Isabella returns to England from France
The following account of the final days of Isabella is taken from John Timbs, “Nooks and corners of English life, past and present,” Second edition, London (1867): Griffith and Farran, pp.148-53--* (punctuation modernized)
THE PRIVATE LIFE OF A QUEEN OF ENGLAND
ONE of the most interesting records of the domestic life of our ancestors is a series of “Notices of the Last Days of Isabella, Queen of Edward II, drawn from an Account of the Expenses of her Household,” and communicated to the Society of Antiquaries, by Mr. E. A. Bond, of the British Museum. Nothing can exceed the minuteness of this memorial of the domestic manners of the middle of the fourteenth century—no court circular ever chronicled the movements of royalty more circumstantially than does this household account.
After the deposition and murder of Edward II, we hear little of the story of the chief mover of these events. Having mentioned the execution of Mortimer, Froissart tells us that the King ordered his mother to be confined in a goodly castle and gave her plenty of ladies to wait and attend on her, as well as knights and esquires of honour. He made her a handsome allowance to keep and maintain the state she had been used to, but forbade that she should ever go out or drive herself abroad, except at certain times, when any shows were exhibited in the court of the castle. The King visited her twice or thrice a year. Castle Rising was the place of her confinement. Here the Queen took up her abode in 1330; after the first two years, the strictness of her seclusion was relaxed. She died at Hertford, August 22, 1358, and was buried in the church of the Grey Friars, within Newgate, now the site of Christ's Hospital.
The account of the Queen's expenses is one of the Cotton MSS. in the British Museum. It embraces, in distinct divisions, the Queen's general daily expenses; sums given in alms; miscellaneous necessary expenses; disbursements for dress; purchases of plate and jewellery; gifts; payments to messengers; and imprests for various services. In the margin of the general daily expenses are entered the names of the visitors during the day, together with the movements of the household from place to place. From these notices, in addition to the light they throw upon the domestic life of the period, we gain some insight into the degree of personal freedom enjoyed by the Queen and her connections, the consideration she obtained at the Court of Edward III her son, and even into her personal disposition and occupations. These particulars relate to her last days.
It appears that, at the beginning of October 1357, the Queen was residing at her castle of Hertford, having not very long before been at Rising. The first visitor mentioned, and who sups with her, was Joan her niece. Joan visited the Queen constantly and nursed her in her last illness.
About the middle of October, Queen Isabella set out from Hertford on a pilgrimage to Canterbury. She rested at Tottenham, London, Eltham, Dartford and Rochester. In going or returning [she] visited Leeds Castle, and was again at Hertford in the beginning of November. She gave alms to the nuns—Minoresses without Aldgate; to the rector of St. Edmund's in London, in whose parish her hostel was situated (Lombard Street); and to the prisoners in Newgate. On the 26th of October she entertained the King and Prince of Wales, in her own house in Lombard Street; and we have recorded a gift of thirteen shillings and fourpence to four minstrels who played in their presence.
On the 16th of November, after her return to Hertford Castle, she was visited by the Gascon warrior, Captal de Buche, cousin of the Comte de Foix. He had recently come over to England with the Prince of Wales, having fought with the English at Poitiers. Subsequent entries record the visits of several noble captives taken in that battle.
On the following day is recorded a visit, at dinner, of the "Comes de la March," considered to be Roger Mortimer, Earl of March, the grandson of her favourite. He was high in Edward the Third's confidence and appears to have been in England at the present time: under the head of donations is notice of a sum paid to four minstrels of the Earl of March. His visit was subsequently twice repeated, and then in company with the King (by whom, as Froissart tells us, "he was much loved") and the Prince of Wales. “And thus," says Mr. Bond, "we have an indication that time has scarcely weakened Isabella's fidelity to a criminal attachment [my emphasis]; although [Mortimer] had been torn from her, she still cherished his memory and sought her friends among those most nearly allied to him."
