31 January, 2013

Dear Edward II Detractors...

...I just have some questions for you.  I'd be grateful if you could take the time to read what I write below and think about what it is precisely that you think Edward II did wrong in the situations I describe.  (If you could read this post as well, which covers a lot of the points I make here, and maybe this one too, that would be really helpful.)

I've seen it stated more times than I can count online and in books (both fiction and non-fiction) that Edward II cruelly neglected Isabella after their wedding in January 1308 because he didn't fall madly in love with her and consummate their marriage immediately.  There was a gap of a little over four years between their wedding and the conception of their first child Edward III, and you seem to think this is bizarre and unaccountable, and somehow wrong and bad of Edward, and proof of what a callous heartless neglectful uncaring husband he must have been and how he must have made Isabella suffer, and how this gap of four years must be attributable to his love of men in general or Piers Gaveston in particular, which love prevented him doing his marital duty, to the detriment of poor sad suffering Isabella.  I've lost count of the number of novels I've read which begin with Isabella upset at her wedding because her gorgeous new husband inexplicably shows no interest in her.

Let me remind you that at the time of her wedding on 25 January 1308, Isabella was twelve years old.  TWELVE.  Her date of birth has been estimated by her biographer Paul Doherty as late 1295 or even the beginning of 1296, so she hadn't long turned twelve when she married, either.  Edward was twenty-three going on twenty-four, twice her age.  So let me ask you, do you really think it would have been better if Edward, this grown adult in his twenties, had consummated his marriage to such a terribly young girl immediately?  Has it honestly never occurred to you that not consummating it was a humane act, and that he may have been unwilling to force this very young girl to go through pregnancy and childbirth, and that maybe she simply wasn't fertile yet?  That perhaps her father Philip IV had forbidden consummation until she was older?  Would Edward II really be a better person in your eyes if he'd fawned all over a prepubescent girl half his age?  Do you think Isabella would have been happier if she'd been forced into a regular sex life not long after she turned twelve?  If she'd had to face the dangers of pregnancy and childbirth (assuming she was even fertile) at such a young age?  By way of comparison, Edward's three de Clare nieces all married at thirteen and bore their first children at sixteen or seventeen.  None of his sisters gave birth before the end of their teens at the earliest.

And just be totally honest with me here: if Edward had made Isabella bear a child within a year or two of their marriage when she was still barely into her teens, wouldn't you then be shouting 'paedophile' and 'pervert' at him?  Wouldn't you be furious that he would so cavalierly ignore the health and well-being of his young queen and risk the possibility that she would be unable to bear more children and possibly die in the attempt to bear the first one?  Wouldn't consummating the marriage have been much more callous and cruel than not doing so?  So please, can you tell me exactly what it is that you think Edward should have done?  It seems to me that you think his not having sex with a twelve-year-old makes him a heartless neglectful husband and Isabella a poor little victim forced to 'compete' with someone else for Edward's affections, yet you cannot possibly prefer him to have had sex with a prepubescent.  I simply don't believe that.  So what do you think he should have done?  What would have been the 'right' time for them to consummate their marriage and become parents, in your eyes?  Do you really think that sixteen is too old for Isabella to have become pregnant for the first time, and if so, what do you think would have been a more suitable age?  Edward and Isabella's daughter Eleanor of Woodstock gave birth to her first child the month before her fifteenth birthday; do you find this preferable, and think that Duke Reynald (then well over forty) must have been a better and more caring husband than his father-in-law because he made a fourteen-year-old pregnant?  What would have been the right time for Edward to begin a sex life with Isabella that wouldn't make him look like either a child-molesting pervert or a callous husband thoughtlessly ignoring his wife to you?

I'm afraid I can't help feeling that what bothers and offends you is not really that you think Edward 'ignored' his wife for four years, but that he so openly and obviously loved a man, and that you think this man was a 'rival' to Isabella for the king's affections, which you find icky.  Because when I look at, for example, Edward and Isabella's granddaughter-in-law Constanza of Castile, arriving in England as a king's daughter, also very young (though not as young as Isabella), to marry John of Gaunt, I see a very similar situation: the rightful queen of Castile and duchess of Lancaster arrived in her new country to find her new husband already in an intense, long-term relationship with another person, which continued for Constanza's entire married life and produced children regularly for a few years.  Yet I never ever see you weeping and wailing over Constanza's 'neglect' and 'suffering' and the 'insult' and humiliation she endured at her husband's hands; on the contrary, you seem to find her husband's adulterous relationship romantic and fabulous and one of the most amazing love stories ever.  But then, of course, John's 'favourite' Katherine Swynford was a woman.  You point out that John had only married Constanza for political reasons and couldn't help being in love with someone else, but of course, exactly the same thing applies to Edward II, so why the massive difference in attitude?  I also often see you talking about how wonderfully romantic Roger Mortimer and Isabella of France's relationship supposedly was (I'm really not convinced, personally), but you rarely if ever talk about Roger's wife of twenty-five years, Joan Geneville.  I see comments from you like "Roger Mortimer fulfilled her [Isabella's] idea of romantic love which was unfulfilled by Edward" and "Isabella was married to a fastidiously gay guy who begat children on her - note not with her - as a painful duty. Roger Mortimer came as a happy thunderbolt into a bleak life", with not a mention of Roger's wife and how she might have suffered emotional pain and humiliation from seeing her husband in a long-term relationship with another woman and being her 'happy thunderbolt'.  It looks pretty strange to complain about the bad time you think Isabella had in her marriage being ignored by a husband in love with someone else, and then laud her allegedly passionate and wildly romantic relationship with a man who himself already had a wife and a dozen children.  And please note, you don't and can't have the faintest idea whether Edward II enjoyed having intercourse with Isabella or not, so it looks pretty silly to make statements like Edward 'begat children on her, not with her, as a painful duty' as though you have a webcam set up in their bedchamber.

Here's something else I've seen you say:

"Isabella is married off to Edward II at the age of thirteen - and soon discovers that as far as her husband is concerned, she is simply a brood mare for his children. He'd rather spend his time with his lover, Piers Gaveston."  (Funny how we never get something like "Joan Geneville is married off to Roger Mortimer at the age of fifteen - and discovers after a quarter of a century of loyal support, a dozen pregnancies and imprisonment on Roger's behalf that as far as her husband is concerned, she is simply a brood mare for his children.  He'd rather spend his time with his lover, Isabella of France.")

"I hate how people call Isabella of France homophobic for deposing her husband Edward II. Imagine being used as a broodmare by a gay dude."  (My query as to who, precisely, has ever called Isabella 'homophobic' went sadly unanswered.  It was in 'some documentary', apparently.  I really, really doubt that anyone has ever said anything like this.)

Edward II and Isabella of France had four children, well spaced out: they were born in November 1312, August 1316, June 1318 and July 1321.  (Additionally, Isabella may have had a miscarriage in November 1313, when pennyroyal was bought for her.)  How exactly does four, perhaps five pregnancies in almost twenty years of marriage equate to being a 'brood mare'?  If we're going to use idiotic terms like 'brood mare', why are you applying it to a woman who as far as we know was pregnant no more than four or five times?  Surely better candidates would be Eleanor of Castile (fourteen or fifteen children), Philippa of Hainault (twelve children) or Joan Geneville Mortimer (twelve children) - they're somehow not 'brood mares' to you, but a woman with four children is?  In which way was Isabella a 'brood mare' more than any other queen or noblewoman?  Oh wait, I think I know the answer to that one: is it that you think it's not a problem to be a 'brood mare' if your husband's assumed to be straight?

So on the one hand, you complain that Edward II took too long to consummate his marriage, then you declare that he was only interested in Isabella as a 'brood mare'.  If that were the case, why did he delay consummation for so long then?  Surely a man who only wants to use his wife as a 'brood mare' would be keen to get going as soon as possible, regardless of her extreme youth?  Again, I can't avoid the feeling that what you really object to is that Edward loved men and may have preferred having sex with them to his queen.  May.  We really don't know that, and we can't know that.  Edward may have enjoyed intercourse with Isabella enormously for all we know.  As I've pointed out before, they conceived the future Edward III during Lent when intercourse was forbidden, which hardly suggests that Edward slept with his wife unwillingly (Lent gave him the perfect excuse to avoid it if he wanted to).  During their visit to France in 1313, they overslept one morning which made Edward arrive late for a meeting with Isabella's father Philip IV, and another night, they were sleeping together naked when their pavilion caught fire and Edward scooped up Isabella in his arms and rushed outside with her, though they were both still naked.  Sounds to me like their marital relations were perfectly normal and intimate, and Edward fathered an illegitimate son called Adam so evidently wasn't repulsed by intercourse with women.  Please do remember we don't and can't know anything about Edward and Isabella's sex life, except that they had intercourse four (or five) times to produce their children.  And please do remember that you don't know anything about Isabella and Roger Mortimer's sex life either, assuming they had one, or about Edward and Piers Gaveston's sex life either, assuming they had one.  You don't actually know that Roger fulfilled Isabella sexually and/or romantically in ways which Edward II didn't or couldn't or wouldn't.  He might have done, yes, but basically that's only romanticised modern speculation.  (And also, you can't possibly know and state as fact that Roger was 'unequivocally heterosexual'.)  Alison Weir's book about Isabella also suggests that "intercourse [between Isabella and Edward] must have been infrequent" because of their "widely spaced" children, and that "Edward never visited her bed regularly," even though Isabella was, allegedly, "highly sexed."  Haha.  The things some people say!

So, Edward humanely waited till Isabella was old enough to bear children without risk, which meant that by the time their eldest child was born he himself was at the fairly advanced age of twenty-eight and, if he'd been able to marry a woman who was around his own age, could well have had an heir a decade or more earlier.  Then they had four children with long enough spaces between them to allow Isabella's body to rest and recover, which manages at one and the same time in the eyes of you, his detractors, to be a) proof that he wasn't interested in his poor little wife (even though she was soooo beautiful and every other man on the planet lusted after her!) or in having sex with her, which must have been so terrible for her given her high sex drive, and b) proof that he thought of her as nothing more than a brood mare.  Hmmm, curious.  So it would have been better if Isabella had borne a child every year then?  After all, if you're going to treat someone as a brood mare', you might as well do it properly.  It may be, who knows, that Isabella wasn't particularly fertile, or that she had miscarriages we don't know about (it's likely though not certain that she had one in November 1313).  Her five-year relationship with Roger Mortimer, which is always nowadays assumed on little evidence to have been certainly sexual, produced no children, unless you count the unproven claim that she was pregnant at the time of their downfall in October 1330.  Even if that's true, it had taken her nearly five years (since their relationship began in about late 1325) to become pregnant.  Admittedly Isabella was thirty to thirty-five between 1325 and 1330 and perhaps less fertile than she had been when younger, but if her relationship with Roger was the intensely, passionately sexual one her fans nowadays like to think it was, and she was the 'highly sexed' person she's claimed to be, that's still a heck of a long delay.

