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A medieval king’s headache – of Edward I, Gascony, and the events of 1294

1294 was a bad, bad year for Edward I. Mind you, I think he was of the opinion most years after the death of his wife in 1290 were pretty bad, but a year in which he was tricked out of his lands in France must qualify as exceptionally bad, right?

Before we go on to detail the events of 1294, we’re going to need some back-story. That backstory starts with the Sicilian Vespers. And yes, I forgive you, lovely peeps, if your immediate reaction isn’t “The Sicilian Vespers – but of course!”

Depiction of the Sicilian Vespers

For those of us fascinated by 13th century politics and all its bloody connotations, the Sicilian Vespers can be seen as a beginning for many, many things. You see, in 1282 the Sicilians rebelled against the heavy-handed rule of Charles of Anjou and were supported in their rebellion by Peter of Aragon, who was of the opinion Sicily rightfully belonged to his wife, Constanza.

I lean towards agreeing with Peter. Charles of Anjou used the support of the papacy to oust Manfred Hohenstaufen (Constanza’s father) and claim the throne. He also went on to capture Manfred’s family. His young widow was brutally separated from her children and would die in captivity. Constanza’s half-brothers were put in chains and locked up, despite the eldest only being six. Purportedly, Charles had the young boys maimed as well. Constanza’s half-sister was put under lock and key—alone. In brief, Charles comes across as cruel and brutal. But then, kings at the time were brutal. One only needs to remember how Edward I handled Dafydd ap Gruffydd’s children. They too were locked up—forever.

Back to our backstory: As a consequence of the Sicilian Vespers, the crown of Sicily passed to Peter III of Aragon—on behalf of his wife. Constanza and Peter seem to have had a strong marriage, and she even accompanied hubby to Sicily to further her claim. In Rome, the pope was furious. The papacy ordered Peter to return the crown to Charles. I am thinking he got the medieval equivalent of a middle finger in return . . . The pope retaliated by excommunicating Peter.

The pope wasn’t the only one who was angry. Leaving aside the apoplectic Charles of Anjou himself, his nephew, Philippe III of France was just as incensed on his behalf. Losing Sicily meant more of the Mediterranean under Aragonese control, and that did not please the French. So when the pope declared a crusade against Aragon, Philippe III was more than happy to lead it.

Initially, the French saw some success. They even managed to crown Philippe’s second son, Charles of Valois, as king of Aragon, but theirs was a fleeting moment of triumph. In 1286, what little remained of the French army staggered back home. Philippe III was dead of dysentery, replaced by his teenaged son, Philippe IV. Instead of covering themselves in glory, the French were humiliated.

This lead to an unstable political situation in Europe. The pope was still demanding Sicily be returned to Charles of Anjou. The French refused to sign a peace treaty with Aragon without the pope’s blessing. In Aragon, Peter had died, replaced by his eldest son, Alfonso (who was also Philippe IV’s first cousin). Plus, at some point Aragon had got their hands on Charles of Anjou’s eldest son, Charles of Salerno, and were holding him captive. This, dear peeps, is when Edward I waded into the fray, despite being pissed off with the pope for having redirected monies intended to finance Edward’s “real” crusade to the Holy Land to this stupid and failed venture in Aragon.

Edward I (?)

During the years 1286-1289, Edward spent all his time in Gascony, negotiating a treaty acceptable to all parties. He had a vested interest in that Charles of Salerno was his cousin, but more than that, Edward needed a treaty so as to send off his eldest daughter to marry Alfonso of Aragon. But the French demanded some sort of compensation for Charles of Valois’ lost crown (!) and were generally reluctant to any compromise—as was the pope.

In 1288, some sort of treaty was signed, and a gigantic number of hostages were pledged by Edward to ensure Charles of Naples’ release. This gent, in turn, was to fetch his sons and turn them over to Aragon as hostages before Edward’s hostages were freed. Charles fulfilled his end of the deal. Four young boys ended up as hostages, over sixty hostages were released by Aragon and everything was finally sorted. Not. The conflict between the pope and the crown of Aragon would continue into the next century.