On the 28th of November and the two following days, the Queen entertained the Earl of Tancarville, one of the captives at Poitiers. With him [was] the Earl of Salisbury, who was connected with the Mortimers, being brother-in-law to the existing Earl of March. His father had personally acted a principal part in arresting Isabella's paramour in Nottingham Castle. On the 15th of December, the Queen was visited by the Countess of Pembroke, one of Isabella's closest friends. And, again, what can we infer but a clinging on her part to the memory of Mortimer, when we find that this lady was his daughter? and thus visits were received by Isabella from a daughter, the grandson, and grandson's brother-in-law, of her favourite, within the space of one month.
On the 10th of February messengers arrive from the King of Navarre, to announce, as it appears elsewhere, his escape from captivity: an indication that Isabella was still busy in the stirring events in her native country. On the 20th of March the King comes to supper. On each day of the first half of the month of May, during the Queen's stay in London, the entries show her guests at dinner and her visitors after dinner and at supper, as formally as a court circular of our own time.
Of the several entries we select a few of the more interesting. On three occasions in March guests came to supper with the Queen: Lionel, Earl of Ulster; the King; and the Earl of Richmond. The supper of that period was given, probably, at five o'clock, three hours earlier than the royal dinner of our time.
In April we find reference to the Queen's journey to Windsor, upon which Mr. Bond remarks: "There is no room for doubt, therefore (though the chroniclers make no mention of the circumstance), that the object of Isabella's journey was to be present at the festivities held at Windsor by Edward III in celebration of St. George's Day, the 23d of April—festivities set forth with unwonted magnificence, in honour of the many crowned heads and noble foreigners then in England, and to which strangers from all countries were offered safe letters of conduct." From an entry in May, we find a donation of the considerable sum of six pounds thirteen shillings to a messenger from Windsor, certifying her of the conclusion of terms of a peace between Edward III and his captive, John of France. The same sum is given by Isabella, the same day, to a courier bearing a letter from Queen Philippa, conveying the same intelligence.
On May 14, Isabella left London, resting at Tottenham, on her way to Hertford. A payment is recorded of a gift of six shillings and eightpence to the nuns of Cheshunt, who met the Queen at the cross in the high road in front of their house.
On the 4th of June, Isabella set out on a pilgrimage to Canterbury and a visit to Leeds Castle. At Canterbury, on the 10th and llth, she entertained the Abbot of St. Augustine's. Under "Alms" are recorded the Queen's oblations at the tomb of St. Thomas and her payment to minstrels playing "in volta;" as also her oblations in the church of St. Augustine and her donations to various hospitals and religious houses in Canterbury.
Respecting Isabella's death, she is stated by chroniclers to have sunk, in the course of a single day, under the effect of a too powerful medicine--administered at her own desire. In this account, however, she appears to have been in a state requiring medical treatment for some time previous to her decease. She expired on August 22; however, as early as February 15, a payment had been made to a messenger going on three several occasions to London for divers medicines for the Queen, and for the hire of a horse for Master Lawrence, the physician; and again for another journey by night to London. On the same day a second payment was made to the same messenger for two other journeys by night to London, and two to St. Albans, to procure medicines for the Queen. On the 1st of August, payment was made to Nicholas Thomasyer, apothecary, of London, for divers spices and ointment supplied for the Queen's use. Among the other entries is a payment to Master Lawrence of forty shillings, for attendance on the Queen and the Queen of Scotland, at Hertford, for an entire month.
It is evident that the body of the Queen remained in the chapel of the castle until November 23, as a payment is made to fourteen poor persons for watching the Queen's corpse there, day and night, from Saturday, the 25th of August, to the above date, each of them receiving twopence daily, besides his food. "While the body lay at Hertford, a solemn mass was performed in the chapel, when the daily expenditure rose from the average of six pounds to fifteen and twenty-five pounds. The Queen's funeral took place on the 27th: she was interred in the choir of the church of the Grey Friars, the Archbishop of Canterbury officiating, and the King himself being present at the ceremony. Just twenty-eight years before, on nearly the same day, the body of her paramour Mortimer was consigned to its grave in the same building [ed. note: Roger was actually buried in Austin Priory, Wigmore].
