23 May, 2010

Robin Hood And Edward II The Nasty Piece Of Work

This will be my last post till 6 June or thereabouts, as I'm off on holiday. Yay!

Edward II good news: he now has 237 fans on Facebook, a number which creeps up by at least one or two people daily. Edward II bad news: I was deeply irritated by a very silly recent review of Seymour Phillips' new biography of the king, which calls Edward "a nasty piece of work" and makes more factual errors about him and his reign than I can shake a stick at. Writing about Edward's "grisly murder," saying that he "was also thought to have been a homosexual, who...was killed by a red-hot poker thrust into his anus" as though these are certain facts and claiming that Edward inherited a rich, peaceful country on the verge of 'annexing' Scotland in 1307 and left it impoverished twenty years later make it painfully, embarrassingly apparent that the reviewer has not read any recent, or even semi-recent, scholarship on the subject and is a long, long way from being even remotely knowledgeable about Edward II and his reign. (In fact, Edward I left his son £200,000 of debt in July 1307; Edward II left £60,000 in his treasury in November 1326.) No, I'm not linking to the review. Bleugh. Bad, horrid review.

But anyway, here's some more good news: Ian Mortimer's Medieval Intrigue is due out in early September, a collection of essays including several on Edward II. Woot! For more info, see Ian's website.

The new Robin Hood film with Russell Crowe has led to much online speculation about Robin's real identity, with many people expressing their belief that he lived during Edward II's reign rather than Richard I's. See here and here for more about this debate.
This forum thread - scroll down past all the arguing - puts forward the theory that Robin Hood "was contemporary with Edward II (and perhaps had to rebuff that monarch's homosexual advances)". This theory is developed at greater length here:

"We have seen that Edward was undoubtedly "gay" as it is called these days, and that in 1324 he was behaving very badly with the Despensers, pillaging the land and terrorising the population and more than likely sharing his bed with Hugh the Younger. We also know that he had a taste for the lower elements of the population, which had probably begun as a simple enjoyment of the Great Outdoors but by 1322 he is recorded as entertaining the likes of Wat Cowherd and other roughnecks, and paying them for their company! Could it be that, perish the thought, the king was casting a roving eye in Robin’s direction? Was Robin both afraid for his life from the jealous Hugh, and afraid too, for his honour! Was this the reason he asked the king if he could go back north on a pilgrimage to the church of St Mary Magdalene, and that once away from court, he refused to return to London? Or did he know, or suspect, that terrible events were just round the corner ? Whatever the cause of his defection, it must have incurred Edward’s wrath so much that Robin was re-outlawed as a result..."

OK, this theory is tongue in cheek and I don't want to be accused of lacking a sense of humour, but as Edward II's (self-appointed) Official Defender, I feel that this is putting 2 and 2 together to make 67. As I've pointed out before, Wat Cowherd and the other supposed 'roughnecks' like Simon and Robin Hod who have been named in print as Edward II's probable lovers (Edward quote was being promiscuous with low-born men unquote and paying them lots of money for their 'company', allegedly) were in fact members of his chamber staff who often appear in the king's accounts and were in close attendance on him for the last few years of his reign. There is nothing at all to suggest, absolutely no reason whatsoever to think, that Edward took these men as his lovers or that he ever hit on them, to use a modern idiom. I don't know why Robin Hood, a porter of the king's chamber, was sent away from court; some kind of misbehaviour, perhaps. The Household Ordinance of 1318 sets out misdemeanours for which the king's servants could be punished, which included taking bread, wine or food out of the household without permission, eating outside the hall without permission and riding a horse if below the rank of vallet de mestier. Wat Cowherd, far from being some roughneck paid for providing sexual services to the king for a couple of weeks in 1322, remained loyal to Edward to the very end: he was one of the men ('Walter Couhierd') pardoned in March 1327 for holding out at the late Hugh Despenser the Younger's stronghold of Caerphilly against the new regime. Other former members of Edward's chamber staff, such as Peter Bernard and Giles of Spain, joined the earl of Kent's conspiracy to rescue Edward from Corfe Castle in 1330, which demonstrates their loyalty to and affection for him, even two and a half years after his supposed death. There's nothing at all anywhere to suggest that Edward came on to his servants and ordered them away from court in a rage if they rejected him.

I feel that it's also worth stating here, for all the countless statements online and in books that Edward II was 'undoubtedly gay', for all the portrayals of him in fiction as a swishy, mincing, horrible stereotype of a gay man, what we actually know about Edward's sex life amounts to this:

- He had intercourse with Isabella of France four times, in or about February 1312, November 1315, September 1317 and October 1320, which resulted in their children.

