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POD Cast: 16 June, 1272. Part 2

By Tim Venning

Edward II, potentially replaced by Thomas. The red-hot poker may not be a true story.

Picture courtesy Wikimedia Commons.

Part 1 of this article series can be found Here.



Part Two: King Edmund and King Thomas?

As of June 1272, Edward’s younger brother Edmund (born 1245) was en route home to England, where their father Henry III was to die on 16 November. His uncle Richard of Cornwall had already died in April, and the murder of the latter’s elder son Henry of Alain by his cousins the young de Montforts in a church at Viterbo, Italy, left only Richard’s second son Edmund as a “reserve” adult male of the royal house in England.


In addition, Edward’s elder son, Prince John, had died in August 1271 during his father’s absence abroad. Edward was said to have mourned his father’s loss more than that of his son John, saying that he could replace a son but he couldn’t replace his father. Edward’s younger son Henry, born in July 1268, was thus the next in line for the throne is Edward had been assassinated in June 1272, and England would have had another very young King – even younger than Henry III, who had been aged nine on his accession in 1216.


This would have entailed a regency by the ‘next-in-line’ adult male of the royal family, namely Edmund of Lancaster – who was back in England before Henry III died. But Henry (who would have been Henry IV) died in real life in October 1274 at the Royal ‘nursery’ at Guildford Castle in Surrey; if this had occurred when he was King, Edmund would probably have succeeded and become King Edmund. Edward did have one daughter, Eleanor, born in England in summer 1264, and a second, Joan, who was born at Acre shortly before the murder attempt. However, the accession of a small girl was unlikely given that there was no precedent for it and the attempt by Henry I to pass his throne to an adult woman, his daughter Matilda, in 1135 had led to civil war.


In legal terms, there were no hard and fast rules of inheritance in England. A female could transmit a claim to a title to her husband or child, and some contemporaries held and governed their estates by personal force of character. In practical terms, only a male could lead in war. If Eleanor was chosen, there would have to be a regency and then a dispute over who was to marry her and rule on her behalf. It was simpler and safer to name an adult male as King instead.


Given the recent shock of the murder of Henry of Almain at Viterbo, another assassination in the Royal family and the prospect of a disputed succession might well have caused Henry III to die – of shock – earlier than he did historically (16 November 1272).

Henry of Almain, murdered at Viterbo.

Picture courtesy Wikimedia Commons.

Edmund “Crouchback”, as he was nicknamed – which may suggest a mild curvature of the spine, possibly inherited by his distant descendant Richard III – is a somewhat shadowy figure, loyal to and never challenging his more forceful elder brother Edward. Ironically, a story was to emerge in the coming century that he was really the elder of the brothers, which was probably propaganda by his ambitious descendants and totally unfounded.


He was the choice of his ambitious and unrealistic father to receive the confiscated crown of Sicily from the Pope in the 1250s, and he was a competent – if uninspiring – military leader who had spent the De Montfort ascendancy of 1264-65 in exile in France with his mother readying an army to invade. He returned after Edward killed Simon De Montfort at the Battle of Evesham, was entrusted by Edward with the important task of driving the Kenilworth Castle rebels back inside the fortress and opening its siege in 1266, and took over as governor when it surrendered. He was also granted the Earldom and estates of Leicester, forfeited by De Montford, plus the Earldom and estates of Derby in the Peak District; this made him the King’s chief vassal in the East Midlands.


In June 1267 he received the Earldom of Lancaster, with its estates, which made him dominant in the North-West. He was thus one of the greatest landowners in the kingdom, and was supposed to acquire the De Forz inheritance in Yorkshire, Devon, and the Isle of Wight too (as custodian for his children) by marrying its heiress Avelina but her death without children in 1274 prevented this.


It is clear that he was as committed to the idea of Crusade as Edward; he was lined up to lead the next Crusade planned for around 1276 by Edward and Pope Gregory and renewed his vow as late as 1287. He was also forceful enough on matters of his ‘rights’ to boycott that King’s coronation in 1274, apparently in a sulk that he was not allowed to carry the great sword ‘Curtana’ in the procession to Westminster Abbey as should have been his duty as Great Steward of England.


He served with credit in the King’s invasion of Wales in 1277, leading one of the main armies in the expedition North from his own lands around Carmarthen to prevent the restive inhabitants of Dyfed aiding the main target, Gwynedd, and then erecting a new castle at Aberystwyth. He commanded in South Wales during the 1282-83 Welsh rebellion, as he did in the South-East in the rebellion in 1294-95.