The Alms amount to the considerable sum of 298l. They consist of chapel offerings; donations to religious houses; to clergymen preaching in the Queen's presence; to special applicants for charity; and to paupers. The most interesting entry, perhaps, is that of a donation of forty shillings to the abbess and minoresses without Aldgate, in London, to purchase for themselves two pittances on the anniversaries of Edward, late King of England, and Sir John, of Eltham (the Queen's son), given on the 20th of November. This is the sole instance of any mention in the account of the unhappy Edward II.
Among these items is a payment to the nuns of Cheshunt for meeting the Queen in the high road in front of their house: and this is repeated on every occasion of the Queen's passing the priory in going to or from Hertford. There is more than one entry of alms given to poor scholars of Oxford, who had come to ask it of the Queen. A distribution is made amongst a hundred or fifty poor persons on the principal festivals of the year, amongst which that of Queen Katharine is included. Doles also are made among paupers daily and weekly throughout the year, amounting in one year and a month to 102l. On the 12th of September, after the Queen's death, a payment of twenty shillings is made to William Ladde, of Shene (Richmond), on account of the burning of his house by an accident while the Queen was staying at Shene.
Under the head of "Necessaries," we find a payment of fifty shillings to carpenters, plasterers, and tilers, for works in the Queen's chamber, for making a staircase from the chamber to the chapel, &c. Afterwards we find half-yearly payments of twenty-five shillings and twopence to the Prioress of St. Helen's, in London, as rent for the Queen's house in Lombard Street; a purchase of two small "catastse," or cages, for birds, in the Queen's chamber; and of hemp-seed for the same birds. From an entry under "Gifts," it appears that two small birds were given to Isabella by the King on the 26th of November. Next are payments for binding the black carpet in the Queen's chamber; for repairs of the castle; lining the Queen's chariot with coloured cloth; repairs of the Queen's bath, and gathering of herbs for it. Also, payments to William Taterford, for six skins of vellum for writing the Queen's books; and for writing a book of divers matters for the Queen, fourteen shillings, including cost of parchment; to Richard Painter, for azure for illuminating the Queen's books; the repayment of the sum of 200l borrowed of Richard Earl of Arundel; the purchase of an embroidered saddle, with gold fittings, and a black palfrey, given to the Queen of Scotland; a payment to Louis de Posan, merchant, of the Society of Mallebaill, in London, for two mules bought by him at Avignon for the Queen, 28l 13s. The mules arrived after the Queen's death, and were given over to the King.
The division of the account relating to her jewels affords an insight into the personal character of Isabella, showing that the events of her life and her increasing years had not overcome her natural passion for personal display. The total amount expended on jewels was no less than 1,399l; and, says Mr. Bond, "after ample allowance for the acknowledged general habit of indulgence in personal ornaments belonging to the period, we cannot but consider Isabella's outlay on her trinkets as exorbitant, and as betraying a more than common weakness for those vain luxuries." The more costly were purchased of Italian merchants. Her principal English jewellers appear to have been John de Louthe and William de Berking, goldsmiths, of London. In a general entry of 421l paid for divers articles of jewellery to Pardo Pardi, and Bernardo Donati, Italian merchants, are items of a chaplet of gold, set with "bulays" (rubies), sapphires, emeralds, diamonds, and pearls, price 105l; divers pearls, 87l; a crown of gold set with sapphires, rubies of Alexandria, and pearls, price 80l. The payment was not made till the 8th of August; but there can be little doubt that these royal ornaments were ordered for the occasion of Isabella's visit to Windsor, at the celebration of St. George's Day. Among other entries, is a payment of 32l for several articles: namely, for a girdle of silk studded with silver, 20s, three hundred doublets (rubies) at twentypence the hundred; 1,800 pearls at twopence each; and a circlet of gold of the price of 16l, bought for the marriage of Katharine Brouart; another of a pair of tablets of gold, enamelled with divers histories, of the price of 9l.