All kings needed heirs, y'know.  Edward II would have been failing in his duty to his kingdom if he hadn't fathered at least one son to succeed him, and so would Isabella.  You do know, don't you, that Isabella was a woman who lived in the fourteenth century, who had known since she was two or three years old that it was her destiny to marry the king of England in a political alliance between their countries, and bear his children?  You do realise that she wasn't a twenty-first-century woman with modern ideas and attitudes who time-travelled back 700 years?  You do realise she'd find your accusations that her husband treated her as a 'brood mare' utterly ludicrous?  (I really doubt that Isabella would recognise herself at all in the way many of her modern fans like to write her.)  You accuse Edward of treating her as a 'brood mare', but I have a feeling that if for whatever reason he and Isabella had had no children, you'd be weeping and wailing instead at the tragedy of her enforced childlessness, and cursing Edward's vile behaviour and neglect of her and her sexual needs.  Her apparently being so 'highly sexed' and all.  So what in your opinion would have been the correct number of children for Edward II to have had with Isabella?  So that in your mind he'd be neither a neglectful husband not sleeping with his tragic abandoned sexy wife often enough, nor treating her like a brood mare and risking her health by making her pregnant too often?  Six?  Eight?  What?

You see, I just don't know what it is you think Edward should have done.  In 1308 as a twenty-three-year-old he married, for political reasons arranged between his father, Isabella's father and the pope all the way back in 1298, a twelve-year-old girl he'd never met before.  It must have been hard for Isabella to move to another country permanently and have to make a life with this emotional, unpredictable and difficult man who was already deeply involved with someone else, and I do feel a lot of sympathy for her.  But think, it can't have been easy for Edward either.  In their rush to wail about the 'tragic pawns' medieval royal women supposedly were because they had arranged marriages, people nowadays forget that men had no more choice in the matter than their wives did either.  An arranged marriage means it's arranged on both sides, it's not forced on the woman's side and voluntary on the man's.  Edward had to marry this young girl and forge a relationship with her, and have children with her, whether he wanted to or not.  You call Isabella his 'brood mare', but why isn't Edward a 'brood stallion' then?  Most of the evidence that he 'neglected' her at the start of their marriage comes from the fact that he talked to Piers Gaveston at their wedding banquet more than he did to her, and the alleged complaint of her uncles Valois and Evreux that he preferred Piers' couch to hers (according to the St Paul's annalist; no letters from the two men exist to confirm this allegation).  As to the latter, I dealt with that above - it's hardly reasonable to criticise a man in his twenties for not wanting to sleep with a girl of just turned twelve.  And as for the banquet, well, wouldn't you perhaps prefer to talk to a close friend you've known for at least a decade and who's near your own age than to a twelve-year-old you don't know?  Do you, as an adult, find twelve-year-olds exciting and stimulating company?  Isabella was probably more mature than your average modern twelve-year-old, but still, there's a limit as to how mature, interesting and knowledgeable anyone can be at that age.  Might it not be, perhaps, that Edward was feeling awkward and shy and found it easier to talk to a person he knew really well and cared deeply for than to a child?  Does it always have to be deliberate and callous neglect and contempt for his wife, do you always have to interpret everything Edward ever did in the most negative and critical light possible?   Yes, he loved Piers Gaveston, but that doesn't have to make Piers and Isabella 'rivals' for his affection, and it certainly doesn't have to mean therefore that Isabella meant nothing to Edward, that he had no space in his heart left over for any feelings for her.  I've even seen Edward and Isabella's marriage called a "grotesque travesty", which made me laugh out loud at the stupidity.  I don't have enough space to discuss it here, but for many years there's much evidence of mutual affection and support between the couple - their marriage ended badly but that doesn't mean it was an utter disaster from start to finish.  Human beings are complex, human relationships are complex.  Don't reduce them to such silly one-dimensional characterisations.

Finally, one thing I'd dearly love to know: why you so often assume that a man described by fourteenth-century chroniclers as "one of the strongest men in his realm," "a handsome man, of outstanding strength," "tall and strong, a fine figure of a handsome man" and so on, a man who by all evidence was tall, well-built, muscular, enormously strong and a huge fan of the outdoors and exacting physical exercise - why this man must somehow have really been feminine and girly, a cowardly weakling who snivelled, whined, mewled and threw tantrums.  Have you seen a fourteenth-century primary source that I've somehow missed, which states that he ever behaved like this?  Because I've got to say, if there isn't, these things you say about him look very much like unpleasant prejudices based on what you think his sexual orientation was and stereotypes of how you think gay men are supposed to behave.  So please do cite that missing source for me.  Because I'd hate to think that you form your opinion of a man who lived 700 years ago on modern attitudes that frankly - sorry to be so harsh but here it is - look bigoted to me.

Yours sincerely,

27 January, 2013

Mythbuster 5: Edward II was trying to annul his marriage to Isabella in 1325

I'm reposting this one from September 2011 as number five of my Edward II Mythbuster series.

The Lanercost chronicler, a monk living in a convent near the Scottish border in the 1340s, claims that in 1325 Hugh Despenser the Younger "was exerting himself at the pope's court to procure divorce between the king of England and the queen, and in furtherance of this business there sent to the court a certain man of religion, acting irreligiously, by name Thomas Dunheved, with an appointed colleague, and a certain secular priest named Master Robert de Baldock." (Yes, the same Thomas Dunheved, Dominican friar, who temporarily freed the former king from Berkeley Castle in the summer of 1327.) The St Paul's annalist in the 1330s also repeated the rumour that Edward was trying to annul his marriage to Isabella and that Dunheved was involved in this. [1]

This statement in two chronicles is often repeated as fact in secondary sources, as yet another grievance Isabella of France had against her husband Edward II, along with supposedly 'removing' her children from her (rather than just setting up households for them in normal fashion), confiscating her lands and giving her a smaller income to live on (he did do that), and so on. Let's look at this logically. Why exactly would Edward II have wanted to annul his marriage to Isabella in 1325? What benefits could he have gained from it? Precisely none. He would, however, have suffered a whole pile of negative consequences. Edward was at war with Isabella's brother Charles IV of France from the autumn of 1323 (although military action did not begin until the summer of 1324) until a peace treaty was signed in June 1325. As Edward's biographer Seymour Phillips points out, "An attempted divorce in the conditions of 1325 would have been political madness, since it would have meant the repudiation of all agreements between England and France, which Edward and Isabella's marriage had been intended to strengthen, and would have plunged England into an immediate war with France" (shortly after peace had finally been established between the two countries). [2] Even during Edward's war with Isabella's brother, over Gascony, there is no reason to suppose that he considered annulment, or that it would have gained him anything. The only possible grounds Edward could have had for an annulment of his marriage in 1325 was consanguinity, as he and Isabella were second cousins once removed. They had been granted a papal dispensation for this, however. An annulment would have meant that their marriage had never been valid in the first place (as a marriage then could not simply be ended, in the way we understand divorce), which would have made Edward and Isabella's children illegitimate. Edward II spent much of 1325 negotiating marriages for three of their children with the royal houses of Spain. Why on earth would he have risked making them illegitimate? Why would he have acted in such fashion as to harm the position and status of his elder son and heir Edward of Windsor?

No proof of the two chroniclers' statement that Edward was trying to annul his marriage in 1325 has ever been discovered in the Vatican archives, nor is there any evidence that he ever wrote to the pope regarding this matter. He did send Thomas Dunheved to Pope John XXII in Avignon in 1325, it's true - but to complain about Alexander Bicknor, the archbishop of Dublin, whom Edward held responsible for his half-brother the earl of Kent's surrender at La Réole in September 1324, and who was not afraid to make his intense dislike of Hugh Despenser the Younger obvious and public. (Bicknor boasted that were he not a cleric, he would challenge Despenser to a duel.) John XXII, who made Dunheved a papal chaplain while he was visiting the papal court, wrote to Edward II in October 1325: "To the king, whose letters sent by Thomas Dunhevede, a Friar Preacher, the pope has received. The matter touching Alexander, archbishop of Dublin, cannot be heard in camera, but must be laid before the consistory...". [3] The Lanercost chronicler says that Edward also sent Robert Baldock to the pope regarding an annulment of his marriage. Baldock was chancellor of England from August 1323 until October 1326 [4], and did not leave the country, to my knowledge.

As for other chroniclers, the very well-informed author of the Vita Edwardi Secundi does not mention or even hint at an intended annulment. Neither does the royal clerk and chronicler Adam Murimuth, who knew the royal couple well and who visited the papal court in 1324. Neither does the author of the Flores Historiarum, who loathed Edward and who would have jumped on a chance to condemn him for humiliating his wife in this fashion. Neither does any other chronicler, even Jean Froissart, who a few decades later invented a tale of Isabella secretly fleeing to France from Winchelsea with her son in 1325, to escape from Edward's mistreatment of her (in fact she departed from Dover with a large retinue and, of course, Edward's full knowledge and consent). When Thomas Dunheved wrote to Edward II on 7 October 1325, he did not mention an annulment. [5] Edward was debating with his counsellors, by the end of 1324, the possibility of sending Queen Isabella to France to negotiate with her brother, and she departed for her homeland the following March. Why then would he suddenly decide to annul his marriage to her? It wasn't until late 1325 that it became apparent that the queen did not intend to return to England. Isabella herself wrote to her husband from France on 5 February 1326, addressing him as "our very dear and very sweet lord and friend" (nostre treschier et tresdouche seignur et amy) and informing him that although she wished nothing more than to return to his company and live and die with him, she did not dare, because of her fear of Hugh Despenser. Isabella did not mention that Edward was trying to annul their marriage; neither did any letters her brother Charles IV sent to Edward around this time or earlier (and Charles would have been utterly furious at this horrendous insult to his sister). [6] At Hugh Despenser's trial in November 1326, he was not accused of attempting to procure an annulment of Edward and Isabella's marriage. Why would Isabella not charge him with this, if he had done it? It was the gravest and most humiliating crime Despenser could have committed against her.