- He once had intercourse with an unknown woman, sometime between about 1305 to 1308, which resulted in his illegitimate son Adam.

And that is it. Everything else is speculation. Whether Edward had sex with Piers Gaveston, Hugh Despenser or other men or women, whether his sexual preference was for men or women or both, whether he had an incestuous relationship with his niece Eleanor, how regularly or irregularly he had sex with his queen and how much he enjoyed it or didn't, I have no idea, and neither does anyone else, whatever they might claim to be 'fact' or 'undoubted truth'. (Yes, person on Facebook who stated as 'fact' that Edward "begat children on her [Isabella] - note not with her - as a painful duty," this means you too. You cannot know that.) Certainly Edward II loved Piers Gaveston, and most probably Hugh Despenser the Younger too. How he loved them...well, I'm sure everyone reading this will have their own opinion.

Lots more Edward II posts (and, according to this terrific post which I love every word of, an equal amount of 'excitable squee' about Edward loving Piers Gaveston 4eva!) to come in June. See you then, and take care.

16 May, 2010

Saint Thomas Of Lancaster

Further to my last few posts, here's one about the aftermath of Earl Thomas of Lancaster's execution on 22 March 1322. Miracles were being reported at the site of Thomas's execution and at his tomb within weeks of his death and were reported to Edward II at the parliament which began in York in late April 1322; here's how the extremely pro-Lancastrian author of the Brut chronicle reports them (the Brut is in English; I've modernised the spelling and quoted extensively as it's such a fascinating insight into the fourteenth-century mindset). "And soon after the good earl of Lancaster was martyred, a priest, that long time had been blind, dreamed in his sleeping that he should go to the hill that the good Earl Thomas of Lancaster was done to death, and he should have his sight again."

The priest had this dream for three consecutive nights, so made his way to the hill in Pontefract, and "devoutly he made there his prayer, and prayed God and Saint Thomas that he might have his sight again. And as he was in his prayers, he laid his hand upon the same place there the good man was martyred on; and a drop of dry blood and small sand cleaved on his hand, and therewith he rubbed his eyes, and anon, through the might of God and of St Thomas of Lancaster, he had his sight again, and thanked Almighty God and St Thomas. And when this miracle was made known among men, the people came thither on every side, and knelt, and made their prayers at his tomb that is in the Priory of Pontefract [Pountfrett], and prayed that holy martyr, of succour and of help, and God heard their prayer. Also there was a young child drowned in a well in the town of Pontefract, and was dead three days and three nights; and men came and laid the dead child upon St Thomas's tomb, the holy martyr; and the child arose there from death unto life, as many a man it saw; and also many people were out of their mind [miche peple wer' out of here mynde], and God hath sent them their mind again through virtue of that holy martyr. And also God hath given to cripples their going, and to the crooked their hands and their feet, and to the blind also their sight, and to many sick folk their health, that had diverse maladies, for the love of his good martyr."

The chronicler goes on: "Also there was a rich man in Condom in Gascony; and such a malady he had, that all his right side rotted, and fell away from him; and men might see his liver, and also his heart; and so he stank, that scarcely men might come near him. Wherefore his friends were for him full sorry. But at the last, as God wanted, they prayed to St Thomas of Lancaster, that he would pray to Almighty God for that prisoner, and promised to go to Pontefract for to do their pilgrimage. And the good man soon after slept full soft, and dreamed that the martyr St Thomas came unto him, and anointed all over his sick side. And therewith the good man awoke, and was all whole; and his flesh was restored again, that before was rotted and fell away; for which miracle the good man and his friends loved God and St Thomas evermore after. And this good man came into England and took with him four fellows, and came to Pontefract; and came to that holy martyr, and made their pilgrimage; but the good man that was sick came thither all naked, save his breeches; and when they had done, they turned home again into their country, and told of the miracle whereso that they came. And also two men have been healed there of their morimal [cancer or gangrene] through help of that holy martyr, though that evil be held incurable."

According to the Brut, when the two Hugh Despensers "heard that God wrought such miracles for his holy martyr, and they would not believe it in no manner wise, but said openly that it was great heresy, such virtue of him to believe." It goes on to say that Hugh the Younger sent a messenger to Edward II, who according to the chronicler was on pilgrimage, to inform him about the miracles. The story gets pretty disgusting: as Hugh's messenger passed through Pontefract, he "made his ordure" at the place where Thomas had been beheaded, and later suffered punishment for this sacrilegious act when a "strong flux" came upon him and he "shed all his bowels at his fundament," which prevented him reaching the king. [1] Lovely.

