Monday, 19 May 2008

Catalogue Cards

Having seen Alianore and Susan Higginbotham's cards for Ed II and Hugh le Despenser, I couldn't resist doing two for Roger Mortimer and Queen Isabella - as you can see Isa's scribbles are written a bit later than Roger's...

Substitute "Majesty" for "Grace" and you will see the joke - I put Grace on the card as I wanted to be accurate.

"Ned", of course, is Edward III

Want to do your own? Go to

Wednesday, 30 April 2008

A Note from Carole...

...Just to say that the reason that I haven't posted for such a long time is that I've got bogged down with reading about WW1 and WW2. However... I have a book on Edward I (A Great and Terrible King by Marc Morris) that I received for my birthday and it is on my to be read list (after the two books I have out from the library, and two more which I have on order from the library) and when I have read it I will post my impressions of the book on here.

Even better - I'm off to Gloucestershire between 31 May and 7 June and will be visiting Gloucester Cathedral, Llanthony Priory, Berkeley Castle, Goodrich Castle, Chepstow Castle and probably more as we've yet to finalise our itinery! So that will provide material for a few posts.

Do keep checking, I will post eventually!

Sunday, 16 March 2008

The Battle of Boroughbridge (1322)

The Battle of Boroughbridge, one of the major turning points of Edward II’s reign, took place 686 years ago today, and to mark the anniversary, I have written a short summary of the battle and included some pictures I took on a visit to Boroughbridge three weeks ago.

A brief overview of the battle

While at Ripon on the night of 15th March, the royalist commander Sir Andrew Harclay received news from a spy in the Lancastrian ranks that the army of the Earls of Lancaster and Hereford would arrive at Boroughbridge the following day. Overnight, Harclay’s force marched to Boroughbridge.

There were two crossings of the River Ure near to the town: a bridge and a ford. These crossings were the only way Lancaster and Hereford could continue retreating north in an attempt to escape the royal army that was pursuing them. By reaching Boroughbridge before the earls, Harclay ensured that they would have to fight to get across the river.

It was only after the Lancastrian force had begun to take quarters in Boroughbridge on 16th March that they found out that Harclay had reached the river crossings before them. This illustrates two crucial facts: the weakness of the earls’ scouting, and that the subsequent battle was fought very late in the day.

Harclay deployed his pikemen in the Scottish schiltron formation, supported by archers, at both the bridge and the ford. Meanwhile, the Lancastrian forces had split, with Hereford leading an attack on foot at the bridge and Lancaster planning to mount a cavalry attack at the ford.

The battle was over very quickly. In a short action at the bridge, Hereford, his standard bearer and two other knights were killed, and many of the others were wounded. Traditionally, Hereford is said to have been killed by a pike thrust between the planks of the wooden bridge into his anus. The assault at the ford fared little better – Lancaster’s cavalry was forced back by Harclay’s archers before even reaching the water’s edge. After this, Lancaster and Harclay agreed a truce whereby the earl’s men were allowed to retreat into the town overnight, and would either surrender or resume the battle in the morning.

Harclay received reinforcements during the night, and the following morning entered the town. Lancaster had no chance of resisting, as many of his troops had fled during the night, but refused to surrender and took refuge in a chapel, where he was captured by Harclay’s men. Subsequently, he was taken to Pontefract where he was executed six days after the battle.

My pictures

The pictures that follow are based on rough estimates of the positions of the opposing forces according to this map: note the map is in PDF format).

I based my estimated positions of the bridge and ford on a very rough estimates of where the centre of the positions marked on the map were. However, it is important to note that the positions on the map are themselves estimates, and that the position of the ford is extremely uncertain. Therefore, while the pictures I took near to the bridge are probably fairly close to where the action took place, my estimated position of the ford could quite probably be nowhere near where it actually was.

