Tag Archives: Edward III

The Sack of Limoges

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To celebrate the publication of Beloved Besieged this weekend, I’m looking at the Sack of Limoges, which is the central event of the novel. It took place on 19th September 1370 and is the event which tarnished the Black Prince’s reputation for chivalry. According to (more or less) contemporary chroniclers, he ordered the massacre of the town’s inhabitants, some 3,000 people.

In many ways his actions at Limoges were a result of what had happened in Castile in 1367. The Prince had gone into Spain to assist Don Pedro, England’s ally. Due to the part he played in the battles of Crécy and Poitiers, in which the English had been the victors, he was known as the greatest soldier of his age. Since he was the Prince of Aquitaine and was living in the principality at the time, he was the obvious choice to send south to Castile. Although he won the Battle of Nájera, the expenses of the campaign were more than the Prince could afford and, whilst waiting in Castile for the repayment of his expenses, he became ill. Don Pedro had promised more than he could deliver, however, and the Prince finally realised that he wasn’t going to get any money from him and went back over the Pyrenees.

After he returned to Aquitaine his enemies soon learned of his weakened state and began to exploit it. The Prince no longer had the energy to defend the borders of his principality against the French. To make matters worse, those who served beneath him lacked both his charismatic leadership and his experience. As a result of his losses in Spain, the Prince had to raise more taxes, which made him unpopular in Aquitaine.

Officially England and France had been at peace since October 1360, but the French began to make incursions into Aquitaine with increasing impunity after 1367. The Prince’s unpopularity and his inability to protect them against the French meant that many towns surrendered without a fight, but the surrender of the town of Limoges after a siege of a mere three days was the last straw for the Prince. Despite his failing health, he took an army across Aquitaine to Limoges, to which he laid siege.

Like most towns in that part of France, Limoges was divided into two parts, each surrounded by walls. One part held the castle and the garrison and the other (the Cité) contained the cathedral. It was the Cité which surrendered.

The state of the Cité’s walls was such that they only held against the Prince’s army for five days. The Prince’s miners built a tunnel under a tower and set a fire beneath it, bringing the tower and some of the wall down. The army then fought its way into the town.

A few reasons have been suggested for what happened next. The most obvious was that showing no mercy would send a message to other towns in Aquitaine contemplating going over to the French. Another was that the Prince knew that his failing health would not allow him to hold on to Aquitaine much longer and he vented his anger on the town. A third was that the bishop who was responsible for the surrender was a friend, godfather to one of his sons, and the Prince felt the betrayal personally. Whatever his reasons, there were rules about sieges, and the surrender of Limoges without putting up a fight meant that the Prince could exact any punishment on the town that he wished.

The Prince was so ill that he had to be carried to Limoges on a litter and did not take part in the fighting. His punishment for the town was to order its complete destruction and the death of its inhabitants.  This was permitted within the rules of siege warfare.

In his Chronicles Froissart described the slaughter of the people of the town, but he either was not aware of the rules of sieges or he chose to ignore them. He wrote about people begging on their knees for their lives and the Prince ignoring them in his anger. According to Froissart, three thousand men, women and children were massacred. Modern historians, however, believe that the number of people killed was much smaller and was probably limited to the members of the garrison left behind by the French together with a few civilians, possibly no more than 300 people. The town, however, was burnt and it was decades before it was rebuilt.

Almost as soon as he had come the Prince was gone and the army returned to the court at Angoulême. When he arrived back in Angoulême the Prince learned that his oldest son, six-year-old Edward, had died in his absence. He must have known then that there was no more that he could do in Aquitaine, for he appointed his brother, John of Gaunt, as his lieutenant and returned to England after Christmas 1370, formally renouncing his position as Prince of Aquitaine in 1372.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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King at last, or how Edward III overthrew Roger Mortimer

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King, but not ruling

Edward III’s reign officially began on 25th January 1327 following the abdication of his father, Edward II. Edward II had been forced to abdicate by his wife, Queen Isabella, and her lover, Roger Mortimer, following their invasion of England in September of the previous year.