The Lanercost chronicler in his convent in the far north, although a useful source for events in Scotland and Scottish raids in the north of England, knew little of what had been going on at court a couple of decades earlier, while the Pauline annalist was merely reporting a rumour he had heard (ut vulgariter dicebatur), not stating it as definitive truth. Plenty of rumours were flying around England in 1325/26, including one reported in the Brut that Edward II intended to strangle his wife and his son Edward of Windsor to death. Edward was, apparently, informed of this after his deposition, and was - as any normal human being would be when accused of something as monstrous as wishing to murder his own child - deeply upset and horrified ("God knows, I thought it never, and now I would that I were dead! So would God that I were! For then were all my sorrow passed.") [7] Just because rumours existed does not automatically make them true, and it's a shame that writers continue to declare as fact that Edward was trying to divorce his wife without considering the ample evidence that he was doing no such thing, and without considering the logical implications and consequences of this act. It does fit so nicely into the popular Victim!Isabella school of thought, though, doesn't it? Precisely why Edward would have wanted to annul his marriage to the queen in 1325 and what he would have gained from it in exchange for taking such a huge risk is never actually explained; his supposed neglect of his queen and the nastiness of Hugh Despenser appear to be enough reason. Alison Weir claims in her biography of Isabella that "Lanercost's statement is to some extent corroborated by the fact that Dunheved was sent to the papal Curia on secret business at this time," but fails to notice the papal letter which demonstrates that Dunheved delivered Edward's letters regarding the archbishop of Dublin to the pope, and somehow confuses Thomas with his secular brother Stephen (as Lanercost clearly and correctly refers to the Dunheved brother in question as Thomas, I can't help but wonder how carefully she looked at the sources). Of course, it's entirely possible that Thomas Dunheved discussed other matters with the pope on the king's behalf, but we have no evidence, besides a rumour repeated in two chronicles written some years later, that an annulment of the king and queen's marriage was one of them.

I believe it is virtually certain that Edward II was not intending to annul his marriage in 1325; he had no reason to do so, and the consequences would have been disastrous for him, his children and his kingdom. Having said that, it is just possible that he was considering this course of action in the summer of 1326, by which time he knew that Isabella was going to betroth their son to the count of Hainault's daughter without his consent and invade his kingdom with an army. It's perhaps hardly surprising if he then decided that an annulment would solve his problems, and that even making his children and in particular his elder son and heir illegitimate would be worth it. I hasten to add there is no actual evidence that he was planning to ask the pope for an annulment and this is mere speculation: again, there are no documents in either the Vatican or England to confirm it. Edward met the bishop of Rochester, his ally Hamo Hethe, at Boxley Down in Kent in June 1326, and he and Hugh Despenser the Younger rode with the bishop back to Rochester. Edward asked Hethe if it were true that there had once been a queen who had disobeyed her husband and had therefore been deposed from her royal dignity. Hethe was having none of it, and retorted that whoever had told the king this had given him very bad advice. [8] This does sound as if perhaps Edward was then considering the possibility of annulment. This may be confirmed by two letters Edward sent to his son in 1326, then in France with Isabella (whether willingly or not). The first, written on 18 March, orders the thirteen-year-old not to marry without his father's consent, and to obey Edward "under pain of forfeiting all that he may to the king...". The second, written on 19 June, ends with the words "if the king find him contrary or disobedient hereafter to his will, by what counsel soever it may be, he will ordain in such wise that Edward [of Windsor] shall feel it all the days of his life, and that all other sons shall take example thereby of disobeying their lords and fathers." [9]

Do these letters, and Edward's remark to the bishop of Rochester, imply that Edward was now indeed considering an annulment of his marriage? I don't know, and if Edward did think along these lines, he took no action, and it's highly doubtful that the pope would have consented to annul his marriage anyway. If they do imply that a possible annulment was on the king's mind, it must be noted that this was months after Isabella had defied Edward and refused to return to him, and was planning an invasion of his kingdom. However justified Isabella may have thought her actions, seen from Edward's perspective it's hardly surprising that he was furious with her and (perhaps unfairly, given how young the boy was) with his son, even to the extent that he was willing to infuriate Isabella's brother Charles IV by annulling the marriage and willing to disinherit his son and thereby avert the threat to himself by making the boy illegitimate. If an annulment of Edward II and Isabella of France's marriage was ever on the cards, it came as a consequence of Isabella's actions against her husband, and was not a cause of them.


1) The Chronicle of Lanercost 1272-1346, ed. Herbert Maxwell, p. 249; Annales Paulini 1307-1340, in W. Stubbs, ed., Chronicles of the Reigns of Edward I and Edward II, volume 1, p. 337.
2) Seymour Phillips, Edward II, p. 483 note 169.
3) Calendar of Papal Letters 1305-1341, pp. 474, 479.
4) T.F. Tout, The Place of the Reign of Edward II in English History, p. 327.
5) F.D. Blackley, 'Isabella and the Bishop of Exeter', in T. A. Sandqvist and M. R. Powicke, eds., Essays in Medieval History Presented to Bertie Wilkinson, p. 226.
6) Isabella's letter is cited in Phillips, Edward II, p. 491. For Charles IV's correspondence with Edward II in the 1320s, see Pierre Chaplais, ed., The War of Saint-Sardos (1323-1325): Gascon Correspondence and Diplomatic Documents.
7) The Brut or the Chronicles of England, ed. F. W. D. Brie, volume 1, pp. 252-253.
8) Roy Martin Haines, 'Bishops and politics in the reign of Edward II: Hamo de Hethe, Henry Wharton, and the 'Historia Roffensis'', Journal of Ecclesiastical History, 44 (1993), pp. 605-606.
9) Calendar of Close Rolls 1323-1327, pp. 576-578.

23 January, 2013

The battle of Bannockburn, and why Edward II was NOT a coward (guest post)

Here's Sami Parkkonen again, with some thoughts on Edward II's defeat at the battle of Bannockburn in June 1314.  I'd also like to link to my friend Colin's three posts about the battle of Byland on 14 October 1322, where Edward II's army was again defeated by Robert Bruce's: part one; part two; part three.  Colin uses his excellent local knowledge, complete with maps, to speculate about what was really going on, and provides a different take on the usual Edward II, "ever chicken-hearted and luckless in war" (Chronicle of Lanercost), being a totally incompetent idiot blah blah.  I'm really grateful to both Sami and Colin for providing such terrific new perspectives on these two battles, especially as what I know about battles and military tactics would fit on a postage stamp so I'm incapable of providing any new insights into them myself.  A recent article, incidentally, also suggests that "we may have done [Edward II] a dis-service" in judging his tactics at Bannockburn.

So here's Sami's thought-provoking post, with thanks again to him for taking the time and trouble to put so much work into it.  And see what he says at the end: Edward II was not a physical coward, quite the contrary.  Take THAT, detractors who say he was!  I had the misfortune recently to read a self-published novel about Edward's queen Isabella in which she calls her husband "cowardly" and says that "he shied from battle because the sight of blood made him queasy."  This is the kind of dire written-by-numbers Edward/Isabella novel that exist by the truckload, by a writer who doesn't have enough skill to make Isabella and Roger Mortimer sympathetic characters without turning Edward into a weak feeble cowardly 'snivelling' caricature - the kind of novel where every myth that has ever existed about Edward II is repeated, the kind of novel which contains prejudices that say far more about the person who perpetuates them than they do about Edward.  At the risk of sounding really kiddish and stupid, I'm ROFLMAO at that 'queasy' quotation from it.  Oh, and at the bit where a painting of Edward doesn't look much like the real him, "being much more muscular."  I wonder how the author thinks that "one of the strongest men in his realm," "a handsome man, of outstanding strength," who went rowing and swimming and digging, could actually have been much more muscular than he already was. But of course, Edward loved men!  He couldn't possibly have been strong and muscular then, not like our manly hetero hero Rog!

Anyway, I'm waffling.  Here's Sami's Bannockburn post.

In the summer of 1314 King Edward II of England was mustering a huge army in order to invade Scotland. Once again, most of his earls did not attend. They stayed at home or had something more important to do than face the enemy about whom they had been complaining for many years. These mightiest men of the realm had been accusing the king of cowardice but had refused to join him in any war against Scotland. They had been sabotaging the king's efforts for seven years, but now the king was determined. He would go to Scotland, with or without those crybabies.  It is easy to imagine Edward's motives. He had been hearing all those complaints and rumours, all that talk behind his back how he did not dare to fight against Robert the Bruce. It did not matter that he had wanted to do so many times or that the barons had made it impossible. He was to blame. So, when he heard the news that the commander of Stirling Castle had made a deal with Edward the Bruce that he would hand over the castle to the Scots if there was no relief before St.John's day in 1314, Edward knew this was his best chance.

His army was big, even without the earls who stayed behind. Estimates range from twenty to thirty thousand. Out of these some 2000 - 2500 were knights on horses, medieval shock troops, the elite. The only commander ever to stop a full charge by a full cavalry had been William Wallace with his schiltrons. A schiltron was basically a falang, foot soldier formation, were the spears were pointing outwards and men stood side by side, three to four ranks deep. Scottish schiltrons were different from Alexander the Great's Macedonian falangs in that they were round and could change formation if needed, where as Alexanders had been rigid squares. When we think of a medieval knight we see him in his fine armour, shining and awesome, with his long lance and wide shield. What we do not see is that he has a page, a shield carrier, a servant who leads his war horse and there's the knight without his armour, riding his other horse. So for every knight there was five horses. 2000 knights and men at arms on horseback meant around ten thousand horses in the army.

Now if you are serving in infantry as a spearman or archer, you walk behind those horses. Those horses produce a lot of waste and you along with tens of thousands of men march splashing on their urine and slipping on their manure all day long, from dawn till dusk. There are very few breaks, perhaps once a day for eating or quick drinks, but usually it is after the stop in the evening. By then you are so exhausted that you probably just drop down and fall asleep. Before you have had time to eat, you are woken up and told to get back in line and the march continues. And this goes on and on for days. Some men break their feet, ankles, their footwear shreds into pieces, their soles bleed, some just keel over and die. That is the reality of the medieval army on the move.

Edward II was an inexperienced commander. He had led some troops at least nominally during his father's wars in Scotland but more than likely others had taken care of the practicalities of running the army. So in order to reach Stirling by the set date, Edward and other noblemen on horses pushed the pace during the march. He probably did not understand how hard it was for the foot soldiers, but kept on going like a mad man. He wanted to fight. He was determined to get there on time. Nothing was going to stop him this time. It is also very likely that he trusted that his officers were running the army with the best skill and everything was in order. After all, it was a given. He was paying for men to do exactly that. Even most of the foot soldiers were on the pay roll by this time, rank and file earning 2 pennies a day and archers 3.