A view of the modern bridge from the estimated position of Hereford’s men

The modern bridge from the Lancastrian side of the river

The modern bridge from the Royalist side of the river

View from end of royalist position furthest away from bridge

View from end of royalist position nearest bridge

My estimation of where the 14th century bridge might have been (a very rough guess according to the positions on the map)

A view of the modern bridge from the position of the previous picture

A view from the Royalist side of the river of my extremely questionable estimate of where the ford may have been

A view from the Lancastrian side of the river of my guess at where the ford may have been

Lastly, a picture of the plaque on the Lancastrian side of the modern bridge

For my information about the battle, I would suggest this website, where I found the map and much of my information. It includes a lot more detail than I have here. It includes details like where Lancaster was captured and also extracts from the contemporary sources.
I would also recommend Lady D’s much more detailed post about the battle (click on the link to “Lady Despenser’s Scribery” in the list of Blogs I Read.)

Sunday, 2 March 2008

The Countess of Gloucester's "pregnancy"

One of the weirdest episodes in English history happened in the period 1314 – 1317. After Gilbert de Clare, Earl of Gloucester and Hertford, died at Bannockburn on 24 June 1314, his widow, Maud, daughter of Richard de Burgh, Earl of Ulster, claimed to be pregnant. It is unlikely many people would have doubted her claim… at first. However, as the months dragged by and there was no baby, people must have wondered what on earth was going on. Eventually, the months turned into years, and people realised there was going to be no baby… and even if Maud had produced a child, there was no way it could be Gilbert’s, not after March 1315. Finally, in 1317, Parliament lost patience and partitioned the lands between Gilbert’s three sisters Eleanor, Margaret and Elizabeth.

But what on earth was Maud thinking, claiming to be pregnant for three years? I’ve come up with several possibilities:

  1. She wasn’t pregnant, and just wanted to cause trouble for one or all of her sisters-in-law and/or Eleanor’s husband Hugh le Despenser (both Margaret and Elizabeth were widows at the time of their brother’s death).
  2. She wasn’t pregnant but deluded herself that she was.
  3. She suffered from a false pregnancy, or an illness that imitated pregnancy (it does happen, Mary I is a historical example).
  4. She was pregnant, but suffered a miscarriage or stillbirth, and she couldn’t accept it.
  5. She was pregnant, but the baby died soon after birth and she couldn’t accept it.
  6. She was pregnant, but the baby was born deformed or had a disability caused by a difficult birth…

Most of these probably could have happened – I accept the last is unlikely, but as it crossed my mind I thought I might at as well mention it with the other ideas.

Some discussion of some of the ideas…

Number 1:

Personally, if this was the case, I think it was a result of some personal quarrel with one, two or maybe all three of her sisters-in-law, and she was trying to delay them getting their lands in revenge for some real or imagined petty wrong they had done her. I don’t think it had anything to do with Despenser – in 1314 he was a nonentity.

Number 2:

This may sound silly, but people can delude themselves into believing the most unlikely things…

Number 3:

This is probably more likely than no 2, but this too must have involved an element of Maud deluding herself, when the “pregnancy” went beyond nine months…

Numbers 4 and 5:

These, I think, are the most likely explanations. It would mean that Maud was telling the truth at first, and that her later pretence was a result of her being unable to deal with her loss. In a way, these are also the reasons which are the most understandable, and the ones which make it easiest to sympathise with Maud.

Number 6:

This is nothing but a theory that crossed my mind, and is extremely unlikely. The theory goes like this: faced with a baby who would be disabled for life, Maud couldn’t decide what was best for him. A disabled child/adolescent/man would find it very difficult to cope with an earldom, but even if she hid him from the world, his claim to the earldom would not go away. If they found out, those who inherited the lands would see him as a threat, and would almost certainly want him dead. Faced with such a difficult choice, she may have hesitated, not certain whether to tell the world about the baby, or tell everybody he had died at birth and hide him away. She may have even wanted to wait, see how his disability affected him as he grew from baby to toddler. And what if she that Hugh le Despenser had bribed the midwife to try and maim or kill the child? It would have made the decision even harder.

I am not suggesting that number 6 did happen, but as it had occurred to me, I thought I might as well mention it. But one thought that it raises is worth examining closer – the idea that Maud was pregnant and Despenser was responsible for her losing the baby. The idea of him bribing the midwife may be unlikely, but what if he bribed a retainer to slip pennyroyal into Maud’s wine? His later career shows how ruthless he could be when his own interests were at stake, and how much is the aborting of an unborn child have likely to troubled his conscience, even if the child was his wife’s unborn nephew or niece? His later career shows that he had little or no regard for the well being of Eleanor’s family.

