By the dawn of 1318, Edward II’s royal favourites, Roger Damory, Hugh Audley the Younger and William Montacute still dominated at court. Thomas of Lancaster, the king’s cousin, remained in the north, isolated from his peers and repeatedly refusing to attend upon the king because of his suspicions of Edward’s motives for revenge for the murder of Piers Gaveston in 1312. As the king surrounded himself by men he himself had promoted, tension across England was positively palpable. As the royal favourites grew confident, so to did their open criticism of Lancaster, the premier earl in England. Before long Thomas was openly accused of treachery, deceit and collusion with the Scots all of which played specifically to Edward’s desire for revenge. In an age when public defamation demanded a direct response, what could follow would almost inevitably be entirely confrontational. Add in Thomas’ taste for violence and these were particularly dangerous times. Against such a backdrop the emboldened Scots, headed by Robert the Bruce, continued to raid into northern England and by April 1318, the mighty castle and fortified town of Berwick fell into enemy hands. Edward and his council had to act immediately before all of Scotland was lost or worse still, Bruce could turn the role of hunted into hunter. England was in danger of being consumed on all sides.
But not all men at court were prepared to let England slide unceremoniously into civil war. Aymer de Valence, earl of Pembroke, Bartholomew de Badlesmere and many of the bishops of England were voices of moderation swimming against the tide of personal rivalries. Earls such as Hereford, Arundel and Richmond to, whilst supporting the king, were tired of internal division and conflict. Those seeking reconciliation between Edward and Lancaster quickly realised that the royal favourites needed curbing in their influence and so through a series of indentures which began in November 1317, Damory and later Audley bound themselves to Pembroke and Badlesmere in an act of mutual aid. Damory promised to convince Edward to be guided by Pembroke and Badlesmere, whilst in return Damory would receive protection from them should he be attacked by the likes of Lancaster.(1) It was a shrewd policy. With the royal favourites position ultimately safeguarded but now contained, the stage was set for Pembroke and others to open a dialogue between Edward and his cousin, which resulted in a protracted set of tortuous negotiations lasting through the first half of 1318. By 11 June Edward himself had been convinced of the need to mend the bridges, at least on the surface, and ordered ‘Damory, Audley, Hugh Despenser the Younger, William Montacute and John Charlton to not impede or threaten Lancaster or his men in any way when the earl came to make peace with the king’.(2)
Two months later, on 9 August the two parties finally met at Leake and Thomas was received into the king’s peace. The royal favourites meekly made their apologies and received the earl’s grace.(3) At the subsequent parliament at York the royal favourites were retired from court, albeit it temporarily, whilst Hugh Despenser the Younger was confirmed in his appointment by men such as Lancaster to the role of Chamberlain, once held by Piers Gaveston. William Montacute was appointed seneschal of Gascony and left shortly after parliament, dying there in October 1319. The patchwork policy of peace continued. In November 1318, Damory and Audley agreed to pay compensation to Lancaster for any injuries they had caused him both in person and reputation with Damory settling 906 marks 7s 4d and Audley 1,229 marks 6s 6d respectively.(4) It was a humiliating moment for them and marked a turning point in their positions at court. Edward was being directed once more towards moderation, but as events would soon show, other forces far more sinister were also at play.
The resulting Treaty of Leake promised harmony and unity by virtue of its design so the king and the court could once again turn their attention against the Scots. However, like all rifts which were deeply personal, treaties were not enough to heal old wounds between Edward and his cousin. As a united English army numbering approximately 10,000 men marched on Scotland, the need to recapture the town of Berwick was key to the campaign, allowing the army a military base on the border in the absence of any English held castles now in Scotland. The siege began in earnest on 7 September at which point Edward rather prematurely promised to grant the town to Roger Damory and the castle to Hugh Despenser the Younger once it had fallen, which only angered Lancaster who expected a slice of the goods yet to be won. However, within ten days the campaign had disintegrated as bitter feuds and accusations of treachery permanently divided the English command.(5)
As the English focussed on Berwick, an advanced guard of Scots, under the command of the Black Douglas, raided into northern England via Carlisle outflanking the English and possibly, albeit unsuccessfully, attempted to capture Queen Isabella who was at York before she moved south to the royal castle at Nottingham. The English command at Berwick was thrown into a state of confusion as Edward and those from southern England proposed to send a relief force south to fend off the Scots whilst the rest of the army pressed on north against the Bruce. Lancaster and the northern barons wanted to break off the siege altogether and return to defend their English lands in person. Old gossip was quickly reimagined and swirled around the camp claiming that Lancaster was colluding with the Scots, his lands having often remained free from attack since 1314. 1319 was no real exception. As tension in the camp mounted, Edward was overheard promising revenge for the murder of Gaveston, and with Damory and now Hugh Despenser the younger stoking up the flames of hatred between Edward and his cousin once more, Lancaster deserted the king and the siege altogether. Without the earl and his large retinue the chance of success in Scotland evaporated leaving Edward with no other alternative but to break the siege and return to York. Bitter rivalry at the hands of the royal favourites had once again stirred up underlying hatred between Edward and his cousin. The Treaty of Leake was already a dead letter.