So what does all this have to do with 1294? Well, Charles of Valois supposedly never forgave Edward for “giving away his rightful crown”. Plus, I think Philippe IV was not exactly enamoured of the fact that a huge chunk of land within his kingdom was ruled by Edward—and relatively well-ruled at that, the English king founding new bastides and in general enjoying the wealth of the region.

Edward doing homage to Philippe

Gascony was recognised as being part of France, and accordingly, Edward I had to do homage to Philippe IV. Not something he fully enjoyed, what with him being much older than Philippe and (I’m guessing) quite convinced he was the superior monarch of the two. Philippe was to prove to the entire world that he deffo considered himself the most superior person around—not only was he to destroy the Templars, he was also to relocate the pope to Avignon, keeping His Holiness firmly under the royal thumb. But in 1294, all that lay in the future, the very handsome Philippe some years shy of thirty having his hands full with France and his siblings. One such sibling was Marguerite, and seeing as the English king was recently widowed, it was Philippe’s considered opinion that his half-sister would make Edward an excellent queen.

Edward was not opposed. I actually think he wasn’t all that keen on marrying again—he’d shared over thirty years with his Eleanor and likely missed her for the rest of his life—but he really didn’t have a choice. After all, Edward only had one surviving son, and everyone knew a king needs at least an heir and a spare.

Other than sorting the potential “spare” issue, marrying Marguerite would serve to reconfirm the happy relationship between the House of Capet and the House of Plantagenet. Since fifty or so years back, the French and the English kings had not only been brother kings, but also family. Henry III of England and Louis IX of France married sisters. Henry’s brother, Richard of Cornwall and Louis’ brother Charles of Anjou married the two remaining sisters, which likely had the Count of Provence hissing a satisfied “yessss!” as he saw all four of his daughters so well settled.

Discussions were initiated. But at the time Edward was expending most of his efforts on Scotland—in some years to become his primary concern. And once he’d managed the Scottish matter to his satisfaction, it was 1293 and the French/English relations had nose-dived. You see, sometime late in 1292, there was a major brawl in a Norman port between English and French mariners. Come May of 1293, that brawl had assumes massive proportions, a fleet of English and Gascon ships attacked by a fleet of Norman ships who flew red streamers, thereby indicating they intended to give no quarter. Turns out the English and Gascons ships were better captained, and once the dust settled several French ships, including crew and cargoes had been captured.

The French were incensed. This may actually be an opportune moment to suggest that someone pretty high up in the hierarchy had been encouraging all those French sailors, someone like Charles of Valois, who, as previously stated, very much wanted to rub the English nose in something. The English chroniclers openly accused him of fanning the flames of discord and encouraging the Norman sailors to attack the poor, innocent English mariners.

Now, Edward had no desire to lock horns with the French, not when the entire Christian world had recently been shocked by the Muslim capture of Acre. No, Edward wanted to go on that crusade of his, and with the new, hostile situation in the Holy Land, the Church was more than eager to bankroll such a venture. But for Edward to be able to ride east, he needed peace with his neighbour, so when the French sent a sequence of irritated messages regarding their captured ships, Edward suggested three different solutions for how to solve things: his first suggestion was that the matter be sorted according to English law. One could argue that as it was the French who were the aggressors, this made some sense, but Edward must have known the French would refuse that outright. His second suggestion was that the matter be handled jointly by a commission set up by France and England together. His third suggestion was that the matter be put before the pope.

The French refused all three suggestions. This, according to the French, was not a dispute between two kings. Oh, no: it was a dispute between the French king and his vassal, the duke of Gascony. I imagine that did not go over well with Edward. Not that he disputed the fact that, as duke of Gascony, he was in fact Philippe IV’s vassal, but he was also a king, a close relative to the young French king and deserved to be treated with some respect. Right?

Edmund with St George

Late in 1293, Edward was rudely summoned to Paris, the wording borderline offensive as the French king demanded his unruly vassal to present himself before him.
“In your dreams,” Edward muttered—or whatever the medieval equivalent was. But he sent immediate instructions to his brother Edmund, who was presently in France, to somehow sort this mess.
Edmund of Lancaster was, obviously, also a close relative to the French king. But he was also the step-father of Philippe’s queen, having taken as his second wife Blanche of Artois, who was wed to Henri, King of Navarre, and gave him a daughter, Jeanne, before Henri departed this world.