Edward III was only thirteen when he became king and Isabella and Mortimer were the de facto rulers of England. Mortimer surrounded the king with spies so that Edward’s actions were constrained. Edward even had to agree a secret code with the pope so that the latter would know which letters purporting to come from the king really were from him.

Worrying Times

By October 1330 a few things had happened which would have made the young king worry about his personal safety. Edward II had been notoriously healthy, yet he died in September 1427 after only eight months of imprisonment and his body, contrary to custom, was not displayed before it was buried. This led many to believe that he had been murdered on Mortimer’s orders.

In March 1330 Edward III had been forced to acquiesce to the execution of his uncle, the Earl of Kent, an event so terrible and unexpected that it proved difficult to find someone willing to carry out the execution.

On 15th June 1330 Edward of Woodstock, Edward III’s first son, was born. This did not necessarily increase Edward’s immediate danger. It was not unusual for children, even the children of kings, to die very young. Of Edward’s thirteen children, four lived no more than a few of days and only six reached their twenties. If  Mortimer wanted a boy he could manipulate until he was of an age to rule in his own right, they would have to make sure they chose the right one before they disposed of Edward.

What did present an immediate danger to Edward was the rumour that his mother was pregnant. During the previous four years Mortimer had been behaving as if he were the king, even taking precedence over the king at public events. If he were to have a son by Isabella, his ambition was such that he might depose (and kill) Edward in his son’s favour. He had many supporters, so such a possibly would not have been unthinkable to a man who had already deposed a king.

The big question mark in all of this is how far Isabella would have gone along with her lover. She was close to her son and it’s difficult to imagine her agreeing either to his deposition or his murder, even if she was carrying Mortimer’s child. This in turn raises the question of how much influence she had over Mortimer by this stage.

The king takes action

Regardless of whether he thought his mother could prevent his being killed or not, Edward was sufficiently concerned to lead a few trusted men against Mortimer on the evening of 19th October 1330. Mortimer had been alerted by his spies that something was being planned, but they didn’t know the details. Mortimer did everything he could to ensure his own safety. Many of the king’s closest companions had been questioned. Edward’s supporters were not permitted to lodge in Nottingham Castle, where the king, Mortimer and Queen Isabella were staying. The castle guards were told to obey Mortimer’s orders, not those of the king, and Queen Isabella held the keys to the castle. All of these things were, of course, an insult to the king.

The king’s friends, led by William Montague, rode out of Nottingham Castle very conspicuously and re-entered the castle secretly through a small gate which had been left open for them. They joined the king, and Mortimer was arrested. Edward wanted to kill him there and then, but cooler heads prevailed and Mortimer was taken away to London where he was tried. He was hanged just over a month after his arrest.

 

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The Holy Roman Empire

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The Holy Roman Empire must have seemed very remote from England in the fourteenth century. It was centred around the many German states and would not normally have been expected to be interested in anything affecting England. This situation changed in the 1330s.

The empire lasted from 962 until Napoleon dissolved it in 1806, although many consider Charlemagne (crowned in 800) to be the first emperor. The Holy Roman Empire was considered to be a Christian extension of the Roman empire. The term ‘Holy Roman Empire’ dates only from the thirteenth century, however.

Geographically, the empire covered kingdoms and duchies in modern Germany, the Netherlands, Belgium, Luxembourg, Austria, Switzerland, parts of eastern France, parts of western Poland, Slovenia, the Czech Republic, Croatia and northern Italy. The borders changed almost constantly, however, and not all of this territory was included all the time.The empire had reached its maximum size in the thirteenth century and territory was lost during the fourteenth century.

Emperors were elected and the first three Hanoverian kings of Great Britain, George I, George II and George III were electors, which meant they had a vote in the election of the emperor. Although the emperor was elected, in practice a small number of royal houses dominated the line of emperors and most emperors were descendants of earlier emperors.

