26 September, 2015

Sant'Alberto di Butrio, Oramala, Vercelli and Pavia

I had the most amazing time in Vercelli and Pavia! Thank you so, so much to everyone I met there, especially to Gianna Baucero, Claudia Bergamini, Ivan Fowler and Mariarosa Gatti, though there are numerous others who helped to make my stay some of the most special and memorable days of my life.

On Saturday 19 September, I gave a talk about Edward II to about eighty or ninety people at the seminary in the town of Vercelli, and was honoured by the presence of His Excellency the Archbishop of Vercelli, Father Marco Arnolfo, who was kind enough to attend and to say a few opening words.  It was his predecessor Manuele Fieschi, bishop of Vercelli from 1343 to 1348, who told Edward III in the late 1330s that his father had escaped from Berkeley Castle and ultimately made his way to Italy.

The seminary in Vercelli where I gave my talk. With many thanks to His Excellency the Archbishop for his hospitality.

On Tuesday 22 September, I gave another talk about Edward in an amazing old library called the Salone Teresiano at the University of Pavia, with another sixty or so people in attendance.  On both occasions, I spoke in English and was translated into Italian, by Gianna Baucero of the Chesterton Association the first time and Ivan Fowler the second.  Needless to say, it was the possibility of Edward's survival and death in northern Italy which caught people's attention the most.  Both talks went down really well with the audience, if I do say so myself!  With any luck I'll be going back next year. :-)  I really felt like a VIP in Italy!  People asked for my autograph after the Vercelli talk, lots of people took my pic all over the place - wow!  And one of the most precious moments of my stay was being invited as a special guest to a concert of the Camerata Ducale orchestra in the San Cristoforo church in Vercelli, having my name read out to the entire audience beforehand by the priest Monsignor Salvini and being applauded by everyone there including the conductor Guido Rimonda, and being presented with a lovely gift by Monsignor Salvini.  Actually I received quite a lot of delightful and unexpected gifts, including a collection of books from the mayor of Vercelli, Maura Forte, and from the staff of the university of Pavia.  Everyone was so amazingly kind and hospitable.

I also visited the hermitage of Sant'Alberto di Butrio, or as the Fieschi Letter calls it, 'he [Edward of Caernarfon] changed himself to the castle of Cecime in another hermitage of the diocese of Pavia in Lombardy'.  An empty tomb there is claimed to have been Edward's first tomb; lots more on all this coming up in future blog posts.  Please do also visit the website of the Auramala Project; they're doing amazing work on the Fieschi Letter and are scouring archives for proof of Edward II's presence in Italy in the 1330s.

There's an article here in the local paper about my visit and my Edward II talk in Vercelli, in Italian, but there are lots of pics at the bottom you can click to enlarge.  The pics of people milling round a desk were taken after my talk, and they were waiting to get my autograph and to talk to me. :)  There's also a short video on Youtube of a dinner held in my honour at the Ca'San Sebastiano high in the hills of Montferrat, an amazing place.

The hermitage of Sant'Alberto di Butrio.

The hills around Sant'Alberto, taken on the way there; it's remote (and very pretty).

An empty tomb at Sant'Alberto said to have been Edward II's, with a helpful info board provided by the Auramala Project.

The view from Sant'Alberto (apparently you can see Milan, 60 or so miles away, on a clear day)

Google map showing the location of Sant'Alberto, between Milan, Turin and Genoa. Vercelli, where Manuele Fieschi was bishop in the 1340s, and Tortona, where his first cousin Percivalle Fieschi was bishop from 1325, are underlined.
Manuele's first cousin Percivalle Fieschi was bishop of Tortona twenty miles from Sant'Alberto from 1325 onwards, and accompanied their kinsman Cardinal Luca Fieschi, who was also a kinsman of Edward II, to England in 1317.  Luca spent time with Edward in York in September that year, and therefore Percivalle must also have seen and perhaps talked to the king.  This is one of the many reasons why it is absurd to imagine that Manuele could have been taken in by an impostor when it was so easily within his power to check the identity of the man presenting himself to him as Edward of Caernarfon.