In 1323, 2000 people, some of them from as far away as Kent, gathered to pray and make oblations at Thomas of Lancaster's tomb. [2] Edward II, from Barnard Castle in early September 1323, ordered Richard Moseley, his clerk and the constable of Pontefract Castle, to "go in person to the place of execution of Thomas, late earl of Lancaster, and prohibit a multitude of malefactors and apostates from praying and making oblations there in memory of the said earl not to God but rather to idols, in contempt of the king and contrary to his former command." (Edward making his view of the situation pretty clear, there.) Feelings were running high: Moseley and his servants were assaulted, and two of them, Richard de Godeleye and Robert de la Hawe, were killed. [3] The archbishop of York, Edward II's friend and ally William Melton, twice had to remind his archdeacon that Thomas of Lancaster was not a canonised saint and order him to disperse the throng gathering at the earl's tomb, some of whom were crushed to death. [4] Several months earlier, in June 1323, Edward had been forced to order the bishop of London (Stephen Gravesend, another friend and ally of his; both Gravesend and William Melton joined the earl of Kent's plot to restore Edward in 1330) to prevent people praying and making offerings at a tablet in St Pauls "whereon are depicted statues, sculpture or images of diverse persons," Thomas of Lancaster's among them, "as the king learns with displeasure that many of the people go to the said tablet and worship it as a holy thing without the authority of the church of Rome, asserting that miracles are done there." The Croniques de London describes this object instead as a tablet which Thomas of Lancaster had had made to celebrate Edward's granting of the Ordinances in 1311. [5]

Thomas of Lancaster's cult grew in popularity at least in part as a reaction to the tyranny of Edward II and the Despensers' regime. One of the charges against Hugh Despenser the Younger in November 1326 declares that Hugh "had him [Thomas] falsely imprisoned and robbed, and in his own hall in his castle, by your royal power which you had seized from our lord the king, had him judged by a false record contrary to law and reason and Magna Carta and also without response, and you had him martyred and murdered by hard and piteous death...And because you knew that God made miracles by my good lord whom you murdered so cruelly against the law without cause, you, Hugh, as a false Christian, sent armed men into Holy Church and had the doors of monasteries shut down and closed so that no-one was bold enough to enter the Church and worship God or his saints." Whether, or to what extent, that latter statement is true, I'm not sure.

Thomas of Lancaster wasn't the only dead nobleman elevated to a heroic, saintly status in the 1320s. The great unpopularity of the Edward II/Despenser regime after the king's defeat over his enemies in 1322 meant that the Contrariants, who were, when all's said and done, little more than a bunch of treacherous, violent criminals, were praised and remembered with great affection because they were seen to have opposed the king and his favourites. Two Contrariants executed in March 1322 in Bristol were Henry de Montfort and Henry Wilington: in September 1323, miracles were also said to have taken place at their execution site. The mayor of Bristol told Edward that Montfort's brother Reginald bribed a ‘poor child’ of the city with two shillings "to pronounce to the people that he received healing of his sight." Men named William Cliff (presumably a different one to the man of this name arrested for aiding the earl of Kent in his 1330 plot to restore Edward II) and William and John Corteis "went there many times and preached to the people that miracles were done and forcibly maintained this, saying that without doubt the things done there were true." [6]

After Edward II's downfall in 1327, a campaign to canonise Thomas of Lancaster began in earnest. Edward's half-brother the earl of Kent - one of the men who condemned Thomas to death, and also one of the men who sat in judgement on the younger Despenser and accused him of murdering Thomas, hypocrisy which doesn't seem to have bothered anyone at the time - visited Pope John XXII in 1329 to ask him to canonise Thomas. (Kent seized the opportunity while at the Curia to ask the pope for his help in rescuing the supposedly dead Edward II from imprisonment.) A text written in Latin probably in the late 1320s laments Thomas as "the blessed martyr" and "flower of knights," and says "the pouring out of prayers to Thomas restores the sick to health; the pious earl comes immediately to the aid of those who are feeble." It begins "Rejoice, Thomas, the glory of chieftains, the light of Lancaster, who by thy death imitatest Thomas [Becket] of Canterbury, whose head was broken on account of the peace of the Church, and thine is cut off for the cause of the peace in England; be to us an affectionate guardian in every difficulty." The notion that Thomas was condemned to death unfairly and was a freedom fighter for the people of England against royal despotism also appears: "He is called Earl Thomas, of an illustrious race, he is condemned without cause, who was born of a royal bed. Who when he perceived that the whole commons were falling into wreck, did not shrink from dying for the right, in the fatal commerce...he is delivered to dire death, on account of which England mourns. Alas! he is beheaded for the aid of the commons...O Thomas, strenuous champion of plentiful charity, who didst combat for the law of England's liberty, intercede for our sins with the Father of Glory, that he may give us a place with the blessed in the heavenly court." [7] (One might suggest that if Thomas of Lancaster had in fact cared at all about the common people, he would have protested against the Contrariants' abuse of them in 1321/22 and tried to protect them rather than supporting and condoning it.) Although Thomas was never actually canonised, his hat and belt preserved at Pontefract were used as remedies in childbirth and for headaches as late as the Reformation. [8] Amazing...