The chances are that you’ve only ever heard of one emperor: Charles V, the nephew of Katherine of Aragon. In 1527, when Henry VIII was trying to divorce Katherine, her nephew captured the pope and would not allow him to grant the divorce. Charles’ son, Philip II, married Henry’s daughter Mary.

The empire did not have a capital as such, but was administered from the beginning of the fourteenth century from Aachen, which had been Charlemagne’s capital. From 1328 to 1347 it was administered from Munich and, from 1355 from Prague.

It was not unusual for the emperor to be at odds with the pope, in fact it was unusual if he was not. There was an almost constant power struggle between the popes and the emperors. Their powers were meant in some ways to be complementary, but in others to act as a balance between the temporal and the spiritual. This was rarely the case in reality. It was not until the eleventh century that the popes achieved some kind of equality. In 1077 Pope Gregory VII made the excommunicated emperor, Henry IV, wait outside the castle walls of Canossa for three days. Henry had come barefoot to ask the pope’s forgiveness. What should have been a formality, since the emperor had already humbled himself, became a battle of wills, which the pope won. The balance did not last long, however, as successive popes tried to gain more secular power and were increasingly resisted by kings and emperors. This came to a head during the ‘Babylonian Exile’ when the papacy had its capital in Avignon and came under the sway of the kings of France. Other kings (particularly Edward III) found it difficult to trust the pope when he was not impartial.

In the thirteenth century Italy was riven by division following interference in Italy by the emperor Frederick Barbarossa and his successors in the first half of the century. The Italian city states were either Guelphs (pro-papal) or Ghibellines (pro-imperial) and they continued to go to war with one another on this basis long after the political divisions meant anything.

Because the emperors could only be crowned by the pope and they were usually quarrelling with the pope, or even excommunicated, there was often a delay between their election and their coronation.

There were three emperors in the fourteenth century: Henry VII – elected 1308 (crowned 1312)-1313; Louis IV (Louis of Bavaria) – elected 1314 (crowned 1348) – 1347 and Charles IV – elected 1346 and 1349 (crowned 1355) – 1378. None of them was terribly effective as emperor.

At the beginning of the fourteenth century Philip IV of France wanted his brother to be made emperor, but the electors felt that the French king already had too much influence and Henry of Luxembourg was elected. Like his predecessors, Henry meddled in Italian affairs without really understanding them. Henry died of malaria, as did so many from northern Europe who took their armies into Italy.

Louis was allied with Italian enemies of the pope, of whom there were many after the papacy moved to Avignon and the popes became little more than puppets of the French kings. In theory the emperor could do nothing until his election had been confirmed by the pope, but Louis acted without papal authority. He gave shelter to scholars who spoke out against John XXII. In 1328 he invaded Italy and had himself crowned (not by the pope). He also installed an anti-pope in Rome. John XXII excommunicated both Louis and his pope, declaring that there was no emperor. For many years before the outbreak of the Hundred Years War the French had been encroaching on the westernmost territory of the empire and it was not a surprise that, in 1337, Edward III found a willing ally in Louis in his war against the French. Edward III was made a Vicar of the Empire, with powers to act on the emperor’s behalf.

Charles was elected while his predecessor was still alive. This is not surprising, as Louis was considered a heretic and was an excommunicate. Charles was primarily king of Bohemia, now part of the Czech Republic. For most of his reign he did what he could to benefit his kingdom and neglected the German states.

 

 

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Praying for the souls of the royal family

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This week I was in Coventry and was fortunate enough to be able to go into the church of St John the Baptist in the city centre. It is referred to as Coventry’s medieval gem, and this is no exaggeration. The church was founded in the fourteenth century, under circumstances that we’ll go into shortly, but underwent huge alterations in the fifteenth, sixteenth and nineteenth centuries. Much of the centre of Coventry was destroyed during the war, so it’s wonderful that St John’s has survived.

I went to the church to look at some needlework panels showing over a thousand years of Coventry’s history including St Osburga, Lady Godiva, the Civil War, the industrialisation of Coventry and the Second World War, but the real interest for me was the founding of the church, which is documented at various places inside the building.

