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By Kathryn Warner
Edward II was born on 25 April 1284 as the youngest child of Edward I and his first wife Eleanor of Castile, and succeeded his father as king of England at the age of twenty-three on 7 July 1307. On 25 January 1308 at Boulogne in northern France, Edward married Isabella, only surviving daughter of the reigning king of France, Philip IV, and the late Joan I, queen of Navarre in her own right. Isabella was only twelve at the time of her wedding, born probably in the second half of 1295. The couple’s betrothal had been arranged all the way back in June 1299, when Edward was fifteen and Isabella probably only three.
Edward II and Isabella of France had four children together, and additionally, Isabella may have suffered a miscarriage in or shortly before November 1313, a year after the birth of their first child, when a purchase of pennyroyal for her is recorded. Contrary to the popular modern myth that Edward II was not the father of Edward III, a notion invented in the 1982 novel Death of a King by Paul Doherty and spread by the 1995 Hollywood film Braveheart, it is beyond all reasonable doubt that Edward II fathered his wife’s children. The theory that he did not is based solely on modern assumptions that because Edward was a lover of men, he must have been incapable of intercourse with women.
His contemporaries, however, were clearly in no doubt whatsoever that Edward II fathered his queen’s children, whatever they may have thought of his sexuality, and there is not even the slightest hint in any chronicle or other fourteenth-century record that anyone believed otherwise. Edward had an illegitimate son, Adam, with a woman whose identity is unknown to us, so clearly was not repulsed by sex with women.
1) Edward III, born in Windsor on 13 November 1312
Edward II and Isabella of France’s first child was King Edward III of England, whose birth on the feast day of St Brice in the sixth year of his father’s reign is recorded by virtually every fourteenth-century chronicler and by a memo appended to several of the chancery rolls. Edward II was twenty-eight at the time of his son’s birth, Queen Isabella either seventeen or shortly to turn seventeen. The king, extravagantly delighted at the birth of his heir, made him earl of Chester when he was eleven days old and showered him with lands and his own large household, and Edward II’s subjects, especially in London, celebrated with feasts, dancing and wine for at least a week. Although Edward was present at Windsor Castle when his son was born, he granted a huge income of eighty pounds a year to one John Launge and his wife Joan for the simple expedient of walking from one part to the castle to another to bring him the good news.
Edward III was conceived in York in or around late February 1312, a little over four years after his parents’ wedding. The delay is easily explained by Queen Isabella’s youth: twelve at marriage and sixteen at conception. There is no doubt whatsoever that the king and queen were together in York to conceive their son, as their itineraries at this time both survive and show that Isabella joined her husband in the city on 21 February. William Wallace, whom Braveheart presents as the father of Isabella’s eldest child, had been executed on 23 August 1305, when she was barely ten years old and still in France.
Roger Mortimer, the baron with whom Isabella began some kind of relationship in Paris in late 1325 or early 1326, was in Ireland in 1312 and cannot have fathered Edward III, as put forward in Paul Doherty’s Death of a King and other modern novels and internet articles. (Nor is there any reason to suppose that Isabella and Mortimer had any kind of relationship this early, thirteen years before they actually did.)
Fourteen-year-old Edward III succeeded his father in January 1327 when Edward II was forced to abdicate his throne to him, and began ruling in his own right in October 1330, when he threw off the tutelage of his mother and Roger Mortimer. He married Philippa of Hainault in January 1328 and was succeeded as king on his death in June 1377, aged sixty-four, by his ten-year-old grandson Richard II.
2) John of Eltham, earl of Cornwall, born in Eltham, Kent on 15 August 1316
Second child and second son of Edward II and Isabella. It would have been conventional to call him Philip after his maternal grandfather Philip IV of France, but Isabella chose the name John, presumably in honour of the new pope, John XXII (news of his election reached England at the time of little John’s birth). Edward II was 230 miles away in York at the time, and gave a very generous gift of a hundred pounds to Isabella’s steward, who rode to bring him the news.
The St Albans chronicler Trokelowe comments on Edward’s joy at the birth of his son. He had heard the news by 24 August, eight days later, on which day he asked the Dominican friars of York to say prayers for himself, Isabella, their elder son Edward “and John of Eltham our youngest son, especially on account of John.” He had several pieces of cloth-of-gold sent to Eltham to cover the font in the chapel during John’s baptism, and ordered Isabella’s tailor to make her a robe from five pieces of white velvet for her churching ceremony forty days after the birth.
About nine months before John’s birth, the king and queen had been together at the royal hunting lodge of Clipstone in Nottinghamshire. Edward II’s request to the church of St Mary in Lincoln on 22 February 1316 to “celebrate divine service daily for the good estate of the king and Queen Isabella and Edward their first-born son” probably indicates that he had recently learnt of the queen’s pregnancy and knew that they would have a second child. A month later, he paid twenty pounds for a horse “to carry the litter of the lady the queen” while she was pregnant, and also bought cushions for her carriage so that she could travel in comfort.
