29 November, 2011

Anniversaries

27 November 1358: Isabella of France, dowager queen of England, was buried at the Greyfriars Church in London, with all due ceremony and in the presence of her son Edward III and daughter-in-law Queen Philippa (and I presume of her other surviving child Joan, queen of Scotland).  With Isabella was buried the cloak she had worn at her wedding to Edward II half a century previously, and a silver casket with her husband's heart inside.  (NOTA BENE: being buried with your spouse or child's heart was perfectly normal in royal burials of the era; Isabella was not buried next to Roger Mortimer or even in the same city; she was buried with Edward II's heart, not Mortimer's, a point I make especially because this is often erroneously stated online.)

28 November 1290: Edward II's mother Eleanor of Castile, queen of England, lady of Ireland, duchess of Aquitaine and countess of Ponthieu in her own right, died at the house of one Richard de Weston in Harby, Nottinghamshire.  She was probably forty-nine.  Her tomb and effigy in Westminster Abbey still survive, as do three of the Eleanor Crosses her widower erected in her memory.  Only six of the fourteen or sixteen children she bore outlived her, one of them - Joan of Acre - then pregnant with the king and queen's eldest grandchild, Gilbert de Clare, earl of Gloucester.

Edward of Caernarfon, then aged six and Eleanor's youngest child and sole surviving son, can barely have known his mother: she and Edward I left England for Gascony in May 1286, shortly after his second birthday, and only returned in August 1289.  On the twenty-fifth anniversary of Queen Eleanor's death, 28 November 1315, her son paid thirty-five shillings to seventy Dominicans (the favourite order of both Edward and Eleanor) for "performing divine service at the anniversary of the lady the queen, mother of the present lord the king."

29 November 1314: Philip IV, king of France, Edward II's father-in-law and second cousin (their paternal grandmothers Marguerite and Eleanor of Provence were sisters) was killed in a hunting accident near Fontainebleau, aged forty-six.  Philip survived his accident long enough to make a codicil to his will the day before he died, in which he left two rings to his daughter Ysabella Regina Anglie, one of them set with a large ruby, which she had once given him.

29 November 1330: Roger Mortimer, earl of March and lord of Wigmore, was hanged naked at Tyburn - an execution site for common criminals but not, previously, a nobleman.  He had been dragged to Tyburn wearing the black tunic he had worn at Edward II's funeral in December 1330.

22 November, 2011

Brief Biographies: Simon of Reading

Today, a post about Simon of Reading, or Symond or Syme de Reding or Redyngg or Redynges as the name was spelt at the time, who was executed with Hugh Despenser the Younger in Hereford on 24 November 1326.  When the two men were brought into Hereford before Hugh's trial, Simon was forced to parade in front of Hugh bearing the Despenser arms reversed, and some time later was hanged next to him but on a much lower gallows (Hugh's was a massive fifty feet high).  Unlike Hugh, it appears that Simon was hanged until dead, rather than cut down and disembowelled and all the rest of the horrors inflicted on the royal favourite.  I wonder whether many, or indeed any, people watching the execution had any idea of Simon's identity.

Before I look at who Simon was, let's look at who he wasn't.  Natalie Fryde says in her 1979 work The Tyranny and Fall of Edward II 1321-1326 that he was "one of Despenser's closest friends" - well, possibly, but she doesn't cite a source for this and I've never seen one that confirms her statement - and also calls him "the loyal knight of Despenser."  Simon wasn't a knight.  Neither was he the marshall of Edward II's household, the younger Despenser's standard-bearer or marshall, or pretty well anything else claimed about him in modern times.  He was in fact a sergeant-at-arms of Edward II's household (see below for the evidence for this).

What I find most puzzling about Simon is why Isabella and Roger Mortimer wanted to execute someone so obscure; as far as I can tell he was just one of Edward's sergeants-at-arms, among many others, so why did they deem it necessary to execute him so publicly with Hugh Despenser?  Simon was not even given a trial, though according to the Brut chronicle he was drawn and hanged "for encheson [reason] that he despisede the Quene Isabel," and the Anonimalle, a French version of the chronicle, talks of "une Symond de Redyngges, qavoit despise la roigne..." (a Simon of Reading, who had despised the queen...).  'Despise' in this context means insult, humiliate, scorn, disregard.  A 1327 entry on the Fine Roll relating to Simon says that he was "hanged for a felony."  Hmmmmm.  Was insulting the queen a felony, and when did it become a capital offence and such a serious one that no trial to prove the truth of the allegation was required?  Natalie Fryde in Tyranny and Fall says that Simon was "included in the punishment meted out to his master [i.e. Despenser] because he had in some way insulted Isabella," as though these were reasonable grounds to execute someone without trial, and assuming that what the Brut says is certainly true (she doesn't say he was 'alleged to have insulted Isabella' or similar).