In 1344 Queen Isabella, widow of Edward II and mother of Edward III, gave some land to the guild of St John the Baptist in Coventry. The land was part of her manor, Cheylesmore. The chapel was to be a chantry, where Masses would be said for members of the royal family, including her husband, the late king. Since the official date for the death of Edward II was September 1327, the timing of this endowment has been taken by many to confirm the theory that he didn’t actually die until the early 1340s, having escaped, or been allowed to escape, from Berkeley Castle and gone to the Continent.

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The impy on a pillar inside the church

 

The grant of the land includes the stipulation that, in addition to saying Masses for the members of the guild (living and dead), two priests had to say Masses daily for Edward III, his wife Philippa, and Edward, the Prince of Wales (the Black Prince) during their lifetimes and for their souls after their deaths.  It has been suggested that she founded the guild of St John herself specifically to say Masses for the royal family. The chapel was consecrated on 2nd May 1350.

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The position of the chapel – probably

 

The photograph above shows the aisle that is believed to mark the original foundation, with the needlework panels I’d gone to see down one side. On Isabella’s death in 1358 her grandson, the Black Prince inherited the Cheylesmore manor and donated more land to the guild.

The guild flourished and by 1393 there were nine priests.

The chantry was dissolved in 1548 and became a parish church in 1734.

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The student and his learning

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Students and their lives have changed very little over the  centuries. In the fourteenth century, as now, student debt was a problem. Students could only afford to attend university if they had a patron to give or lend them the necessary funds, and their future employment was never certain. Students lived in dark and cold lodgings. In Chaucer’s Miller’s Tale two Oxford students lodge with a carpenter. Students were generally known for their violence and dissipation, both demonstrated by Chaucer’s students, one of whom cuckolds his landlord and causes him to break his arm. Students were often involved in fights – with one another and with the people of the town in which the university was located. One thing that was very different then, however, was the time of the lectures. They started early in the morning, usually before dawn.

The universities had a reputation for being repressive, which was one of the reasons why the students often felt the need to do outrageous things outside of the university in the town that housed it.

A university was made up of the guild of teachers and the first universities were in Paris and Bologna. The latter was famous for law and the former for theology. Other universities were formed when teachers left these universities, usually after quarrelling with the town authorities. In Spain and Portugal the universities were royal foundations. Many universities were founded specifically to provide men for the medieval equivalent of the Civil Service.

Teachers were paid by their students, but most academics could not afford to do nothing other than teach. The had to combine study with a career, unless they were a friar. The friars needed well-trained theologians, so enabled clever men to remain in the universities to continue their education. At Oxford in the early fourteenth century there were ninety Dominicans and eighty-four Franciscans. The Dominicans had taught at the university first. The General Chapter of the Dominicans (their ruling body) had decreed in the thirteenth century that every community in the Order should have a friar in charge of theological study. His duties included arranging discussions and directing the reading of the friars in his house. None of them was permitted to preach in pubic until they had studied for three years and each province (a Dominican administrative area) was supposed to support three students in a university at any one time.

Students were clerics and wore the tonsure. They needed a benefice (a salaried ecclesiastical position, usually that of a rector or vicar) when they finished their studies in order to get started on their career. At the beginning of the fourteenth century in England there were many more clergy than there were benefices.

Medieval universities were ecclesiastical establishments. They were the means by which sons of commoners or peasants could rise to eminence. Most teachers were under thirty. The students were usually between fourteen and nineteen years old, but could be older, since some took 20 years to finish their degree.

Lectures at universities were given in Latin, which had to be learned before a man could become a student at a university. Latin was taught in schools, which any boy could attend if his parents could afford the fee and, if he was a villein, he had the permission of his lord of the manor. This could usually be obtained by paying a fine to the lord. In fourteenth century Paris the teachers began to lecture in the vernacular, but many years passed before other universities did the same. Teaching was mostly oral due to the cost of books, and students were expected to learn by discussing and debating with their teachers and with one another.