One of the earls who had answered his call was Aymer de Valence who had been at odds with the king previously, mainly because Edward had taken his lands in Scotland and given them to Piers Gaveston. Gaveston was now dead, had been for two years, and seemingly everything was OK between them. Valence was considered to be a good soldier, good officer and valiant warrior. Another earl who answered to the call was the young earl of Gloucester. He was Edward's nephew and one of the most valiant knights of the realm. He had served in his grandfather Edward Longshanks' army at the age of fifteen and everyone held him in high esteem. He had been a stout supporter of Edward II and when Edward had been in France in 1313, he had been the regent. The earl of Hereford was thirty-eight in 1314 and was also in the army marching north. He was Constable of England and he had been one of the mediators between the king and other barons during the crisis of 1312. Despite being not totally loyal to the king during the Gaveston years, this time he was enthusiastic and joined in quickly with a full force.

Alongside these three, the top commanders of the English army were Sir Robert Clifford and Sir Henry Beaumont, who commanded jointly the second cavalry division of the army. Clifford had been in Scotland with the old king and had some battlefield success but he had been against Piers Gaveston with most of the barons. Beaumont was Edward's cousin and was appointed to command the second division with Clifford. He had a personal stake in this war since he had estates in Scotland via Comyn family in which he had married into. The Scottish Sir Ingram of Umfraville was also present and one of the senior advisers and officers to the king. He had plenty of experience of fighting against the Bruces and in Scotland. He had been fighting since 1299, also against the English, but now with them.

Alongside these men there were mercenaries from continent, thousands of Irish warriors, Welsh and soldiers from all over England. Most famous of the continental knights was Giles d'Argentan, a knight rated as number three in the whole Christendom, right after the Scottish commander Robert the Bruce. He was the epitome of knighthood, straight out of Hollywood, incorruptible, chivalrous and handsome, all of which suited well during jousts and single combats, but not that well in a big battle. There were also many many younger knights in the army. They were ambitious and full of ideas of bravery and glory. They wanted to fight and show off their bravery and skills, get recognition and perhaps rewards from the king himself. They were also full of themselves. After all, this was one of the biggest English armies ever, the king was leading them in person, and who were the Scots? Raiders and thieves, hillbillies and ragtags with no decent weapons, training or class. It is good to remember that medieval society at large was a society of young people. Most of the population was under thirty years old. This applied to the soldiers as well as knights. Give weapons to a few thousand young men and send them anywhere with no other orders than to fight and you have a picture of the medieval knights and what they were all about.

And then there were those tens of thousands of foot soldiers. They were commanded by men at arms, sergeants, or by men who were appointed to command them. They served in groups of twenty or more. Some formed in companies of plus hundred men. Some knights commanded some formations too, depending if they were his levy or not.  But the knights spoke French, or Anglo-Gascon, as well as did the nobles. Some of them spoke fluent English but most refused to use it. French was the language of the nobility, just like Latin was the language of the church. Very few ordinary foot soldiers spoke any French at all. But that was not all. There were thousands of Irishmen and Welsh speaking their own languages. In fact, if you came from Cornwall, you could not understand a word a Yorkshireman was telling you. All of these men formed the king's army. Thousands and thousands of men speaking dialects and languages alien to each other. And when we remember that these were not trained men of modern armies, that they were not drilled for months at anything, lucky if they had practised at all, we can see what kind of chaos this marching horde was.

They were not marching in unison or at the same pace, nor in neat interwalls or formations. They were just trying to keep up with the rest of the army. Famously rich noblemen on their horses, humble foot soldiers walking barefoot in the dust and stink of tens of thousands of animals. Yes, there were thousands of animals too. Thousands of horses for the cavalry and hundreds of smaller horses pulling carriages and carts, thick big bulls, oxen, pulling big and decorated wagons of the nobility, almost like medieval caravans. Contemporary sources speak of the army stretching for twenty miles along the dry and rock-hard road, with dust clouds reaching the sky. Another tells that there were 106 wagons each pulled with six horses, plus 110 wagons each pulled by eight oxen. In 1300 Edward I had needed 3000 horse shoes and 50,000 nails for them. Now they needed even more. The noise made by this medieval monster was ear-splitting. Thousands of animals huffing and puffing, screaming and making noises, tens of thousands of feet stomping on the ground, men shouting, officers shouting, horns blowing and musicians playing. Yes, musicians followed armies every where.

No doubt that when Edward looked at this army of his from some hill top and saw its humongous size, he must have felt confident. His father raised a bigger army only once, perhaps, but this was the biggest anyone could remember. Edward knew that the Scots were following them. The Scottish horsemen were seen on distant hill tops and ridges, it was more than certain that the Scots were in those woods and forests, lurking there, watching in owe this tremendous power play of English might. But that was fine with Edward. He was not trying to hide. He was showing off. He was telling by this march to Robert the Bruce: I am coming and I bring the whole of England with me. Unfortunately for Edward, Robert the Bruce was the one man he could not intimidate. At the lowest point of his rebellion, Bruce had had only twelve men with him and still he did not quit nor gave up. He fought with those twelve men, until he had a few dozen, then a few hundred and now a few thousand. He knew that numbers were just numbers and that smaller force could defeat bigger ones.

Robert the Bruce had trained his forces. He had equipped them as well as he could and could afford to. He had drilled them over and over again and most of all, he had instilled fighting spirit into them. The Scottish men served in schiltrons of roughly one thousand men in each. They served under the direct command of their feudal lord. All the men in a schiltron were from the same area and spoke same dialect, many of them knew each other well. There were brothers, sons and fathers, uncles and cousins in the schiltrons. Whole families might have been in them. Just like the Spartans in the old days, the Scots knew the men around them well and had known them all their lives. In the battle this was a big asset. Men were no longer fighting for some obscure idea but for each other, and Robert the Bruce knew this. He had divided his army in five schiltrons of which he commanded the biggest. He also had perhaps half of thousand riders, not a cavalry in the same sense as the English one, but never the less a riding force for fast action around the battle field where ever such was needed. His biggest advantage over Edward was that his commanders were his companions and supporters. They all knew each other well and they all knew what they were about to do. There was no confusion, no hesitation, no second guessing. Everyone knew what was expected of him, every one knew his mission and place in the battlefield, and they all knew their men well. Most important of all was the battlefield. They all knew it intimately. They had chosen it. They had trained on it. They had been around it for some time. There were no surprises, no sudden unexpected knobs or ditches, pools or streams. They mastered it.

The confident English army approached Stirling just in time. The road to the castle went directly ahead through rising hills and on the right side of the English was vast flatland beyond of which they could see the hills on which Stirling castle was resting. Edward must have felt like a winner. Not only he was at in time but the Scots were nowhere to be seen. Perhaps he was a bit disappointed that those raiders had ran to the hills again. He came to fight. But that was just the impression. When the English vanguard crossed the deep and narrow gully of Bannockburn, small river that cut trough the landscape, and began to rise towards the hills, the Scots were there waiting for them in full formation. Front of his schiltron was a lone horseman, an officer, Robert the Bruce none the less. What the English vanguard should have done is to stop and call for the king, have a counsel what to do and then proceed as planned. It did neither. The vanguard was commanded by the younger knights who were burning with the desire for glory. The nephew of the earl of Hereford, Henry de Bohun, was among them too. And he decided to get the glory right now. De Bohun attacked Bruce straight on with some visions of glory shading his mind. He did not know Robert the Bruce. He was too young to understand that this much older man was a killer. They clashed before their men. Bohun lost half of his head and Bruce broke the saft of his battle axe when splitting the young knights skull all through his steel helmet. Seeing this Bohun's squire tried to get to his master but was killed by the Scots who advanced in formation. This was sensational, schiltrons had been stationary and defensive formations before, but not single one of the vanguards told this to the king or his officers. That was a huge and disastrous mistake. The Scots had dug small pot holes all around the road so when the English tried to advance, they had to stick with the road and face Bruce's schiltron head on. That was no match. The English fought bravely, they did not yield easily. but in the end they had to retreat. The Scots had drawn the first blood. Robert the Bruce had done it personally perhaps echoing his alleged words before the battle: Let us do or die!

But Edward was not the incompetent moron he has been painted to be. He had sent another English troop through the vast open land below the hills towards Stirling. If these could get in, the deal would be done and Bruce would have lost his bet. But Bruce was not a moron either. He could see from his higher position this cavalry force racing towards Stirling and sent Moray's schiltron to stop them. Lord Moray and his men emerged from the woods and assumed position blocking the direct road, but they were out in the open. The English could have easily ride around them, they could have raced and passed by them as they were coming out from the woods. But they did not. This cavalry troop was commanded by Clifford and Beaumont. What they saw was a small bunch of hillbillies stepping out from the shadows and offering themselves as a nice target for the knights in shining armour.
- Let us wait a little, let them come on, give them room, Beaumont allegedly said. The veteran knight sir Thomas Grey saw it differently.
- My lord, give them what you like want now and I am afraid in short while they will have everything, he said. To no avail. No one was listening. The younger knights wanted to fight, they wanted the glory and they wanted blood and they wanted it right now!
- Flee then! Flee now if you are afraid, Beaumont shouted at Grey and this was an grave insult to any knight.
- Fear will not make me flee, my lord, veteran knight answered and headed straight on into the schiltron. On his side was Sir William Deyncourt. Grey's horse was impaled on the scottish spears and Deyncourt himself died along with his horse. The Scots pulled Grey inside the schiltron and took him as a prisoner, first one of the battle.

English knights on their heavy horses attacked the schiltron, rode around it and tried to smash it with fury, but the spearmen kept their positions, they did not flinch, and they were well-trained. More and more English cavalry came to the fight and Moray formed the traditional schiltron formation, static circular falang. The knights were enraged to see that nothing they did broke the formation and they started to hurl they weapons at the Scots. They threw axes, maces and even swords at them but nothing came from it. They needed archers badly, otherwise this would be a repetition of the previous battle of Stirling when William Wallace had stopped the English cavalry this way. The Scots instead shot them from within the schiltron with their short bows. Men and horses fell down, from the arrows and spears, and every now and then some daredevil Scot rushed out from the formation and finished off a helpless knight who was pinned under his horse near by. Some were dragged into the schiltron. This only added the fuel to the rage of the knights. James Douglas, another Scottish commander saw from the high ground Moray's schiltron almost submerged with the English cavalry and asked permission to help out. At first Bruce did not see the need but eventually gave the order. As Douglas brought his schiltron out from the woods, the English were amazed and confused. Some turned to face this new threat, some were unsure what to do, and at this moment Moray saw that the English cavalry had lost its cohesion. He went on the attack and smashed the cavalry formation in half with his foot soldiers. Douglas held back and gave the honor of the field to Moray and his men. Some of the English horsemen galloped to the safety of Stirling while some made their way back to the main army. Day one was over.