The greatest threat to Roger Damory and Hugh Audley however, proved in the end, to stem from a cuckoo who sat, growing ever larger, in the nest of royal favourites. Hugh Despenser the Younger, who had married Edward’s niece Eleanor de Clare in 1306, had after his appointment as chamberlain in 1318 quickly secured the affection of the king. Despener’s hold over Edward became so entrenched, so complete and so devastating, that it is as much to do with the sinister character of Despenser himself as it is Edward’s propensity towards male company. Once Hugh was confident in his hold over the king, he began to use his office as chamberlain to isolate Edward from those around him. Before long, Damory and Audley, once those closest to the king during the middle years of the reign were quickly ousted from his immediate affection. To underline his position Despenser began to receive patronage far greater than Damory, Audley or Montacute had ever enjoyed. As Despenser’s wealth and power grew at an alarming rate between 1318-21, not only did the royal favourites fear for themselves and their possessions, but so to did every magnate in England.
Roger Damory and Hugh Audley were by 1320 left firmly out in the cold. As Hugh Despenser the Younger made attempts to seize lands in Glamorgan in Wales, which directly impacted on their own possessions, the two men allied themselves with a distinctly nervous earl of Hereford and Roger Mortimer of Chirk and his nephew and namesake, Roger Mortimer of Wigmore amongst others. As tension mounted, the Marcher lords, based in the western March on the border between England and Wales, bound themselves together and rose up in violent rebellion against Hugh Despenser the Younger, and his father Hugh Despenser the Elder, despite Edward’s protests and warnings to desist. The summer of 1321 was a bloody affair as the Marcher lords attacked manors, houses, castles and lands associated with the Despensers, grabbing estates and killing innocent civilians in an attempt to force the king into exiling the two men. Damory and Audley were just as brutal in their opposition. At Westminster in August 1321, under immense pressure and without any real support (even the earl of Pembroke against such opposition counselled the king to acquiesce), Edward acknowledged the demand for the permanent exile of the Despensers. Roger Damory and Hugh Audley had, in Edward’s mind, now deserted him entirely. One of the defining facets of Edward II’s character was loyalty. Conversely those who broke it were doomed to sit in perpetual opposition. Edward had no room for forgiveness to those whom he once trusted the most.
The strength of feeling that Roger Damory and Hugh Audley felt against Hugh Despener the Younger is laid bare by their actions and allegiances in 1321-22. After the Marcher lords had made their war in Glamorgan, they, including Damory and Audley began to work alongside Thomas of Lancaster, attending a meeting held by the earl at Sherburn on 28 June 1321 before placing pressure on the king to bring about the Despensers’ exile in the months that followed.(6) This was not the last time either. This is an extraordinary turn around given the bitter hatred between Lancaster and Damory, which for the moment, was put to one side against the threat of the Despensers.
By the early autumn of 1321, Edward II began a spectacular fight back which is subject of future blog posts. Despite receiving a royal pardon in the Westminster parliament of 1321, the Marcher lords knew they were in real danger, especially when the king claimed he had only given it under duress and it was clear that his ‘heart was bursting with desire for vengeance’.(7) On 28 November 1321, Edward ordered Damory and Audley to give up the Despenser lands they had taken during the rebellion months earlier, but both men suspicious and now entirely alienated from the king simply ignored his demands. As others followed suit, Edward gave orders for an army to assemble at Cirencester on 13 December.(8) The king was determined to bring down those who opposed him once and for all, and this of course included his once closest of friends.