In the middle of this pic you can just see the castle of Oramala, across the valley from Sant'Alberto (not visible away to the right). In the 1330s Oramala and the valley were controlled by the nephew of Cardinal Luca Fieschi.

The Salone Teresiano, the gorgeous old library at the university of Pavia where I gave a talk about Edward II.

My view of the room.

Beaming with joy at Edward's tomb :-)

Ivan Fowler and I at an archive in Genoa, searching for the testament of Manuele Fieschi's nephew.

16 September, 2015

Off To Italy!

Tomorrow I'm flying to Milan, and will stay in northern Italy for a week.  On Saturday 19 September at 4pm, I'm giving a talk about Edward II in general and his survival after 1327 in particular in the arch-episcopal seminary in the town of Vercelli.  (If you're anywhere in the vicinity, come along!)  And on Tuesday the 22nd, I'm giving another talk about him at the university of Pavia, and taking part beforehand in a round-table discussion on Edward's survival with, among others, Ivan Fowler, author of Auramala: The King Lives.  Ivan and his fellow researchers at the Auramala Project are doing some excellent work on the Fieschi Letter and on Edward II's survival in Italy.

It's going to be so exciting to be in Vercelli, as it was the bishop of Vercelli, Manuele Fieschi, who wrote the Fieschi Letter telling Edward III how his father escaped from Berkeley Castle in 1327 and ended up in an Italian hermitage identifiable as Sant'Alberto di Butrio.  This hermitage still exists and has a website in Italian and English, which talks a lot about Edward.  (I looked at it last year when writing the relevant chapter in my Edward II bio, and nearly fell off my chair when I saw my own name.)  I'll be visiting on Sunday, and taking lots of pics which I'll post here!  On the other side of the valley from Sant'Alberto and visible from it is the castle of Oramala (formerly Auramala, as in the title of Ivan's novel), which in the relevant time period was owned by the Fieschi family.

I've been dying to visit this part of Italy for absolutely ages as it's so relevant to Edward II's story, and I'm so excited that I'm finally going!  Reports and pics to come :-)

13 September, 2015

Edward II's Relationship with Hugh Despenser the Younger

One of the most fascinating aspects of Edward II's life, for me, is the way he became infatuated in the late 1310s with a man he had never shown the slightest interest in before, despite having known him for many years: Hugh Despenser the Younger.  Here's a post about it.

Edward II and Hugh Despenser must have known each other for most of their lives.  Hugh was rather younger than Edward, born probably in the late 1280s, though his date of birth is not known (his father was born on 1 March 1261 and his older half-sister Maud Chaworth on 2 February 1282).  His father Hugh Despenser the Elder was high in Edward I's favour and trusted by him and was also a friend and ally of Edward of Caernarfon before and after he became king, and Hugh the Younger's maternal grandfather William Beauchamp, earl of Warwick, was about the same age as Edward I and also close to the king.  Hugh the Younger married Edward of Caernarfon's eldest niece Eleanor de Clare on 26 May 1306 in the presence of her grandfather Edward I, who had arranged the match, and almost certainly of Edward of Caernarfon too.  The later chronicler Jean Froissart says that Hugh was one of Edward's companions in his household before he became king, which is very likely: Hugh's older half-sister Maud Chaworth, who married Edward's first cousin Henry of Lancaster in or before 1297, was one of the future king's noble companions in his youth, and so was Gilbert de Clare, lord of Thomond, who later married Hugh's sister Isabel.

