25 September, 2013

A lot of what you think you know about Edward II and Isabella is wrong

A hotch-potch of a post which in some ways continues from my recent one about Edward II and Isabella of France's relationship, and an older one.

Apropos of nothing much in particular, things that break my irony meter:

Moaning that Isabella of France has been the victim of 'sexual prejudices' while castigating Edward II and talking about him in drippingly contemptuous terms because of his non-heterosexuality, to the point where you call him 'perverted' and 'unnatural' because of his sexuality.

Moaning that Isabella of France was a tragic neglected victim of her nasty cruel husband because of his outside love interests, while at the same time finding Isabella's relationship with the married Roger Mortimer wildly romantic, wonderful and amazingly speshul, and conveniently ignoring his wife.

Things often said to be fact which are not:

1) Edward II only had sex with his queen reluctantly.

To quote from two self-described Facebook 'historians' who in fact are nothing of the sort, but people who've maybe read a novel or two about Edward II and seen Braveheart and Helen Castor's She-Wolves programme (sorry to any fans of it, but I thought the part about Isabella was dire), and now fancy themselves as experts on Edward and Isabella:

"It was a fact and well documented than Edward the 2nd had many "favorites" who were males. It was also a well documented fact that he preferred boys and men over women and his own Queen. The only reason he succumbed to his duty to his wife was for the sanctity of the royal heir and in that alone is the only reason they had one child."

"Edward II was "a fastidiously gay guy who begat children on her [Isabella] - note not with her - as a painful duty...Edward was the very reverse of uxorious at a time when it was important to demonstrate respect for women. His own parents were very well-married so he didn't lack example..Regarding respect for women: one thing publicly noticed was the contrast between that which he had for his relatives and Eleanor [Despenser], and incidentally his other niece Margaret who was married to Gaveston, and the frosty and dismissive tone he used to his wife."

Wow, I've been studying Edward II and his life and reign for the best part of a decade now and I've never come across anything which tells us in which tone of voice he spoke to his wife.  I've certainly never seen anything which tells us that he didn't enjoy having sex with his queen.  Seriously, where on earth do people think something like this would be recorded in the early fourteenth century?  Did they travel back in time and set up a webcam in Edward and Isabella's bedchamber?  Do they think Isabella kept a diary in which she wrote stuff like "3 February, Edward with Piers, not me...so sad...will cry myself to sleep?  5 February, Edward came to my bed but only had sex with me reluctantly...he treats me like a brood mare!  Not fair!"

(Notice also the assumptions apparent in that second quote: that Edward II being a lover of men meant that he failed to 'demonstrate respect for women'; that men who love men should take the 'example' of their 'well married', opposite-sex heterosexual parents.  I have no words.)

Edward II did not like 'boys'.  Let's kick that particular myth in the teeth before it takes hold.  Piers Gaveston was some years his senior, Roger Damory probably about the same age as Edward or older, Hugh Despenser no more than five or so years younger and around thirty when he became the king's 'favourite' in 1318.  Point being, all the royal 'favourites' were grown men.  Stating that Edward II liked 'boys', as though he was some kind of perverted paedophile, is frankly unpleasant.  Also, I take issue with the notion that he 'preferred men over his own queen', as though Isabella was automatically in competition for Edward's affections with Piers and the others.  Isabella was royal, Edward's queen, the mother of his children.  He had to marry her for political reasons.  His relationship with her no doubt was very different from his relationship with Piers.  Not necessarily inferior, just different.  People nowadays act as though because Edward loved Piers, he can't have loved Isabella as well, or even felt anything at all for her beyond indifference and perhaps contempt.  It doesn't work like that.  Godefroy of Paris, who saw Edward and Isabella in France in 1313, states directly and without equivocation that Edward loved Isabella: cele amoit-il.  The c. 1327 poem 'The Lament of Edward II', written by a supporter of the deposed king, also states at various points throughout that the royal couple had once loved each other as courtly lovers.  I would say it's beyond doubt that Piers Gaveston, not Isabella, was the great love of Edward II's life, but it's a long way from that to concluding that Edward felt no positive, affectionate emotions for her at all ever.  That seems astonishingly unlikely.

This is the sum total of what we know about Edward II's sex life:

- He had intercourse with Queen Isabella on four occasions which resulted in the births of their four children.
- He had intercourse with an unknown woman which resulted in their illegitimate son Adam.

That is IT.  That is literally all we know, all we can know and all we ever will know.  Anything else is pure speculation.  We don't know how regularly or irregularly, how enthusiastically or unenthusiastically he had sex with Isabella.  We don't know (unfortunately) the true nature of his relationships with Piers Gaveston, Roger Damory and Hugh Despenser, and whether they were sexual or not.  We don't know whether he had sex with other women besides the one who gave birth to his son Adam.  It's fine to speculate, of course, but be clear that that's what you're doing.  Don't pretend that you have some way of knowing that Edward only slept with Isabella reluctantly as a 'painful duty'.  And I'm also sick of seeing it claimed that Edward only used Isabella as a 'brood mare'.  As opposed to all those other kings, I suppose, who didn't care at all if their wives bore children and especially sons.