Unfortunately I don't know who Simon's parents were, or if he was married, or almost anything else about him.  The Fine Roll entry of February 1327 which refers to his hanging is an "order to the bailiffs of the manor of Bray to take into the king's hand the lands, goods and chattels, which Simon de Redyng, who was hanged for a felony, held in chief of Edward II in their bailiwick."  [1]  The Berkshire village of Bray is fifteen miles from Reading, itself about forty miles west of London.  Judging by his name and this entry, Simon must have grown up and lived in or close to Reading.  The earliest mention I can find of him is in November 1318, when a commission of oyer et terminer was ordered "on complaint by Simon de Redynge touching the persons who assaulted him at Gedenoye [Gedney], co. Lincoln."  [2]  On 20 September 1324, Simon was one of six men granted a 'general pardon' by Edward II, and on 16 April the year before had been granted the Worcestershire manors of Kyre Wyard and Woodhall forfeited by John Wyard, an adherent of Roger Mortimer, in which manors and two others in Worcestershire, 'Salynes' and 'Smytheslond', Simon was granted rights of free warren.  [3]  His being granted the manors of one of Roger Mortimer's followers was presumably a reason why Mortimer hated him.  Simon must have become pretty well-off: in July 1325, William Nicol of Selsey acknowledged that he owed twenty pounds to him, a large amount of money for a man of his rank and position (Edward II's sergeants-at-arms earned twelve pence a day).  [4]

Simon appears three times in Edward II's chamber account of 1325/26 that I've found.  In August 1325, Edward sent him to pay money to someone (not sure who; that entry is hard to read).  In May 1326, there are two references to 'Syme de Redyng', whose horse needed shoeing while the king and his household were travelling along the Thames, near Henley.  As far as I can make out, Simon lost his mace (I assume that's what 'mase' is) in the river shortly afterwards, and it was later returned to him by John Feryman of Sonning, who received three shillings from Edward II for his efforts.

Simon is next mentioned on 28 September 1326, the day after Edward II, in the Tower of London, learned that his queen and Mortimer's invasion force had landed in East Anglia on the 24th.  An entry on the Patent Roll says "The like* of Simon de Redyng, king's serjeant, to select 100 footmen out of the men arrayed in the counties of Oxford and Berks and lead them to the king to repel the invaders."  [5]  (* The previous entry says: "Appointment of Daniel de Burgham in the county of Kent to select and lead all the horse and foot who will go with him against Roger de Mortuo Mari" (Mortimer).)  Two c. 1327 petitions by a William de Whithurst say that Edward II gave Whithurst a hundred pounds at Gloucester to pay the wages of the men-at-arms coming to his aid, and that Whithurst gave some of this to Simon at Edward's command and that the rest was taken by Isabella when she arrived in Gloucester shortly afterwards.  [6]  Simon is named in the Annales Paulini and Adam Murimuth's chronicle as one of the men still with Edward II and Hugh Despenser the Younger when they were captured in South Wales on 16 November.  He was to pay the ultimate price for this loyalty eight days later.  The manors granted to him in Worcestershire, as well as "two messuages and land in Boclington, co. Worcester, and the messuage in Wyndesore, co. Berks, which belonged to Simon de Redyng", were granted back to John Wyard in 1327 and 1328.  [7]