And if Maud found out that he was responsible for her losing the baby, she may well have been determined to keep Eleanor’s share of the Gloucester lands from him as long as possible.

All of this is speculation of course – we do not even know whether Maud was pregnant at any stage, and if she was, there is no way of knowing whether nature or an agent of Hugh le Despenser was responsible for her losing the baby.

Regardless of what actually happened, it is interesting topic on which to speculate!

Tuesday, 26 February 2008

Roger Mortimer, 2nd Earl of March

Roger was born at Ludlow on 11 November 1328, son of Edmund Mortimer, the eldest son and heir of Queen Isabella’s lover, who had been created Earl of March eleven days before his grandson’s birth, and Elizabeth Badlesmere, the daughter of Bartholomew de Badlesmere.

He was two years old at the time of his grandfather’s execution, and barely a year later, he lost his father. Edmund Mortimer died on 16 December 1331, only two months after Wigmore and other key Mortimer lordships had been restored to him by Edward III.

Little is known of Roger’s early life. His mother married William Bohun, younger brother of the Earl of Hereford, in 1335. Roger, aged six at the time of the marriage, may have spent time in the household of his stepfather, who was created Earl of Northampton in 1337. There is also the chance that he could have spent some time in the household of the king’s eldest son, Edward of Woodstock, who Roger was to be associated with later in his career. Regardless of where he spent his childhood and adolescence, it is unlikely that he ever heard any good of his notorious grandfather.

Roger was restored to some of his estates, including Radnor, in 1341, aged just 12 or 13, when five knights, including two relatives, stood surety for £250 until he came of age. The following year, Wigmore was restored to him, which must have been an immensely proud moment for the young man, even though he was too young to do homage for the castle and lordship himself, and his stepfather had to do so on his behalf. Only two years later, Roger, aged just fifteen or perhaps just turned sixteen, attracted attention as a result of his performance in a tournament at Hereford.

In 1346, Roger was one of the young men knighted with the Black Prince at the start of the campaign that led to the Battle of Crecy. Although there are conflicting accounts as to where Roger fought in the battle, it is clear that, whether he fought in the front line or remained in the rear with the King, that he must have distinguished himself that day, for less than two weeks after the battle, he was granted all his father’s lands, although he was still only seventeen years old, and his retainers were pardoned for any crimes they may have committed before setting out for France. The following year, his grandmother Joan was allowed to grant him the castle and lands of Trim along with other lands in Ireland.

In 1348, he was given a great honour when selected to be one of the founder members of the Order of the Garter, and in December 1349, he was one of the select group chosen to accompany King Edward and the Black Prince to Calais to spring a trap on the French who were hoping to recapture the city.

From 1350 onwards, Roger spent a lot of time at court, and was frequently a witness to official documents. He also held various commissions in the Marches, including hearing offences against the Statute of Labourers, and acted as a mediator between the Dominican friars of Hereford and the bishop in a dispute over property in the city.

In 1354, Roger made a major coup by obtaining the reversal of the judgement on his grandfather on the basis that the elder Roger had not been allowed to speak in his own defence. Also in 1354, he was one of the English envoys to a peace conference with the French at Avignon.
Although the reversal of the judgement against his grandfather meant that Roger automatically became Earl of March, many of the lands that were now legally his had been in other hands for nearly a quarter of a century, and getting these lands back occupied much of Roger’s time for the remaining six years of his life. Roger’s reassembling of his inheritance could take up an entire post on its own, and I will not go into detail here.

Roger married Philippa, daughter of William Montagu, 1st Earl of Salisbury – the man who had captured Roger’s grandfather at Nottingham Castle in October 1330. I am not aware of the date of the marriage, although it could not have been any later than Spring 1351, as Philippa gave birth to their son, Edmund, on 1 February 1352.

The marriage does raise the question of what Roger thought about his grandfather. As previously mentioned, it is unlikely that Roger heard any good of his grandfather during his early years. This may have changed as he grew older, however - he would have had the chance to make the acquaintance of older Mortimer retainers who had known his grandfather, and tell him that although power had gone to his head during his last years, his grandfather had had another side to him, and was more than the caricature villain that Roger had almost certainly been taught to see him as.

