10 October, 2007

Oddities in the Narrative of Edward II's Death

In this post, I'm looking at some odd and inconsistent facts and events that don't fit into the traditional narrative that Edward II was murdered at Berkeley Castle in September 1327.

The Fieschi Letter

Probably the best-known, and most-discussed, oddity. The letter deserves a blog post to itself, and will get one soon, but briefly: in 1868, a copy of a letter written sometime in the late 1330s was discovered in an archive in France. It was written by Manuele Fieschi, papal notary, Canon of York and Nottingham, and Bishop of Vercelli from 1342. Although Manuele was himself not related to Edward II, some of his Fieschi cousins were also distant cousins of Edward. The letter was addressed to Edward III; as the letter is a copy and the original has never been found, we can't say for certain that Edward received the letter, though there's no reason to assume that he didn't.

Fieschi writes that Edward II escaped from Berkeley Castle in the autumn of 1327 (though he doesn't mention the Dunheved gang), and made his way to Corfe Castle in Dorset, where he spent some time. Afterwards he made his way to Ireland, and after Roger Mortimer's downfall to France, where he travelled to Avignon dressed as a pilgrim. He spent two weeks with Pope John XII, then made his way to Brabant, Cologne and ultimately Italy. How genuine the letter might be is a matter of fierce debate, as is the argument about why Fieschi might have decided to invent such a story...assuming he did...

Melton's Letter

Fairly recently, in Warwickshire County Record Office, an extraordinary letter has been discovered. It was written by William Melton, Archbishop of York from 1317 to 1340, is addressed to a London merchant called Simon Swanland, and dates either to January 1329 or January 1330, most likely the latter. In it, Melton asks Swanland to co-operate with William Clif in aiding the 'old king' when he is released, and writes about the delivery of clothes and money to Edward after his release...This is long after Edward II's death was announced, of course.

Melton was a friend and long-term ally of Edward II, having entered his household by 1297 when Edward was only thirteen, and was one of the few men who stood up for him at the Parliament of January 1327 which decided on his deposition. He refused to attend the coronation of Edward III, but was soon reconciled to the young king, and performed the wedding ceremony of Edward and Philippa of Hainault the following January. In 1330, Melton was indicted for treason, for his role in the Earl of Kent's conspiracy to free Edward II. Surprisingly, perhaps, he was acquitted. For the rest of his life, he served Edward III faithfully; the young king reinstated him as Treasurer of England within days of Roger Mortimer's execution. Melton enjoyed an excellent reputation in his own lifetime, and is also highly thought of by modern historians.

The big question is: why did Melton believe Edward II to still be alive?? As a loyal, steadfast friend of Edward (Melton's ODNB entry says he had a "genuine and lasting affection" for the king) Melton would have been an obvious choice for Edward to turn to, and in a good position to know if Edward was still alive. Melton evidently had, or believed that he had, convincing proof that Edward was not dead, long after his death had been announced. Fascinating.

Kent's Conspiracy

Edmund of Woodstock, Earl of Kent, Edward II's half-brother, was executed -or rather, judicially murdered - in March 1330 after a long-term campaign to free Edward II, whom he believed to be alive and well at Corfe Castle. Again, this complex situation will get a blog post or several to itself, but briefly:

Kent, convinced that his brother was alive and being held in Corfe Castle, wrote a letter to Edward (II), saying "I shall ordain for you, that you shall come out of prison...Your lordship should know that I have the assent of almost all the great lords of England...in order to maintain and help you in your quarrel so you shall be king again as you were before."

Kent gave the letter to Sir John Deveril, a member of the garrison at Corfe - often stated to be the Constable of the castle, though there's no record of his appointment - who promptly sent it to Roger Mortimer. Mortimer read it out to Parliament, where Kent was being indicted for treason for the hideous crime of trying to rescue his brother. Kent was told "you were on the point of rescuing that worshipful knight Sir Edward, sometime king of England, your brother, and to help him become king again, and to govern his people as he was wont to do beforehand..."

At the very least, this suggests that Kent did not see his brother's face closely before his burial in December 1327. I would also assume that he asked others whom he trusted - his brother Norfolk, his cousin Lancaster, for example - if they had seen Edward's face and positively identified him. It would be decidedly odd if Kent gazed on his brother's dead face and still became convinced that he was alive.

It's interesting to note that the parliamentary record (as it appears in the Brut chronicle - the record itself has disappeared, probably not coincidentally) does not state anywhere that Edward II was actually dead. Kent was beheaded in Winchester on 19 March 1330. Around fifty men implicated in his plot were ordered to be arrested. Most fled the country, and the others were imprisoned. One of the men was Sir John Pecche, who, according to the Patent and Fine Rolls, really was the Constable of Corfe Castle from December 1325 to late 1329. Pecche was therefore in the best position to know whether Edward II was held at Corfe or not; Corfe was under his command at the time that Kent became convinced that Edward II was there. Isn't the fact that Pecche helped Kent and not Mortimer and was arrested for it, and was not charged with Kent's entrapment in November 1330 as John Deveril and another member of the Corfe garrison were, rather telling?