Martyn Lawrence in his D. Phil. thesis on the Despensers points out that there are no specific references to Simon of Reading as a Despenser adherent.  Nigel Saul says "The chroniclers are surely doing no more than reflecting popular opinion when they associate his name with that of the younger Despenser...Yet the actual position he held was that of a serviens ad arma [sergeant-at-arms] in the royal household.  Whatever his nominal position, his familiarity with the Despensers meant that he was denied any chance of making his peace with the regime that succeeded theirs."  Earlier in his article, Saul says "We know also that they [the Despensers] had some very unpopular officials like Simon de Reading, who was to share a traitor's death with his lord...".  [8]  There is no evidence I know of to suggest that Simon was a Despenser official, or particularly close to them, or involved in any way in their tyranny, land-grabbing and other crimes.  It is Simon's execution alongside Hugh Despenser that leads writers to draw the obvious conclusion that he must have been a henchman of theirs and grossly unpopular throughout England for aiding and abetting their schemes, even though no known contemporary source suggests this.  The Brut, Annales Paulini and the chronicle of Adam Murimuth do not say that Simon was executed for complicity in any of the Despensers' crimes; indeed, the Brut claims that he died because he insulted the queen.  You'd think that if a man was so notorious and guilty of such horrendous crimes that it was necessary to execute him publicly alongside Hugh Despenser without a trial, there would be more mentions of him somewhere and more obvious associations with the Despensers.  Even if Simon were famous in his time as a Despenser adherent and yet no evidence of this has survived, it's peculiar that other far more influential and better-known supporters of theirs, such as Sir Ingelram Berenger (a former sheriff of Bedfordshire and Buckinghamshire), and Sir John Haudlo, were pardoned for their adherence within weeks of the new regime taking control.  Perhaps Simon just had the misfortune to be in the wrong place at the wrong time, as John Daniel and Robert de Micheldever appear to have been a week earlier when they were executed with the earl of Arundel, to have irritated Roger Mortimer by being given two manors which formerly belonged to his adherent John Wyard, and to have irritated Isabella by saying something about her which perhaps hit a little too close to home.  Whatever Simon's misdeeds, public humiliation and execution without trial hardly seem a fair and just punishment, and don't lend much credence to the notion that the revolution of 1326/27 was intended to improve, and in fact did improve, the situation in England; Isabella and Mortimer's decision to execute Simon appears just as petty, capricious and vindictive as the decisions of Edward II himself often were.

Sources

1) Calendar of Fine Rolls 1327-1337, pp. 19, 21.
2)  Calendar of Patent Rolls 1317-1321, p 289.
3) Cal Pat Rolls 1321-1324, p. 275; Cal Pat Rolls 1324-1327, p. 23; Calendar of Charter Rolls 1300-1326, p. 462.
4) Calendar of Close Rolls 1323-1327, p. 494.
5) Cal Pat Rolls 1324-1327, p. 325.
6) The National Archives SC 8/239/11922, SC 8/169/8413.
7) Cal Pat Rolls 1327-1330, pp. 338, 343, 419.
8) Martyn Lawrence, 'Power, Ambition and Political Rehabilitation: the Despensers, c.1281-1400' (Univ. of York D. Phil. thesis, 2005), p. 102 note 49; Nigel Saul, 'The Despensers and the Downfall of Edward II', English Historical Review, 99 (1984), pp. 4, 11-12.

17 November, 2011

17 November 1326: The Execution Of The Earl Of Arundel

Today marks the 685th anniversary of the execution of Edmund Fitzalan, earl of Arundel, who was beheaded in Hereford with two other men, John Daniel and Robert de Micheldever, on the orders of his cousin Roger Mortimer and Isabella of France.  The pair's invasion force had arrived in England on 24 September, Hugh Despenser the Elder was executed in Bristol on 27 October, and although Mortimer, Isabella and their allies didn't yet know it, Hugh Despenser the Younger and Edward II himself had been captured in South Wales the day before Arundel's death.  Arundel and the other two men were captured in Shrewsbury by John Charlton, formerly Edward II's chamberlain who switched sides after his son and heir married one of Roger Mortimer's many daughters, and taken to the queen and her allies in Hereford.

Arundel was forty-one at the time of his death, born on 1 May 1285, and left a son and heir, Richard 'Copped Hat', who was about thirteen in 1326 and was destined to become one of the richest men in England in the entire fourteenth century, as well as several daughters and at least one younger son.  His widow Alice was granted £130 a year in March 1327 for the sustenance of herself and her children, perhaps at the request of her brother John de Warenne, earl of Surrey (Patent Rolls), who survived Edward II's downfall.