Edward realised that this really was going to be it. He would have his fight after all. The Scots had blocked the main road, they had blocked the lesser path through the open country and were willing to fight. All right, then. Let's get it on! Except it was late and night would fall soon. Edward and his commanders knew that up on the hills and in the woods the Scots would be unbeatable. The only option was to draw them out in the open and the enemy had shown its willingness to do just that earlier today. There was open land just below the hills, on the plain beyond Bannockburn. Edward gave the order for the army to move in there and take the positions along the said lesser road, facing the ridge line on the west. Easier said than done. Bannockburn was not that wide but was deep and had sharp enbankments. Soldiers raided nearby houses and tore off everything that could be used as a bridge. Doors and planks, everything useful was taken. Slowly the army began to cross over, like a huge giant in a slow motion. The tents and wagons of the nobility had to be taken across but most of the supplies and other stuff was left on the other side of the river. There was simply no way they could have been brought over at the same time when tens of thousands of men did the same manoeuvre.

Darkness fell and the king and his retinue ate nicely in their tents, surrounded by their servants and from their silver wares and golden cups. They discussed about the fighting that day, perhaps made some plans for next day, but nothing like a real battle plan. No orders were issued, written down, taken to the lower command or even between those noble men. They ate well and drank a bit wine, probably listened to some music, fully confident that the dawn would bring them the smashing victory. There was a war council of sorts but what happened is unclear. Perhaps these noble men were tired and got little tipsy from the wine, but when young Gloucester joined some others saying that they should wait for another day and get organised before getting on with the business of war, Edward, probably remembering the accusations of cowardice he had been showered with for past years, replied by asking was Gloucester a coward. This did not go well at all and would have serious consequences the next day. But it was not just an accusation by a stupid king. Edward was not totally lost. He knew that an army this big would eventually start to crumble, men would slip away, go looking for food or loot, even desert, so longer they stayed doing nothing, less cohesive they became. He also knew that there would be a battle next day, whether they wanted or not, so the idea that they could somehow rest and talk about things in peace for one more day was impossible.

Just to show that Edward was not the numbskull everyone seems to think he was, when he had written his military writs he had asked specially for foot soldiers. He had pointed out that cavalry would have difficulties in the terrain the Scots favored and that their battle tactics were designed against the cavalry. Therefore Edward wanted as many foot soldiers as possible. This was the first time any king had thought anything like that. It was a revolution in the military thinking, at least on the English side. His own son, Edward III, put it in action by making his army fight on foot from Halidon Hill to Crécy. It also served the English well in Agincourt many decades later. For some reason this has been neglected by most writers completely. Before the whole operation, Edward had known that it would be infantry, not the cavalry, which would decide the outcome, and he was absolutely right. He had asked infantry to counter the Scottish tactics. But many writers simply do not even mention this nor the fact that it was Edward II who was first to say out loud that perhaps the heavy cavalry of the nobles was no longer the deciding force it had been for the past few centuries. It was Edward who was first to say that the infantry of common men will be the most important part of the army.

At the same time thousands of men tried to get into the area behind the nobles' wagons and tents. They were pushing and cursing in the dark, some fell into the river, few drowned, and after they had managed to get across, they found themselves on a slushing wet floodplain among thousands of men just like them, loitering here and there and wondering what was going on. From the viewpoint of the king and his commanders this was an excellent place to camp. Wide open land in front, coming battle field of their choice they believed, and protected from both sides by a river. Bannockburn in the south and Pellstream in the north. What they did not see was that the area behind them was almost a swamp, marshy bog, and that it had not enough room for the army. More and more men came in to that area and more more tightly they were packed up. These men did not get sleep, they did not get food and they could not light fires because the soil was wet and there was no wood. Disaster was beginning to form, right behind the king's position. Then there were also the events of the day. Rank and file had seen the empty horses, they had heard the rumours and they had also heard the official version announced by the heralds. There had been a little skirmish, a small insignificant touch with the enemy, nothing more. And yet every man in the army realised that those rubbish Scots had given a beating to the cream of the army. They had beaten the knights, best trained and equipped warriors in the world. Many men dozed off nervously, some could not sleep at all. Some were so exhausted that they slept in the muddy and soggy ground in spite of the wet and mosquitoes. On the Scottish side there was a slight possibility for optimism. The had bested the feared English knights on two fights and during the night Sir Alexander Seton, a Scotsman who had been in the English army, appeared on the Scottish camp with some good news. Seton told Bruce and his commanders about the difficulties the English were having out on the carse, how tightly packed they were, about the wet ground, hunger among the rank and file and how the English nobles were still not believing that they were in trouble at all. It was sweet music to the ears of Robert the Bruce.

At the next dawn something odd happened. The Scots came out from the woods up on ridge and came down to the flat lands. The English could clearly see three schiltrons advancing across the open land. What they did not see was the schiltron of Robert the Bruce right behind these three or that one more schiltron was moving on the right of their position. The English did not understand that the enemy was going to close them in to the salient. There were some Scottish bowmen front of the formations but they did little damage since their short bows could not even reach the main English position. Some english archers moved out to counter their actions and for a while arrows flew back and forth on no man's land between the two armies. But all in all, the response of the English was very slow and almost apathetic. According to many writers, this was also Edward's fault. Not so. General alarm was not sounded. That was not his job. There were supposed to be guards to take care of that. His commanders and captains were supposed to be alert and ready for anything. They were not. Perhaps they simply overslept, or perhaps they were not that good at all.

Finally the word reached Edward that the Scots were coming with banners flying, flags fluttering in the wind. Edward came to see what was going on and could only marvel the sight. Scottish host seemed so small compared to his mighty army. There were no wagons, no cavalry, nothing but tightly packed formations of foot soldiers. It seemed almost suicidal, but then again, he had not seen them in action a day before. We do not know what he had been told about the defeats of the previous day, but it is very clear that Edward did not take them so seriously as he should have. Perhaps he had been told some excuses. Perhaps he had received wrong information, maybe he was not told about the moving schiltrons at all. So it seems. He was genuinely surprised to see them advancing across the open land towards him.
- What? Will those Scots fight? he shouted at the people around him. One of them was Sir Ingram Umfraville, himself a Scot.
- Of truth, sir, now I see the most marvellous sight by far that I ever beheld. Scotsmen undertaking to fight against the might of England and to give battle in the hard open land, he said. Perhaps he had his doubts for he proposed that the English army should retreat behind the wagons and wait when the Scots would stop to loot them and then attack. Edward thought that as silly and it was. There was no way his forward troops could withdraw into the mass of men behind the wagons. Besides, king Edward was not going to take any steps backwards now that he finally got his fight.

All of a sudden the schiltrons stopped and all the Scots knelt down. Edward was puzzled and tried to joke about it. Perhaps they had come to do homage and pray for mercy. Sir Umfraville was not in the mood for joking. He had been fighting Robert the Bruce many years and could see that the Scots had come out for a fight.
- You are right. They ask for mercy, but not from you. They cry to God for forgiveness. I tell you one thing for certain, yonder men will win all or die. None shall flee for fear of death, sir Umfraville said to Edward.
When the Scottish schiltrons got up and resumed their advance, Edward knew that the time had come.
- Now so be it, he said. - We shall see presently.

So the guards had not sounded the alarm when the Scots had come out. The king was simply woken up by informing him that, by the way, the enemy is approaching. It seems that most of the nobles were unaware of the situation. It was Edward himself who gave the alarm and ordered call to arms. Younger knights saw a new chance to make history, to ride to the glory, and they were the first to get into their armour and on their horses. The young earl of Gloucester was really hot, the king had accused him of cowardice, and he did not even wait his servants to pull over his coat of arms. He got up on his horse and wanted to charge, not waiting for anyone's orders or command. Hereford told him that as a Constable of England it was his duty to start the action, but young knight was not in the mood for listening to anyone. Gloucester called archers for support and without waiting for them or anyone rode straight at the schiltron front of them. He was impaled on the spears right away. But he was not the only one. Sir Robert Clifford, probably fuming from the loss of the previous contest, rode with the young earl and crashed on the schiltron, only to die. Sir Edward Mauley, the steward of the king's household, also rode to glory and death. So did a Scotsman Sir John Comyn, son of the contender Red Comyn, whose father had been murdered by Robert the Bruce himself. They were not the only ones and the battle had not even started yet with full force.

Seeing his knights being mauled so badly, Edward did something very few English or any other kings ever did. He geared up, put on his helmet and rode in to the worst fighting with his personal retinue. Remember, this was a man with enormous physical strength, he was believed to be one of the strongest men in the realm, and he was big and tall. He had his plate armour on, his shield, his huge war horse under him, his ten feet long lance pointed to the enemy and off he went. The battle was not easing up, it was getting more and more intense by every moment. The Scottish schiltrons did not just stop, they moved. After every attack by English horse, the Scots took a step or two forward, pushing the English back. The more cavalry got up to them, less space there was in front of the schiltrons. Someone ordered archers to move up, but they could not hurt the Scots. They tried to shoot high arching fire, over the cavalry which was between them and the Scots, but the arrows flew over the enemy. They tried to shoot directly but only managed to shoot more Englishmen in the back than the advancing Scots. At some point some commander of the archers understood how serious the situation was and sent archers cross the Pellstream on north side of the salient. It is not known how many they were, perhaps few hundred or couple thousand, but when they opened up on the left flank of the Scots, it began to show. Each archer could shoot ten arrows a minute and one thousand archers meant ten thousand arrows a minute. This could have changed the whole battle. But Robert the Bruce had been thinking about the English archers. When he saw how badly Douglas's schiltron was mauled by the archers, he sent his light cavalry to attack them. Scottish cavalry was no match against the English cavalry but for this job it was more than fit. Those light-footed small horses carried the men across the carse with stunning speed and the English archers panicked and fled, some towards Stirling and some across the Pellstream back to the army. There they were met with blows and mocking. After that the Scottish horse patrolled the north side of the Pellstream and kept the English in the trap, for that it was.