Yet for many years, Edward II acted as though he was mostly unaware of Hugh's very existence.  Edward was always extremely fond of his eldest niece Eleanor, Hugh's wife, and Hugh's father was one of his closest and staunchest allies for the entirety of his reign and had been a friend and ally before his accession as well, despite an age difference of twenty-three years (possibly Edward of Caernarfon saw Hugh the Elder as some kind of father figure).  Yet none of this translated into any kind of favour shown to Hugh the Younger himself for the first eleven or twelve years of Edward's reign, and it was as though the king simply ignored Hugh's existence, perhaps because Hugh followed the political lead of his maternal uncle Guy Beauchamp, earl of Warwick, who was hostile to the king and to Piers Gaveston, rather than that of his staunchly royalist father.  Indeed, in 1311 the Lords Ordainer demanded the removal from the king's household of a group of men who had physically attacked Hugh, perhaps on the grounds of his opposition to the king.  For the first half of Edward's reign, Hugh had no lands and no power at all, despite being a member of the royal family by marriage.  The later chronicler Geoffrey le Baker even claimed that Edward hated Hugh before 1318, which I suspect is something of an exaggeration, but I think it's absolutely clear that the king neither liked Hugh nor trusted him an inch.

Hugh's relationship with Edward II is often misunderstood by modern writers: firstly, they assume that it was Edward who arranged Hugh's marriage to his niece Eleanor de Clare after Hugh became his 'favourite', and secondly they assume that Hugh moved into the position of favourite not long after Piers Gaveston's murder in 1312 and was already close to the king at the time of the battle of Bannockburn in 1314.  I suppose that as Edward arranged the marriages of his other two de Clare nieces to his 'favourites', it seems logical that he arranged Eleanor and Hugh's marriage as well; but he did not.  There is no doubt whatsoever that Hugh and Eleanor married in May 1306 and that Edward I arranged it, and by the time Edward fell for Hugh in the late 1310s, Hugh and Eleanor already had at least half a dozen children.  And the idea that Hugh was Edward's favourite as early as 1314 ignores the existence of the men who were close to Edward II in the mid-1310s: Roger Damory especially, and Hugh Audley and William Montacute.  Damory and Audley married Elizabeth and Margaret de Clare respectively in 1317.  Edward II proved most reluctant to admit that his nephew the earl of Gloucester's widow Maud de Burgh was not pregnant with his child, and didn't order the division of Gloucester's lands among his three sisters and their husbands until 1317, three years after he fell at Bannockburn.  Had Hugh Despenser been in his favour earlier, Edward would have fallen over himself to grant him and Eleanoe de Clare their lands as soon as possible.  Yet he let Hugh beg over and over for them in 1315 and 1316.

In the autumn of 1318, Hugh Despenser the Younger was appointed as the chamberlain of the king's household, a very powerful position, at the request of the magnates and apparently against Edward II's wishes.  Somehow over the next year or two, and how he did it is not known, Hugh rose ever higher in Edward's affections.  The physical proximity, having to work closely with Hugh whether he wanted to or not, had its effect on Edward, and within two years he had become extremely dependent - politically or emotionally or more likely both - on a man whose existence he had always previously ignored for the most part.  The relationship between the two men, whatever the true nature of it was, continued until Hugh's grotesque execution, ordered by Edward's wife Isabella, on 24 November 1326.  Only death tore them apart.

Whether Edward II and Hugh Despenser the Younger's relationship was sexual and romantic or not, I don't know.  I don't pretend to know.  Unfortunately we will never know.  Jonathan Sumption (who's written an excellent series of books about the Hundred Years War) most peculiarly claimed in a book review that their relationship was "certainly not sexual."  How on earth he can possibly know that, I cannot imagine.  In fact, we cannot say that their relationship was certainly anything, and making such dogmatic statements about a personal relationship of 700 years ago is a gross error, and frankly quite daft.  It appears as though Edward was infatuated with Hugh, and did everything he could in 1321/22 to bring him and his father back to England after they had been exiled by the Marcher lords.  In 1326, the annals of an abbey called the two men rex et maritus eius, 'the king and his husband'.  Unlike Piers Gaveston, Hugh Despenser was an insider, an English nobleman and completely at home with court politics, related by blood or marriage to all the important people in the realm.  In literature, Piers and Hugh are often fairly interchangeable, but in reality, they were very different men and their relationships with Edward were also, presumably, very different.  Queen Isabella tolerated her husband's relationships with his previous favourites, but loathed Hugh (the book review linked above claims that Isabella had a 'mortal hatred' for Piers according to 'recently published documents', whatever they may be.  I really doubt this is true).