The division of “Dona,” besides entries of simple presents and gratuities, contains notes of gifts to messengers from acquaintances; and others, giving us further insight into the connexions maintained by the Queen. Notices of messengers bringing letters from the Countesses of Warren and Pembroke are very frequent. Under the head of "Prestita," moreover, is an entry of a sum of 230l given to Sir Thomas de la March, in money, paid to him by the hands of Henry Pikard, citizen of London (doubtless the magnificent Lord Mayor of that name, who so royally entertained King John of France, the King of Cyprus, and the Prince of Wales, at this period) as a loan from Queen Isabella, on the obligatory letter of the same Sir Thomas: he is known as the victor in a duel, fought at Windsor, in presence of Edward III, with Sir John Viscomte, in 1350. To the origin of Isabella's interest in him we find no clue.
Several payments to couriers refer to the liberation of Charles, King of Navarre, proving that the Queen was not indifferent to the events passing in her native country. Charles of Navarre [was] perhaps the most unprincipled sovereign of his age, known in his country's annals under the designation of "the Wicked."
Among the remaining notices of messengers and letters, we have mention of the King's butler coming to the Queen at Hertford, with letters of the King, and a present of three pipes of wine; a messenger from the King, with three casks of Gascon wine; another messenger from the King, with a present of small birds; John of Paris, coming from the King of France to the Queen at Hertford and returning with two volumes of Lancelot and the Sang Real, sent to the same King by Isabella; a messenger bringing a boar's head and breast from the Duke of Lancaster, Henry Plantagenet; William Orloger, Monk of St. Albans, bringing to the Queen several quadrants of copper; a messenger bringing a present of a falcon from the King; a present of a wild boar from the King and of a cask of Gascon wine; a messenger, bringing a present of twenty-four bream from the Countess of Clare; and payments to messengers bringing new year's gifts from the King, Queen Philippa, the Countess of Pembroke, and Lady Wake.
Frequent payments to minstrels playing in the Queen's presence occur, sufficient to show that Isabella greatly delighted in this entertainment; and these are generally minstrels of the King, the Prince, or of noblemen, such as the Earl of March, the Earl of Salisbury, and others. And we find a curious entry of a payment of thirteen shillings and fourpence to Walter Hert, one of the Queen's "vigiles" (viol-players), going to London, staying there in order to learn minstrelsy at Lent time; and again, of a further sum to the same on his return from London, "de scola menstralcie."
Of special presents by the Queen, we have mention of new year's gifts to the ladies of her chamber, eight in number, of one hundred shillings to each, and twenty shillings each to thirty-three clerks and squires; a girdle to Edward de Ketilbergh, the Queen's ward; a donation of forty shillings to Master Lawrence, the surgeon, for attendance on the Queen; a present of fur to the Countess of Warren; a small gift to Isabella Spicer, her god-daughter; and a present of sixty-six pounds to Isabella de St. Pol, lady of the Queen's bed-chamber, on occasion of her marriage with Edward Brouart. Large rewards, amounting together to 540l, were given after Isabella's death, by the King's order, to her several servants, for their good service to the Queen in her lifetime.
The division of Messengers contains payments for the carriage of letters to the Queen's officers and acquaintances. Among them we find mention of a letter to the Prior of Westminster, "for a certain falcon of the Count of Tancarville lost, and found by the said Prior."
The period of the account is from the 1st of October 1357 to the 5th of December in the following year, the same being continued "beyond the date of the Queen's death.” The totals of the several divisions of the account are (in pounds, shillings and pence):
The Household Expenses amount to
The Household Expenses amount to
4,014 2 11 ½
298 18 7 ½
1,395 6 11
542 10 4 ½
1,399 0 4
1,248 5 2 ½
14 12 10
313 4 3 ½
Making a general total of more than 9,000 pounds
*Review of an article by E. A. Bond, “Notices of the Last Days of Isabella, Queen of Edward II, drawn from an Account of the Expenses of her Household," published in Archaeologia 35 (1854): 453-69.