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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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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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Popes, Antipopes and Avignon: Part Two

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After the death of Boniface VIII Benedict XI became pope very briefly. He was the last Italian pope for over seventy years.

Born Nicolò Boccasini, he was 63 when he became pope. He was a vocal supporter of his predecessor, excommunicating Philip IV’s minister de Nogaret who had tried to remove Boniface by force from Italy to France. When Benedict died suddenly only eight months after becoming pope, de Nogaret fell under suspicion. It’s more likely, however, that Benedict died of dysentery.

Clement V was the first Avignon pope. His birth name was Raymond Bertrand de Got and he was born about 1264 in Gascony. At the time of his election he was Archbishop of Bordeaux.

Following the death of Benedict it took a year to elect a new pope, mainly because the Italian cardinals could not agree with the French cardinals. Since he was not a cardinal, de Got was not at the conclave in Italy and chose not to go to Rome for his coronation, under pressure from Philip IV. He was crowned instead at Lyon.

Whereas his two predecessors had pushed for greater influence in secular affairs, Clement V became little more than a servant of the French king. He became a major participant in Philip’s destruction of the Knights Templar. Philip had already expelled all Jews and Italian bankers from France, having seized their property, but he was still desperate for money. The Templars were the solution to his problem. The king wanted their enormous wealth, although there are those who support the opinion that he believed the Templars were guilty of the crimes of which they had been accused. As he had with Boniface VIII, de Nogaret started rumours about the Templars, suggesting that they were usurers, idolaters, sodomites, blasphemers and heretics.

On Friday 13th October 1307 hundreds of Templars were arrested and imprisoned. Most of them were tortured until they confessed to dreadful crimes, including eating babies resulting from their illicit relationships with women. The Templars were monks and thus committed to a life of chastity. Public trials began in 1310 and many Templars were burned at the stake. In 1311 the pope called a council together in Vienne to investigate the charges against the Templars. The council refused to convict them of heresy, but Clement disbanded the order anyway. Finally Jacques de Molay, Grand Master of the order, was killed in 1314.

Clement moved to Avignon in 1309, ostensibly because the constant wars in Italy made Rome unsafe. It was never Clement’s stated purpose not to go to Rome, more that he simply never got there. He died on 20th April 1314 barely a month after de Molay had been killed. Philip IV was also dead before the year was out.

When, more than two years later, another French pope was elected it became clear that the papacy would remain in France for some time.

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Popes, Antipopes and Avignon: Part One

palais des papes

Often when I write these posts I write about things that I know and I just check some of the facts as I write. This post, and the ones that follow, are the result of some specific research that I did so that I would have some background information on the fourteenth century.

When I was much younger I assumed that the Avignon papacy was some kind of rival to a Roman papacy, much in the same way that there were antipopes (in one case three at one time, as we shall see at the end of this series). Gradually I came to realise that the Avignon popes were real popes, were acknowledged as real popes and had, for reasons unknown to me, relocated the papacy to south east France. When I realised that they were not regarded with favour by England, I knew that I had to find out more.

It’s true that what was happening with regard to the papacy would have very little impact on the stories that I’m currently writing, but research is fun and I believe in making the world inhabited by my characters as real as I can. So I knuckled down and started doing the research. The papacy was based in Avignon from 1309 to 1367 and again from 1370 to 1376. The only one about whom I knew anything was Clement VI. He was the pope who warded off the Black Death by spending his days sitting between two fires in the papal palace and refusing to see anyone.

Avignon at the beginning of the fourteenth century was small and dirty. After the papacy was established there the town attracted criminals of all kinds and its taverns and brothels became notorious. Gradually it became larger and more splendid as the cardinals built palaces and the Palais des Papes was finished

The Avignon popes had a reputation for corruption, not only because they seemed to favour the French king, but also because they seemed to be greedy for money and tried to extend their sphere of influence beyond ecclesiastical bounds. It’s not the most edifying period for the papacy, for many reasons, and in order to have any hope of understanding it we need to go back to the end of the thirteenth century.

In 1294 Pope Celestine V was persuaded to abdicate less than six months after he had been crowned. Before his election he had been a hermit and had had no desire to be pope, but two years had passed since the death of the previous pope and the cardinals could not agree on a candidate until someone nominated the reclusive monk. He was completely unworldly and it was easy enough for Cardinal Caetani to talk him into resigning when it became clear that he was not suitable. Not entirely surprisingly, Caetani became the next pope – Benedict VIII – and imprisoned Celestine, afraid that he could be installed as an antipope. Eighteen months later the former pope was dead. Despite his advanced years (he was eighty-one) it was rumoured that Benedict VIII had had him killed. Celestine was canonised by Clement V in 1313.

Boniface VIII was not a popular figure with the European monarchs, because they believed that he interfered too much in secular matters. Despite universal disapprobation, it was Philip the Fair of France (Philip IV) who became his greatest enemy. It should be pointed out that Philp was not called ‘the Fair’ because of his exemplary character, but because of the colour of his hair. Philip wanted to raise a tax so that he could fight Edward I of England in Gascony and the burden of the tax fell on the clergy. This angered Boniface who said that a king didn’t have the right to tax the clergy. This in turn angered the kings, who said that they did. Boniface was ultimately forced to accept their position within certain constraints.

A campaign of rumours was started against Boniface, probably by Philip. It was a ploy he was to use again against the Templars. The pope was accused of nepotism, simony, avarice and sodomy. I had to look up simony and it means the buying or selling of something spiritual or closely connected with the spiritual. In this case it means the selling of ecclesiastical positions.

Matters between Boniface and Philip came to a head in 1301 when the king imprisoned a French bishop, Bernard Saisset. The bishop was accused of treason and insulting behaviour. Needless to say, Boniface demanded the bishop’s release, stating that Philip didn’t have the authority to arrest him. Philip later acknowledged that he did not indeed have the authority to arrest the bishop and released him a few months later. Boniface, however, called the king to appear before him in Rome. Philip refused and responded with accusations against the pope. These included heresy, so he demanded that a General Council be held in France at which the pope could be arraigned. Guillaume de Nogaret, Philip’s right hand man and head rumourmonger, went to Italy to take the pope to France, by force if necessary.

As it turned out it was necessary, but unsuccessful. Boniface was in his home town of Anagni when de Nogaret found him. Boniface was writing a bull to excommunicate Philip, but it went unfinished. He was captured, beaten and nearly executed. Whether he was released or escaped is uncertain, but he managed to get to Rome, where he died a month later. Boniface was very briefly (for eight months) succeeded by Benedict XI.

It might seem odd to write at length about two popes who never, as far as I know, set foot in Avignon, but Boniface’s relationship with Philip set the tone for what was to come later and how he dealt with Celestine shows us something of his character.

After Benedict XI’s short tenure a new pope was elected and this was Clement V (1305-14), the first Avignon pope. Before he became Pope he was Archbishop of Bordeaux. Since he was already in France, he was crowned in Lyon, rather than Rome, at the behest of Louis X, who was very happy to have a French pope. It wasn’t long before it was clear that Clement was little more than a puppet of Louis.

Very quickly a number of Frenchmen were made cardinals, until the majority were French. Clement V didn’t have a settled life. Unable to live in Rome, due to the wars that were constantly being waged in Italy, he moved between Lyon, Poitiers and Bordeaux. It wasn’t until 1309 that he decided to settle in Avignon. The town was in Provence, which was not part of France at that time, but which belonged to a vassal of the French king, Charles of Anjou, King of Sicily and Count of Provence. Nonetheless the papacy was seen for most of the rest of the century as being under the sway of the French kings.

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