1) The Brut or the Chronicles of England, ed. F. W. D. Brie, vol. 1, pp. 228-230.
2) J.R. Maddicott, Thomas of Lancaster 1307-1322: A Study in the Reign of Edward II, pp. 229-230.
3) Calendar of Inquisitions Miscellaneous 1308-1348, pp. 528-529.
4) Natalie Fryde, The Tyranny and Fall of Edward II 1321-1326, p. 153.
5) Calendar of Close Rolls 1318-1323, p. 723; Flores Historiarum, ed. H. R. Luard, vol. 3, p. 213; Croniques de London depuis l’an 44 Hen III jusqu'à l'an 17 Edw III, ed. G. J. Aungier, p. 46.
6) Calendar of Chancery Warrants 1244-1326, p. 543.
7) T. Wright, The Political Songs of England, pp. 268-272.
8) Maddicott, Lancaster, p. 329.

10 May, 2010

Update, Kind Of

Oh dear, I'm very lax about updating the blog these days! Apologies; I've been busy with (lots of, ack) dental appointments, teaching a seminar and various other things, and truth be told, am not feeling very inspired Edward II-wise at the moment. Merely a temporary state of affairs, I'm sure. My next post, on the aftermath of Thomas of Lancaster's execution in 1322 and his 'sainthood', is coming very soon. (I hope.)

I got an email a couple of days ago with some great news: a film about Edward II called Uncertain Proof is currently in production and is due for release in the spring of 2011. The film is set in 1340 and features Manuel Fieschi, the Italian cleric who wrote to Edward III in the 1330s to tell him that his father survived Berkeley Castle, as the main character, who investigates Edward II's true fate. To quote from the website, "the action covers just 24 hours but flashbacks portray Edward II’s life, his love of the joust, his supposed death and funeral, and the execution of his friend, Hugh Despenser." Yippee!!!! Can't wait! (Not entirely sure about that 'love of the joust', however; 'love of watching Piers Gaveston joust', maybe?)

There are a few historical novels I'm really looking forward to reading in the next few months: Susan Higginbotham's next one, of course, the excellently-titled The Queen of Last Hopes, about Margaret of Anjou, queen of Henry VI. Sherry Jones' novel about the four sisters of Provence in the thirteenth century who all became queens, one of whom was Edward II's grandmother Eleanor. Sacred Treason, a thriller set in 1563, by James Forrester, better known as historian Ian Mortimer. Vanora Bennett's The People's Queen, about Edward III's mistress Alice Perrers (another novel about her, not long after Emma Campion's The King's Mistress; funny how you wait years for a novel about Alice Perrers then two come along within a few months). And Christy English's The Queen's Pawn, about Edward II's great-great-grandmother Eleanor of Aquitaine and Alais of France, who should have been Eleanor's daughter-in-law and who was also Edward II's great-great-grandmother. (Alais, married Guillaume Talvas, count of Ponthieu -> Marie of Ponthieu, married Simon de Dammartin, count of Aumale -> Jeanne de Dammartin, countess of Ponthieu and Aumale, married Fernando III of Castile -> Eleanor of Castile, countess of Ponthieu, married Edward I -> Edward II.)

And to fill up this post, here are some blog search strings from the last day or two.

thomas boleyn pimp

red hot plumbing beeston

why did they torcher with hot poker during 15th century I love it that someone can't spell 'torture'.

means of death by inserting a sharp object into the anus up the spine

It wouldn't be my blog if I didn't get this search a few times a week: Did Willaim Wallace have an affair with issabel and William Wallace and Queen Isabella

eleanor of aquitaine's fornication with Henry's father

Two questions I can't answer: What happened in portugal in 1219?