The curriculum was designed to create men who could administer the church and the state. The curriculum was the Quadrivium: arithmetic, geometry, astronomy and music. Students also studied the Trivium: rhetoric, grammar and logic. By the fourteenth century the Quadrivium were the four most important subjects. Universities were mainly training men for the church, so theology originally predominated. Medicine and law were also taught.  Theology and law were higher degrees. Theology included the study of the world created by God.  Most of Edward III’s bishops had legal training. By the mid-fourteenth century there were more graduates in law than in anything else. Legally trained clerks from the universities were in demand as administrators and bureaucrats.

Rather surprisingly, the universities did not concern themselves with the spiritual condition of their students until the end of the fourteenth century. Equally surprisingly, given that many of the students went on to serve kings and popes, they did not bother teaching them how to behave.

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The gate to New College, Oxford. New College was founded in 1379 by William of Wykeham,  Chancellor under both Edward III and Richard II, to enable poorer students to attend university. He also founded Winchester College in order to provide educated students for it.

The oldest university in England is Oxford. It was probably founded some time between 1164 and 1169.  It was founded when students and teachers left Paris after a conflict with the Parisian authorities. Cambridge University was founded in 1209 when teachers at Oxford argued with the town authorities and left. There were around 1,500 to 2,000 students in Oxford at the beginning of the fourteenth century.

 

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Edward III and King Arthur

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From the time of Edward I English kings used the legends about King Arthur to bolster their claim to rule all the British Isles. Although Arthur was a British hero, by the thirteenth century he had come to symbolise the English, and the mythology was used, consciously or unconsciously, to unite Britons, Saxons and Normans. King Arthur represented many things: he was the ideal king, the ideal knight, the ideal husband and the ideal Christian.

The myths and legends of King Arthur and the Knights of the Round Table were known all over Europe and were recorded very early in ‘romances’, long poems which are often regarded as the prototype of the novel. Even though Arthur was associated with Britain, works about him were written in many countries. Geoffrey of Monmouth was a twelfth-century cleric, from or based in Wales, whose book Historia Regium Britanniae contains a very early version of the Arthur stories. Later in the twelfth century, Chrétien de Troyes, who served at the court of Marie de France, Coutness of Champagne, wrote four complete and one incomplete romances about Arthur (Erec et Enide, Cligès, Yvain, Lancelot and Perceval). He is also credited with inventing the character of Lancelot. Another French poet of the late twelfth century, Robert de Boron wrote Josephe d’Arimathe about the Holy Grail, and Merlin. Around the same time Wolfram von Eschenbach was writing Parzival in Bavaria (probably), claiming that Chrétien de Troyes had got the story wrong. In the 1360s the Italian poet Boccaccio wrote a long poem about Arthur. Sir Gawayn and þe Grene Knyȝt was written in England in the late fourteenth century by an unknown poet referred to either as ‘the Pearl poet’ or ‘the Gawain poet’. Possibly the best known version of the stories is Le Morte d’Arhur written by Sir Thomas Malory in the middle of the fifteenth century. Ironically, given the chivalrous nature of Arthur and his knights, Malory was a less than savoury character, being a thief and possibly a murderer. He changed sides during the Wars of the Roses and wrote down the stories while in prison.

Edward I was obsessed with Arthur, even taking his new bride to see Arthur’s tomb at Glastonbury.  He usurped the Arthurian mythology when he conquered Wales. To the Welsh Arthur was the British hero who would return to beat back the English, but Edward I used him to bolster his own legend and to demonstrate to the Welsh that Arthur wasn’t coming back.

His grandson, Edward III, was similarly obsessed. Edward venerated his grandfather, and this was probably why he was interested in Arthur, although, as we shall see, there were other reasons for him to pursue this interest. From boyhood Edward III studied the lives of great kings from the past in order to be a good king and these included King Arthur. He studied the histories about Arthur, rather than the romances. Even though Edward III probably did not read the romances himself, it’s probable that he either heard the stories read aloud or told as entertainment. Both his mother and his wife were fond of the romances.