For Damory and Audley panic set in. As Edward’s army gained significant gains in the west, the Mortimers of Wigmore and Chirk surrendered and were promptly imprisoned on 22 January 1322. On 6 February, Audley’s father, Hugh Audley the Elder surrendered along with Maurice de Berkeley at Gloucester and were subsquently imprisoned.(9)As three knights were hanged in the town shortly after, it was becoming clear that Edward was allowing little quarter whilst he was pursuing his enemies.(10) He needed to be sure that they were under his safe keeping and without chance of escape. In the past those of such rank who surrendered were allowed to prove their loyalty by working with the king on his campaign, yet on this occasion after his humiliating treatment at the Westminster parliament months prior, Edward made it clear he was in no mood for compromise. For Damory, Audley, Hereford and Lancaster, all still in opposition, the stakes were dangerously high as they fled from Gloucester to Pontefract to join the latter in one last show down.
The end game was played out quickly. Letters were discovered by William Melton, archbishop of Canterbury proving Lancaster’s collusion with the Scots which Edward quickly had published.(11) Support for the remaining rebels melted away, made worse when Lancaster unfurled his banners near his castle at Tutbury at a crossing of the river at Burton-on-Trent on 3 March 1322. This act alone legally placed Lancaster in direct opposition to the king; itself an act of treason. Damory and Audley were now beyond the law by association. Edward’s army attempted to cross the Trent where Lancaster, Damory et al were positioned yet the king could not break through. Eventually his army discovered a crossing further upstream.(12) Lancaster and Hereford fled with Audley north, but in the ensuing retreat, Roger Damory was mortally wounded. He fled, bleeding to death to Tutbury castle where the was captured. On 13 March, without the opportunity to defend himself, he was tried and found guilty of treason. Edward in a last moment of pity spared him execution, knowing full well that Damory was not likely to recover from his wounds. True enough he died shortly afterwards, alone, a traitor and beyond Edward’s redemption.(12)
Hugh Audley the Younger was eventually captured to. Unlike Damory he was immediately imprisoned and in July 1322, after Edward was victorious over his enemies including his over-mighty cousin Thomas of Lancaster, Audley was spared death on account of his marriage to Edward’s niece Margaret, who had also been Piers Gaveston’s former wife. Audley’s lands were confiscated and he was cast into the Tower of London, whilst his father and namesake was imprisoned at Wallingford Castle.(13)
The rise and fall of Edward II’s royal favourites, Roger Damory, Hugh Audley the Younger and William Montacute is a tale of intrigue and great hiatus. From winning the favour of their king, they quickly rose to power consolidated through substantial and significant grants of lands, wardships and lucrative marriage alliances. They dominated court and as Edward II grappled with his burning desire to bring about revenge for the murder of Piers Gaveston in 1312, these royal favourites gave the king both confidence and power. They were his own men. However, as a new favourite rose to power, Hugh Despenser the Younger was a cuckoo in the nest and quickly found ways to isolate and remove the former favourites from Edward’s influence. Before long, in desperation and from a position of isolation, Damory and Audley were forced to defend themselves. Yet in their actions, which were greatly disproportionate both in the savagery of their rebellion against the Despensers and in opposing Edward by association, they ultimately payed a high price; Damory with his life and Audley through imprisonment. It is a sad tale of men made great and brought low and is the epitome of the medieval wheel of fortune; fate and fortune is never fixed for long.
(1) E/163/4/6. Parliamentary Writs, II, ii, App. 120
(2) Philips, App 4, 321-2. Seymour, 315
(3) Vita, 88
(4) CCR, 1318-23, 109-10
(5) Gesta Edwardi, 57. Melsa, 336, Flores 188
(6) Flores, 197. Gesta Edwardi, 62
(7) Anonimalle, 103. Vita, 116
(8) CCR, 1318-23, 408, 506, 508. CPR, 1321-24, 38
(9) Vita, 119. Anonimalle, 107
(10) Flores, 203. Vita 120
(11) CCR, 1318-23, 525-6. Foedera, II, 463, 472, 474. Ann Paul, 302
(12) Vita, 122. Gesta Edwardi, 74. Anonimalle, 104-5
(13) Vita, 123
(14) Fryde, 63
One -Homage: Spanish Manuscript
Two – Besieging a castle
Three – Knight on horseback. BL Harley 3244, f.28
Four – BL Cotton Claudis DII f.33
Five – Battle by a river. Milan MS Hunter 370 (v.17)
2 thoughts on “All the King’s Men: The Forgotten Royal Favourites (Part Two)”