On 3 April 1327, custody of Sir Edward of Caernarfon, formerly King Edward II, was transferred from his cousin Henry, earl of Lancaster to Thomas, Lord Berkeley and Sir John Maltravers. Berkeley (born c. 1293/97) was Roger Mortimer's son-in-law, and Maltravers, a knight of Dorset, was married to Berkeley's sister (see here for more info about the two men). Contrary to popular belief, there is really no reason to imagine that Edward was tormented and abused while under Lord Berkeley's supervision at Berkeley Castle, and John Maltravers was never at any point in his long life accused of any complicity in the death of Edward of Caernarfon or of mistreating him. Lord Berkeley wrote to Edward III informing him of his father's death at Berkeley Castle on 21 September 1327, sending Sir Thomas Gurney as his messenger. The fourteen-year-old king, then at parliament in Lincoln, told his cousin the earl of Hereford on 24 September 1327 that he had heard the news during the night of 23 September, presumably meaning 23-24 September, the night before he sent the letter. News of the former king's death was disseminated at parliament and from there, around the country. Edward II's funeral took place in Gloucester on 20 December. (See here for a narrative of events between September and December 1327.)
Edward III overthrew his mother Queen Isabella and Roger Mortimer at Nottingham Castle on 19 October 1330, and to general relief and jubilation, took over the governance of his own kingdom. On 23 October Edward summoned a parliament to be held at Westminster beginning on 26 November, during which Roger Mortimer was sentenced to death; the sentence was carried out on 29 November. Mortimer's son-in-law Thomas, Lord Berkeley, who had been given legal responsibility for the welfare of the king's father in 1327, was called to account during the parliament. In response to the question "how can he excuse himself, but that he should be answerable for the death of the king," Berkeley said something very strange, recorded in Latin in the rolls of parliament (he had presumably been asked, and had answered, the question in French):
- qualiter se velit de morte ipsius regis acquietare, dicit quod ipse nunquam fuit consentiens, auxilians, seu procurans, ad mortem suam, nec unquam scivit de morte sua usque in presenti Parliamento isto: he wishes to acquit himself of the death of the same king, and says that he was never an accomplice, a helper or a procurer in his death, nor did he ever know of his death until this present parliament. (Text and translation from The Parliament Rolls of Medieval England.)
This peculiar statement 'he did not know of his death' or 'he never knew about his [Edward II's] death' - peculiar because it was Lord Berkeley himself via his messenger Sir Thomas Gurney who had informed Edward III of his father's demise in September 1327 - has been translated over-elaborately by some modern commentators so that the words mean what they think they should mean. Take for example Professor Roy Martin Haines in his 2002 book Death of a King, p. 78:
"Now this can hardly be taken to mean, as some have thought, that the baron did not know that the king was dead. For one thing such a thing would have been tantamount to treason, and had been so interpreted during the regime of Isabelle and Mortimer*; for another, it would be quite inconceivable in the light of all the circumstances already painstakingly reviewed [in Haines' book]. 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 Edward's death. As we now know, the idea of murder was first openly mooted in the parliament and there accepted as the cause of death." Although Professor Haines is beyond doubt a superb historian with a remarkable decades-long track record of publications about Edward II and his reign, is it reasonable for him to assume that he knows what was going on in Thomas Berkeley's mind in late 1330 and to explain to readers 'what Berkeley meant to say' with such utter certainty? This is a classic example of how Berkeley's strange remark is interpreted by someone sure that Edward II had been dead for more than three years at the time, to make it fit into this notion, to make the words say what the modern commentator wants them to say.
(* A reference, presumably, to the execution of Edward II's half-brother the earl of Kent in March 1330 for attempting to free the supposedly dead Edward from captivity.)
Here's another modern-day declaration by someone else convinced that he knew what Thomas Berkeley was 'really' saying in November 1330: David J.H. Smith, the Berkeley Castle archivist, wrote several years ago in a letter to the Times Literary Supplement (now behind a paywall, so I can't link to it) that "what Thomas actually said was that this was the first time he had heard any suspicion of foul play in the King's death...". No. That is not what Thomas actually said. What Thomas actually said, as recorded in the rolls of parliament by a clerk who was there and heard him speak, was nec unquam scivit de morte sua usque in presenti Parliamento isto. Nec unquam, never; scivit, he knew; de morte sua, of or about his death; usque in presenti Parliamento isto, until this present parliament, i.e. the one sitting at Westminster in November 1330, over three years after the alleged death of the former Edward II at Berkeley Castle. What in those six words says anything at all about 'suspicion of foul play'? Thomas Berkeley's words can only be made to mean 'he hadn't previously heard any suspicion of foul play' or 'he knew nothing about the circumstances of Edward II's death' by people looking at his words with the assumption that Edward died at Berkeley Castle while under Lord Berkeley's care in 1327 and trying to change the meaning of the words so that they make logical sense to them in this context.