Which Saints wore a purple robe encrusted in jewels?

mortimers living in Seend Wiltshire in 1700

the ordinance caused the great famine of 1315 Whatever Edward II may have thought, I'm sure it wasn't the 1311 Ordinance banishing Piers Gaveston that led to the Great Famine.

white battle north yorkshire 1322

Isabella of Castile facts: Her comparison. Google helpfully suggested Did you mean: Isabella of Castile facts: Hire comparison

Hope Keepers of Caernarfon Castle

leeds castle queen bedchamber initials on the cloths

How did Eduard ii was murdered

Edward II death homophobia poker

Eleanor de Clare sex

ordinances of 1311 early problems Gaveston`s exile The Lord Ordainers the ordinaries the aftermath

Proper post coming soon! Soonish anyway...

02 May, 2010

Thomas of Lancaster And His Relationship With Edward II (3)

The third and final part (part one, part two) of my post about Thomas, earl of Lancaster and his relationship with his first cousin Edward II. In late 1318, Thomas and Edward, to everyone's relief, finally came to terms with each other, and Thomas for once attended the parliament which opened in York on 6 May 1319. Later that year, he also co-operated with Edward during the siege of Berwick. Unfortunately, relations between the two most powerful men in the country deteriorated very quickly once more, and Edward II made it clear what was really on his mind by declaring "When this wretched business is over, we will turn our hands to other matters. For I have not forgotten the wrong that was done to my brother Piers." [1] He had never forgiven, and would never forgive, his cousin for Piers Gaveston's murder, and the king's new favourite Hugh Despenser the Younger, rightly or wrongly, blamed Thomas for the Scots' latest invasion of England: he told the sheriff of Glamorgan that "the Scots had entered his [Edward II's] land of England with the prompting and assistance of the earl of Lancaster. The earl acted in such a way that the king took himself off with all his army, to the great shame and damage of us all. Wherefore we very much doubt if matters will end so happily for our side as is necessary." [2] The Vita Edwardi Secundi says that Thomas blamed "Hugh [Despenser] for the disgrace which had attached to his name at Berwick, and this he wished to avenge as occasion offered," and the Bridlington chronicler claims that some people deliberately fostered dissent and conflict between Edward and Thomas at the time of the siege of Berwick, falsely reporting the king's words to the earl and vice versa. [3]

Thomas of Lancaster failed to attend the parliament of January 1320, which also took place in York. After parliament ended, Edward II and Isabella of France travelled through Pontefract on their way to London, and Thomas's retainers once again jeered at the king, and also the queen, from the safety of the castle. [4] Thomas also refused to attend the Westminster parliament of October 1320. The latest crisis of Edward's reign kicked off shortly after this parliament when the king seized the Gower peninsula and showed excessive favouritism towards Hugh Despenser. Edward seems to have been keen to mollify Thomas of Lancaster at this time, however, as he ordered that the Ordinances of 1311, to which Thomas was devoted, be carefully observed - but he also ordered Thomas to answer for the relief (inheritance tax, basically) on the lands he had inherited from his father-in-law the earl of Lincoln back in 1311, while pardoning Hugh Despenser from paying the relief on his wife Eleanor's inheritance. [5] A letter of 27 February 1321 told Edward II that the Marcher lords or at least some of them, furious with Despenser, had met Thomas of Lancaster five days earlier and decided to "raise disturbances and begin some mischief" in Wales, and that Edward should "command Despenser, the son, that he be prepared and arrayed in his lands that he may be able to counteract these evils." Thomas, always willing to support anyone against his detested cousin the king, was regarded by the Marchers as their leader, according to the Brut: they "came to the gentle earl of Lancaster, and asked him of counsel of the disease that was in the realm," meaning the Despensers. For obscure reasons, Thomas loathed Hugh Despenser the Elder, and wanted the Marchers to "not only rise against the son, but destroy the father along with him, because he had seen no opportunity for satisfying his longstanding hatred of the father." [6]

The Marchers began their attacks on the Despensers on 4 May 1321; according to the Flores Historiarum, the younger Despenser's men captured during the siege of Cardiff Castle were sent to Thomas of Lancaster. [7] On 28 June, Thomas met the Marchers, or some of them, at Sherburn near Pontefract, where an indenture was drawn up approving the actions against the Despensers. Thomas and his allies had hoped to attract the northern lords to their cause, but they were largely unsuccessful; the twenty-five men who put their seals to the document were mostly Thomas's own retainers. Subsequently, the Marchers, as per their name, marched towards London - helping themselves to food and provisions wherever they liked and generally creating havoc - to attend the parliament which was due to begin on 15 July and to demand the Despensers' exile. Thomas remained in the north at his favourite residence of Pontefract, as he usually did. [8]