2) Common modern misconception, as seen above: Edward II and Isabella of France only had one child together.

Nope, they had four:

- Edward III, king of England (13 November 1312 - 21 June 1377)
- John of Eltham, earl of Cornwall ( 15 August 1316 - 13 September 1336)
- Eleanor of Woodstock, duchess of Gueldres (18 June 1318 - 22 April 1355)
- Joan of the Tower, queen of Scotland (5 July 1321 - 7 September 1362).

Additionally, it's possible that Isabella had a miscarriage in or shortly before November 1313, when a purchase of pennyroyal for her is recorded.

3) Isabella told her father Philip IV in 1308 that her husband was 'an entire stranger to her bed' and that she was 'the most wretched of wives'.

This story appears, as far as I can tell (it's difficult to be entirely sure as real fourteenth-century historians never mention it and it only appears in the work of popular writers, who never source it properly), in the Historia Anglicana of Thomas Walsingham who died c. 1422, which was written between about 1377 and 1392 (and has continuations by another writer down to 1422).  It's hard to take a story about Edward II and Isabella seriously when it was first written by a man who died around the year their great-great-grandson Henry V died and their great-great-great-grandson Henry VI became king.  Walsingham had no possible access to the private letters sent by Isabella to her father, and his story has no reliable provenance whatsoever.  It's pure invention, something a man writing at least seventy or eighty years later thinks she might have told her father.  Shame that it's so often repeated as 'fact'.

Pearls of online wisdom; read them and weep:

"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."

"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."  There we go with the brood mare thing!  Woo-hoo!

"Following Isabella' s marriage to Edward II, a marriage that he had no intention of being a part of other than to produce heirs and either ignore Isabella or abuse her...".  Edward and Isabella were together far, far more often than not, as a comparison of their itineraries demonstrates.  He 'ignored' her?  Nah.

"You can [sic] help but feel for Isabella, married to a fop who is interested only in his favourites."  Hmmmm yes, Edward II, "one of the strongest men of his realm," "fair of body and great of strength," the man who loved digging ditches, rowing and outdoor exercise in general, was, of course, a 'fop'.  I'm sure his sexuality has nothing at all to do with that judgement.  Of course not.

"My father [name redacted] often told me that my ancestor Sir Roger Mortimer seduced the Queen of England. Now I know how it happened. I was pleased to learn that my father and I have inherited Sir Roger's sense of right and wrong."  *snort*

"The innocent little heroine wins our immediate sympathy when, at fourteen [sic], she is married to handsome, homosexual Edward the Second of England. We pity her more and more as she is shamed and neglected in favour of his male lovers."  Is it just me, or is the word 'male' the most important one here, in the writer's eyes?  Have you ever read anything bewailing Constanza of Castile's arrival in England in the early 1370s to marry John of Gaunt as 'she is shamed and neglected in favour of his female lover'?  Bet you haven't.  And I often see Isabella being called 'little'.  Yuck.  You condemn Edward for 'neglecting' her, but would you rather he'd fawned all over a 'little' girl?  Ah, the lack of joined-up thinking and cognitive dissonance.

21 September, 2013

21 September 1327: Death of Edward II?

As I expected and predicted, Twitter, Facebook and numerous other online sites are full of posts today marking the anniversary of the alleged death of Edward II on 21 September 1327, around 97%, at a rough estimate, repeating the red-hot poker story as though it's certain fact.  If you've found your way here searching for more information about Edward's death, welcome, and I've linked below to the numerous posts I've written on the subject.  Happy reading, and be aware that the red-hot poker story you've always heard repeated as 'fact' is 99.99% certain to be a myth.


Death part two

Edward was not tormented and abused at Berkeley Castle

Red-Hot Poker

Chronicle evidence


Oddities in the narrative of Edward's death

Events from September to December 1327

Regicides part one

Regicides part two

Regicides part three

The earl of Kent's plot to free Edward in 1330

(My article about the plot in the English Historical Review)

The archbishop of York says in 1330 that Edward is alive

Edward's custodian of 1327 says in 1330 he didn't know about the former king's death

15 September, 2013

Isabella of France And Her Relationship With Edward II

This is a post which I originally wrote a few months ago as a guest post on my lovely friend Sarah's history blog, which is now sadly defunct, though she writes one about Edward II's grandfather Henry III instead, yay.

