A Lesson in Loyalty: The Life of Aymer de Valence, Earl of Pembroke (Part Two)

Aymer de Valence, by the close of 1312, had regained the king’s confidence. The murder of Piers Gaveston at the hands of the Blacklow earls as they became known had shocked contemporaries. The earl of Pembroke would from this moment do everything in his power to serve Edward II, but in doing so, provided a moderating influence so essential during the middle years of the king’s reign. Part one of Aymer’s story was dramatic (Click here for Part One)  but so to is the rest of his story.

bl-harley-3244-f-28Immediately after Gaveston’s death at Blacklow Hill, Pembroke threw himself on, and received, the mercy of Edward II. The king immediately put him to good use, relying heavily on Pembroke’s skills as a diplomat. On 6 August Aymer was sent to France along with Henry de Beaumont to both seek French and later papal support to move against the Blacklow earls; who for a year, remained in defiant and tense opposition, and on occasion, assembled with their army just north of London. Pembroke and Beaumont also had another mission, for Edward was determined to seek the annulment of the Ordinances, which he had been held accountable to since the late summer of 1311. In the end Aymer’s diplomatic efforts proved successful in as much as French and papal support was secured, envoys promptly arrived in England, and over the next year, a painful set of negotiations were conducted, in which Pembroke played a part in bringing about a fragile peace between Edward and Gaveston’s murderers.(1)

As the country felt the political tension, Pembroke was also able to maintain peace in the fractious city of London. On 20 September 1312, he went to the Guildhall asking the mayor, aldermen and citizens of London for further guarantees that they would not let Lancaster, Warwick and other royal malefactors into the city until the king allowed it. The Londoners took offence and promptly issued Pembroke, Hugh Despenser the Elder, John Crombwell, Constable of the Tower and other officials with a list of grievances against the courts of the Steward and the Marshall. Tension rose in the capital, and over night Crombwell rashly – or perhaps deliberately – sent a small garrison into the local ward to ruff up the inhabitants. In response, a London mob stormed the Tower precinct and were able to destroy a wall of an enclosure. Pembroke, clever as he was, was then able to capitalise on the situation and accused the mob of attempting to break into the Tower to seize the king’s treasure. To avoid punishment, the Londoners’ suddenly put aside their grievances. To further strengthen the city, Pembroke ordered 1,000 foot from Kent and Sussex on 30 September.(2) As a result the city was secured once more and the Londoners refused to open their gates to the king’s enemies.  If Edward had lost the support of the capital, his position in countering his enemies would have been greatly weakened. In the end, Pembroke, like his king, would never trust the earls of Lancaster and Warwick again, but unlike Edward, Aymer – always the moderator – would at least try to bring them to the table for the sake of the government of the kingdom. Pembroke knew that men as uncompromising as the earls of Lancaster and Warwick could not be ignored for long.

In 1314, after a fragile peace was secured, Edward II turned his attention to Robert the Bruce in Scotland, who in the intervening years of civil strife in England, had consolidated his gains, mostly unified the Scottish people behind his crown and taken the fight to the northern marches of England. The king, refusing to give up his claim to the kingdom of Scotland rode off to war, taking with him Aymer, earls, barons and 15,000-20,000 infantry, calvary and other men-at-arms. Pembroke, as lord of Bothwell, a title granted to him by Edward I, was no doubt keen to head into his lands in Scotland and finally take the benefit of them. The campaign however was to prove disastrous. On midsummer’s day 1314, the English and Scottish armies met in the shadow of Stirling Castle and at a bend of the Bannock Burn. The last time Bruce had fought the English directly was in 1306 at Methven which Pembroke led and won, and then at Loudoun Hill in 1307, which Aymer subsequently lost. In the intervening years the Scots had preferred, and indeed prospered by, adopting guerrilla tactics against the English. During the battle Edward’s army was outmanoeuvred in difficult terrain and the fight quickly turned into an English massacre.

Aymer fought by the king’s side throughout the battle. So fierce and intense was the fighting, that the king’s horse was killed from underneath him and he had to be immediately remounted.  According to one chronicler the king fought like ‘a lioness deprived of her cubs’.(3) There is no reason to assume that Pembroke fought any differently. As the Scots closed in, the king’s shield bearer, Roger Northburgh was captured. Things were rapidly closing in on them. Pembroke quickly realised the enormity of the situation, and taking the initiative, seized Edward’s reins and demanded that he leave the field, otherwise risk capture. The king protested, but Pembroke was able in the heat of the moment to convince him to flee. Had Edward been captured, all hope of winning in Scotland was lost and the ransom to release the king of England would have been extortionate. Aymer, along with Giles d’Argentein, whilst still fighting the enemy, rallied together as many as 500 mounted men, and together with Edward fled the field, leaving for Dunbar with the Black Douglas in hot pursuit. While the role of seizing the king’s reign is a formal one in medieval battle, Edward was ultimately saved from capture due to Pembroke’s quick thinking and bravery. Having fled the field, they were indeed free to to fight another day. Aymer once more had demonstrated both his courage and loyalty to his cousin the king.