Edward II's siege of Leeds Castle, which belonged to his turncoat steward Bartholomew Badlesmere, was a master-stroke in the king's campaign against his and the Despensers' enemies. Thomas of Lancaster played right into Edward's hands, as Edward and Hugh Despenser had no doubt predicted he would: he sent the Marchers a letter ordering them to not to aid Badlesmere, whom he detested [9], allowing Edward to pursue a policy of dividing and conquering his enemies. On 12 November 1321, Edward forbade Thomas, the earl of Hereford (Edward's brother-in-law and now his enemy) and more than 100 others from holding an assembly at Doncaster. Some of the men Edward ordered not to attend were his allies, such as his half-brother Norfolk, the earls of Arundel, Surrey, Atholl and Angus, his and Hugh Despenser's brother-in-law Ralph Monthermer, and Ralph Camoys, another of Despenser's brothers-in-law. [10] Thomas's attempts to win over men whose support he had no hope of gaining is a measure of the weakness of his position; the northern barons refused to aid him and go against the king. [11] Thomas and his Marcher allies, despite Edward’s prohibition, did meet on 29 November, though probably at Pontefract rather than Doncaster, where "they were sworn together a second time to maintain that which they had commenced." [12] The Anonimalle says that after the executions of the Leeds Castle garrison, the earl of Hereford and other barons saw that Edward was "a man without mercy," and suspected him – correctly, as it turned out – of wanting to destroy them as he had others. [13] Thomas of Lancaster and his allies drew up a petition (the famous Doncaster Petition) which accused Edward, among other things, of supporting Hugh Despenser in his piracy. They asked the king to respond by 20 December. Edward responded, surprisingly mildly, that imposing a deadline on him on to reform the affairs of his kingdom gave the impression that he was Thomas's subject, not vice versa. [14]

Edward II's campaign against the Marchers went well, and although the Marchers were desperately hoping for the earl of Lancaster's support, Thomas failed to come to their aid – although he had begun besieging the royal castle of Tickhill near Doncaster by 10 January 1322, presumably because its constable William Aune was Edward's spy in the north. [15] After the Mortimers, Lord Berkeley and Hugh Audley's father surrendered to the king, the remaining Contrariants fled to Yorkshire to seek refuge with Thomas, their last hope of defeating Edward. Thomas, using the conceited pseudonym 'King Arthur', wrote to Robert Bruce's adherent James Douglas to inform him that the earl of Hereford, Roger Damory, Hugh Audley, Roger Clifford, Henry Tyes, Thomas Mauduit, John Wilington and even the hated Bartholomew Badlesmere had come to him at Pontefract. The men were, treasonably, prepared to treat with the Scots, as long as the Scots did what had previously been discussed: "to come to our aid, and to go with us in England and Wales" and "live and die with us in our quarrel." Thomas Randolph, earl of Moray and another close ally of Bruce, granted safe-conducts on 16 February 1322 for Roger Clifford, John Mowbray and forty horsemen to travel to Scotland. [16] Thomas of Lancaster had been suspected for some years of conspiring with the Scots; it was noticed that when their forces raided the north of England, they left his lands alone, and although Thomas had a great army at Pontefract, he did not attempt to pursue the Scottish raiders.

As yet unaware of these treacherous dealings, Edward II wrote to Thomas on 8 February 1322, stating that he "wished to continue and augment his affection to the earl" and ordering him not to adhere to the Contrariants, who "have publicly boasted that they were going to the earl, and that they would draw him to them in the aforesaid excesses, and that they were sure of this." Edward pointed out that joining the Contrariants would render Thomas guilty of treason. His cousin responded that he had drawn no rebels to himself, nor was he accustomed to nourish rebels, but if he knew where such were to be found, he would kill them or expel them from the country. Thomas's siege of Tickhill Castle gave Edward the excuse he needed to mount a campaign against his overbearing cousin, and on 13 February, he announced his intention of going to raise the siege. On 16 February, Edward asked his brother-in-law Charles IV of France - Thomas's uncle - to send men to help him fight Thomas and the Contrariants, and also asked his nephews the duke of Brabant and the count of Bar, his kinsmen the counts of Eu, St Pol, Aumale and Beaumont, Charles IV and Isabella's uncle the count of Valois, and the count of Hainault to send horsemen and footmen, and ordered Amaury de Craon, steward of Gascony, to come to him with armed men and advice. [17]