Isabella of France, queen consort of England, lady of Ireland, duchess of Aquitaine, countess of Chester and Ponthieu, had a remarkably illustrious lineage: she was the daughter of Philip IV, king of France and of Joan, queen of Navarre and countess of Brie, Bigorre and Champagne in her own right. Isabella was the sixth of Philip and Joan's seven children. Her three older brothers all reigned as kings of France, Louis X, Philip V and Charles IV, her younger brother Robert died in 1308 aged about eleven, and she also had two older sisters, Marguerite and Blanche, who both died in early childhood in or shortly after 1294. Her paternal grandmother Isabel, queen of Philip III of France, after whom she was presumably named, was the daughter of King Jaime I 'el Conquistador' of Aragon and the granddaughter of King Andras II of Hungary; via the Hungarian line, Isabella of France was the seven greats granddaughter of Harold Godwinson, the king of England killed at Hastings in 1066.  She and her husband Edward II were related: her great-grandmother Marguerite of Provence, queen of France was the older sister of Edward's paternal grandmother Eleanor of Provence, queen of England.  They were also related rather more distantly via the Castilian royal family, Edward's great-grandmother Berenguela, queen of Castile and Leon, being the sister of Isabella's great-great-grandmother Blanche of Castile, queen of France.

Isabella's date of birth is uncertain but is usually assumed to have taken place in the second half of 1295 or at the beginning of 1296. She was thus only three or four years old when in the Treaty of Montreuil of June 1299 her future marriage was arranged to fifteen-year-old Edward of Caernarfon, son and heir of Edward I of England, as a means of ending the latter's war with her father Philip IV over the English king's territories in the south-west of France. The pair were formally betrothed in May 1303. Otherwise, very little is known of Isabella's childhood. Her mother Queen Joan died when she was probably nine, in April 1305; Isabella's eldest brother Louis, then fifteen, succeeded her in Navarre. Isabella cannot have remembered a time when she didn't know that it was her destiny to marry the future King Edward II of England, and at the French court, after the death of Edward I but before her marriage, she was addressed as ma dame Yzabel royne Dangleterre, my lady Isabella, queen of England.

Isabella married Edward II in Boulogne on 25 January 1308, six and a half months after he acceded to the throne. She was, almost certainly, only twelve, he twenty-three. (Contrary to the depiction of her in the film Braveheart, she was never princess of Wales and never met her father-in-law Edward I, never mind William Wallace, who was executed in August 1305 when she was nine or ten.) The wedding ceremony, attended by much of the royalty and nobility of western Europe, was splendid. Isabella wore a red mantle lined with yellow sindon, over a gown and tunic in blue and gold; fifty years later, she would be buried with the mantle, at her own request. Edward wore a satin surcoat and cloak embroidered with jewels, and both wore crowns glittering with precious stones. With these sumptuous clothes and the good looks ascribed to both of them by contemporaries, they surely looked magnificent.

Much is made nowadays of Isabella's supposed 'neglect' by her husband in the first months and years of her marriage and life in England, usually by people who conveniently ignore that she was little more than a child married to a man almost twice her age who was, admittedly, involved in an intense relationship with Piers Gaveston, earl of Cornwall. She and Edward were crowned king and queen of England at Westminster Abbey on 25 February 1308, exactly a month after their wedding. Shortly afterwards, Edward granted Isabella a generous income out of the revenues of the county of Ponthieu in northern France, his inheritance from his half-Spanish, half-French mother Eleanor of Castile - Ponthieu was not Isabella's dowry, as is often stated - and a large household of close to 200 people. The king also paid all his wife's expenses. In February or March 1312 when Isabella was sixteen, she and Edward conceived their first child, the future Edward III, who was born on 13 November 1312. Contrary to popular belief, based on nothing more than a modern assumption that because Edward II was a lover of men he must have been incapable of intercourse with women, there is no doubt whatsoever that Edward was the boy's father. Three more children were to follow: John of Eltham, earl of Cornwall, born 15 August 1316; Eleanor of Woodstock, duchess of Guelders, born 18 June 1318; Joan of the Tower, queen of Scotland, born 5 July 1321.