There has been lot of speculation where the actual battle took place and the official version places it in a wrong place. The only place where this battle was physically possible was between the Bannockburn and Pellstream, probably where the gap between the streams is narrowest, some one thousand paces wide. Every account and testimony states this. Most of all, the battle itself proves it. Had it taken place anywhere else, the Scots would have lost. The English would have had more space to use their thousands of archers and foot soldiers, the English cavalry would have been able to ride around the Scottish forces, just like in Falkirk, but that did not happen here.  The only explanation is that they did not have room to manoeuvre their troops. And the only reasonable explanation for that is that they were pinned between these two streams. And when the Scots pushed forward, the more compact the English army became. In the reports there are stories how the English cavalry was so tightly packed that the knights could not even swing their swords or maces. It was a huge massive mob compressed into a smaller space by every minute. And all the time more and more riders pushed forward, more men at arms tried to get forward, thousands of men tried to push and push. And on the other side the Scots pushed against this smouldering cauldron of men, horses and weapons.

Edward was in the thick of it. He was right there where the action was fiercest, on the front line. There was not much room, if he tried to turn his horse, it was perhaps impossible because there was another knight right there pushing on. He swung his sword, maybe lost it in the melee, and the Scots stabbed their sharp spears at him from all around. He was grabbed by the enemy and used his war mace to smash their safts, arms and heads. His horse was killed and he fell pell mell at the feet of thousands of men and horses, all stomping and smashing the dead and the wounded alike under them. It is a testimony of his character and physical strength that he could get up, fight his way out from that horrible crush and smashing, and stay alive in that chaos and murder. And what he did when he was safe? Perhaps he drank something to quench his thirst, most likely so, but what he did was get a new horse and get back in to the fight. Sir Roger Northburgh, king's shield-carrier, was lost in action. Scots grabbed the harness of the horse, they grabbed the housings, and Edward swung his heavy mace like a mad man to get them away.

Actually, we can be pretty certain that at this moment he was a complete mad man, crazed by the fighting, a berserker just like all of them, hitting furiously all over, trying to smash foot soldiers with his huge horse. He was in the fiercest fighting from the start of the morning and went back after losing a horse from under him, and kept on fighting like no-one. One could ask if this is the man they call a coward today? Is this the no good man, who was soft and feminine, so much so that he was no good at all? Is this the king they claim was afraid of everyone and unable to make up his mind? Is this the yelping and shrieking fashion stylist from the movie Braveheart? No. This was a true warrior king. Just like in the old days of Vikings and Saxons, when the kings had fought right in the front line of any combat. That is what Edward was on that day, 24th of June, year 1314. But of course, he was not a Viking king nor he was a Saxon king. He should have been a medieval king, leading and directing the course of the battle from behind, not fighting hand to hand combat. That was a mistake and his fault. In his absence, nobody was giving out orders or directing the troops. That was a recipe for a disaster, though it is good to ask where were those experienced commanders and officers who could have given orders in the king's name. Yep. They were missing in action too. So it was also their fault.

All of a sudden the heart of the English army was broken. It happened for two reasons. First of all, just when there was a sort of stalemate on the fighting, thousands more Scots appeared out from no where. The English could not have known that these were so called small folk whom Robert the Bruce had taken off from the field but who now came out expecting the looting. All the English saw was thousands of more Scots joining in.  At that moment the king's escort made a quick decision. The king had to be taken to safety. His capture would be a national embarrassment and disgrace and these noble men were determined to avoid that. I personally believe that Edward would have not been taken alive. He would have fought till the end that day. Perhaps some other time he could have surrendered, given up, perhaps cried, but not on this day. He would have gone down fighting. King Edward refused to leave the field. Aymer de Valence grabbed his horse and together with some 500 knights rode out from the field with the king protesting and opposing the idea. Edward himself still wanted to fight but the die was cast. He was taken off by his knights. This broke the heart of the English army. Giles d'Argentan, that valiant and shining example of the knighthood, escorted the king to the safety across the Pellstream and said that he had to return since his honor did not allow him to quit the fight. He did not quit. He rode back in and was killed by the schiltron of Edward Bruce right after.

So here we have it. The famous Battle of Bannockburn, which was called the battle of Stirling at the time. King Edward fought as hard as any man on that day. He put his life on the line. Not just once or twice but for the most of the duration of the battle. He did not flee nor he escaped like so many writers claim. He was taken off by his noble men, the senior knights. He protested, he refused to leave, but they led his horse away. Naturally, when he cooled off, Edward probably understood that those men were right, but at that moment he had wanted to fight on. Considering what a disaster the battle was, how many thousands of English died on that day, it was a catastrophe for the king and his country. And as it was, the responsibility fell on the king. It was all his fault. Everything was his doing and because of the weakness of his character. Really? Where was the earl of Lancaster, hero of so many present-day writers, who could have brought thousands of men into the fight? Norfolk was only fourteen at that time so perhaps his absence is understandable, but what about the others? If they had joined in, the English army would have been much stronger. Perhaps Earl Thomas of Lancaster could have been able to direct the force better? Perhaps seeing the overwhelming combined force of England Robert the Bruce would have been thinking twice of the fight? We know that he had been thinking of retreating just before the battle.

We will never know. Those earls were absent. Robert the Bruce decided to fight. The English lost. Edward II took the blame, despite the fact that all those "experienced" and "more qualified" knights and noble men in his army did nothing during those dramatic and decisive hours during the battle. They had zero impact on the result despite them being there. Instead they did what everybody else was doing: fight. Some were killed, others not. The king did the same. But for some reason he was a coward and fled, and left his army behind, when these other nobles and earls were OK doing the same things. Really?

But we also know one thing for absolute sure: Edward of Caernarfon was not a coward but a true warrior. He proved that on the bloody field of Bannockburn.

20 January, 2013

Edward II's Death And Afterlife Revisited (1)

I wrote this post about Edward II's death more than six years ago, on 21 September 2006 (my goodness, how the time flies!), and it's by far the most popular post I've ever written, getting between 1000 and 2500 hits a week, every week.  So I decided, given the popularity of the subject and the frequency with which the 'red-hot poker' story of Edward's death is still repeated online, in books and on TV, that it's high time to address the matter again.  When you read the original post, please note that there's also a lot of information and debate in the comments (actually, Carla's comments are better and more informative than my original post, haha!).  And see also my post about John Trevisa, chaplain at Berkeley Castle, who did not, contrary to popular modern belief, have any special secret knowledge of Edward's death, and also this one about Edward of Caernarfon's treatment at Berkeley Castle in 1327 and why we can be almost certain that he was not tortured and tormented there, as popular legend has it. I'm intending to write several posts about this subject, and also several about Edward's possible/probable survival past 1327.  (Also coming on the blog soon: a guest post about the battle of Bannockburn, and more mythbusting about Edward II.)

It's important to realise that the cause of Edward II's death on 21 September 1327 - let's just assume for the moment that he actually did die on that day - was never stated officially.  His death was announced publicly on or shortly after 24 September 1327, soon after news of it reached his fourteen-year-old son Edward III in Lincoln; according to the young king's own (seemingly rather guarded) testimony in a letter to his cousin the earl of Hereford dated 24 September, the news that "our very dear lord and father has been commanded to God" was brought to him the night before.  Berkeley Castle records demonstrate that Sir Thomas Gurney (see also below) was sent to Edward III to tell him, and received a little over thirty shillings for doing so.  Gurney left Berkeley on 22 September, presumably at first light, and must have galloped remarkably hard to ride the 160 or so miles to Lincoln in order to reach the town during the night of 23/24 September, especially as it was apparently believed at Berkeley that Edward III was in Nottingham and Gurney may well have gone there first.  [1]  At this time, there is little to indicate that anyone believed the former king's death to be due to anything other than natural causes, or at least no-one said so publicly, whatever they may have thought.  Given the number of plots to free Edward of Caernarfon and perhaps attempt to restore him to the throne in 1327, his death might have appeared suspiciously convenient for Roger Mortimer and Queen Isabella, but for the time being the former king's funeral in Gloucester on 20 December went ahead with nary a voice raised in protest, at least not yet.  (See here for events which happened between the announcement of Edward's death in September and his funeral in December 1327, including the guarding of his body and local dignitaries coming to look at it.)

It was only after Queen Isabella and Roger Mortimer's downfall when Edward III took over the governance of his own kingdom that Edward of Caernarfon was said to have been murdered, at the Westminster parliament of November 1330.  No cause of death was stated; I make this point again as I've actually seen people online claiming that the red-hot poker story was given out at parliament as an official version of what happened.  Sir Thomas Gurney, the Somerset knight who informed Edward III that his father was dead, and the (possibly Irish?) man-at-arms William Ockley or Ogle were named as Edward's murderers in parliament - see my long post here for lots more information about them and the situation - and fled from England, or perhaps already had fled before parliament began.  The records of parliament merely state that judgement was passed on Gurney and Ockley "for the death of King Edward, father of our present lord the king, that they falsely and traitorously murdered him."  [2]  That is all that is stated, except for the price on their heads.

Additionally, the murder of Edward II was the second of the fourteen charges the now eighteen-year-old Edward III laid at the door of his mother's favourite Roger Mortimer, earl of March and lord of Wigmore, who was executed at Tyburn on 29 November 1330: Roger "ordained that he [Edward II] be sent to Berkeley Castle, where he was traitorously, feloniously and falsely murdered and killed by him and his followers".  [3]  The obscure knight Sir Simon Bereford was also accused of "aiding the said Roger Mortimer in all his treasons, felonies and wicked deeds," including the "murder of a liege lord" (murdre de seignur lige), though how Bereford was involved is unclear, and he was executed shortly before Christmas 1330.  Contrary to what some contemporary chroniclers believed, even the usually well-informed and reliable Adam Murimuth, Sir John Maltravers, one of Edward of Caernarfon's custodians in 1327, was never accused of any complicity in the former king's death or of mistreating him while he was at Berkeley Castle (though Maltravers was sentenced to death by the November 1330 parliament for his role in entrapping Edward II's half-brother Edmund, earl of Kent).

