

After four years of marriage, Isabella gave birth to her first child, the future Edward III, in 1312. England was on the brink of civil war as Edward II sought vengeance for the murder of Gaveston. The king also had problems with the Scots, losing the Battle of Bannockburn in 1314. Edward was now rumoured to have a new lover, Hugh Despenser, who was also a great enemy of those who had murdered Gaveston, although for different reasons. The two of them exacted revenge on their enemies, which led to a time of tyranny. Civil war erupted in 1321.

The end came for Isabella in 1322 when Edward and Despenser, fighting in the north, retreated from the Scots, abandoning her, so that she became cut off from them and the army, and had to make her own retreat. In 1324 fighting broke out with the French over Gascony. Much of Isabella’s property was taken from her on the basis that she was French. Despite this, in 1325 Edward sent her to France to negotiate with her brother, Charles IV, with a view to ending the fighting. Whilst in her brother’s court she became involved with an exile from England, Roger Mortimer, Earl of March.

Mortimer was eight years older than Isabella. Initially Mortimer had been a supporter of Edward II, but the king awarded Despenser land belonging to Mortimer and to other Marcher lords (those who had land on the border with Wales). In 1322 he led the Marcher lords against Edward and Despenser and was captured. His death sentence was reduced to life imprisonment in the Tower. In 1323 he escaped. His cause was still very popular and his escape to France was aided by many supporters. Isabella and Mortimer quickly became lovers, ironically, since she had, a few years earlier, exposed her adulterous sisters-in-law to her father.

The situation for Edward II became increasingly difficult. Isabella had managed to negotiate an agreement to end the fighting, but it required that the king pay homage for Aquitaine to Charles. Edward found himself in a quandary. If he left the country, the chances were good that war would break out while he was gone and he might not be able to return. Instead, he made his son Duke of Aquitaine and sent him in his place.

The young prince was duly sent to France where, after he had paid homage, he remained in his mother’s care. He wrote to his father begging to be forgiven for what must have appeared to be treachery, but the prince had no means of escaping from his mother.

When the scandal of their liaison made it impossible for them to stay in France, Isabella and Mortimer went to Flanders, where they negotiated with the Count of Hainault for the provision of troops to support their invasion of England. In return, Isabella promised that Prince Edward would marry the count’s daughter, Philippa. With the prince an unwilling figurehead, they landed in England on 24th September 1326. They were successful in gaining support once in England and Edward II tried to escape to Wales. He was captured and deposed. He was imprisoned in Berkeley Castle, where he was either murdered or died in 1327. His younger brother Edmund, Earl of Kent, somehow came to believe that he had been removed to Corfe Castle, so the legend of his survival after 1327 persists.

Isabella and Mortimer took their revenge on those who had harmed them, usually in a cruel and bloody manner, particularly in the case of Hugh Despenser, and became little more than wealth grabbing tyrants. Prince Edward was crowned king, but did not rule. Since he was still a minor, this was not unusual in itself, but it could not have taken the new king long to realise that where his father had gone, he could soon follow.

As he did for the rest of his life, Edward III managed to gather people around him whom he could trust. They entered Nottingham Castle on 19th October 1330 and captured Isabella and Mortimer. Mortimer was tried and executed in November. He wasn’t given a second opportunity to escape from the Tower. The king’s mother, however, posed a different problem. For two years she was held at Windsor Castle, then she moved to Castle Rising in Norfolk, where she lived for most of the rest of her life continuing her extravagant ways unabated until she died in 1358.

If you want to know more about Isabella and Mortimer, two very good starting places are The Greatest Traitor by Ian Mortimer and Isabella and the Strange Death of Edward II by Paul Doherty.

 

 

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