There is no reason to suppose that until about 1322 at the earliest, Edward and Isabella's marriage was an unhappy or tragic or even a particularly unusual one; for many years there is ample evidence of mutual support and affection between the couple, with modern assumptions that it must have been a disaster from start to finish, and that Isabella must have always loathed her husband, based solely on hindsight knowledge of how it ended. How Isabella felt about her husband's 'favourite' Piers Gaveston is unknown and unknowable, but there is no evidence for the assertion that she must have loathed him and wished him ill. Here are some examples of the couple's apparent closeness: in 1313 Edward and Isabella spent a few weeks in France at her father Philip IV's court. One morning, Edward arrived late for a meeting with Philip because he and Isabella had overslept, and on another occasion, he saved her life when a fire broke out in their bedchamber one night and he scooped her up and rushed outside with her, although they were both naked or in their bedclothes. It certainly seems to me that their intimate marital relations were entirely normal, even close. They conceived Edward III during Lent in 1312, a time when intercourse was forbidden, which hardly implies that Edward slept with his wife unwillingly; Lent gave him a perfect excuse to avoid it if he wanted to. In 1316 when Isabella was pregnant with their second son John, Edward paid for cushions for her carriage so that she could travel in greater comfort, and bought new horses to carry her litter. In his letters to her (few of which survive, sadly), Edward called his wife 'dear heart' while in her own letters she called him 'my very sweet heart' (mon tresdoutz coer). Even in 1326 when she refused to return to him and remained in France with their son, and later led an invasion of England against him, Isabella still referred to her husband as "our very dear and very sweet lord and friend" (nostre trescher and tresdouz seigneur et amy), which is a most unconventional form of address and hints that, despite her anger and humiliation at his confiscating her lands, reducing her income and his permitting his 'favourite' Hugh Despenser to treat her with disrespect, she neither hated Edward nor felt "profound revulsion" for him, as a modern writer has claimed. On the contrary, this unconventional way of referring to her husband as 'sweet' and her 'friend' implies that, despite her rebellion against him as a king, she still felt affection for him as her husband. When Edward was detained in custody in 1327 after his forced abdication in favour of his and Isabella's son Edward III, Isabella continued to send him gifts and letters - something she had absolutely no reason to do unless she genuinely wanted to, which again implies that despite everything, Isabella still felt affection for the difficult, unpredictable, erratic, fiercely emotional man who had been her husband for nearly twenty years and whose existence had been a constant in her life since she was a toddler. Edward II and Isabella's relationship was, in my opinion, far more complex and interesting than the tediously basic 'nasty cruel Edward / suffering neglected little Isabella' way it is most often depicted nowadays. It seems to me, however, that this is something some people don't want to hear; I've been told here and on my Facebook page about Edward that I'm wrong to think that maybe, just maybe, Edward and Isabella's relationship was slightly more complex and one-dimensional than the usual 'he ignored her, she hated him' way it's mostly written these days.  That I'm wrong to think that a marriage which lasted nearly twenty years might change and develop, that each partner's feelings might likewise have evolved and changed and might not have been relentlessly negative all the damn time.  It's not as though either of them had foreknowledge of what would happen in 1325/27; as far as both Edward and Isabella were concerned, they would be married for life, and it was in both their interests to make their relationship work as well as they could.

It can hardly be denied, however, that when their marriage did go wrong, it went spectacularly wrong. Although often-repeated stories such as, for instance, Edward cruelly 'removing' Isabella's children from her and giving her jewels to Piers Gaveston, are modern inventions, he did confiscate her lands in September 1324 and reduce her income when he was at war with her brother Charles IV, to Isabella's understandable fury. It was almost certainly this, and her hatred and fear of her husband's chamberlain and 'favourite' Hugh Despenser the Younger and his father the elder Hugh Despenser, which led Isabella to take a momentous step, and lead a rebellion against her own husband. Sent to Paris by her husband in March 1325 to negotiate a peace treaty with her brother, and reunited with her son the future Edward III there six months later, the queen refused to return to England and to her husband unless he removed Hugh Despenser from his side, which he refused to do. She began a relationship with Sir Roger Mortimer, lord of Wigmore, a Contrariant (baronial rebel) who had been imprisoned in February 1322 and escaped from the Tower of London in August 1323, and fled to the continent. Whatever is claimed nowadays, the true nature of Isabella and Roger's relationship is uncertain; usually assumed with very little evidence to have been passionately sexual and a great love affair, it may merely have been, at least at the start, a political alliance between two people who hated the Despensers and their influence over the king, and wanted their lands back. Perhaps I'm just cynical, but it seems highly unlikely to me that Roger Mortimer fell deeply and sincerely in love with Isabella in late 1325, given the benefits he was to derive from the relationship, ultimately becoming the richest and most powerful man in England. (In the same way, I certainly don't believe that Hugh Despenser the Younger just happened to fall madly and genuinely in love with Edward II in 1318.) The first people to suggest that Isabella had some kind of relationship with Roger Mortimer before late 1325 were the dramatists Christopher Marlowe and Michael Drayton in the 1590s, and although some fourteenth-century chroniclers say that the pair were rumoured to have had a 'liaison' or a 'familiarity', others state merely that Mortimer was Isabella's 'chief counsellor' or even just 'of her faction', and don't hint at any kind of romantic or sexual relationship. It was nowhere near as 'notorious' or 'flaunted' as it's usually said to be nowadays. Many modern writers assume that Isabella had something to do with Mortimer's escape from the Tower in 1323, or at the very least smoothed his path to her brother's court afterwards, but this is also based solely on centuries of hindsight and cannot be corroborated.