Thomas, Lord Berkeley, Edward's other custodian in 1327 and Roger Mortimer's son-in-law, puzzlingly told parliament in November 1330 that "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".  [4]  As Ian Mortimer has pointed out in his article 'The Death of Edward II in Berkeley Castle' [5], Lord Berkeley said very clearly nec unquam scivit de morte sua usque in presenti parliamento isto, which Professor Seymour Phillips and the other eminent scholars who worked on the rolls of parliament translate, as stated above, as "nor did he ever know of his [Edward II's] death until this present parliament."  Despite the best efforts of a few other modern commentators to provide over-elaborate versions of these words so that they mean what they want them to mean, that Berkeley was indicating that he didn't know how Edward II died, or under what circumstances, or hadn't realised that it was murder and not natural (despite the death supposedly occurring within Berkeley's own castle and when he had legal responsibility for the former king's safety), Berkeley in fact told parliament that for more than three years, from September 1327 to November 1330, he hadn't known that Edward of Caernarfon was dead at all until he heard about it in parliament.

In the absence of any official explanation as to how Edward II had died, and given that none of the men said to have been involved in his death ever spoke publicly about what really happened at Berkeley Castle on 21 September 1327, rumour and lurid speculation quickly filled the gap.  In my next post about all this, I'll take a look at the chronicle evidence and the highly unlikely story that Edward II died by having a red-hot poker inserted inside him, and what other chroniclers say about his death - not that you'd know it from the utter certainty with which many modern commentators, although none who actually know what they're taking about, claim that the red-hot poker story is true, but fourteenth-century chroniclers put forward other possible causes of death as well.  I'll also take a look at the rather substantial evidence that Edward II did not die at all in September 1327.


1) The National Archives, DL 10/253 (Tresch[er] cosin, nouelles nous vyndront y ce merkerdy le xxiij iour de septembre de deinz la nuyt qe n[ost]re tr[es]ch[er] seign[eur] e piere est a dieu comaundez); Berkeley Castle Muniments Select Rolls 39, cited in Seymour Phillips, Edward II (2010), p. 548; Ian Mortimer, 'The Death of Edward II in Berkeley Castle', in his Medieval Intrigue: Decoding Royal Conspiracies (2010), pp. 66, 68, 71.
2) Rotuli Parliamentorum and Parliament Rolls of Medieval Englanda tieu juggement est assentuz et acorde de Thomas de Gurney et William de Ocle pur la mort le roi Edward, piere nostre seignur le roi q'ore est, qe fauxement et traiterousement lui murdrerunt.
3) Ibid.: ordina qil feust mande au chastell de Berkle, ou par lui et ses seons feust treterousement, felonessement et falsement murdre et tue.
4) Ibid.: dicit quod ipse nuncquam fuit consentiens, auxilians, seu procurans, ad mortem suam, nec unquam scivit de morte sua usque in presenti parliamento isto.
5) Mortimer, 'Death of Edward II' (see note 1), pp. 69-77.

17 January, 2013

Edward II And His Father (guest post)

Today I'm delighted to announce a guest post, kindly written for me by Finnish writer Sami Parkkonen, with whom I've been corresponding about Edward II for a few weeks.  I've been thoroughly enjoying Sami's insights into and opinions about Edward and his era, and thought it would be great to share some of his thoughts here.  Another guest post by him, about Bannockburn, will be following soon.   This is a really great and long post about Edward I and II, which comes firmly under my blog heading of 'Why almost everything you think you know about Edward II is wrong', so pull up your chair and enjoy :-)

"Good" Edward and his son, "Bad" Edward - how it really went

Edward I gets all the good press. He is virile, a strong character, wise diplomat and statesman, and most of all: a true warrior. His son, on the other hand, is none of these. Edward II is nothing like his superman dad. Edward II is a bit slow, spends his days fondling men and playing the Celtic lute, digs ditches and swims in the winter, and most of all, has no clue how to run a medieval kingdom and can't make any decisions. And on top of that, he is a coward.

At least this is what we are told by several writers, modern and medieval. But how it really went down? Was Edward the Longshanks a super hero? Was his son a dumb-witted slob who could not make up his mind on anything? Well, not exactly.  Edward I was no more a warrior than anyone. According to Peter Traquair (Freedom's Sword, p. 54) he actually was in a battle only three times: at Lewes in 1264, Evesham in 1265 and in Falkirk 1298. That is three battles in which he was at present during his lifetime.  He directed his captains, organised military campaigns but was at present only at these three battles and at least in Falkirk he did not even draw his sword at all. One wonders how come he was such a "warrior king" at all. He was not Alexander the Great, who fought at the front of his cavalry in every battle. He was, well, just a king. Not much of a warrior at all.

His take on ruling was not nice either. He bullied his subjects, he was ready to go to war against his barons and bullied them more than once into submission, and bullied others too. It was his bully boy tactics which started the war against Scotland in the first place.  In Wales he was a conqueror who used terror tactics to subdue the population, occupied the country and built castles, armed strongholds, to remind the population who is the Boss. And when the Welsh dared to rise up again in 1295, he smashed them without any mercy or pity.

He called his own son and heir to the throne a "son of a whore", which is interesting since he had been a devoted and loyal husband to his son's mother as long as she was alive. But then again, he did not consider any agreement or treaty worth toilet paper if he thought otherwise. Some writers have called him "a senior statesman of medieval Europe" and a "peacemaker" and "great diplomat". Is seems that he negotiated between rivals for the crown of Sicily in 1286-89, but that does not make him a "great diplomat". In fact, he was such a bully that he made an enemy out of the king of France at the same time he drove the Scots into open war.

The treaty of Brigham-Northampton in 1290 required him to respect the Scottish realm. He did not. The Guardian's Oath of 1286 which stated that the (Scottish) realm should be preserved "as it was left to them [the Scots]" was also ignored when Edward I wanted to rule Scotland as well.  In the negotiations with the Scots in Norham in 1292, Edward The Bully Boy did not arrive with a diplomatic finesse. He arrived with an army and fleet, ready to block all the Scottish harbours if he gives the command. Understandably the Scots did not want to rub him the wrong way and went through the motions, which they later recanted because "previous admissions were made under a great stress". We can only imagine what that was.  By his classy diplomatic tactics he got what he wanted: castles in Scotland and the admission that he was the overlord of Scotland. He also sowed the seeds for war, which he for some reason could not see, though he was "the elder statesman" and "great diplomat" of his times.

Back at home Edward, who had been on crusade earlier, raised taxes for a new one. When Acre fell, there was no new crusade, but the taxes remained. He also began to raise new taxes for war in Scotland, which is a bit weird, since there was no war in Scotland yet. The barons rose up against him, as they had done few times before, and refused to be taxed. Edward told them to go ** themselves and loaned huge sums from Italian bankers. He never repaid his loans, and never even tried, which makes him also an international bank robber.  There was the said rebellion in Wales in 1295, which he smashed, but also problems in Gascony. He was not willing to make any deals with the king of France and so the only solution was war, despite him being the "great diplomat". The king of France played his hand and made a deal with the Scots. Now Edward I faced a war on two fronts because of his own attitudes. One guy called Adolf Hitler was later called a stupid leader when he made a similar mistake, but Edward The Super Man was not making mistakes for he was a "great diplomat" of his times, according to some modern writers.

He massacred the men of Berwick, all of them, and killed of thousands of Scots at Dunbar in 1296 and claimed victory of sorts. When Scots went on the war path again in 1297 Edward responded like a "warrior king". He sailed to the continent in August to take care of his estates over there and left his 12-year-old son as a regent. No wonder he was a bit mad in the movie Braveheart! After all, it was him who left the Scottish war at the hands of a 12-year-old boy.  As expected, the war did not go too well. Edward's captains were not up to their tasks and were soundly defeated by the Scots in the battle of Stirling, lead by one William Wallace, a greatly feared man and a real warrior and murderer.

Now Edward had a small problem. He had no money, he had war on two fronts, and no army. So what a true "warrior king" does? Of course, he calls for feudal levy! And what happened? The barons refused to answer to the call. This made Eddie the Short Fuse a bit angry. When he faced the barons at the parliament of Salisbury in 1297 and the earl of Norfolk explained to him why they were not too keen to go to war in Scotland, Edward the "Great Diplomat" used his skills as a negotiator to win over the barons.  - By God earl, you either go or hang! he told the representative of the barons. We have no knowledge how many men-at-arms were at present, I guess a few hundred, but the barons got the message.

Edward invaded Scotland again, did some general massacres and destruction, and defeated the Scottish army at Falkirk in 1298. He claimed a victory again, but unlike in the movie Braveheart, did not capture William Wallace, who went on to fight the English for seven more years. He was finally captured and executed in 1305 in a way which the splatter movie fans would have been excited about.  When our "great diplomat" and "true warrior king" Edward I finally threw in the towel in 1307, the Scottish war was still going on. He had not won it. He had not won on the continent either. Actually, the only place where he had won, sort of, was in Wales. Other than that, he left his problems to his son.

Now enters Edward the "Bad". According to the majority of the writers, everything that went wrong during his reign was his fault. It was because he was such a slob and prancing gay musician, or bisexual pervert, or indecisive weakling, that things went so badly. Really? Was it really his fault? What really happened and under what circumstances?  Let's see. Edward the Slow hurried to his father when he died up north and went immediately forward with the invasion of Scotland. He was victorious and set up an English government in the land and called for peace in 1308.

When troubles began again, he sent immediately orders to his captains and soldiers in Scotland to take care of business. He could not attend himself since he had serious state business elsewhere. He was going to marry the daughter of the king of France, a must if he wanted to keep the peace on the continent and not make the same mistake his father had done: to have wars on two fronts.  These do not look like the actions of a man who has no clue nor can make any decisions. Actually they look like decisions of a king who does all he can to avoid complete military and diplomatic disaster.

But Edward II had a big problem. He had no money, thanks to his dad who had spent all the tax money and loaned, and stolen, money from international bankers. In the parliament of April 1309, barons, perhaps taking a lesson from his father, arrived in arms. They told Edward that he had been ill-counselled by wicked men, mainly Piers Gaveston, who had to go. And oh, on the same note, barons wanted more powers to themselves.  In 1310 the earls refused to attend parliament and they would not show up either in the council of York if Piers was present. So Piers had to go away for the duration of the council. Now, you might think that the earls would respect that suggestion from the king's side. He had sent away his closest male companion and adviser, his back up guy, and showed a pretty big will to reconcile with the barons. So what did the barons do?

Yep, they showed up in arms. They told the king that he had to name Lord Ordainers from among them, make them the real government of the country, and they also told Edward that it was his fault that he had not gone to war in Scotland, where the former ally of the English, Robert the Bruce, was waging a war. Never mind that Edward had negotiated a peace with the support of the pope and Bruce had broken it. Never mind that he had no money and no army and bunch of barons refusing to participate at that war.  Edward had called for an army already in 1309 but had cancelled the expedition because the Welsh had asked him to show some mercy. An expedition during a winter would have been disastrous according to them, so Edward had canned that war. Not because he did not want to go, but because his subjects had asked him not to go during the winter. But that was nothing in the eyes of the barons.