There had long been bad blood between the earl of Arundel and Roger Mortimer, who was his first cousin once removed (Arundel's paternal grandmother Isabella Mortimer was the sister of Roger's father Edmund).  Mortimer attacked and captured Arundel's castle at Clun during the Despenser War of 1321, and Arundel sent an indignant letter to to the "good and wise men and his dear and beloved bailiffs and the other burgesses and good men of the town of Shrewsbury" on 4 June that year, on 4 June 1321, regarding a sum of money which they were keeping for him and which he evidently suspected his cousin of wanting to steal: "...we do not under any circumstances intend that our cousin of Mortimer, who is so close to us in blood [nostre cousin de mortemer qe nous est si pres de saunk], should do us such a great injury, which we have in no way merited."

Arundel and his two companions, John Daniel and Robert (not Thomas) de Micheldever, were not granted a trial but merely "beheaded at Hereford without judgement and without being arraigned," as a later petition of Micheldever's wife to parliament points out.  Arundel's main 'crimes' were being an ally of Edward II, marrying his son Richard to Hugh Despenser the Younger's daughter Isabel - which at least spared her the fate of three of her sisters, dumped into convents at Queen Isabella's behest weeks after their father's death - and being Roger Mortimer's rival for land and influence in the Marches.  Arundel's lands in North Wales and Shropshire were later granted to Mortimer; his castle and honour of Arundel in Sussex were given to Edward II's half-brother the earl of Kent; most of the treasure Arundel had stored in Chichester and London ended up in Queen Isabella's coffers.  The chronicler Adam Murimuth says that Arundel, Daniel and Micheldever were executed because Roger Mortimer hated them with a "perfect hatred" (perfecto odio).  As I wrote in my post about Daniel and Micheldever, I don't know what they had done to deserve Mortimer's loathing or to merit summary execution without trial.

The Lancastrian chronicler Henry Knighton, writing a few decades later, claims that the earl of Arundel did harm to Queen Isabella in some way, but that sounds like a much later justification for what amounted to the murder of a peer of the realm; there is nothing in any contemporary source that I've seen to confirm this.  Several chroniclers say that a similar accusation, that of 'insulting the queen', was thrown at Simon of Reading, who likewise was not given a trial, when he was executed with Hugh Despenser the Younger a week later - when exactly did 'insulting the queen' become a capital offence?  Another of Arundel's supposed crimes was condemning Thomas of Lancaster to death in March 1322, but the earl of Kent, one of Mortimer and Isabella's supporters and with them at Hereford, had also sat at Lancaster's trial and condemned him to death.  Apparently the hypocrisy of that didn't bother anyone.

According to the Chronicle of Lanercost, Arundel was "condemned to death in secret, as it were, and afterwards beheaded" (et quasi in occulto adjudicatus est morti, et postea decollatus), and the Llandaff chronicle, cited in Arundel's ODNB entry, says that the axe was wielded by a "worthless wretch" (villissimi ribaldi) and that it required twenty-two strokes to sever the poor man's head.  The Brut chronicle, who wrongly calls the earl 'Sir John of Arundel', says that he was beheaded for the simple reason that he was one of the Despensers' counsellors.  In the brave new world of 1326/27, during a revolution frequently said to have put an end to Edward II's tyranny, that was apparently all it took.

13 November, 2011

A Letter To Edward II, 1325

Just a quick post today, in which I'd like to say 'Happy 699th Birthday, Sire' to Edward III, born at Windsor Castle on 13 November 1312.  I'm also pleased to report that Edward II now has 700 fans on his Facebook page.  :-)

Here's a great letter sent to Edward II on 6 June 1325, during the War of Saint-Sardos between Edward and his brother-in-law Charles IV of France over Gascony, by a young Gascon nobleman called Bérard d'Albret (died 1346), one of Edward's greatest supporters.  He was the son of Amanieu, lord of Albret (died 1326), a powerful and wealthy nobleman related by blood and marriage to the lords of Bergerac and counts of Armagnac, and was himself lord of Vayres and Vertheuil.  Jonathan Sumption describes Bérard as "perhaps the ablest of his ruthless and warlike clan" and cites a contemporary letter which calls him "more enthusiastic than anyone else in these parts about the service of the king our lord [Edward II]."

Somewhat bizarrely, I found Bérard on a website called Who's Dated Who.  Hmmm; in fact he married, in 1319, a woman with the excellent name of Guiraude de Gironde.  Bérard was in England in 1326, and there are several mentions of him there in the chancery rolls, including one which demonstrates that he had some troubles unloading his possessions on arrival in Southampton: Edward II sent a man there "to bring to the king the horses, harness and goods of the said Berard, lately arrested by the mayor, bailiffs and keepers of the port of that town."  One hopes that this unfortunate introduction to the country didn't put Bérard off England too much.