I'm afraid that I simply cannot see the romance that many others see in Isabella and Mortimer's actions of 1326 to 1330. Assuming that their relationship was indeed sexual, it was doubly adulterous, yet the same modern commentators who complain about how tragic and awful it is that Isabella was 'neglected' by her husband for other people never express the same compassion for Mortimer's loyal wife Joan Geneville, who had borne him a dozen children and was held in close confinement for years because of his treason against his king. The people who applaud Isabella's cleverness, courage, strength and amazing empowerment in acting against her husband and invading England never seem to consider what it involved: keeping her thirteen-year-old son little more than a prisoner in a foreign country; forcing him to act as a weapon against his own father; leading an illegal invasion with mercenaries; destroying her husband's relationship with his children. When Isabella and Mortimer were in power from late 1326 to late 1330, they proved no more competent and more greedy even than Edward II and the Despensers; in four years, Isabella bankrupted her son's kingdom by enriching herself and her favourite almost beyond measure (they reduced the treasury from almost £80,000 in November 1326 to a mere £41 four years later), kept for herself the £20,000 given to England by Robert Bruce in exchange for peace, kept her son, again, little more than a prisoner while she and Mortimer ruled in his name (which they had no right to do as they had never been appointed to the regency council), kept him and his queen Philippa of Hainault humiliatingly short of money, and put spies in his household. The Brut chronicle says that by the late 1320s 'the community of England began to hate Isabel the queen', other chroniclers point out how she and Mortimer destroyed the kingdom, and their downfall in October 1330 when Mortimer was arrested, tried and hanged by the teenage king was greeted with universal joy and relief. Isabella was kept under house arrest for a while, but otherwise treated with respect by her son for the rest of her life, which was an entirely conventional one. She was not sent to a nunnery, or imprisoned, and did not go mad. She died at Hertford Castle on 22 August 1358 at the age of sixty-two or sixty-three and was buried at the Greyfriars church in London, not next to Roger Mortimer, as is still often claimed today - he was buried in Coventry - but with her husband Edward II's heart (not Mortimer's, as is also sometimes stated these days) and the mantle she had worn to their wedding. Some modern writers assume that Isabella continued to love Roger Mortimer for the rest of her life, and barely gave her husband a second thought. I have no idea one way or the other, but little in the evidence we have bears this out. I do think that Isabella was a woman with a strong sense of her royalty and high position, and her marriage to Edward had made her a queen. And as I've pointed out elsewhere in this post, although Isabella didn't meet Edward until she was twelve, she had known of his existence as her future husband for her entire life. To suggest that she never gave her husband, the father of her children, the man who had put a crown on her head, another thought after 1327 seems utterly ridiculous to me.

In the past, Isabella was unfairly condemned by many writers as a 'She-Wolf' (a nickname first given to her in a 1757 poem, and still, annoyingly, sometimes used even today) and condemned as wicked and unnatural by writers incensed that a woman could commit adultery and rebel against her lawfully wedded spouse. In recent decades her reputation has been re-examined, however, and in the many novels and non-fictional works about her she is more often portrayed as a long-suffering, put-upon victim of her cruel neglectful husband who is miraculously transformed into an empowered feminist icon, striking a courageous blow for women everywhere by fighting back against marital oppression and finding an opportunity for self-fulfilment by taking a 'strong, manly, virile, unequivocally heterosexual' lover. The 'She-Wolf' nonsense is ridiculous, but perhaps the pendulum has been swinging too far in the other direction lately. Depictions of Isabella reflect the way society currently views women who step outside the bounds of conventional behaviour rather than the real woman, who was neither a modern feminist and believer in sexual equality transplanted to the Middle Ages, nor an evil unfeminine caricature. Like her husband, Isabella was a complex character with qualities both admirable and not. Avaricious and extravagant to a degree extraordinary even by the standards of the time, she nevertheless had many fine qualities, including compassion, loyalty, generosity, piety and courage. The contemporary chronicler Godefroy of Paris claimed that she was "very wise", and although for sure Isabella was an intelligent person, most of her actions during her regency of 1327 to 1330, the only period in her life when she had much of a chance to act independently, hardly seem to demonstrate wisdom.

There is a tendency in modern writing to excuse, minimise and justify (or preferably ignore altogether) Isabella's less pleasant actions by blaming them on the convenient scapegoat Roger Mortimer and her infatuation with him, which I find patronising and paternalistic. Edward II's many errors and flaws are not excused on the grounds of his infatuation with Piers Gaveston and Hugh Despenser; Roger Mortimer's own errors and flaws are not excused on the grounds of infatuation with Isabella. If Isabella is to be praised for her courage and intelligence and assumed to have been acting under her own agency when doing things modern writers approve of, she must be held equally responsible for the actions they don't like, in the same way as men generally are. Isabella was, in many ways, a remarkable person, who would probably not recognise herself in the frequently mawkish, inaccurate tales invented and related about her in modern times, such as having her children 'removed' from her, being 'abandoned' by her husband when pregnant in 1312 and having to see her husband's lover parade around in front of her wearing her own jewels. I truly hope that one day we see a more accurate, scholarly re-telling of her life which puts these tiresome myths to rest rather than perpetuating them, and examines Isabella and her life and actions fairly without whitewashing or blackwashing either her or Edward II. Re-writing Isabella's life to cast her as either a helpless victim of nasty men or as an evil manipulative bitch is simplistic, inaccurate and unhelpful. Isabella and Edward were both complex, fascinating people and their marriage was equally complex, and too much modern writing about them reduces them both to the level of one-dimensional, tedious caricatures.