Kent is condemned as an unstable and gullible fool by just about every historian who's written on the subject, with the notable exception of Ian Mortimer, because he believed Edward II was alive. Every aspect of his career and character is then forced to fit this characterisation. But if he was a gullible fool and Edward II was dead, why was it so important to execute him? Nobody laughed at him and said "You idiot, he's been dead for years, go back to your estates and leave politics alone!" No, he was sentenced to death.

William le Galeys

'William the Welshman'. A man calling himself by this name met Edward III near Koblenz in Germany in early September 1338, spent some time with him then, and a further three weeks with him in Antwerp in December. Edward III's Wardrobe accounts state: "William le Galeys who asserts that he is the father of the present king" and "William Galeys who calls himself king of England, father of the present king".

The first thing to note is that the accounts don't say "...who falsely claims" or "the impostor William le Galeys...". The man who kept the Wardrobe accounts, William Norwell, had served Edward II from 1313 to the end of his reign.

The second point is that other royal pretenders of the era definitely did not spend several weeks socialising with the royal personage they were pretending to be, or claiming kinship with. Royal pretenders were usually executed. Edward II himself had met a pretender named John of Powderham in 1318; John was hanged. In 1301, a woman known to posterity as the 'False Margaret' was burned alive in Bergen for claiming to be Margaret, the Maid of Norway, Edward II's first fiancee, who had died in 1290 at the age of seven. Not only was William not executed, he wasn't punished in any way. There's no record of Edward III denying his claims.

Pretenders usually made their claim publicly. William the Welshman did not. He never openly proclaimed himself the rightful king, or ex-king, of England - only to Edward III. And the man who brought William to Edward III was an Italian sergeant-at-arms called Francekino Forcet, or Francisco Forcetti. Forcetti had links with the Fieschi family, as in the Fieschi Letter, above.

Why 'William the Welshman'? If this was Edward II, he could hardly call himself 'Edward' openly, and William was not a name associated with his family. Edward was born in Caernarfon, in North Wales, and never gave up his title of Prince of Wales to his son - the only title he didn't. Paul Doherty has speculated that William was William Ockley, the man convicted of Edward II's murder in 1330, who then disappeared. But there's no evidence that Ockley was Welsh - he seems to have come from Ireland.

Edward II or not, the whole episode is an oddity.

John de Galeis, or de Gales

A squire of the King of Navarre in the early 1390s, and described variously as "the bastard brother of the King of England" and "the bastard of England". (Many thanks to Dr Ian Mortimer for telling me about John and sharing his ideas with me. Oh, and for sending me a scan of Melton's letter, above. ;)

Given the date, the obvious inference is that John was an illegitimate son of Edward of Woodstock, the Black Prince, and a half-brother of the reigning King, Richard II. However, Edward of Woodstock never acknowledged him as such, and it would be very strange - not to mention discourteous and disrespectful - of the King of Navarre to refer to him as Edward's son and Richard's brother if he had never been acknowledged by Edward. And besides, Edward of Woodstock sent a John de Galeis a tun of wine in November 1360. Given that Edward was only thirty himself in 1360, he could hardly have had a son old enough to be sent wine. Edward did acknowledge an illegitimate son called Roger of Clarendon - the only illegitimate child mentioned in his will of 1376.

John can't have been an illegitimate son of Edward III either, for the same reason as above - Edward never acknowledged him - and because any son of Edward III was not a brother of a King of England. Is it possible that John de Galeis was an illegitimate son of Edward II born after 1327, perhaps in the 1330s or beginning of the 1340s, and thus the half-brother of Edward III?

Lord Berkeley's Claims

Thomas, Lord Berkeley told Parliament in November 1330 nec unquam scivit de morta sua usque in presenti parliamento ipso, "he never even knew about that [Edward II's] death until the present Parliament". I've looked at this before, and I still think it's an extraordinary thing for him to have said. If he was feigning ignorance of the circumstances of the murder, why not say "I don't know how Edward was murdered, I wasn't there"? If he meant to say that this was the first time he had heard that Edward II's death was now being treated as murder, why not state it more clearly than "I didn't know about the death"?

Professor Roy Martin Haines has written in his Death of a King that "What Berkeley meant to say, and he ought to have expressed himself more clearly, unless the recording clerk is to blame, was that he knew nothing about the circumstances of the death." I'd love to know how Professor Haines has access to Berkeley's head, so he can state with so much certainty what Berkeley was thinking. Mr David J. H. Smith, the Berkeley Castle archivist, doesn't entirely agree with him: he has written in the Times Literary Supplement "what Thomas actually said was that this was the first time he had heard any suspicion of foul play in the King’s death...".

[Mr Smith makes an error in his letter: Thomas de Berkeley's messenger was indeed sent to Edward III at Lincoln, not Nottingham; Edward III didn't arrive at Nottingham until 30 September, and knew of his father's death by the 24th. I think the mistake is in the Berkeley records, which do say Nottingham, not Lincoln, but Edward III's itinerary is perfectly clear.]