Here's my translation of Bérard's short letter, which I love both for its attitude towards Edward II and for the lovely Gascon French in which it's written (by a clerk rather than Bérard himself, presumably): le vostre umyl sosgis siniffia a la vostra treshauta senhoria que je ay reseu vo letras...E a Diu que set garda de larma e du cuer de vos...

"To his very dear, dread lord, your humble subject recommends himself to your very high lordship.  Very dear, dread lord, your humble subject signifies to your very high lordship that I have received your letters stipulating that I should come to you, which thing, very dear, dread lord, is the greatest joy that I have ever had in my life, that is, to see you.  And, very dear, dread lord, as promptly as I can I will set off to come to you.  The reason, very dear, dread lord, that I have remained behind the bearer*, if it please you, he will be able to tell you more fully.  And may God, very dear, dread lord, safely keep your soul and your heart.  Given on the island of Glénan on the day of the festival of Corpus Christi."

* i.e. stayed longer in Gascony and not travelled to England with the man carrying his letter to Edward.

I also recently read a letter sent to Hugh Despenser the Younger on 31 March 1325 by Bertrand Assailit, formerly an adherent of Piers Gaveston: a few weeks before his death in June 1312, Piers sent Bertrand and another man named Berduk de Marsan to Cornwall on his behalf to collect £583 from his steward there.  Bertrand and Berduk were captured by William Martin carrying 1000 marks and 129 pieces of tin and imprisoned, to Edward II's fury.  Assailit's French is also deliciously Gascon-flavoured: A la vostra senheuria faz assavoir que le prumier dimenge de Mars mestre Bernart de la Cassenhea fu pris a demia lua Dagens e est en prison dins le chastel de Penne e en bona garda...Cher senheur, umblament vos pri que moi vullez aver recomande a vostra graca...(To your lordship we make known that on the first day of March, Master Bernard de Cassanea was taken [arrested or captured] halfway to Agen and is imprisoned in the castle of Penne and well-guarded...Dear lord, I pray you humbly that you might show me your good will...)

Sources

The letters are printed in Pierre Chaplais, ed., The War of Saint-Sardos (1323-1325): Gascon Correspondence and Diplomatic Documents.

- Jonathan Sumption, The Hundred Years War: Trial By Battle
- Malcolm Vale, The Origins of the Hundred Years War 1: The Angevin Legacy 1250-1340 

06 November, 2011

Vagrant Pigs, The Price Of Ale And Re-dyed Caps

Some details from ordinary people's lives in London during Edward II's reign, from the Letter Books of London 1314-1337.

- 13 October 1313: "...came Laurence de Hanyngtone, skinner, and found security for the goods left by the above William de Hanyngtone [who had recently died] to John his son, whose guardian he had been appointed.  And forasmuch as complaint had been made to the Mayor and Aldermen that the said John had not been decently maintained, the said Laurence was ordered to provide him yearly whilst at school with a furred gown, a coat of 'Alemayne' [Germany] with tunic to match, four pairs of linen cloths, sufficient shoes and a decent bed, and every week give him tenpence for his commons."

- 15 August 1314: "Precept to the Sheriffs to deliver to Alice, late wife of John de Harwe, her free-bench* in a tenement which belonged to her late husband, viz., the hall, principal chamber and cellar beneath, and also common easement in the kitchen, stable, common privy, and courtyard."

* The note says "The estate in copyhold lands which the wife had for dower on the death of her husband according to the custom of the manor."

- 27 June 1314, three days after Edward II's privy seal was captured at the battle of Bannockburn and the day he reached safety at Berwick-on-Tweed (he used Isabella's seal instead): "Writ to the Sheriffs notifying the loss of the King's Privy Seal, and ordering that proclamation be made that no attention be paid to any command that may appear under that Seal without further orders from the King, unless the command be to the King's benefit and honour."

- Uncertain date in late 1314: "William de Mortone attached [i.e. arrested] to answer a charge of having forcibly extracted various articles of jewellery, silver plate, linen and woollen cloths, also certain bonds and deeds of acquittance, from two chests lying near the church of St Magnus in the Ward of Bridge."