06 September, 2013

What Lord Berkeley Said To Parliament In November 1330, And Its Over-Elaborate Modern Interpretations

On 3 April 1327, custody of Sir Edward of Caernarfon, formerly King Edward II, was transferred from his cousin Henry, earl of Lancaster to Thomas, Lord Berkeley and Sir John Maltravers.  Berkeley (born c. 1293/97) was Roger Mortimer's son-in-law, and Maltravers, a knight of Dorset, was married to Berkeley's sister (see here for more info about the two men).  Contrary to popular belief, there is really no reason to imagine that Edward was tormented and abused while under Lord Berkeley's supervision at Berkeley Castle, and John Maltravers was never at any point in his long life accused of any complicity in the death of Edward of Caernarfon or of mistreating him.  Lord Berkeley wrote to Edward III informing him of his father's death at Berkeley Castle on 21 September 1327, sending Sir Thomas Gurney as his messenger.  The fourteen-year-old king, then at parliament in Lincoln, told his cousin the earl of Hereford on 24 September 1327 that he had heard the news during the night of 23 September, presumably meaning 23-24 September, the night before he sent the letter.  News of the former king's death was disseminated at parliament and from there, around the country.  Edward II's funeral took place in Gloucester on 20 December.  (See here for a narrative of events between September and December 1327.)

Edward III overthrew his mother Queen Isabella and Roger Mortimer at Nottingham Castle on 19 October 1330, and to general relief and jubilation, took over the governance of his own kingdom.  On 23 October Edward summoned a parliament to be held at Westminster beginning on 26 November, during which Roger Mortimer was sentenced to death; the sentence was carried out on 29 November.  Mortimer's son-in-law Thomas, Lord Berkeley, who had been given legal responsibility for the welfare of the king's father in 1327, was called to account during the parliament.  In response to the question "how can he excuse himself, but that he should be answerable for the death of the king," Berkeley said something very strange, recorded in Latin in the rolls of parliament (he had presumably been asked, and had answered, the question in French):

- qualiter se velit de morte ipsius regis acquietare, dicit quod ipse nunquam fuit consentiens, auxilians, seu procurans, ad mortem suam, nec unquam scivit de morte sua usque in presenti Parliamento isto: he wishes to acquit himself of the death of the same king, and says that he was never an accomplice, a helper or a procurer in his death, nor did he ever know of his death until this present parliament.  (Text and translation from The Parliament Rolls of Medieval England.)

This peculiar statement 'he did not know of his death' or 'he never knew about his [Edward II's] death' - peculiar because it was Lord Berkeley himself via his messenger Sir Thomas Gurney who had informed Edward III of his father's demise in September 1327 - has been translated over-elaborately by some modern commentators so that the words mean what they think they should mean.  Take for example Professor Roy Martin Haines in his 2002 book Death of a King, p. 78:

"Now this can hardly be taken to mean, as some have thought, that the baron did not know that the king was dead.  For one thing such a thing would have been tantamount to treason, and had been so interpreted during the regime of Isabelle and Mortimer*; for another, it would be quite inconceivable in the light of all the circumstances already painstakingly reviewed [in Haines' book].  What Berkeley meant to say, and he ought to have expressed himself more clearly, unless the recording clerk is to blame, was that he knew nothing about the circumstances of Edward's death.  As we now know, the idea of murder was first openly mooted in the parliament and there accepted as the cause of death."  Although Professor Haines is beyond doubt a superb historian with a remarkable decades-long track record of publications about Edward II and his reign, is it reasonable for him to assume that he knows what was going on in Thomas Berkeley's mind in late 1330 and to explain to readers 'what Berkeley meant to say' with such utter certainty?  This is a classic example of how Berkeley's strange remark is interpreted by someone sure that Edward II had been dead for more than three years at the time, to make it fit into this notion, to make the words say what the modern commentator wants them to say.

(* A reference, presumably, to the execution of Edward II's half-brother the earl of Kent in March 1330 for attempting to free the supposedly dead Edward from captivity.)