Edward captured Thomas's great Warwickshire stronghold of Kenilworth on 19 February. By 1 March, William Melton, archbishop of York, had discovered the treasonable correspondence between the earl of Lancaster and Scotland and sent it to Edward, who ordered him, the archbishop of Canterbury and all his sheriffs to make the letters public - a great public relations coup for the king. [18] Thomas and the earl of Hereford and their allies left Pontefract on 1 March, broke the siege of Tickhill, and took up position at Burton-on-Trent near Tutbury Castle in Staffordshire, which belonged to Thomas. Edward seized his cousin's vast lands on 3 March.
Eight days later, on the advice of the earls of Kent, Pembroke, Arundel, Surrey, Richmond and Atholl, the king pronounced Thomas, Roger Damory, Hugh Audley, Hereford, Lords Clifford and Mowbray and others to be traitors, and ordered all the sheriffs of England, the justice of Chester and the bishop of Durham to arrest them, saying that they "inflicted evil against the king’s servants, conducting war against the king with banners displayed." According to Edward, when Lancaster and the others saw that he was coming to Burton, "they turned their backs, set fire to the town, and fled." (The burning of the town is confirmed by the Flores and the Bridlington chronicler.) Edward appointed his half-brother the earl of Kent and nephew-in-law the earl of Surrey to arrest the main Contrariants and to besiege and take Thomas's castle of Pontefract. [19]

Some of the Contrariants decided that throwing themselves on Edward II's mercy would be a great idea. Thomas of Lancaster, however, believed that this was unnecessary and that his close kinship to the king would save him. After much debate, they decided to flee to Dunstanburgh, yet another of Thomas's great castles on the Northumbrian coast, where they could wait until the king’s anger against them had burnt itself out. Thomas at first refused, protesting that they would be seen as treacherously fleeing towards the Scots, but Lord Clifford's waving his sword in his face soon changed his mind, and they set off for the north. Queen Isabella, who remained in the south of England but loyally supported her husband, wrote to Andrew Harclay, sheriff of Cumberland and Simon Warde, sheriff of Yorkshire, ordering them to cut off the retreating rebels. [20] The Contrariants had only managed the thirty miles to Boroughbridge, where the Great North Road met the River Ure, when they found Harclay waiting for them, and were forced into battle on 16 March. (Boroughbridge had, perhaps ironically, once belonged to Piers Gaveston.) To cut a very long story short, the Contrariants lost the battle, the earl of Hereford died horribly and the great earl of Lancaster was taken by water via York to Pontefract Castle, his own favourite residence, whose constable had surrendered to Edward without a fight. Thomas was forced to wear garments of the striped cloth which the squires of his household wore, an intentional humiliation of a man of high birth and rank. On the way to York, a crowd of people threw snowballs at him, called him a traitor, and shouted "Now shall you have the reward that long time you have deserved!" [21]

Edward waited for his cousin at Pontefract, where rumour had it that the earl had built a tower in which to hold the king captive for the rest of his life; Thomas was imprisoned there instead. A triumphant Hugh Despenser the Younger, lately returned from exile and piracy, took the opportunity to hurl "malicious and contemptuous words" into Thomas's face on his arrival. [22] Thomas was put on trial in the great hall of his own castle, the justice Robert Malberthorpe, Edward, the Despensers, the earls of Kent, Pembroke, Richmond, Surrey, Arundel and the Scottish earls of Angus and Atholl sitting in judgement on him. Four of these men – Edward, Kent, Richmond and Pembroke – were Thomas's first cousins, while Surrey, Atholl and Angus had once served in his retinue. The result was a foregone conclusion, and Thomas was not allowed to speak in his own defence as his crimes were deemed 'notorious'. He exclaimed "This is a powerful court, and great in authority, where no answer is heard nor any excuse admitted," [23] but given that he had executed Piers Gaveston without a trial, he was hardly innocent on that score himself. The list of charges comprised the many grievances Edward managed to dredge up against his cousin, going back to Thomas's seizure of his possessions at Tynemouth in 1312 and including Thomas's jeering at him from the Pontefract battlements in 1317. Thomas was sentenced to death by hanging, drawing and quartering, though Edward commuted the sentence to mere beheading.