After he had overthrown his mother, Queen Isabella, and her lover, Roger Mortimer, in 1330 Edward III’s contemporaries began to talk of him as King Arthur returned, fulfilling the prophecies of Merlin. He, however, was careful to claim no more for himself than the rôle of Sir Lionel, which had been assigned to him by Mortimer during a tournament. In this he learned from Mortimer himself. Mortimer had made himself unpopular by (amongst other things) identifying himself with Arthur.

Mortimer’s family held that they, being descendants of the Welsh kings were also descendants of Arthur. In 1329 Mortimer played the part of King Arthur and Isabella played Guinevere at a tournament, while Edward, the king, was a mere knight, Lionel. Mortimer was clearly putting himself above the king and this was probably one of the many things that made Edward III feel threatened and led to his coup against his mother. Lionel could be understood to mean ‘little lion’ and Edward later used it as a reference to the lions on his standard.  He named his third son Lionel.

When Edward III came to found his order of chivalry in the 1340s, his original vision was that his band of knights should have a round table at Windsor. He even planned a round building to house it. It was Edward I who had ordered the construction of the Round Table which is now in Winchester Castle and Edward III was probably thinking of this when he ordered his own Round Table to be built. Although there is nothing specific in the way the Order of the Knights of the Garter was set up that refers to Arthur, the mere fact that Edward set up an order of chivalry with a small number of knights was enough to make his subjects see the comparison.

Other medieval monarchs used the mythology of Arthur to their own ends. Henry VII named his first son Arthur. Henry was Welsh and, like Mortimer, was claiming descent from King Arthur. He did this in order to legitimise not only his own reign, but that of his son. The use of Arthur as a name for the Prince of Wales is not limited to medieval times; the current Prince of Wales also has Arthur as one of his names, as does Prince William.

 

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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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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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Joan, Princess of Wales

Black Prince

At the end of the last post Joan, Countess of Kent, married the Prince of Wales in secret in the spring of 1361. Why did Joan enter into another secret marriage? Some see it as a bold plan on the part of the Prince of Wales and his father, Edward III, to force the hand of an anti-English pope into granting the necessary dispensation. Because they were closely related, Joan and the Prince needed a papal dispensation to marry.  The Prince was a great grandson of Edward I through his first wife and Joan was Edward I’s granddaughter through his second wife. Others see it as an indication of the disapproval that the Prince knew would be forthcoming from his father when the king found out about the marriage. The first theory might hold true if Clement VI were still pope. He had been so pro-French that he had previously refused the necessary dispensation to allow the Prince to marry a foreign princess because there were other marriages she could make that would be more advantageous to France. Clement VI had, however, died in 1352. His successor, Innocent VI, wanted to promote peace between England and France and was not likely to turn down such a request. In fact, he did not. He also confirmed, at the Prince’s request, the validity of Joan’s marriage to Thomas Holland.

It is more likely that the Prince did not want his father to know about the marriage until he had received the papal dispensation and it was too late to do anything about it. The fear that the Prince’s marriage to Joan might still be declared bigamous was, of course, one of the main reasons for the king’s disapproval. It was also, apparently, a great fear of Richard II’s (son of the Prince and Joan), as he is said to have kept all the papers relating to the validity of his mother’s first marriage close to hand. Had their marriage been declared bigamous, he would have been illegitimate.

Joan did not have to marry again. As a wealthy widow and Countess of Kent in her own right, she had the freedom to choose. It’s probable that she married the Prince in order to secure good marriages for her children.

Edward III’s plan for his son’s marriage, almost from his birth, had been a diplomatic alliance with a foreign princess. Since the Prince was related to most of them to a prohibited degree (which at this time was four degrees), he needed a papal dispensation, which had not been forthcoming. Marriage to someone like Joan, who had no diplomatic value, was not something the king had envisaged.

One potential difficulty for the couple was the Prince’s close personal relationship with the Earl of Salisbury, William Montague, whom Joan had been forced to marry, despite her protests that she was already married. Their marriage does not seem to have affected the Prince’s relationship with his friend and, after the Prince’s death, Joan continued to receive support from her bigamous husband.