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Aymer de Valence was able, in the heat of battle, to save Edward II from capture in 1314

After the English defeat at Bannockburn, the earl of Lancaster, and to some extent the earl of Warwick until his death in 1315, rose to power dominating politics at court. Edward was forced to reissue the Ordinances and for two years was restricted to working alongside Lancaster who demanded reforms. Pembroke remained with the king, and as ever was called upon to help Edward during times of political crisis. On 20 June 1316, Edward ordered de Valence and William Inge to Bristol to besiege the town whose inhabitants had taken control after a long standing dispute with another of the king’s ministers, Bartholomew de Badlesmere. Pembroke arrived with siege equipment – mangonels – and by the 26 July it was all over, Pembroke somewhat inevitably winning the day.(4)

Politics in the middle years of the reign of Edward became increasingly polarised, and Aymer was to find himself caught up in the thick of it in a much more personal way in April 1317 than perhaps at any other time since Gaveston’s murder. The month before, he had been sent on a diplomatic mission to Avignon to meet the newly elected pope, John XXII, to help forge a strong relationship between the papacy and England. With success achieved in the main, Pembroke left the rest of the party to see to affairs on his estates at Montignac and then headed on towards Orléans. Before he reached Paris he was ambushed on the road and held to ransom at Étampes either by John de Moiliére, or more likely a man named Jean de Lamouilly, who was a vassal of Edward II’s nephew, Henry, Count of Bar. Kept in an unidentified location, Pembroke’s capture was followed by a ransom demand for the enormous sum of £10,400.(5) The capture of one of Edward’s principal advisors sent the king and the court back in England into a panic. Without Pembroke’s moderating influence, it was feared that the earl of Lancaster, would gain even more political ground against the king.

It appeared that the reason for Pembroke’s ransom had very little to do with him directly, but if anything he was an unfortunate bystander to a bitter dispute between Edward’s nice Joan de Bar, sister to Count Henry and wife to earl Warenne in England since 1306. Their marriage had been stormy and by 1313 had broken down entirely as the earl had long since taken a mistress Maud Nereford, and fathered many children with her. The ensuing marital drama, in which Warenne sought an annulment shortly after their separation, placed the king in a delicate situation. Edward initially supported his niece where he could and paid her expenses once she moved away from her husband. By 1316 the king had realised that there was little hope of reconciliation between the earl and his wife and so agreed to recognise Warenne’s two illegitimate sons, John and Thomas, as the earl’s heirs despite him still being married to Joan. Joan naturally was desperately upset and returned to her brother’s court. The Count of Bar shared his sisters distress and quite possibly through de Lamouilly, took the opportunity to ransom the earl of Pembroke, thereby securing a large sum of money for his sister.

MS Ludwig XIV 6 Fol 255v
Aymer’s kidnap and temporary imprisonment in France in 1317 was unexpected and dramatic.

Aymer de Valence entered this drama as the eleventh hour. It is highly likely that Pembroke was tasked with presenting Warenne’s request for an annulment to the pope during his recent diplomatic mission and, given his position at court, as a cousin to the king, his capture would prove lucrative. While no direct evidence exists that shows Henry ordered his vassal Jean de Lamouilly to capture Pembroke, the facts and the events as they unfold look like more than pure coincidence.(6) The kidnap had the desired effect. Edward and his government worked hard and fast to raise the money to secure the earl’s release, the king himself putting up £2,500 of the £10,400 needed. The earl was free by early July. The episode, while dramatic, and no more so than for Aymer himself, proves the king’s reliance on him for counsel and good government at this time. Pembroke, once released, returned to England with Bartholomew de Badlesmere and Edward’s principal financier Antonio Pessagno on the 4 July 1317, promptly meeting a relieved king at Northampton.

For Aymer, the following years would test him further. Edward II had, since 1312 devoted time to raising up three men who are best described as the middle favourites – Roger Damory, Hugh Audley the Younger and William Montacute (click here {part one} and click here {part two} for more information on these favourites). These men became rich and powerful and as such, found their voices at court. Voices that often openly criticised the earl of Lancaster heightening tension between Edward and his over-mighty cousin. Aymer and Bartholomew de Badlesmere desperately tried to contain them in the interests of preventing civil war in England.