Dynastically, he was a widower and remarried in December 1275 or January 1276 to Blanche of Artois, daughter of Count Robert and widow of King Henry of Navarre (who had also been Count of Champagne). Queen Joan (or Jeanne) of Navarre, inherited both Navarre and Champagne from her father Henry in 1274, but she was under-age, and so her new stepfather Edmund administered Champagne on her behalf in 1276-84. He handed it over to her and her new husband, King Philip IV of France, after her marriage in 1284.


His regime was marked by a degree of harsh financial exactions, which led to riots. This degree of belligerent demands for his full dues from his subjects may imply that he had as forceful (and possibly as arrogant) a nature as King Edward. His residence in Champagne also gave him useful leverage within France by dealing with its elite, and as such he was Edward’s choice for a number of important diplomatic missions to King Philip III and IV.


Edmund was to die in June 1296 at Bayonne in Gascony, during an expedition to retake the province after a French invasion. He was, however, more naïve than the brutal and crafty Edward, as he honourably trusted the devious French King Philip IV. As ambassador to France, in 1294 he agreed to hand Bordeaux to Philip, its overlord, in return for a promise that if the English accepted Philip’s right to be its overlord in this manner, Philip would graciously return it quickly. Edward backed his decision. Philip then, of course, refused to return Bordeaux and the English had to retake it from his garrison by force, resulting in the Pope complaining about Edward and Edmund being taken in so easily.


All of this suggests that Edmund was much like his elder brother, and that a government led by him from November 1272 would not have been much different from that led by Edward and far as English and Anglo-French affairs went. As he was Lord of Leicester, Derby, and Lancaster as of 1272, these earldoms and their revenues would have been subsumed in the Crown and so added to its financial resources – unless granted out again to his sons or vassals. His military capabilities and Crusading interests were backed by conventional and generous piety (he was probably the founder of the Franciscan friary at Preston in Lancashire.

Edmund, buried in Westminster Abbey.

Picture courtesy Wikimedia Commons.

Whether his assuming the Crown would have made any difference to his choice of wife is unclear, though in any case Blanche was a useful dynastic ‘catch’ as a friendly Artois could act as an ally on the vulnerable northern flank of the kingdom of France and be a route for English influence in Flanders in case of war with France.


As stepfather of Queen Joanna of Navarre, Edmund would also have been its regent when she succeeded there in 1274 and been able to install his nominees to govern it in 1276 until Joanna’s marriage. This would protect the southern flanks of Gascony from attack across the Pyrenees. As he was the stepfather of Joanna and on good terms with her, he would have access via her to her husband King Philip IV of France – but this might not have improved relations with him.


Philip was a ruthless exponent of national ‘realpolitik’, a relentless advancer of French royal power (and bureaucracy) and national expansion, and never let personal relations get in the way of this. Later on he would kidnap an obstructive Pope (Boniface VIII) and to close down the Knights Templar as “heretics” in order to seize their assets for his treasury, and burning their leaders at the stake. He was as ruthless and pitiless as Edward I – so had Edmund been King, he would have had to face up to Philip and try to keep him from retaking Gascony.


The fact that Edmund held the confiscated heartland of the defunct southwest Welsh principality of Dyfed around Carmarthen plus the ‘Three Castles’ in Gwent in the SE would have given him a personal interest in the protection and extension of Royal power in Wales, but it cannot be certain that he would have been as bold as Edward was in deciding to destroy Gwynedd as Edward did in 1282-83.


The massive invasion of Wales in 1277 to restrict Prince Llywelyn’s rule to the western parts of Gwynedd beyond the Conwy, confiscating the eastern half of the principality and cutting Llywelyn’s links to his vassals in mid-Wales, was a repeat of John’s invasion and confiscation of 1210 and Henry III’s of 1240. Gwynedd was seen as a cowed feudal subordinate, not as an independent princedom.


A sustained campaign in the 1270s to expand the new King Edmund’s lands in Carmarthen to control all of South-West Wales plus a forceful seizure of eastern Gwynedd was thus in line with past Royal policies and Edmund’s own interests as a local lord. Nor was it impossible that Edmund would have gone as far as Edward did in building new castles on the coast of western Gwynedd, such as Caernafon, or confiscating low-lying and accessible Anglesey (Mon) and building Beaumaris Castle, which would serve to keep Llywelyn on the defensive.


The confiscation of the principality of Gwynedd in 1283 is less certain from King Edmund than the parallel invasion of Gwynedd in 1277 when Edward seized its eastern half (which the English had already held in the 1240s). The Welsh rebellion – not only in Gywnedd – in 1282 which served as an excuse for the extinction of independence was preceded by relentless and probably deliberately provocative assertions of English legal procedure within Welsh lands, with Welsh litigants forced to plead before courts staffed by English judges who delivered ‘rigged’ verdicts. Even the prince of Gwynedd was forced to appear as a litigant, and any failure to appear could mean confiscation of estates for ‘contempt of court’.


