Edward II is one of the most controversial kings of English history. On numerous occasions he brought England to the brink of civil war.
Author Stephen Spinks argues that Edward and the later murdered Piers Gaveston were lovers, not merely ‘brothers-in-arms’. Influenced by successive royal favourites and with a desire for personal vengeance, his rule became highly polarised and unstable. His own wife took a lover and invaded his kingdom resulting in his forced abdication; the first in British history. Edward’s prevailing legacy remains the warning that all kings can fall from power.
And yet … war, debt and baronial oppression before 1307 ensured that Edward II inherited a toxic legacy that any successor would have found almost impossible to wrestle with. Stephen Spinks explores that legacy using contemporary and later sources. By focusing on Edward’s early years as much as on his reign, and exploring the conflicting influences of those around him, Stephen shows the human side of this tale against a backdrop of political intrigues and betrayals. He peels back the layers to reveal the man who wore the crown. Edward’s belief in his unchallengable right to rule, increasingly at odds with those at his court, and his undeniable thirst for revenge, creates a fourteenth-century tragedy on a grand scale.
I have to say, I had been looking forward to the release of Edward II the Man: A Doomed Inheritance by Stephen Spinks for sometime. It sounded like such an interesting premise for a book, looking at the human side of one of England’s most ineffective kings. And I wasn’t disappointed. This book is a wonderful read, enjoyable from beginning to end.
Meticulously researched and eloquently argued, this book presents Edward II as a man, a king, a friend and a lover. Stephen Spinks uses all the sources available to examine every aspect of Edward’s life – the public and the private – giving us a deep insight into the character of the man and the king. Stephen Spinks presents Edward in all his facets, as a king, father, friend and enemy. He examines those who surround Edward at different stages in his life, discussing how they variously influence or infuriate him.
Entertaining anecdotes help to decipher the character of a king who often made the wrong choice when faced with a decision.
While Edward was working with those around him to seek a political compromise, he heard in late June that the son of a tanner, John Powderham, had arrived in Oxford declaring himself to be the one true king of England. He alleged that he and Edward had been switched at birth. Two days later the arrested Powderham found himself in the presence of the king, who with his characteristic humour, greeted the imposter as ‘brother’. When Edward asked him if such claims were true, not remotely intimidated by his royal audience, simply repeated his claim. What happened next says something about Edward’s character. Whereas most kings would have been apoplectic with rage, the king, still in a playful mood, laughed and suggested John be given a ‘bauble’ and allowed to go around the country as a fool…. Isabella was angry over the whole affair; she rightly saw such claims as a dangerous affront to Edward’s dignity. Powderham was hanged on 23 July…
Written in chronological order, Edward II the Man: A Doomed Inheritance discusses the influences that shaped Edward’s character and kingship, highlighting his personal bravery, political judgements and misjudgments, and the way he was influenced by personal favourites, including Piers Gaveston and Hugh Despenser the Younger. Analysing all the major events of Edward’s reign, such as Bannockburn, the death of Gaveston and Isabella’s betrayal, Stephen Spinks manages to bring to life this complex enigma of a medieval king.
As you would expect with any biography of Edward II, the king’s mysterious death is covered in detail, presenting the facts and offering credible theories. The author also makes an eloquent, persuasive, argument for the survival of Edward II after 1327, building a believable timetable of events from the sources available. Although I am still not totally convinced….
Edward II the Man: A Doomed Inheritance is a colourful, full-of-life biography of the controversial king. It is a fabulous book if you want to learn about Edward II, or examine deeper the events and influences on his life. Enjoyable, entertaining and informative, it is a pleasure to read and easy to devour.
About the Author
Stephen Spinks wrote his dissertation on Edward II while studying at King’s College, London. He works for the National Trust and manages three Medieval heritage sites with 900 volunteers and 150 staff. He is a columnist for ‘Midlands Zone’ magazine, in which he writes a very well received exploration of life as a gay man today, partly political, partly personal. He has given many interviews on radio and in his capacity at the National Trust, to ‘BBC’s Escape to the Country’ and the ‘Antiques Road Show’. He has been studying the primary sources (and locations) for this book over the past 15 years.
Heroines of the Medieval World, is now available in hardback in the UK from both Amberley Publishing and Amazon UK. It is also available on Kindle in both the UK and USA and will be available in Hardback from Amazon US from 1 May 2018. It can also be ordered worldwide from Book Depository.