- Monday before Christmas, 1314: "The same day came good men of the Ward of Bradestrete and prayed that a certain elm tree growing near London Wall by Bisshopesgate, which by reason of its age and dryness was dangerous to the shops of Roger Poyntel, might be cut down and sold, and the proceeds of the sale devoted to the purchase of a cord for le Wardehoke."  (Whatever that is.)

- 21 September 1316: "Proclamation that no brewer nor brewster [female brewer] nor any one else sell a gallon of ale for more than three farthings, and the best at three halfpence.  Any one convicted of doing the contrary shall at first lose his brew, at the second offence abjure the trade, and at the third abjure the City forever."

- 30 May 1315: "Writ to the Mayor and Sheriffs for proclamation to be made that all vintners and taverners selling wine by retail in the City and suburb shall take no more than threepence a gallon, under heavy penalty...Proclamation made accordingly on Sunday before the feast of St Barnabas [11 June]."

- "Henry de St. Antonine, taverner, to answer a charge of having sold a gallon of wine at Christmas, 10 Edward II [1316], for sixpence, contrary to the ordinance which declared that no taverner of the City should sell wine by retail for more than fivepence per gallon.  The said Henry came, confessed his guilt, and put himself on the mercy of the Mayor and the Aldermen.  Judgement given that, inasmuch as the said Henry had sold a gallon of wine out of a cask at a penny more than was lawful, he should sell the remainder of the cask at fourpence a gallon and bring the money into court to be dealt with as the court should decide."

There's a discrepancy of twopence there between the price of a gallon of wine stated in the proclamation and the price stated in the judgement against Henry.

- Letter from Edward II to the mayor and sheriffs, 15 March 1318: "We have understood that certain cappers of the city fraudulently make from day to day, and expose for sale in the City, diverse caps of flocks, and and wool and flocks mixed, and of other wool not suitable for caps, and that they redye old and used caps and sell them as new, and many merchant strangers bring caps deceitfully made elsewhere into the City...".  He ordered the men to search for such caps and burn them.  :-)

- 4 March 1316: "Writ to the Mayor and Sheriffs, enjoining them to see that the pavement of the City is repaired, the streets cleaned and freed of vagrant pigs."

- 23 February 1320: "Writ to the Mayor and Sheriffs for the punishment of bakers, taverners, millers and diverse others guilty of committing assaults with swords, bucklers, and other arms by night."

- 12 March 1320: "Seventeen pieces of hide belonging to John de Portesmuth were seized in the house of Robert de Gloucestre by Richard Lussher and his fellows, sworn to survey hides in the City, who say that the aforesaid hides are not tanned nor fit for making shoes, and that the aforesaid John brought them to the City for the purpose of making shoes...The jurors say that the aforesaid hides are false and badly tanned to the deception of the people."

- Undated, c. Easter 1320: at the end of a long schedule about taxation: "Be it known that in this taxation of goods in the City and suburbs there shall be exempted one gown for the man and one for his wife, and a bed for both; a ring and a bracelet of gold or silver, and a girdle of silk for daily use, and also a hanap of silver from which they drink."


- 17 June 1320: "a certain John le Chaundeller was summoned at the Guildhall to answer for that he, being the tenant of a certain small house outside Alegate, adjoining the churchyard of St Botolph, for which tenancy he ought to clean the gate of Alegate within and without and under the same, had not cleaned the gate."


- July/August/September 1320: at the Hustings for Common Pleas, men named William le Clerk of Higham Ferrers, Nicholas Schyngel and Warin de Waldene were found guilty of selling putrid meat unfit for human consumption and condemned "to stand in the pillory and the meat to be burnt under him."

- 3 June 1321: "Letters patent granting the City a royal pardon for neglecting to keep watch on those taking sanctuary in churches, provided that in future such fugitives be safeguarded in the City according to law and custom, in the same manner as in other parts of the realm.  Witness the king at Westminster."

02 November, 2011

Book Review: The Lion Of Mortimer by Juliet Dymoke

Published in 1979, this short novel about Edward II - it's less than 200 pages long - is out of print, but easily available in online bookshops at a very low price.  It's the third volume in Dymoke's The Plantagenets series, after A Pride of Kings and The Royal Griffin (about Edward II's great-aunt Eleanor, who married Simon de Montfort) and before Lady of the Garter (about his niece Joan of Kent).  I adore this tacky cover of Lion of Mortimer, and this one of Lady of the Garter, which is the copy I have of the book.