This use of the law to extend royal power via administrative fiat and judicial persecution was a personal initiative of Edward’s, as he was a keen and obsessive legislator interested in the implementation of all his administrative powers to the full; he was clever at using the law as a weapon of intimidation.


It is unlikely that Edmund was as committed to this grand project, but the occasional glimpses we have of his acts as an administrator of his lands indicate that he was just as keen to pursue his ‘rights’, so a committed and active senior civil servant, such as Robert Burnell, Lord Chancellor in the 1270s in OTL, could have suggested this extension of his legal reach to Edmund.


This insistence on full use of all Royal legal rights would have applied to all the King’s vassals, and would probably have led to attempts to enforce full vassalage on the King of the Scots – which Alexander III avoided in 1278 in OTL by only swearing allegiance to Edward for his lands held within England, not for his kingdom. The angry Edward reasserted his power over Scotland as soon as Alexander died in a riding accident in the dark on a Fife beach in 1286, leaving a girl of three as his successor, and this opportunity would also have appealed to Edmund.


When possible, the English Kings had tried to enforce full vassalage on their Scots counterparts, as Henry II had done on the captured King William ‘the Lion’ in 1174. This sort of action could thus be expected when the next Scottish King was in the power of his English counterpart. The deaths of Alexander III in 1286 and his granddaughter Margaret in 1290 enabled Edward to act as head of the panel set up by the Scots regency to adjudicate the rival claims to the throne in 1292. The winner, John Balliol (who also held hereditary estates in County Durham in England), was forced to do homage to Edward explicitly as King of Scotland – and when he (eventually) showed signs of trying to use the Scots alliance with France to pressurise England during the next Anglo-French war, Edward invaded and deposed him.


Would Edmund have gone so far as to confiscate Scotland and endeavour to merge it with England in 1296 rather than impose a new puppet-king?


Edward showed a boldness of vision that went beyond the norms of contemporary politics; choosing a new puppet-king was less risky, especially with France still hostile to England in 1290-96. If Edmund had faced a leaderless Scotland in 1290 as Edward did and then awarded the crown to Balliol – the obvious heir under English precedents – he might well have ‘played safe’ on removing Balliol and replaced him with the heir of the next of David’s daughters, the eponymous father of Robert Bruce, the Earl of Carrick in Scotland but also a landowner in England. “King Robert” would then have been succeeded by his son when he died in 1304, without any need for a bloody Scottish civil war – and the elder Robert was a cautious man who fought for Edward I in the OTL wars of the late 1290s.


The elder Robert was as likely as Balliol was to sign up to whatever the English King wanted to preserve the peace, eg doing homage – and his son, ‘the’ Robert Bruce, would also have had to do this in order to have his accession accepted. There have long been claims that it was the failure of Edward I to grant the Bruces the crown, and/or the inspiring example of the “people’s rebellion” against the annexation of Scotland which William Wallace led in 1297, which led to Robert Bruce gambling everything on revolt in 1306.

Robert the Bruce (the one everyone remembers). Less of a patriot, more of an opportunist.

Picture courtesy Wikimedia Commons.

But if the Scottish crown had come to him by descent anyway in 1304 and there had been no “First War of Independence” in 1297-1304 (embittering both sides), would he have revolted at all? Or would he have waited until King Edmund was embroiled with France before he threw off English vassalage? If he did betray Edmund by renouncing his vassalage, Edmund was clearly as capable of fighting back and waging a long-term war with plenty of atrocities as Edward was – but there is no indication that the more conventional Edmund was as good a general.


The war would probably have seen the English besieging and taking towns and castles successfully, with their superior numbers of firepower of artillery, but unable to hold down the countryside indefinitely despite burning and pillaging – as faced by Edward I in the 1300s and Edward III in the 1330s. This could have gone on until Edmund’s death, and as he would not have been in Bayonne in Gascony to die in an epidemic aged 51 in 1296  as he did in OTL, and he could have lived into his sixties and died around 1305-10.


Once he was dead, it would be up to his son and successor Thomas (born around 1278), Earl of Lancaster in OTL and a better general than the unmilitary real-life king Edward II, as to whether the war continued or not.


Would Edmund have jumped at the chance in 1286-90 to betroth the child Queen Margaret of Scotland to his son and heir Thomas – as Edward did in OTL with his own son and heir, who was later King Edward II? A powerful neighbour or overlord using an under-age female Queen as a device to create a ‘union of crowns’ was accepted contemporary policy, and the most blatant contemporary case of this involved Queen Joan of Navarre, Edmund’s own step-daughter; who was also Countess of Champagne, so she was also a French vassal. King Philip III of France married off his son and heir Philip to her in 1294.