So concerned were they, that their efforts extended on 24 November 1318 to an indenture between themselves and Roger Damory. In it Damory promised to be guided by the two men. He also agreed not to procure or agree to gifts from the king above the value of £20 without first discussing it with Pembroke and Badlesmere. Importantly, Damory also promised not to act in a prejudicial way to the king or his crown or persuade the king into ‘rash action’. If he discovered that anyone else was encouraging Edward to take such a course that was prejudicial to him or to his crown, Damory was to immediately inform Pembroke and Badlesmere. In return, the two men agreed to defend Damory against his enemies, saving only the king. Damory sealed the agreement with pledge of £10,000 and Pembroke and Badlesmere with all their moveable and immoveable goods. This is an extraordinary document and highlights the lengths to which Pembroke and Badlesmere were willing to go in order to gain control over the situation and to protect the king, both from ill counsel and his own rash judgement.(7) It is quite likely, although evidence does not survive, that similar indentures were agreed with Audley and Montacute.

Aymer Pt IIThe king certainly was not offended by the indentures if he was made aware of them. The following year Pembroke continued to receive royal patronage. On 9 September for example, he was granted the English lands of an Irish rebel, Maurice de Caunton. Even his retainers benefited, yet further demonstrating the earl’s closeness to the king, for on 5 November 1319, John Darcy was made sheriff of Nottingham and Derby.(8) On 4 June 1320, Pembroke was made custos regni or ‘Keeper of the Realm’ while Edward and Isabella were out of the kingdom in France from 19 June to 22 July.(9) This was a mark of high honour, in which the keeper was appointed to look after government affairs exercising the king’s authority – albeit it with limitations – during the royal absence.

However, in the end Pembroke’s efforts at containing the royal favourites proved a wise investment if not a short lived one. After 1319, a new favourite began to dominate the court with the rise of Hugh Despenser the Younger, and he, being rapacious, manipulative and calculating, was to place the earl of Pembroke in particular jeopardy. The strong relationship that had been built up between Aymer and Edward II was to be severely and personally tested. Despenser quickly gained control of the king, exercising his role of Chamberlain to its fullest extent. During 1321, when the Despensers – both father and son – rose to particular preeminence and the English Marcher lords rebelled, along with the earl of Lancaster, Pembroke spent most of the time during the crisis absent in France, returning briefly for two months between March and April and then from August onwards. It was a critical blunder but one that Aymer may have engineered, already feeling powerless at the speed and extent of Despenser the Younger’s domination over the king, as well as the rapidly deteriorating political climate which brought about civil war. His absence was likely a calculated one, meaning that as England’s Marcher lords – of which Pembroke was on – were forced to take sides, Pembroke, who was sympathetic to their cause, was not initially forced to abandon his king. He was able to use his urgent search for a second wife, following the death of Beatrice in September 1320, as the pretext to remain abroad. Aymer after all, now approximately forty to forty-five years old still had no male heirs. He eventually married Marie de Saint-Pol, daughter of the Count of Saint-Pol with the permission of Philip V of France.(10)

However, this strategy of deliberate avoidance could not be sustained for ever. When Pembroke briefly returned to England in March 1321, civil war had erupted in England and the Marcher Lords, with an army of 5,000 men-at-arms were encamped at St Alban’s demanding the exile of the Despensers. Edward II refused. In the stand off, Pembroke was forced into the role of mediator once more, but aware of his own delicate position if Despenser remained at court, spoke on the king’s behalf with the rebels. When he returned to the king at Westminster, Pembroke had no other choice but to plead with Edward to hear the call of his nobles and banish the Despensers. The contrarians opposition was simply to unified and determined. Even Queen Isabella, on bended knee pleaded with her husband. Edward still refused. Pembroke had no other choice but to make it clear to the king that if he did not change his mind, then the magnates would seek to depose him and in this Pembroke would also withdraw his homage to the king. Edward must have been devastated both by the threat of deposition but also by the loss of the previously unwavering support of the earl of  Pembroke.(11) For de Valence it was a critical turning point, and whilst he would remain loyal to the king beyond these events, the close bond that they had built up since 1312 was shattered. Edward was forced to concede and the Despensers were temporarily exiled until the king marched against his enemies at the end of that year.