John of Eltham was made earl of Cornwall in the parliament of October 1328 when he was twelve, early in the reign of his brother, and served as regent during Edward III’s absences overseas. He died unmarried and childless in Perth, Scotland on 13 September 1336, still only twenty. His tomb in Westminster Abbey still exists.
3) Eleanor of Woodstock, duchess of Guelders, born in Woodstock, Oxfordshire on 18 June 1318
Edward and Isabella’s elder daughter, conceived while the royal couple were in York in September/October 1317 and born at the royal palace of Woodstock near Oxford. She was named after her paternal grandmother Eleanor of Castile, queen of England. Edward II was present at Woodstock on the day of his daughter’s birth, and gave 500 marks to Queen Isabella “for the feast of her purification.” Eleanor was placed in the care of a nurse named Joan du Bois, and joined the household of her older brothers.
In 1325, Eleanor was betrothed to King Alfonso XI of Castile, who was born in August 1311 and was thus seven years her senior; they were related by common descent from Fernando III of Castile, Eleanor’s great-grandfather and Alfonso’s great-great-grandfather. Edward II declared himself willing to pay £15,000 for Eleanor’s dowry. Owing to Edward’s deposition in 1327, however, the marriage did not go ahead, and in May 1332, the month before her fourteenth birthday, Eleanor married Reynald II, count (later duke) of Guelders in the Low Countries. He was many years her senior, almost the same age as her father in fact, born in about 1290 or 1295, and was a widower with four daughters.
Eleanor gave birth to two sons: Duke Reynald III, who was born in May 1333 a year after Eleanor’s wedding and a month before her fifteenth birthday, and Duke Eduard I, born in March 1336. Eleanor was widowed in October 1343 when she was still only twenty-five, and never remarried. She died on 22 April 1355, not yet thirty-seven, and was buried at Deventer Abbey. Neither of her sons had any legitimate children, but Reynald III had an illegitimate daughter named Ponte.
4) Joan of the Tower, queen of Scotland, born at the Tower of London on 5 July 1321
Youngest child of Edward II and Isabella, born when her father was thirty-seven and her mother twenty-five or -six, and named after her maternal grandmother Queen Joan I of Navarre. Edward was in London at the time, and gave a gift of eighty pounds to the man who travelled through the city from the Tower to inform him of the birth. He arrived at the Tower on 8 July and stayed with his wife and daughter there for six days. Joan was delivered into the care of a nurse named Matilda Perie, formerly the nurse of her older brother John of Eltham.
Joan and her older sister Eleanor were granted their own household sometime in 1324, under the command of the noblewoman Isabella, Lady Hastings (whose husband Ralph Monthermer was the widower of Edward II’s sister Joan of Acre), and lived at Pleshey in Essex and Marlborough in Wiltshire. Joan Jermy, the sister of Edward II’s sister-in-law the countess of Norfolk, took over control of their household in early 1326. In 1325, the king betrothed Joan to the future King Pedro IV of Aragon, born in September 1319 and less then two years her senior, grandson of the then reigning king Jaime II. As with Joan’s sister Eleanor, the marriage never went ahead because of their father’s deposition.
Instead, on 17 July 1328 – just after her seventh birthday – Joan of the Tower married David, son and heir of Robert Bruce, king of Scotland. He was just four at the time, born in March 1324. The following year, the child couple became king and queen of Scotland when Robert Bruce died. Their marriage proved unhappy and childless, and Joan returned to England, where she died on 7 September 1362, aged forty-one. David married again but had no children with his second wife either, and was succeeded as king by his nephew Robert II, first of the Stewart line.
5) Adam, Edward II’s illegitimate son
Little is known of Adam, Edward II’s illegitimate son, even the identity of his mother or his approximate date of birth. He is assumed to have been born between about about 1305 and 1310, when Edward was in his early to mid-twenties. Adam only appears on record in 1322, when Edward went on a failed military campaign to Scotland, and Adam accompanied him and was given money to buy himself provisions and equipment. He was old enough to take part in a military campaign, but young enough to have a tutor, Hugh Chastilloun. Adam died during the campaign, perhaps of the dysentery which swept through the English army, probably no older than his mid-teens. Edward II had him buried at Tynemouth Priory.
Kathryn Warner’s new book, Edward II: The Unconventional King, focuses on his relationships with his male ‘favourites’ and his disaffected wife, on his unorthodox lifestyle and hobbies, and on the mystery surrounding his death. Using almost exclusively fourteenth-century sources and Edward’s own letters and speeches wherever possible, Kathryn strips away the myths which have been created about him over the centuries, and provides a far more accurate and vivid picture of him than has previously been seen.
Kathryn Warner holds two degrees in medieval history from the University of Manchester. She is considered a foremost expert on Edward II and runs the Edward II Blog. You can find her on Facebook and Twitter.
Edward II: The Unconventional King is available to buy now at the Amberley website or on Amazon.com