Here's another modern-day declaration by someone else convinced that he knew what Thomas Berkeley was 'really' saying in November 1330: David J.H. Smith, the Berkeley Castle archivist, wrote several years ago in a letter to the Times Literary Supplement (now behind a paywall, so I can't link to it) that "what Thomas actually said was that this was the first time he had heard any suspicion of foul play in the King's death...".  No.  That is not what Thomas actually said.  What Thomas actually said, as recorded in the rolls of parliament by a clerk who was there and heard him speak, was nec unquam scivit de morte sua usque in presenti Parliamento isto.  Nec unquam, never; scivit, he knew; de morte sua, of or about his death; usque in presenti Parliamento isto, until this present parliament, i.e. the one sitting at Westminster in November 1330, over three years after the alleged death of the former Edward II at Berkeley Castle.  What in those six words says anything at all about 'suspicion of foul play'?  Thomas Berkeley's words can only be made to mean 'he hadn't previously heard any suspicion of foul play' or 'he knew nothing about the circumstances of Edward II's death' by people looking at his words with the assumption that Edward died at Berkeley Castle while under Lord Berkeley's care in 1327 and trying to change the meaning of the words so that they make logical sense to them in this context.

Edward II's biographer Professor Seymour Phillips, Professor Chris Given-Wilson and the other editors of the Parliament Rolls of Medieval England 1275-1504 (PROME) translate nec unquam scivit de morte sua as 'nor did he know of the death...' in their text of the proceedings of the November 1330 parliament without any additions, although their Introduction to this parliament says that Lord Berkeley claimed he "had not known that the former king had died of other than natural causes."  Professor Phillips goes into this point in more detail in his 2010 work Edward II, pp. 579-80.  Footnote 18 acknowledges his translation of nec unquam scivit... as 'nor did he know of his death' in PROME, and adds that "my intention was to avoid over-interpretation of the text, since I was aware that it was open to different meanings."  To quote Professor Phillips in his narrative (he is himself quoting Ian Mortimer's article 'Death of Edward II in Berkeley Castle'*): "Is 'the most obvious meaning' that Berkeley was claiming 'that he had not at any time heard of the death', or does it mean that he did not know the circumstances of the death until 1330?  The latter meaning is more consistent with the language employed, especially when taken in conjunction with the immediately preceding statement that 'he was never an accomplice, a helper or a procurer in his death' ('ipse nuncquam fuit consentiens, auxilians, seu procurans, ad mortem suam'): this can only mean that Berkeley knew that the death had occurred but that he claimed he had no part in it."

(* Ian Mortimer, 'The Death of Edward II in Berkeley Castle', English Historical Review, cxx (2005), pp. 1175-1214; reproduced in his Medieval Intrigue: Decoding Royal Conspiracies (2010), pp. 61-108.)

To summarise, nec unquam scivit de morte sua has been variously stated to mean certainly or almost certainly that what Thomas Berkeley really intended to say was that a) he knew nothing of the circumstances of Edward II's death; b) he hadn't previously heard any suspicion of foul play relating to the death; c) he hadn't known that the king's death was due to anything other than natural causes; d) he knew nothing of the circumstances of the death although he knew it had taken place, but had nothing to do with the death.  We are also informed that one of these interpretations 'is more consistent with the language employed' than translating nec unquam scivit de morte sua literally as 'he never knew about the death'.  Hmmm, this is a lot of meaning being read into those six simple words, isn't it?

Although I already knew what Berkeley's statement dicit quod ipse nunquam fuit consentiens, auxilians, seu procurans, ad mortem suam, nec unquam scivit de morte sua usque in presenti Parliamento isto meant, I decided to send it to Quintus the Latin Translator as I was very interested in how an independent Latin expert would translate it, and he kindly sent this back to me:

"He said he was never in agreement to his death, either by lending help or by direct involvement, and he never knew about his death until this present parliament."

According to his website, Quintus was educated in Latin to doctoral level at Cambridge, taught Latin Prose and Verse Composition at the university, and then moved on to head the Classics department at a prestigious boarding school.  Here we see how a Latin expert, without knowing the background to Berkeley's statement and without a vested interest in altering the translation so that it fits into his preconceived notions of what the statement 'should' mean, translates nec unquam scivit de morte sua usque in presenti Parliamento istohe never knew about his death until this present parliament.  Not 'he didn't know about the circumstances of his death' or 'he didn't know until the present parliament that it was murder' or 'he hadn't previously heard any suspicion of foul play', or any other ways in which these words been interpreted in recent years.  Simply, 'he never knew about his [i.e. Edward II's] death'.  I certainly wouldn't call myself an expert in the European languages derived from Latin, but if someone said in French, for example, Il n'a jamais su de sa mort, I'd assume they meant 'He never knew about his death' and not that they were trying to tell me they didn't know the person was murdered, which I assume would be Il n'a jamais su qu'il a été assassiné/tué, or didn't know anything about the circumstances of the death, which I'd translate as something like Il n'a jamais su comment il est mort/il a été tué.