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In 1312 a baby girl was born into the French royal family. Although some sources say she was born as early as 1309 or 1311, most seem to settle on January 1312. According to Isabella of France’s biographer, Kathryn Warner, the news was delivered to Edward II and Queen Isabella by Jeannot de Samoys, usher to Margaret of Burgundy, in March 1312, with the baby having been born on 28th January of that year.
Jeanne de France was to be the only surviving child of her parents, Louis of France and Margaret of Burgundy. Louis had become King of Navarre on the death of his mother in 1305 and was married to Margaret later in the same year, when Louis was 16 years old and Margaret was about 15.
Louis was Dauphin of France, the eldest of 3 surviving sons of Philip IV le Bel, king of France and Navarre, and of Jeanne I, queen of France and de jure queen of Navarre. Louis’ sister, Isabella, married Edward II of England. His brothers, Philip and Charles, were married to 2 sisters, Blanche and Joan of Burgundy, the daughters of Otto IV, Count of Burgundy.
In 1314 a scandal rocked the French monarchy to its very core, leaving a question mark over Jeanne’s legitimacy that is still there today. The Tour de Neslé Affair saw 2-year-old Jeanne’s mother, Margaret, convicted of adultery, and imprisoned in the Chateau-Gaillard for the rest of her life. Margaret’s cousin and sister-in-law, Blanche, was convicted alongside her. Although Blanche’s sister, Joan, with the support of her husband Philip, was cleared of the charges, she was held under house arrest for a short time as it was believed she knew of the adulterous liaisons of her sisters-in-law.
The 2 knights in question, the D’Aunay brothers, were tortured and castrated before being brutally executed by being ‘broken on the wheel’ and decapitated.
How much Jeanne would have known of these events is uncertain. Hopefully she was shielded from events in the royal nursery, but it is not inconceivable that she was treated differently after the discovery of her mother’s adultery. Margaret’s betrayal meant Jeanne’s legitimacy was now in question.
However, events were to change again within in months. In November, 1314, Jeanne’s grandfather Philip IV died and her father succeeded to the French throne as King Louis X. Louis was now desperate to produce a male heir and with the papacy dragging its heels on his divorce from Jeanne’s mother, it’s possible he took matters into his own hands. Whether it was from natural causes after her rough treatment – or, more likely, strangulation on Louis’ orders – Margaret died shortly after Louis’ accession.
Louis then married Clementia of Hungary and the couple were crowned jointly at Reims in August 1315. Nothing is recorded of the relationship between Jeanne and her stepmother, or of how Jeanne’s status changed as the daughter of the King. However, doubts over Jeanne’s legitimacy must still have been at the forefront of people’s minds as Louis X, on his deathbed in June 1316, made a point of stating that Jeanne was his legitimate daughter. Clementia was pregnant at the time of Louis’ death, after a particularly strenuous game of tennis; their son John the Posthumous was born 5 months later and died just 5 days after that, causing a succession crisis.
In most countries, Jeanne would automatically have become queen regnant on the death of her baby brother. However, her uncle Philip argued that French Salic Law, which determined the inheritance of French property and which stated that females could not inherit, also extended to the crown of France. Fearing the accession of a weak and feeble woman, the French nobles readily agreed.
Salic Law, however, did not extend to Navarre and Jeanne’s maternal grandmother Agnes of France, Duchess of Burgundy, and maternal uncle Odo IV, Count – later Duke – of Burgundy, tried to press Jeanne’s claims to the crown of Navarre, but were unsuccessful. In 1318 Odo came to an agreement with Philip that, should he have no male heirs, the counties of Champagne and Brie would go to Jeanne, while Jeanne would relinquish her claims to the thrones of France and Navarre – and would swear to this once she reached her majority, probably at the age of 12.
In the same agreement Odo was to marry Philip V’s daughter, Joan, and Jeanne would marry her cousin, Philip d’Evreux. Philip was the grandson of Philip III of France and his 2nd wife, Marie of Brabant; he was the son of Louis d’Evreux, half-brother of Jeanne’s grandfather, Philip IV.
At just 6 years old Jeanne was married to 12-year-old Philip on 18th June 1318. She was then given into the care of Philip’s grandmother, the dowager queen Marie of Brabant, to continue her education.
There’s no evidence that Jeanne did relinquish her claims to the thrones of France and Navarre on her 12th birthday and the situation changed, again, when Philip V died in 1322 and was succeeded by his brother, Charles IV. A succession crisis arose yet again when Charles himself died on 1st February 1328, leaving France with a regency once more, until his pregnant wife, Jeanne d’Evreux, was delivered of a daughter, Blanche, on 1st April 1328.