Edward II's biographer Professor Seymour Phillips, Professor Chris Given-Wilson and the other editors of the Parliament Rolls of Medieval England 1275-1504 (PROME) translate nec unquam scivit de morte sua as 'nor did he know of the death...' in their text of the proceedings of the November 1330 parliament without any additions, although their Introduction to this parliament says that Lord Berkeley claimed he "had not known that the former king had died of other than natural causes." Professor Phillips goes into this point in more detail in his 2010 work Edward II, pp. 579-80. Footnote 18 acknowledges his translation of nec unquam scivit... as 'nor did he know of his death' in PROME, and adds that "my intention was to avoid over-interpretation of the text, since I was aware that it was open to different meanings." To quote Professor Phillips in his narrative (he is himself quoting Ian Mortimer's article 'Death of Edward II in Berkeley Castle'*): "Is 'the most obvious meaning' that Berkeley was claiming 'that he had not at any time heard of the death', or does it mean that he did not know the circumstances of the death until 1330? The latter meaning is more consistent with the language employed, especially when taken in conjunction with the immediately preceding statement that 'he was never an accomplice, a helper or a procurer in his death' ('ipse nuncquam fuit consentiens, auxilians, seu procurans, ad mortem suam'): this can only mean that Berkeley knew that the death had occurred but that he claimed he had no part in it."
(* Ian Mortimer, 'The Death of Edward II in Berkeley Castle', English Historical Review, cxx (2005), pp. 1175-1214; reproduced in his Medieval Intrigue: Decoding Royal Conspiracies (2010), pp. 61-108.)
To summarise, nec unquam scivit de morte sua has been variously stated to mean certainly or almost certainly that what Thomas Berkeley really intended to say was that a) he knew nothing of the circumstances of Edward II's death; b) he hadn't previously heard any suspicion of foul play relating to the death; c) he hadn't known that the king's death was due to anything other than natural causes; d) he knew nothing of the circumstances of the death although he knew it had taken place, but had nothing to do with the death. We are also informed that one of these interpretations 'is more consistent with the language employed' than translating nec unquam scivit de morte sua literally as 'he never knew about the death'. Hmmm, this is a lot of meaning being read into those six simple words, isn't it?
Although I already knew what Berkeley's statement dicit quod ipse nunquam fuit consentiens, auxilians, seu procurans, ad mortem suam, nec unquam scivit de morte sua usque in presenti Parliamento isto meant, I decided to send it to Quintus the Latin Translator as I was very interested in how an independent Latin expert would translate it, and he kindly sent this back to me:
"He said he was never in agreement to his death, either by lending help or by direct involvement, and he never knew about his death until this present parliament."
According to his website, Quintus was educated in Latin to doctoral level at Cambridge, taught Latin Prose and Verse Composition at the university, and then moved on to head the Classics department at a prestigious boarding school. Here we see how a Latin expert, without knowing the background to Berkeley's statement and without a vested interest in altering the translation so that it fits into his preconceived notions of what the statement 'should' mean, translates nec unquam scivit de morte sua usque in presenti Parliamento isto: he never knew about his death until this present parliament. Not 'he didn't know about the circumstances of his death' or 'he didn't know until the present parliament that it was murder' or 'he hadn't previously heard any suspicion of foul play', or any other ways in which these words been interpreted in recent years. Simply, 'he never knew about his [i.e. Edward II's] death'. I certainly wouldn't call myself an expert in the European languages derived from Latin, but if someone said in French, for example, Il n'a jamais su de sa mort, I'd assume they meant 'He never knew about his death' and not that they were trying to tell me they didn't know the person was murdered, which I assume would be Il n'a jamais su qu'il a été assassiné/tué, or didn't know anything about the circumstances of the death, which I'd translate as something like Il n'a jamais su comment il est mort/il a été tué.
As Professor Haines says, perhaps Lord Berkeley 'should have expressed himself more clearly' to parliament. Or perhaps the clerk who recorded his statement was in fact to blame as the professor suggests, and Berkeley said something else and it was written down wrongly or less fully than the baron had meant. Or perhaps we should work with the evidence that we actually have, rather than trying to read Lord Berkeley's mind and ascertain what we think he 'really' meant or what the clerk 'should' have recorded and thus try our hardest to make his words fit into the scenario that Edward II certainly, definitely, absolutely died in his castle in September 1327.