Edmund as King might also have used the fact that his new vassal Prince Llywelyn of Gwynedd only had one child, a daughter (Gwenllian), by his wife Eleanor de Montford (who died in childbirth) to try to confiscate Gwynedd by insisting that the girl was betrothed to an English prince. This pair would then inherit Gwynedd when Llywelyn died, rather than the heir under Welsh law, Llywelyn’s devious and untrustworthy brother Dafydd. Edmund could insist on his feudal rights as overlord to choose Gwenllian’s husband. It is, however, possible that Edmund might have used Dafydd, who had already twice plotted against Llewelyn and had allied himself to the latter’s foes in 1274, to overthrow Llewelyn. England could enforce the weakening of Gwynedd by dividing it among rival heirs as it had down in 1246. Llewelyn’s brother Dafydd had sons, as had Rhodri, so the royal line of Gwynedd would have continued but for an English intervention – the latter being likely at some point given local restiveness in Wales against the harsh imposition of English law after 1277.


In OTL, Edmund’s son Thomas, who in this version of events would presumably succeed to the English throne, was a far different man from his cousin and nemesis King Edward II. He was a competent general and a charismatic if quarrelsome leader of men. By contrast, Edward was far from conventional and amazed and annoyed his noble elite by taking little interest in military matters and preferred building walls, digging ditches, and taking part in leisure pursuits such as rowing (all seen as only fit for peasants in that era) rather than fighting or taking part in tournaments. He was a good horseman, but shunned his arrogant and boorish leading nobles for a small clique of personal friends, led by the charming and amusing, but greedy and sharp-tongued, Gascon ex-squire Piers Gaveston.


Edward depended on Gaveston emotionally and took his side when he made bitchy remarks about the great nobles. Edward I famously loathed him and exiled him, but as soon as his son became king, Gaveston was recalled, given massive amounts of lands and honours, including the Earldom of Cornwall, which was usually kept for royals. He was also given Edward II’s niece to marry, and was put in charge of the coronation. Thomas would normally have carried the crown; to his fury, instead Gaveston did.


Edward II’s excessive reliance on Gaveston and his huge gifts to him led to a coup by angry and sidelined nobles – led by Thomas of Lancaster – who insisted that Gaveston be exiled again. The king sidestepped this, and secretly recalled Gaveston. This time Gaveston was hunted down, kidnapped, and murdered in 1312.

Thomas of Lancaster didn't like Piers Gaveston. Thomas is in red, and Piers Gaveston is the one without a body attached to his head.

Picture courtesy Wikimedia Commons.

The question of Edward II and Gaveston having a homosexual affair was less certain, but the scandal set the template for a disastrous reign which ended with defeat by the rebellious Scots and the deposition and probable murder of Edward in 1327.


All this would have been different if Gaveston’s enemy Thomas of Lancaster, who was seen at the time and after his execution by the king in 1322 as a popular hero and a man of honour who stood up to greedy and toadying royal favourites, had been king rather than just the most prominent foe of the king’s favourites.


Thomas’ self-advertised role as the champion of good government and honour against a foolish and treacherous king was probably partly ‘spin’ and self-promotion. He clearly saw his fightful role as the sovereign’s cousin and proper advisor usurped by his social inferiors – but would he have made a better king?


He was a capable though unimaginative general; in OTL he was defeated in battle, captured, and killed by the king in 1322. He would be more likely to make a better job of fighting an “alt-Bannockburn” against Robert Bruce and not being so easily tricked by Scottish ambushes or mantraps than the untried and disliked Edward II was. Crucially, Thomas was an inspiring and well-liked leader, though this was not sufficient to win a war against the Scots. Edward III, who was well-liked and capable, fared no better there than Edward II. Thomas was tenacious of his rights and capable of doggedly fighting on against Bruce, but less likely to have risked tackling both Bruce and Philip IV at the same time in the 1310s; if he had been King, his realm would have put up a better fight and he may have made France his priority.


As stepbrother to Queen Joan, and so half-uncle to the kings who succeeded Philip IV from 1314, he might have found it easier than Edward II to reach agreement with them over Gascony. His rule was far less likely to end in disaster – though like Edward I, his father might have ‘collared’ Princess Isabella, Philip IV’s daughter, for a royal prince so England would have a claim on the French throne from 1328. The Hundred Years War could have broken out then had “King Thomas” disengaged from Scotland earlier and pursued his French claims.


Discuss this article Here.


Tim Venning has written a series of books for SLP on Ancient Rome, starting with Caesars of the Bosphorus.





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