This left Jeanne as the senior claimant to the French and Navarrese thrones. However, with Salic Law still in place, the French crown was offered to Philip of Valois, a descendant of Philip III, who acceded to the throne as Philip VI. Philip, however, had no claim to the crown of Navarre as it had come to the French crown through the marriage of Philip IV with Queen Jeanne I of Navarre.
Not subject to Salic Law, therefore, and after the extinction of the male line, the crown of Navarre finally came to Jeanne, her inheritance was publicly acknowledged by the new king of France. The general assembly of Navarre proclaimed Jeanne as queen in May 1328, with a stipulation that Philip would reign jointly with her, but only until their eldest son attained his majority.
After years in the shadows and aged just 17, Jeanne and her husband were crowned jointly, as King Philip III and Queen Jeanne II of Navarre, at Pamplona on 5th March 1329. Several property agreements with the French crown left Jeanne and Philip with extensive lands in Normandy, Champagne and Philip’s county of Evreux, as well as their kingdom of Navarre.
Their marriage also appears to have been successful, with at least 7 children being born between 1326 and 1341, 3 of which were boys. Their eldest child, Maria, became the 1st wife of Peter IV of Aragon; while the next eldest, Blanche, born in 1330, was betrothed to John of France before marrying his father, Philip VI – who was 40 years her senior – in 1349, just months after her mother’s death.
Of their other daughters Agnes, born in the mid-1330s, married Gaston, Count of Foix. According to Froissart Gaston accidentally killed their only son, another Gaston, during a quarrel. Jeanne’s youngest daughter, Joan, was born in 1339 and would marry John II Viscount Rohan.
Some sources mention another daughter, Joan, born around 1324, who would become a nun at Longchamp. However, it seems highly likely that Joan was an illegitimate daughter of Philip d’Evreux, rather than the eldest daughter of the Philip and Jeanne.
Jeanne and Philip’s eldest son and heir, Charles II the Bad, was born in 1330 and married Joan, daughter of John II of France. Charles was implicated in the assassination of the Constable of France, Charles de la Cerda, and intrigued with the English, against the French, during the Hundred Years’ War. He even escaped from imprisonment in Chateau-Gaillard, but was ultimately defeated by the French, who allowed him to remain as King of Navarre.
A son, Philip, Count of Longueville was born in 1336 and married Yolande of Flanders. While their youngest son, Louis, was born in 1341 and would become Duke of Durazzo in Albania by right of his wife, Joanna.
Jeanne and Philip shared their time between all their lands, with French governors installed to rule Navarre during their absences. As rulers of Navarre, Jeanne and Philip had active legislation and building programmes and tried to maintain peaceful relations with neighbouring states. As a couple they appear to have worked closely together, more than 41 decrees were issued jointly in their names.
Philip died in 1343, aged 37, whilst on Crusade against the Muslim Kingdom of Granada in Spain. He was mortally wounded by an arrow during the Siege of Algeciras and died shortly after. His body was returned to Pamplona for burial, while his heart was taken to Paris and interred at the Couvent des Jacobins.
From then on Jeanne ruled alone, dying of the plague on 6th October 1349 at the Chateau de Conflans. She was just months short of her 38th birthday, having ruled Navarre for 21 of her 38 years. Jeanne was buried in the royal Basilica of St Denis but her heart was laid to rest beside her husband’s in the Couvent des Jacobins, the taint of bastardy no longer an issue.
Sources: The Course of French History by Pierre Goubert; Isabella and the Strange Death of Edward II by Paul Doherty; Isabella of France: The Rebel Queen by Kathryn Warner; The Waning of the Middle Ages by J Huizinga; Medieval Europe 400-1500 by H.G. Koenigsberger; passion-histoire.net; maison-hantee.com; herodote.net; histoire-france.net; A history of France from the Earliest Times to the Treaty of Versailles by William Stearns Davis; History of France by Charlotte Mary Yonge; Histoireeurope.fr.
Pictures taken from Wikipedia.
Thanks to Kathryn Warner for her extra information regarding Jeanne’s date of birth.
From Emma of Normandy, wife of both King Cnut and Æthelred II to Saint Margaret, a descendant of Alfred the Great himself, Silk and the Sword: the Women of the Norman Conquest traces the fortunes of the women who had a significant role to play in the momentous events of 1066. Available now from Amazon UK, Amberley Publishing,Book Depository and Amazon US.
Telling the stories of some of the most remarkable women from Medieval history, Heroines of the Medieval World, is now available in hardback in the UK from Amazon UK, and in the US from Amazon US. It is available now in paperback in the UK from from both Amberley Publishing and Amazon and worldwide from Book Depository.
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