It is true that the November 1330 parliament was the first time that the cause of Edward II's death was officially and openly stated to have been murder. The killers, in addition to the executed Roger Mortimer, were named as Sir Thomas Gurney (who had carried Lord Berkeley's letter to Edward III) and the man-at-arms William Ockley or Ogle (see here for more about them), and a price was put on their heads. It is also undoubtedly true that the young Edward III was keen to emphasise that his father really was dead, to a point where - to me, at least - it almost seems absurd. The response to the petitions of the earl of Kent's widow Margaret Wake and their young son Edmund repeats over and over that Edward II was dead and had been dead when the earl of Kent had tried to free him from captivity a few months earlier, "which release was impossible to secure all that time seeing as he was already dead, as is said above," and Kent "had knowingly wished the said release to the prejudice of the king our present lord, which was completely impossible as is said above," and was "willing to purchase the easement and the release of his same brother, which release was impossible to secure all that time seeing as he was already dead," and evil men had tried to convince Kent and "encourage him to purchase the release of his said brother, as if it had been possible to do this" and had caused him "to understand that our lord the king the father of our present lord the king was alive when he was dead, and for that reason it had been impossible to have secured or purchased his release." So, have we got that yet, folks? Just in case you missed the message being hammered home again and again, Edward of Caernarfon is DEAD. And cannot possibly be free somewhere, and the earl of Kent and his many adherents cannot in any way have really been on the verge of releasing him because that's impossible. Really, really impossible.
I still think "I never knew about his death until the present parliament" is an extraordinary thing for Lord Berkeley to have said. If he was feigning ignorance of the circumstances of the death, why not say "I didn't know until I heard it at this parliament how Edward died, I don't know anything about how it happened, I wasn't there"? On further questioning by parliament on the issue, Berkeley's alibi, as discussed below, was that he had been away from Berkeley Castle at the time and was seriously ill. So why didn't he just say that the first time? If Berkeley 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 that, rather than "I never knew about his death"? Edward II's death was openly being stated as murder, and two men named as his murderers in addition to Roger Mortimer; Berkeley had nothing to gain by being coy and refusing to refer to the death as murder when the young king himself had stated this to be the case. Berkeley went on to claim that he had been absent from Berkeley Castle at the time, "detained with such and so great an illness outside the aforesaid castle at Bradley that he remembers nothing of this." This convenient illness and amnesia did not prevent Berkeley from writing to Edward III informing him of his father's death, and obviously was a lie (which Edward III presumably realised, having received Berkeley's letter on 23-24 September 1327 and acted on it in good faith, by disseminating the news of his father's death).
Thomas, Lord Berkeley lied to Edward III. Either he lied to him in September 1327 by telling him that Edward II was dead when he wasn't (or at least, Berkeley didn't know for sure if he was dead or not), or he lied to him in November 1330 by telling the king that a) he had never known about the death of Edward II until he came to the current parliament and/or b) that he wasn't at Berkeley Castle on the night Edward II was supposedly killed there. As Ian Mortimer points out in his article 'The Death of Edward II in Berkeley Castle' (cited above), Berkeley's letter to Edward III informing him that his father was dead is of fundamental importance, because it was this information which caused the young king to begin disseminating the news of his father's death to parliament, from where it spread around the entire country. At no point, as far as is known, did Edward III send anyone to Berkeley Castle to confirm the veracity of Lord Berkeley's information (although the chronicler Adam Murimuth, who was ninety miles away in Exeter at the time, tells us that a group of knights, abbots and burgesses were invited to Berkeley Castle to view Edward II's body but only did so superficialiter). Everything flowed from that letter of Lord Berkeley, the spreading of information that Edward II was dead, the funeral arrangements made for the former king, the certainty of fourteenth-century chroniclers that Edward II died at Berkeley Castle on or around 21 September 1327. And yet thirty-eight months after that letter, here we have Lord Berkeley stating before parliament that "he never knew about [Edward II's] death until the present parliament." To say that this is curious is an under-statement. For more info, please do read Ian Mortimer's 'The Death of Berkeley Castle', his 'Twelve Angry Scholars' article in Medieval Intrigue (pp. 109-51), and his new essay An Inconvenient Fact, which go into Lord Berkeley's statement, interpretations of it and the likely meaning in great detail.