The formal wedding took place on 10th October 1361 in the Chapel at Windsor. Joan was 33 and her new husband was two years younger. Incredibly, the marriage not celebrated by the king. The marriages of the king’s other children were celebrated with tournaments and banquets. For his heir, to whom he had always been close, there was nothing.

As part of the Treaty of Brétigny in 1360, Aquitaine had been increased in size and made a principality. In 1362 Edward III created his son Prince of Aquitaine and sent him there to rule it.

The Prince and Joan set up a court based around Bordeaux, Angoulême and, later, Cognac. Their first child, Edward, was born in Angoulême in 1365 and Richard, their second, in Bordeaux in 1366, shortly before his father set off for Spain. The Prince was famed for his generosity and it was a splendid court. Some considered it too splendid and fashionable, but, for the first few years, at least, the Prince was popular. After he became ill in Spain, however, he was not able to maintain his hold on Aquitaine. In 1370 their oldest son died and Joan and the Prince returned to England in 1371. On 8th June 1376 Joan was widowed for the second time. The Prince died on the feast of the Trinity, for which he had a particular reverence.

Joan’s youngest son was now the king’s heir. The king’s health was failing and it was clear to everyone that he was going to be succeeded by a minor.

After the Prince’s death his younger brother John of Gaunt became the main counsellor of his son. Despite the ten year age difference between them, the Prince and his brother had been close and John of Gaunt remained close to Joan. He lacked the charisma and ability of his brother, however, and he was unpopular. Rumours began to circulate that he wanted to be king and that he was illegitimate. Joan gave him her support, however, shielding him when a mob attacked his palace in 1377.

This was a difficult time for England. Few people could remember a time when Edward III had not been king. Until his last few years he had been a popular king, but he was now in his dotage. After fifty years as king, Edward III died on 21st June 1377. The new king was ten years old.  Despite the fears of Edward III, no one challenged Richard’s right to rule and he was crowned on 16th July 1377. Joan was now mother to a king.

In April 1378 Joan and her two daughters were made Ladies of the Garter. Two years earlier her eldest son Thomas had been made a Knight of the Garter and it’s interesting that Joan was not made a Lady of the Garter at the same time or earlier.

After years of prosecuting the war in France, England was now at risk of invasion and there were attacks along the south coast. Richard’s council could not maintain control of the country and, when it introduced a poll tax in order to continue an increasingly unpopular war, rebellion erupted. Richard was still very popular personally, however. In June 1381 Joan returned from her annual pilgrimage to the Prince’s tomb in Canterbury to find London in danger from the rebels. She and Richard took refuge in the Tower of London.  Buildings were destroyed, property looted and those seen as traitors killed by the rebels.  John of Gaunt and the council were the main targets, but Gaunt was fighting in Scotland, so his palace was destroyed. Richard’s chancellor, Simon Sudbury, who was also the Archbishop of Canterbury, was murdered. Richard’s personal bravery brought the rebellion to an end, and swift retribution against the leaders meant that the immediate danger was removed.

Joan ensured that she had control of the negotiations to find a wife for Richard and he married Anne of Bohemia on 20th January 1382 . There was no financial benefit to the match, since she had no dowry, and Anne’s diplomatic benefit was limited, but Richard and his wife grew to be very close.

Joan retired from court to live at Wallingford Castle.

After the Peasants’ Revolt relations between Richard and John of Gaunt cooled considerably until, in early 1385, John of Gaunt took a small army to London to confront his nephew. Richard was forced into a humiliating apology. Joan intervened and was able to mediate a reconciliation between them.  In August 1385 she failed to reconcile Richard to her son, John Holland, who had murdered Sir Ralph Stafford, one of Richard’s advisers. When news reached her of her failure she collapsed. She died on 8th August.

Joan was buried in Stamford, next to her first husband, Thomas Holland, which probably caused Richard some embarrassment. He had doubtless expected her to be buried next to his father, as the Prince had probably also expected, but, even in death, Joan was still insisting on the validity of her marriage to Thomas Holland.

 

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