As Professor Haines says, perhaps Lord Berkeley 'should have expressed himself more clearly' to parliament.  Or perhaps the clerk who recorded his statement was in fact to blame as the professor suggests, and Berkeley said something else and it was written down wrongly or less fully than the baron had meant.  Or perhaps we should work with the evidence that we actually have, rather than trying to read Lord Berkeley's mind and ascertain what we think he 'really' meant or what the clerk 'should' have recorded and thus try our hardest to make his words fit into the scenario that Edward II certainly, definitely, absolutely died in his castle in September 1327.

It is true that the November 1330 parliament was the first time that the cause of Edward II's death was officially and openly stated to have been murder.  The killers, in addition to the executed Roger Mortimer, were named as Sir Thomas Gurney (who had carried Lord Berkeley's letter to Edward III) and the man-at-arms William Ockley or Ogle (see here for more about them), and a price was put on their heads.  It is also undoubtedly true that the young Edward III was keen to emphasise that his father really was dead, to a point where - to me, at least - it almost seems absurd.  The response to the petitions of the earl of Kent's widow Margaret Wake and their young son Edmund repeats over and over that Edward II was dead and had been dead when the earl of Kent had tried to free him from captivity a few months earlier, "which release was impossible to secure all that time seeing as he was already dead, as is said above," and Kent "had knowingly wished the said release to the prejudice of the king our present lord, which was completely impossible as is said above," and was "willing to purchase the easement and the release of his same brother, which release was impossible to secure all that time seeing as he was already dead," and evil men had tried to convince Kent and "encourage him to purchase the release of his said brother, as if it had been possible to do this" and had caused him "to understand that our lord the king the father of our present lord the king was alive when he was dead, and for that reason it had been impossible to have secured or purchased his release."  So, have we got that yet, folks?  Just in case you missed the message being hammered home again and again, Edward of Caernarfon is DEAD.  And cannot possibly be free somewhere, and the earl of Kent and his many adherents cannot in any way have really been on the verge of releasing him because that's impossible.  Really, really impossible.

I still think "I never knew about his death until the present parliament" is an extraordinary thing for Lord Berkeley to have said.  If he was feigning ignorance of the circumstances of the death, why not say "I didn't know until I heard it at this parliament how Edward died, I don't know anything about how it happened, I wasn't there"?  On further questioning by parliament on the issue, Berkeley's alibi, as discussed below, was that he had been away from Berkeley Castle at the time and was seriously ill.  So why didn't he just say that the first time?  If Berkeley meant to say that this was the first time he had heard that Edward II's death was now being treated as murder, why not state that, rather than "I never knew about his death"?  Edward II's death was openly being stated as murder, and two men named as his murderers in addition to Roger Mortimer; Berkeley had nothing to gain by being coy and refusing to refer to the death as murder when the young king himself had stated this to be the case.  Berkeley went on to claim that he had been absent from Berkeley Castle at the time, "detained with such and so great an illness outside the aforesaid castle at Bradley that he remembers nothing of this."  This convenient illness and amnesia did not prevent Berkeley from writing to Edward III informing him of his father's death, and obviously was a lie (which Edward III presumably realised, having received Berkeley's letter on 23-24 September 1327 and acted on it in good faith, by disseminating the news of his father's death).

Thomas, Lord Berkeley lied to Edward III.  Either he lied to him in September 1327 by telling him that Edward II was dead when he wasn't (or at least, Berkeley didn't know for sure if he was dead or not), or he lied to him in November 1330 by telling the king that a) he had never known about the death of Edward II until he came to the current parliament and/or b) that he wasn't at Berkeley Castle on the night Edward II was supposedly killed there.  As Ian Mortimer points out in his article 'The Death of Edward II in Berkeley Castle' (cited above), Berkeley's letter to Edward III informing him that his father was dead is of fundamental importance, because it was this information which caused the young king to begin disseminating the news of his father's death to parliament, from where it spread around the entire country.  At no point, as far as is known, did Edward III send anyone to Berkeley Castle to confirm the veracity of Lord Berkeley's information (although the chronicler Adam Murimuth, who was ninety miles away in Exeter at the time, tells us that a group of knights, abbots and burgesses were invited to Berkeley Castle to view Edward II's body but only did so superficialiter).  Everything flowed from that letter of Lord Berkeley, the spreading of information that Edward II was dead, the funeral arrangements made for the former king, the certainty of fourteenth-century chroniclers that Edward II died at Berkeley Castle on or around 21 September 1327.  And yet thirty-eight months after that letter, here we have Lord Berkeley stating before parliament that "he never knew about [Edward II's] death until the present parliament."  To say that this is curious is an under-statement.  For more info, please do read Ian Mortimer's 'The Death of Berkeley Castle', his 'Twelve Angry Scholars' article in Medieval Intrigue (pp. 109-51), and his new essay An Inconvenient Fact, which go into Lord Berkeley's statement, interpretations of it and the likely meaning in great detail.