Edmund, together with his wife and step-daughter—and Philippe’s step-mother, Marie of Brabant—started working on a compromise acceptable to all. This is where we should all take a little moment here and reflect on the fact that these three medieval women deffo considered themselves capable enough to be involved in sorting diplomatic matters. Not exactly retiring violets, were they? Philippe himself was in and out of the room, and one gets the impression that Philippe was presenting himself as most amenable towards finding a peaceable solution. Edmund definitely believed he was making progress. Turns out he was wrong…

The compromise hammered out by Edmund and the ladies involved the surrender of several Gascon towns to Philippe—on the understanding that this was for show only. Edward would publicly express remorse and reiterate his loyalty, and the French king would then kiss his loyal duke and return the surrendered towns and hostages. Everyone would live happily ever after and to really ice the cake, Edward would marry Marguerite.

In February of 1294, Edward fulfilled his part of the deal. And then he waited. And waited. At some point, it began to become clear for Edmund (and the ladies) that Philippe, egged on by his brother Charles of Valois and many of his counsellors, had no intention of honouring the deal.

In April of 1294, Edward’s seneschal in Gascony, John St John crossed over to England to inform his king that the French had no intention of returning the Gascon towns surrendered. And as to Marguerite, well, all of this threw a huge monkey wrench into any wedding plans.

For Edward, this was a terrible humiliation. It also killed any remaining hopes he may have had to make that crusade—he could not leave England while his kingdom was at war with France, and one thing was certain: Philippe’s actions meant war. By the summer of 1294, Edward was mustering a huge army in Portsmouth, and one of the men selected to lead this army was Edmund. I wonder how he felt about that, riding off to lead the fight against the man married to his step-daughter? On the other hand, he was probably just as angry as Edward at having been played . . .

In England, there was a major ruckus when the barons understood just what was happening in Gascony (Edward had kept all of this close to his chest) Many were the voices who suggested this was all due to an old man lusting for a much younger, much fairer virgin bride. But at the June parliament of 1294, Edward swore to the assembled magnates that he had not acted as he did out of lust, but because he deeply desired to have peace with France so he could set off on his crusade. Apparently, he did this so eloquently he had the people present baying for French blood.

The king had planned to have his troops cross the Channel during the late summer, but the weather had other ideas. The major invasion was now set for September, but yet again, the weather refused to cooperate. And it was at this point in time that Edward got the news that really, really put 1294 at the top of the “most hated years ever”, likely coming a close second to 1290, the year Eleanor died. You see, in late September, the Welsh, led by Madog ap Llewllyn, rebelled

Castle after royal castle fell to the rebels. Edward’s amassed forces were now hastily deployed to Wales, but this was to prove a lengthier than expected matter, with the king himself leading an army into Wales in late 1294 only to be forced to flee for the safety of Conwy Castle where he ended up besieged. It took until early 1295 until the situation was back in control, and meanwhile, the French went from strength to strength in Gascony. Edward was not about to accept the loss of his hereditary lands lying down, but it would take several years before some sort of order was re-established. Late in 1299, King Edward and King Philippe exchanged the kiss of peace, further reinforced their alliance by the betrothal of Prince Edward of England with Philippe’s daughter Isabella—and with the much delayed wedding between Edward and Princess Marguerite. Winter wed spring, but however bellicose and harsh Edward could be against his enemies, he seems to have been a kind and tender husband.

Personally, I believe the Gascon conflict embittered Edward. Indirectly, the machinations of Philippe of France contributed to creating the ruthless king who was to ride so roughshod over the Scots. Not, of course, an excuse: Edward—and only Edward—bears the responsibility for his actions. And the Welsh, of course, would point out that he was pretty ruthless back in 1282/83 when he invaded Wales . . .

2 thoughts on “A medieval king’s headache – of Edward I, Gascony, and the events of 1294”

  1. Patricia Barraclough

    Thank you for an interesting post. The history of that region and time period was so very intertwined and manipulative. It sounds like keeping your head down and hoping for the best was sometimes the best you could do.

  2. Yup. A “bend over, here it comes again and let’s hope it blows over soon” approach was probably smart. In some cases, it is a viable option in the present day too 🙂
    Glad you enjoyed the post. The more I read about Edward I, the more fascinated I become

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