Edward tried to negotiate a new peace in 1310 but Robert the Bruce was not a man who wished peace. He was on a mission. He wanted to be recognised as the king of independent Scotland, period. Fine, Edward decided to go to war, but this time nobody answered the call. He wrote a personal appeal to Aymer de Valence, earl of Pembroke, but this "great warrior" and "best officer" did not even answer the letter. Edward tried again in July 1310 but the most powerful barons told him that they had more important business in London. Valence, Hereford, Lancaster and Arundel all refused. This does not look like a slob king avoiding his duties. This looks like a bunch of self-serving noble men betraying their own king.

Only three earls answered. Warenne, Cornwall and Gloucester came with decent troops, the others sent only a token force, a minimum required by the law. Edward knew that he could not invade Scotland the way he wanted and so he went up north with his army and enforced the English strongholds as best he could.  Many modern writers blame him for this "pathetic" walkabout and about the fact that Edward did not engage the Scottish army. It looks like these writers forget one thing: you need the enemy accept the battle. And Robert the Bruce, who was a brilliant general, did not want to meet the English army yet. He would do it on his own terms at the place of his choosing at the time he wanted. Edward could not draw him into one no matter what. But that is also his fault too, in the eyes of these writers.  At the same time behind the king's back, Thomas the earl Lancaster began to flex his muscles, which was quite easy since he was not taking any part in the protection of England.

Edward knew that his own lords would not support him, so he came up with another idea. He borrowed 4000 pounds from a new set of Italian bankers and tried to come up with an invasion from the west. The plan was that a huge fleet would carry troops from Ireland. A sound plan as any, BUT this time nobody had any boats. Not a single dinghy was prepared or given to the task. The king was once again betrayed by those who should have backed him up, but, according some modern writers, this was also his own fault.  This did not yet crush Edward. He came up with another plan. He called up a man per each town into the army and called 91 barons to arms. After all, that was what kings did and could do. But no one answered to the call. Not a single baron and very few towns. This was the ultimate betrayal, worse than anything his father had to face ever.

Once again, many modern writers accuse Edward for this failure, but it is pretty hard to see what more he could have done. He wanted to go to war, but none of his subjects shared his ambition or appetite for war. Question is: who were the cowards? The king who desperately wanted to go to war, or all those great barons who time and time again betrayed their king? And why they get all the praise in this mess in the minds of modern writers? Strange indeed.  Eventually Edward had no choice but go to the parliament with his cap in his hand. Those brave barons, who had refused to go to war in Scotland for years and then had blamed the king for the Scottish attacks, now showed up to face the king they all had betrayed. And they did not just show up, they came at arms.

Does it look like they were not afraid of the king? If you just go for parliament in full confidence you do not wear steel plate armour and carry war sword or mace into the session. But these men did. Why?  Perhaps Edward II was not such a sissy boy we have been told he was. Perhaps the barons were cautious in case the king comes after them personally at the meeting? After all, he was not a small guy or physical weakling. Actually he was considered as one of the strongest men in the whole kingdom. So it was probably a good idea to wear a steel helmet and hauberk this time, particularly after you had betrayed him many times during the past couple of years.  The barons at arms placed Edward under their council, Piers Gaveston was exiled again, the king was denied to raise new funds via customs and his Italian bankers were told to take a hike. Agreed then.

But a little later Gaveston returned and this was a big mistake. Perhaps he got lonely and showed up uninvited, perhaps Edward was missing him too much and called him back. We do not know. But it was all the barons in their high needed. They went nuts. They demanded more powers, they wanted to purge Edward's whole administration and what have you.They went on a war footing. They actually rose up against their king in arms in 1312.  Edward tried to keep his friend, and perhaps his loved one, alive, but the barons chased them and finally caught Gaveston. Thomas of Lancaster gave the order to execute him, under what right one might ask, and that excuse was done.  Now Warenne, Valence and Percy came back to the king's side. Their beef had been with Gaveston. But the others were still fuming and at arms. In 1312-13 a real threat of civil war was hanging above the whole realm. It was a tense stand-off, but notice: not even the richest man of England, the most powerful earl and future saint-like figure and champion of democracy of modern writers, the earl of Lancaster, dared to go to war against the king.

Now, if Edward was humbled and taken down by the barons, without funds and friends, everybody and their dogs hating him from serfs to archbishops, one wonders why the earl of Lancaster did not go through his intentions? We know from later years that he wanted to be a king, he actually tried it later. But why not now, when Edward had lost his best buddy and was down and out?  Perhaps he still had friends? Perhaps he was not such a loser as modern writers want us to believe? Maybe the earl of Lancaster was actually afraid of this big man with enormous strength and abilities most men of his time did not have. He could swim in the frozen waters, he could swing a shovel like any engineer, was a keen hunter and not so easily intimidated. Thomas of Lancaster knew about William Wallace, another big and strong man. He knew about Robert the Bruce and his way of fighting a war for years without castles and massive armies. What if Edward slipped into the woods, collected a guerilla army and really came after them? Perhaps this was in the earl's mind during the time when Edward was at his weakest.

In 1312 Robert the Bruce had asked for peace but really did not mind of it at all. He was a man on a mission, a consummate guerilla leader, and peace just for the sake of it was pure nonsense. Bruce could and did accept peace for a hefty ransom but for free? Get real.  So the war in Scotland went on like it had been going on for almost twenty years now. Edward had no money, no army and no ability to gather an army to invade Scotland so he told the northern magnates to hold on, do their best and try to survive. This is seen by modern writers as an abandonment by Edward but that is rubbish. He had a plan.  He tried to sent in relief to Dundee but Bruce got there first. Robert the Bruce took Hexham, Norham and Corbridge and burnt them down. Durham bought peace by ransom and so did Northumberland. And war went on. In december Bruce attacked on Berwick and in January 1313 he took Perth. Dumfries fell in February and Linlithgow in September/October 1313.

According to many writers all of this was Edward's fault. He did not act like a real king and save his castles and towns. He did not go to war. He did not do anything. He was scared and lazy, fiddling his lute and checking out good-looking guys instead of making war on Robert the Bruce. Really?  Edward knew quite well that even if he would march into Scotland with a million men, Bruce would not come out to meet him. That guy was not an idiot. He had fought all kinds of English at one time or another. He knew that his troops were no match for full English field army with its thousands of archers and armoured horsemen.  Unlike William Wallace, who was a good tactician, Robert the Bruce was also a brilliant strategist. He was also totally immoral. He was ruthless and a killer on a personal level. But where as Wallace had nice ideas of freedom or such, Robert the Bruce had only one idea: him being the undisputed king of Scotland. And he would not risk anything unless it suited in his plans. Edward knew this. He had to wait. He had to buy time. He had to let Bruce to draw himself out. Nobody else could force this guerilla captain out in the open. It had to come from himself.

These writers forget a couple of things just to get a stab at the Gay King who irritates them so much. First of all, with what Edward would have attacked Bruce? He had no funds and no army. All the barons had refused to go to war. The mightiest, the ones who should have supported their king and provide the most men to the army, had stayed at home or paraded around the parliament in full military gear just to scare the king into submission. That was what these brave men were doing at the time when their king called them to join him in the war. Instead of calling Edward a coward and impotent ruler, they should call those barons traitors and cowards, extortionists and cheats, because that is what they were. It is a historical fact. They all betrayed their king. It was them who refused to go to war. Not King Edward II.  Second of all, Robert the Bruce. Despite the fact that he had waged a brilliant guerilla war for years in Scotland, some present-day writers believe that this was also Edward's fault. They are totally wrong.  In February Roxburgh fell, followed by Edinburgh. Stirling did not fall, but its commander made a deal with Robert the Bruce's brother Edward. If there was no relief force by St.John's Day in summer 1314, he would hand over the castle. Edward Bruce, though a fierce and hard warrior, had a taste for knightly theatrics and swallowed the bait.  Robert was furious, he would have never taken that deal, no way in hell, but now he was stuck.  Come hell or high water he would have to face anything that would happen at Stirling. And Robert the Bruce knew exactly what would happen, even if his dimwitted brother did not. Edward got his chance at last.

Modern writers who blame Edward usually also forget the situation in England at this time. King and the barons were still on a war footing. Civil war could break out at any moment. So Edward had to keep that fragile peace up and play for time up north until the right moment would arrive. He also had to make sure that nothing would happen behind his back in case of war in Scotland. For this reason Edward travelled into France to attend to the knighting of his three brothers-in-law, one of them the king of Navarre. This is seen by many present-day writers as an indication how stupid Edward was. Look at this party boy, he goes to the parties in France instead to war in Scotland! They think this royal occasion was a similar event as a rave in Ibiza.  It was not. It was a political move which Edward made in attempt to secure a peace with France, for he had already made his mind up about Scotland. If France would stay put, he would sooner or later meet Robert the Bruce on the battle field. And Edward, far from being the whining fairy of the movie Braveheart, would do something his father had never done as a king. He would actually go to war personally.

First thing he did was to reconcile with the barons. Earls and king made a peace in October 1313 and also managed to nullify the ordnances of the lords. That is, he actually made them eat their words and demands. The Ordinances were declared as invalid. How he did it, no one seems to know, nor anyone seem to realise this or pay any attention to it. Would those barons eaten their words, invalidated their ordnances, if Edward II was just a scared little bum? I doubt it.  Eventually Edward announced his intention to march into Scotland and do battle next summer. Military writs went out in December. Preparations began and the realm went on war footing.  Edward would meet Robert the Bruce, known as the second most renowned knight in the whole of Christendom, on the battle field. Edward would at Stirling on St.John's Day in the summer of 1314 and show what kind of a king he actually was.

Robert the Bruce did not think that Edward II was a snivelling weakling and impotent king. He knew that this was it. He had been avoiding the English field army for years and years but now his hand was forced by his stupid brother and there was no escape this time.  He had to prepare for anything. He had to train his troops. He had to make sure that they were well fed, in good shape and most of all, in stone cold spirits. When the tens of thousands of arrows would start to rain on his army, it would need all the steel it had in its will in order to survive.  What Robert the Bruce did not know, and what many modern writers can not understand, is the fact that Edward had decided to fight personally on the field.

Many thanks to Sami for taking the time to write such a long and terrific post for the blog!  Can't wait for the next one.