Both men are convinced that their respective interpretations of Berkeley's strange statement are correct. However, it seems to me that they are arguing from the position of certainty that Edward II was murdered in 1327 and are forcing Berkeley's words to fit into that. But what if we take the view that Edward was alive in November 1330, or at the very least that he hadn't been murdered in Berkeley's custody in 1327? What if we assume the most literal interpretation of Berkeley's words? That he genuinely had not heard before that Edward II was dead?

13 comments:

Gabriele C. said...

There's a rotting, stranded whale around somewhere. *grin*

Paul said...

Hmmm very interesting. It does seem odd that Fieschi would make up the story of Edward's escape, especially when Edward III could've called his bluff and asked to see him at any time.

Regarding Melton's letter it seems he was privy to the same info the Earl of Kent. They were both indicted for the same treasonable offence and him trying to get clothes and gold seems to indicate he was convinced Ed II was still alive. I'm not sure it proves he was but the fact that the Earl of Kent was put to death does need looking at. Is it treason to try to release somebody who, assuming the Ed II is dead, wasn't the old King? Maybe Mortimer just wanted people who had better claims to the throne out of the way?

John de Galeis would have been an old squire at almost 70 had he been a pre 1327 son of Ed II! I have an image of a doddery old man struggling carrying a pile of armour. Wasnn't the Black Prince born when Ed III was a teenager? It's cutting it very fine but he could just about have been a 30 year old prince's boozing son. Maybe the wine was for his household/ guardian? Just being devil's advocate you understand.

Alianore said...

Gabriele: *giggles*

Paul: there are some theories about why Fieschi might have invented the story, none of them convincing to me: that it was intended to support the cult of 'Edward II, the saint', by portraying him as a penitent hermit (but why would Fieschi be bothered about doing that?); and that Fieschi was blackmailing Edward III - which wouldn't work at all if Ed II had really died in 1327, because Ed III wouldn't have any doubts about his father's death and could just laugh off Fieschi's attempts to present an impostor as Ed II.

Isabella and Roger Mortimer's execution of Kent: there was also Kent's brother Norfolk, Ed III's brother John of Eltham, Henry of Lancaster and his son, not to mention Ed III's sisters - all of whom were in line to the throne as well. Queen Philippa was 6 months pregnant in March 1330, too. I've never understood why Kent alone of all these men represented such a threat to Mortimer that he had to be executed, if his plot to free Ed II wasn't a real one.

If John de Galeis was born say in the later 1330s, he would have been in his early 50s when he was in the retinue of the king of Navarre. Ed III was 17 when the Black Prince was born. If the BP had an illegit son at 15, the son would have been 15 in 1360 - it is cutting it very fine, and there's still the problem that the BP never claimed John as his son. If the wine had been attended for someone in his household, this person would have been named instead.

But keep on playing devil's advocate, it's great! :)

Kate Plantaganet said...

Brilliant! Do I understand correctly that two different and independent sources claim Edward went to Corfe?

Alianore said...

Kate: Kent was convinced in 1329/30 that Edward II was being held at Corfe. A few years later, the Fieschi letter (written probably 1336/37) also claims that Edward was at Corfe - though you could argue that Fieschi knew that Kent thought Edward was there, so it's not exactly independent evidence. However, Lord Berkeley sent letters to John Maltravers at Corfe, almost certainly in Sept 1327. It seems that something was going on with Ed II at Corfe.

Paul said...

It's hard to play Devil's Advocate against you, you know your stuff too well!

Alianore said...

Thanks! It's really good for me, though - helps me to see things from a different perspective, and think things through properly.

Susan Higginbotham said...

I'd love to know more about what was going on with Melton.

With John, would Edward II be likely to name a newborn child John when he already had a living son named John? Though I suppose the mother might have named the child without considering he had a half-brother by the same name.

Alianore said...

Susan: I hope the lady who found the letter, Elizabeth Danbury, publishes something on it soon.

I wondered if John de Galeis was born after John of Eltham died in 1336, and perhaps Ed chose the name in honour of his dead son? OK, I'm really projecting here, given the lack of certainty over John's identity and Ed II being alive then, but the idea did cross my mind.

Carla said...

I agree that Berkeley's choice of words is most odd. It seems most unlikely that in 1330 he could be hearing for the first time that Edward II was supposed to be dead. How did he manage not to notice the lavish funeral in December 1327?

Alianore said...

Carla: perhaps he had knowledge that the man buried during the funeral was not Edward II at all. ;)

Otherwise, I can only think that he'd spent the last 3 years with his fingers in his ears, going 'lalalalala, I can't hear you'. :-)

Carla said...

Quite so, but everybody else at the time was saying it was Edward II, so Berkeley could hardly say he hadn't heard. He could have meant he hadn't believed it, but it's an odd choice of words. Very peculiar :-)

Alianore said...

Oh, for a time machine, so I could go back to 1330 and grab hold of Berkeley and say "Oi, pal, what the heck are you going on about?? Huh?! Tell me what you really mean, you cryptic git!"
:-)