The chronicler Geoffrey le Baker wrote a few years later that many people considered Hugh Despenser to be "another king, or more accurately ruler of the king…in the manner of Gaveston, so presumptuous that he frequently kept certain nobles from speaking to the king. Moreover, when the king, out of his magnanimity, was preoccupied with many people addressing him about their affairs, Despenser threw back answers, not those asked for but to the contrary, pretending them to be to the king’s advantage."  The Brut says that Hugh "kept so the king’s chamber, that no man might speak with the king…all men had of him scorn and despite; and the king himself would not be governed by no manner of man, but only by his father and by him."  The Annales Paulini claim that Hugh Despenser, as chamberlain, replaced members of Edward's household without the magnates' consent, and the Anonimalle says that "no man could approach the king without the consent of the said Sir Hugh" and calls him haughty, arrogant, greedy, evil and "more inclined to wrongdoing than any other man."  The Vita Edwardi Secundi says "confident of the royal favour, he did everything at his own discretion, snatched at everything, did not bow to the authority of anyone whomsoever."  Regarding Hugh Despenser's enormous influence over the king, the Flores Historiarum says that he led Edward around as though he were "teasing a cat with a piece of straw," Lanercost that he was the "king of England’s right eye," and the rather later Lancastrian chronicler Henry Knighton that he led Edward around for his own aggrandisement.  The men who had heaved a sigh of relief at the death of Piers Gaveston now realised, to their horror, that Edward had replaced him with a man who was far more dangerous. The Scalacronica says "the great men had ill will against him [Edward] for his cruelty and the debauched life which he led, and on account of the said Hugh, whom at that time he loved and entirely trusted."  (This chronicle was written by Sir Thomas Gray, whose father of the same name served in Hugh the Younger's retinue in the 1320s.)  What the writer meant by 'debauched' is a matter for speculation, and there is even less evidence than with Piers Gaveston to tell us what kind of relationship Edward had with Hugh Despenser.  He never referred to him as his brother, as he did Piers, and we have none of Edward's letters where he describes his feelings for Hugh.

I'll leave the last word to Edward's queen Isabella of France, who in about October 1325 refused to return to England from France, and declared "I feel that marriage is a joining together of man and woman, maintaining the undivided habit of life, and that someone has come between my husband and myself trying to break this bond; I protest that I will not return until this intruder is removed, but discarding my marriage garment, shall assume the robes of widowhood and mourning until I am avenged of this Pharisee."  By this, she meant Hugh Despenser the Younger, and evidently believed that he had come between her husband and herself and had tried to destroy her marriage.  This would seem to mean that Edward and Hugh did have a sexual/romantic relationship, and it lasted for a good long while, from about 1319 until Hugh's execution in 1326.  How Edward II became so infatuated with and dependent on a man he had neither liked nor trusted for many years fascinates me.

04 September, 2015

The Abduction Of Margaret Audley, 1336

Margaret Audley was the only child of Edward II's niece Margaret de Clare (1293/94-1342) and her second husband Sir Hugh Audley (c. 1289/95-1347), and was born sometime between January 1318 (nine months after her parents' wedding on 28 April 1317) and late 1322 (nine months after her father was imprisoned after the battle of Boroughbridge on 16 March 1322).  Margaret de Clare was, with her older sister Eleanor and younger sister Elizabeth, one of the three co-heirs to the huge wealth of their brother Gilbert de Clare, earl of Gloucester, killed at Bannockburn on 24 June 1314.  Margaret had a daughter, Joan, with her first husband Piers Gaveston, who died probably the day after her thirteenth birthday on 13 January 1325.  Joan Gaveston's death left her younger half-sister Margaret Audley as sole heir to their mother's large inheritance.  This made Margaret an extremely tempting marital prospect, but also, as a female, made her vulnerable.  Her aunts Eleanor and Elizabeth de Clare both left sons as their heirs, respectively Hugh or Huchon, Lord Despenser, and William Donn de Burgh, earl of Ulster, whose daughter and heiress Elizabeth de Burgh married Edward III's second son Lionel.