Certainly, Roger seems to have become close to his grandfather’s mistress, Queen Isabella, during her last years – once visiting her three times at Castle Rising in the space of one month. I was amused to see that on one occasion, 29 April 1358, a few months before Isabella’s death, he visited her in company with Edward III and the king’s daughter Princess Isabella.

One thing that annoys me is that on several occasions I have seen Roger misidentified as the son, not the grandson, of the first Earl. This probably stems from him being the second, not third, Earl of March, a result of Roger’s father Edmund dying soon after his own father and before the judgement against the first earl was repealed. However, surely it is obvious how unlikely it is that Roger’s grandfather would have a legitimate heir born in November 1328 in the middle of his affair with Isabella!

Roger died while besieging Rouvray on 26 February 1360, during what turned out to be Edward III’s last campaign. It is unclear whether he died of an illness or as the result of a skirmish, although I tend to think the latter is more likely – although men did die of natural causes on campaign, Roger was young and the suddenness of his death tends to suggest to me that his death was the result of the actions of the French, not an act of God.

Roger was 31 years old, a knight of the Garter, and marshal of the English army. He had redeemed the family honour. Edward III had his body brought back to England and gave expensive offerings at his burial at Wigmore and his obsequies at Windsor. Yet he is barely remembered today, always in the shadow of his infamous grandfather. Largely this is because he was a loyal, brave and capable soldier in a period where there were many loyal, brave and capable soldiers, and he has been overshadowed by men like the Black Prince, his wife’s father, his stepfather, and Henry of Grosmont, first Duke of Lancaster.

Yet if it had not been for his loyal service, which rehabilitated his family after the disgrace of his grandfather’s execution, Edward III would not have considered Roger’s son Edmund as a husband for his (Edward’s) granddaughter Philippa of Clarence, and Roger’s descendants would not have had a claim to the throne.

And yet, I cannot help wondering, if Roger had lived, what role would have played in the reign of Richard II?

In memoriam, Roger Mortimer, 1328 – 1360, second Earl of March, founder member of the Knights of the Garter, Marshal of the English army, died on this day 648 years ago.

Friday, 22 February 2008

The Treaty of Northampton (1328)

The treaty’s terms were:
  • England to recognise Scotland’s independence and Robert Bruce to be acknowledged as the legitimate King of Scotland.
  • A mutual defence alliance, by which the Scots agreed to aid England against any enemy except the French.
  • The Scots paid £20,000 compensation for damage they had inflicted during raids in the north.
  • No English lord could hold land in Scotland, and vice versa.
  • The borders at the time of King Alexander III of Scotland (d. 1286) to be recognised.
  • All English actions against Scotland at the papal curia to be dropped.
  • Edward III’s sister, Joan, to marry Robert Bruce’s son and heir, David.

The treaty in many ways was a sensible recognition that fighting the Scots was futile. However, Edward III felt that Scotland was rightfully his, and although he was compelled by his mother and Roger Mortimer to ratify the treaty, he made it very clear afterwards that the “shameful peace” was not his wish, and refused to attend his sister’s marriage – and on hearing of Edward’s refusal to attend, Bruce said he would not attend either.

The most controversial clause, in the eyes of the northern English lords, was the one which compelled them to give up their Scottish lands – although in reality these lands had been lost to them since Robert Bruce had seized effective control of Scotland in the period leading up to and including the English defeat at Bannockburn. This lost Isabella and Mortimer many of their allies, and from this time onwards, their actions became more and more ruthless as they attempted to keep hold of power.

They did not help themselves by appropriating for themselves the £20,000 that Robert Bruce paid as part of the treaty, which only increased their reputation for greed and rapacity.

Had the treaty been concluded by an adult English king of his own free will, the treaty would probably be remembered as a great act of statesmanship, which freed England from fighting a war which could not be won, and which had cost many lives, including the death of the Earl of Gloucester at Bannockburn which so changed the course of Edward II’s reign. Under the circumstances in which it was signed, however, the treaty has come forever to be remembered as “the shameful peace”, and that peace did not last, either – a direct result of the treaty not being valid in the eyes of the 15 year old Edward III.