The novel's title is confusing and puzzles me somewhat, as it has little to do with the Mortimers, and features instead Edward II's friend Sir William Montacute (died 1319), his son of the same name who is the future earl of Salisbury, and his wife Elizabeth de Montfort as viewpoint characters.  Lion opens in May 1306, just before the mass knighting of nearly 300 men including Edward of Caernarfon and the elder William Montacute, and closes just after Edward III's arrest of Roger Mortimer at Nottingham Castle in October 1330 (as novels about Edward II almost always do).

The Lion of Mortimer is a reasonably good place for a reader keen to learn more about the reign of Edward II to start: it's a fairly basic - hardly surprising, given its lack of length - overview of the era with little in-depth characterisation, and a decent and easy to follow (though dated) narrative of the main events.  My favourite scene of the novel is the first one: William Montacute, decked out in all his court finery, walks down to the river Gade near Langley, and spots "a solitary man rowing a small boat strongly against the current, muscled arms pulling well at the oars, broad shoulders moving smoothly under peasant fustian, the May sunshine glinting on a head of thick curling russet hair."  This turns out to be the prince of Wales himself, Edward of Caernarfon, who is further described in the scene as a "tall, healthy-looking young man" and "passionately addicted to physical exercise"; a lovely introduction to his eccentricity and unusual rustic hobbies, and the enormous strength remarked on by chroniclers. 

Edward and William proceed to a vividly-described feast at his manor of Langley, where many of the important players are introduced to the reader: Roger Mortimer, the young lord of Wigmore, who has "an air of suppressed intensity" and is "not a man to cross"; Hugh Despenser, very young and insignificant as yet, though already heartily disliked by Mortimer; and of course Piers Gaveston, who "came from Gascony and knew how to dress, how to carry himself; he had a natural grace but there was an insolent turn to his head, an arrogance in his smile."  Edward's face glows whenever he looks at Piers.  Over the next few pages we also meet, among others, Piers' nemesis the earl of Warwick - whom he mocked as the Black Hound of Arden - who has "a habitual and uncontrollable dribble of saliva trickling down his chin," Edward's cousin and enemy Thomas of Lancaster, loathed by his wife Alice de Lacy, and Edward's queen Isabella, a beautiful but haughty young woman with a habit of writing to her father every time anything annoys her, which is pretty often.

Unfortunately, the rest of the novel doesn't entirely live up to the promise of its excellent beginning.  It moves at a breakneck speed; the first fifty pages cover the period from May 1306 to Edward's coronation in February 1308, which leaves only 140 pages for Dymoke to write about the period up to October 1330.  Piers Gaveston goes into exile and returns with dizzying rapidity, the queen is pregnant and Edward - yawn - abandons her at Tynemouth to save Piers, Piers dies and Edward grieves for half a page, then suddenly it's Bannockburn, then suddenly it's 1318 and the king and queen have three children.  And so on.  Many of the most interesting and important events are not dramatised: for instance, we see Edward's son the young duke of Aquitaine through the eyes of his friend William Montacute the younger in Hainault in September 1326 just before the invasion of England, and the next scene is Edward II in captivity at Kenilworth Castle months later, grieving for the Despensers, whose executions we never saw.  Some pages later at Berkeley, Edward is foully mistreated and then murdered by red-hot poker, scenes I find very hard to read.  (I console myself with the thought that this mistreatment almost certainly never happened.)

There's little original in Juliet Dymoke's re-telling of Edward II's story, but it does cover the period well, and of course it's not her fault that scholarship has moved on considerably since she wrote it.  The portrayal of Edward as a man totally unsuited to his position, unable to change and unable to see what is wrong with the way he behaves, is well-written and plausible, and fits in with what we know of him.  I found Isabella irritating more than anything else, but then, I'm not generally given to finding Isabella sympathetic or likeable, so the portrayal of her may well affect other readers entirely differently.  There are some lovely vivid scenes in the novel, with Piers Gaveston's jousting tournament at Wallingford in December 1307 and Edward meeting visiting dignitaries while digging a pond at Langley stripped to the waist and muddy being particular favourites of mine.  I also enjoyed seeing the story through the eyes of people who rarely appear in fiction about this era.  In short, The Lion of Mortimer is a quick easy journey through Edward II's turbulent reign and is well worth a read, especially as you can pick it up for a mere penny on Amazon.