Edward II arranged Thomas of Lancaster's execution as a parody of Piers' death. Rather than having him beheaded in the castle bailey, Edward had him taken outside to a small hill, mirroring Piers' 1312 death on Blacklow Hill. Thomas was forced to ride "some worthless mule" and "an old chaplet, rent and torn, that was not worth a half-penny," was set on his head. A crowd of spectators again threw snowballs at him. Presumably at the king's order, Thomas was forced to kneel facing towards Scotland, in a pointed reminder of his treasonous correspondence with Robert Bruce, and "beheaded like any thief or vilest rascal" with two or three strokes of the axe. (Actually, beheading was a nobleman's death, a privilege of high rank; common criminals were hanged.) The parallels between the deaths of Piers and Thomas did not unnoticed: "he was neither drawn nor hanged, only beheaded in like manner as this same Earl Thomas had caused Piers de Gaveston to be beheaded," says Lanercost, Anonimalle draws a similar comparison, and the Brut says "the cursed Gascon" had brought Thomas to this predicament. The Vita agrees, saying "the earl of Lancaster once cut off Piers Gaveston’s head, and now by the king’s command the earl himself has lost his head. Thus, perhaps not unjustly, the earl received measure for measure, as it is written in Holy Scripture." The Scalacronica also makes the connection between the deaths of Thomas and Piers, and says that Thomas was executed "for other offences which he had often and habitually committed against the king, and at the very place where he had once hooted, and made others hoot, at the king as he [Edward] was travelling to York." [24]

And so passed Thomas of Lancaster, earl of Lancaster, Leicester, Derby, Lincoln and Salisbury, steward of England, grandson and nephew of kings of England, brother-in-law and uncles of kings of France. Not counting Piers Gaveston, earl of Cornwall, Thomas was the first English earl executed since Waltheof in 1076, though Edward I in November 1306 had the Scottish earl of Atholl, his close kinsman (Atholl was a descendant of Edward's grandfather King John) hanged on a high gallows in London. Whatever some of Thomas's contemporaries may have thought of him - the extremely pro-Lancastrian Brut called him the 'gentle earl', for example - it's hard to find a modern historian with a good word to say about him, and hard, for me at least, to find much sympathy for a man who did his utmost to thwart his cousin Edward II at every turn.


1) Vita Edwardi Secundi, ed. N. Denholm-Young, p. 104.
2) J.R. Maddicott, Thomas of Lancaster 1307-1322: A Study in the Reign of Edward II, p. 249.
3) Vita, p. 109; Gesta Edwardi de Carnarvon Auctore Canonico Bridlingtoniensi, in W. Stubbs, ed., Chronicles of the Reigns of Edward I and Edward II, vol. 2, p. 57.
4) J.R.S. Phillips, Aymer de Valence, earl of Pembroke 1307-1324: Baronial Politics in the Reign of Edward II, p. 189.
5) Phillips, Valence, pp. 196-198.
6) Letter of 27 Feb 1321: J. Goronwy Edwards, ed., Calendar of Ancient Correspondence Concerning Wales, pp. 180-181. The Brut or the Chronicles of England, ed. F.W.D. Brie, p. 213. Despenser quotation: Vita, p. 111.
7) Flores Historiarum, ed. H.T. Riley, vol. 3, p. 346.
8) Maddicott, Lancaster, pp. 273-274; Phillips, Valence, pp. 206-207; Bertie Wilkinson, 'The Sherburn Indenture and the Attack on the Despensers', English Historical Review, 63 (1948), pp. 4, 6; Flores, p. 197; Johannis de Trokelowe et Henrici de Blaneforde Chronica et Annales, ed. H. T. Riley, pp. 107-108.
9) The Anonimalle Chronicle 1307-41, from Brotherton Collection MS 29, ed. W. R. Childs and J. Taylor, p. 102.
10) Calendar of Close Rolls 1318-1323, pp. 505-506.
11) Maddicott, Lancaster, p. 300.
12) Le Livere de Reis de Britanie e le Livere de Reis de Engletere, ed. John Glover, p. 339.
13) Anonimalle, p. 104.
14) Maddicott, Lancaster, p. 304.
15) Calendar of Patent Rolls 1321-1324, p. 47; Maddicott, Lancaster, p. 306.
16) Close Rolls 1318-1323, 525-526; Foedera 1307-1327, p. 474, and see also pp. 459, 463, 472.
17) Close Rolls 1318-1323, pp. 515-516, 521-522; Maddicott, Lancaster, p. 307.
18) Close Rolls 1318-1323, pp. 525-526.
19) Calendar of Fine Rolls 1319-1327, p. 100; Close Rolls 1318-1323, p. 522; Gesta Edwardi, p. 75; Flores, p. 346; Patent Rolls 1321-1324, p. 81.
20) Maddicott, Lancaster, p. 310; Brut, p. 217; Flores, p. 346.
21) Brut, pp. 216-221.
22) Vita, p. 125; Anonimalle, p. 106.
23) Vita, p. 126.
24) Brut, p. 222; The Chronicle of Lanercost 1272-1346, ed. Herbert Maxwell, p. 234; Vita, p.126; Scalacronica: The Reigns of Edward I, Edward II and Edward III as Recorded by Sir Thomas Gray of Heton, knight, ed. Herbert Maxwell, p. 67, etc.