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Pembroke was often Edward’s chief choice for foreign diplomat

After this turning point Pembroke began to lose his position at court. As Edward achieved his greatest victory over his over-mighty vassals in 1322, notably with the execution of his cousin Thomas of Lancaster, (click here for A Royal Traitor: The Life & Execution of Thomas of Lancaster) Pembroke had been forced in December 1321, along with the earls of Richmond and Arundel, to claim that they had only supported the exile of the Despensers under duress, and begged Edward for forgiveness. The king forgave them, but he did not forget the affront. This temporary fall from grace, gave Hugh Despenser the Younger what he needed to prise Pembroke away from the king altogether. Despenser, furious at the humiliation of his exile was determined to control the king and dominate the court like never before, and after parliament met at York in May of 1322 to consolidate the king’s victories over the contrarians rebels and deliver the repeal of the Ordinances, Pembroke was arrested. Only after the earl’s peers rallied to his defence was Pembroke able to receive Edward’s pardon after he made personal pledges of loyalty, which echoed the indenture that existed between them both from years gone by. It was an ugly affair and one orchestrated by Despenser, but it sent out a clear signal to the court; the earl of Pembroke was a spent political force.

What Pembroke was feeling as a result of his treatment is not noted in the evidence, but it is not hard to imagine that he felt angry, betrayed and down-trodden. He probably became nervous for his safety while Despenser grew in power. Nevertheless he still remained loyal to the king and joined him in Scotland shortly after his arrest and subsequent release. The campaign of 1322 was a disaster and as the English army retreated south through northern England, the Scots followed in their wake. In a bid to stave off capture, the king sent word to the earl of Pembroke to take his forces to meet the earl of Richmond and Henry de Beaumont at Byland and there meet the Scots. Pembroke obedient as ever obliged in order to defend his king, but what followed on 14 October was an English rout at Blackhow Moor, which saw Richmond captured and Pembroke narrowly escape back to the comparative safety of York.(12) Edward and Despenser narrowly avoided capture to by fleeing Rievaulx Abbey. It was an inglorious end that marked Aymer’s latest contribution to the Anglo-Scottish war.

By 1324 Pembroke was struggling financially to balance his household accounts, most likely caused by the impact of the ransom his family had been forced to pay to bring about his release in 1317. As war in Gascony erupted between Edward II and his brother-in-law Charles IV that year, Edward once again called upon the services of Pembroke, still recognising his skill at foreign diplomacy. On 13 June he was despatched to the French court, but failed to reach there, dying shortly after dinner on 23 June near Boulogne of an unknown sudden illness. News of the loss of his cousin reached Edward on 26 June, and at the request of his widow Marie, Pembroke was buried in some splendour at Westminster Abbey alongside the growing royal mausoleum.(13) His tomb and effigy can still be seen today.

The career of Aymer de Valence is one that is ultimately defined by loyalty. While he had opposed Gaveston up until 1312, he did so as a reformer and from the position of moderation. Gaveston’s murder not only endangered Pembroke’s own position, but drove him into what would become lifelong support for his king. He descended from great stock, notably William Marshall, and he was courageous in war. He was well connected both in England and France and carved out a role as Edward II’s principal foreign diplomat. He was moderate in his politics and saw the benefit of avoiding civil strife in England and often had the ear of the king. He worked to contain the royal favourites, but the rise of Hugh Despenser the Younger – and his subsequent opposition to him in March 1321 – proved to be Aymer’s undoing. As Despenser the Younger in particular returned from exile, he quickly replaced Pembroke as Edward’s chief counsellor, and after 1322 the earl was something of a spent political force. His death in 1324 was widely felt. Not least of all by the king, who despite his more recent detachment from Aymer, nevertheless relied on his support.

Pembroke’s tale is one ultimately of loyalty in an age of great political turmoil and strife. He deserves to be better remembered.

 

Stephen Spinks is author of ‘Edward II the Man: A Doomed Inheritance‘ available here at Waterstones  Amazon  Foyles  Amberley Publishing

Notes

(1) Phillips, Seymour. Aymer de Valence, 39-41.

(2) Ibid, 45

(3) Spinks, Edward II the Man, 122.

(4) Ibid, 133. Warner, Edward II, 105.

(5) Foedera, 329. Scalacronica, 78-9, Spinks, S, 259.

(6) Spinks, 139. Phillips, 288-9.

(7) Ibid, 146, Aymer, 135. Philips, 303. E/163/4/6.

(8) CPR, 1317-21, 395. CFR, 1319-27, 6.

(9) CPR, 1317-21, 454

(10) Aymer, 202

(11) Spinks, 167

(12) Ibid, 182. Flores, 210. Lanercost, 246. Bruce, 684-8.

(13) Aymer, 233. Ann Paul, 307.

 

 

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Twitter: @Spinksstephen


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