I'm not sure when Margaret Audley was born, but I would imagine nearer the end of the period given above rather than near the beginning, as she was still unmarried at the start of 1336.  This would make much more sense if she was then fourteen or so than if she was eighteen.  She was a great-niece of Edward II and a first cousin once removed of Edward III.  Shortly before 28 February 1336, Margaret was staying at her parents' manor of Thaxted in Essex, when something terrible happened: she was abducted by a large crowd of several dozen men, nineteen of whom are named and 'others' who are not, and forcibly married to one of them.  He was Sir Ralph Stafford, a widower with two daughters, born in September 1301 and thus twenty or so years her senior.  The wedding took place without her father Hugh Audley's consent and, one assumes, also without Margaret's (though no-one bothered to record this).  Hugh Audley seems to have been present at Thaxted at the time, but could not protect his daughter from the large mob of armed men who had set out to take her from him.  Ralph Stafford's aim was, of course, to force himself into a share of the vast de Clare inheritance by right of his wife.  What happened to Margaret next is best left to the imagination.  Snatched suddenly from from her home and her parents, married against her will, plus what must have come next, must have been a terrifying, traumatic experience.

Hugh Audley complained to Edward III, his wife Margaret de Clare's first cousin, who on 28 February 1336 - presumably shortly after the attack - ordered Robert Bousser and Adam Everyngham to find out what had happened.  At this stage it was still unclear who had attacked Hugh's manor of Thaxted and what had gone on, except that Margaret Audley had been abducted and some of Hugh's goods stolen.  By 6 July 1336, more facts had come out.  Margaret had been married, and the culprit was a friend and ally of the king: Ralph Stafford had taken part in the young king's coup d'état against his mother Isabella and Roger Mortimer at Nottingham on 19 October 1330.  Ralph's chief accomplices are named on the Patent Roll on 6 July 1336 when the king ordered four men to investigate further, not that these investigations were likely to do Margaret any good whatsoever.  She was married now and could not be unmarried; and the king was hardly likely to punish one of his friends.  [Calendar of Patent Rolls 1334-38, pp. 283, 298]  Hugh Audley must have known Ralph Stafford well: on 23 April 1332, both of them received a safe-conduct from Edward III to travel overseas on his business, Ralph accompanying Hugh in his retinue.  [Patent Rolls 1330-34, p. 276]

Ralph Stafford was later made first earl of Stafford and was a founder member of the Knights of the Garter (he was the fifth), and his and Margaret's Stafford descendants became dukes of Buckingham in the fifteenth century.  Just think, Henry Stafford, the duke of Buckingham executed by Richard III in 1483, and his son Edward, the duke of Buckingham executed by Henry VIII in 1521, would never have existed if Ralph Stafford had not abducted - and, let's be frank, raped - a young girl in 1336.  Hugh Audley himself was made earl of Gloucester in 1337, perhaps as a kind of compensation for the abduction, forcible marriage and rape of his daughter.  No-one bothered to compensate Margaret herself, of course.  She and Ralph had six children.  Their elder son Ralph died young and their heir was their second son Hugh, to whom the earldom of Stafford and Margaret's share of the de Clare inheritance passed.  They also had four daughters, Elizabeth, Joan, Beatrice and Katherine (not one of whom was named after their mother or their maternal grandmother Margaret de Clare, which may be revealing, though revealing of what I don't know).  Hugh Stafford, second earl of Stafford, married Philippa Beauchamp, a granddaughter of Guy Beauchamp, earl of Warwick (d. 1315) and Roger Mortimer, first earl of March (d. 1330), and they were the ancestors of the later Staffords.

Margaret Stafford née Audley died on 7 September 1349, aged about thirty at most, though probably still only in her late twenties.  Her widower and abductor Ralph Stafford, rewarded with an earldom and membership of the Knights of the Garter, lived a long life and died on 31 August 1372, shortly before his seventy-first birthday.  So that's nice.