Two Scandalous Bishops at Lichfield Cathedral – Leofwin and Walter Langton

DSC_0049.jpgLichfield, in pre-Conquest times was a great see covering most of Mercia, these days its very much smaller and well worth a visit with its beautiful gospels and carved angel.

 

The first of this post’s scandalous bishops to reside in Lichfield, according to Cannon, was minding his own business when he was accused, fairly promptly after the Norman Conquest, of being married and forced to resign.   In fact, a quick glance at Bell’s entry for Lichfield suggests that not only did the Bishop Leofwin resign but that he also died in 1066 suggesting a convenient stratagem for removing the incumbent Saxon.  The next bishop was William the Conqueror’s own chaplain, Peter, and it was during his tenure that the seat of the see was moved from Lichfield to Chester and from there to Coventry where there was an abbey until in 1189 Lichfield was restored to its role of cathedral although there appears to have been some pretty unpleasant vying for power between the inhabitants of Lichfield and Coventry for several centuries afterwards.

 

The second scandalous bishop rocked up in 1296. Rejoicing in the nickname of ‘the king’s right-eye,’ treasurer Walter Langton was given the bishopric as a reward by King Edward I and nominated as Edward’s executor. He got down to some serious building work in Lichfield which including building houses around the cathedral precincts for the vicars and canons.

 

Four years later Walter was up to his neck in trouble. He was accused of adultery with his step-mother, of murdering his father, witchcraft and corruption. These charges were without foundation but they reflect the way in which medieval political smear campaigns  sometimes ran.  In 1307 with a new king on the throne in the form of ditch digging Edward II (that really was one of his hobbies) Walter found himself under arrest and his income handed to royal favourite Piers Gaveston. Now whilst Langton may have been corrupt and greedy the other charges had rather more to do with the dislike of Edward II and the Archbishop of Canterbury for the former treasurer than anything else.  Not that Walter appears terribly popular with anyone else either. When the Lords Ordainers, so called because of the ordinances or regulations that they (there were 21 of them) imposed on Edward II, took power in 1311 and booted Piers Gaveston out of his position as royal favourite Walter continued to languish in prison.  He did ultimately regain his position as treasurer having cleared his name but no one appears to have trusted him very much.

 

It was Langton who constructed (presumably not personally) the West front and also the three spires. Lichfield is the only cathedral in England to have a triple spire arrangement. The grotesques adorning the cathedral are rather more Victorian in design.  Unfortunately the cathedral had a rather unpleasant time during the English Civil War but more of that anon.

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Cannon, Jon. (2007) Cathedral: The Great English Cathedrals And The World That Made Them London: Constable

Clifton A. (1900) Bell’s Cathedrals: The Cathedral Church of Lichfield A Description of Its Fabric and A Brief History of the Espicopal See. Edinburgh: White and Co

Edward II and his favourites

edwardiiPiers Gaveston was the son of a Gascon lord. When Edward I chose suitable persons for his eldest surviving son’s household young Piers was selected on account of his father’s loyalty and the fact that Edward thought he’d make a good role model – Piers was apparently a bit of a charmer.

The Prince of Wales and Piers were both about 16 when they met. They certainly took to one another though how close their friendship was is a matter of speculation. After all, Edward went on to have four children with his wife Isabella. Many at the time thought Edward and Piers were having a homosexual relationship (it explained why Edward could refuse Piers nothing), but some modern historians see it as more like close brotherly love. Edward referred to Gaveston as ‘my brother Piers’. Whatever the exact nature of the relationship, it was a disaster for the kingdom.

In 1307 Edward I banished Gaveston from England, though he was to be paid an allowance. The king asked the men gathered round his death-bed to ensure that Gaveston did not return (one of them was Robert Clifford) unfortunately for England all the men gathered around Edward at the time appear to have had their fingers crossed when they promised Edward that Gaveston wouldn’t be allowed back.

The new king, Edward II, immediately brought Gaveston back to his side, made him Earl of Cornwall and bestowed on him an aristocratic wife, land  and money. Edward II was not like his father – medieval kings were supposed to be successful warriors. Edward II was more interested in digging ditches and chatting to ordinary men – preferably burly ones with a good set of biceps if some accounts are to be credited. He was also prone to doing slightly silly things such as burning Wetheral Priory on an evening out (well it saved the Scots a job) and it was swiftly becoming clear to all around him that he was not a good judge of men.

 

In 1308 Edward allowed Gaveston a prominent role in his coronation and later at his wedding banquet, at which he paid so much attention to the favourite that Queen Isabella’s French relatives walked out. It probably didn’t help that Gaveston had ordered tapestries for the occasion – they depicted the king’s arms quartered with his own. There was also the matter of Piers wearing the queen’s jewelry ‘for safe keeping.’

The king was forced to send Gaveston away to Ireland later that year, but he was back in 1309 and resumed his position at court as Edward’s principal adviser. This effectively meant that if you wanted to get the king you had to go through Piers. He controlled royal patronage and used his position to get rich.

By March 1310 opposition had mounted to such a point that the king had to agree to the appointment of the Lords Ordainers, a committee of 21 earls, barons and bishops who were to draw up rules for the management of the royal household and the realm. At the forefront of this drive to curtail Edward’s power was his cousin Thomas of Lancaster.

Gaveston was exiled by the Lord Ordinancers in November 1311. He returned without permission in January 1312 and was captured. He was effectively kidnapped on his journey south by Thomas of Lancaster at Warwick. He sentenced Gaveston to death and had the sentence carried out as soon as possible. The problem was that the execution wasn’t entirely legal. Lancaster had exceeded his authority. This caused a rift between some of the Lord Ordainers and although Edward II couldn’t act against them immediately he stored up his anger and took his revenge at a later date when he felt that he was in a position of strength.

 

Meanwhile the king led a military campaign in Scotland that failed to subdue Robert the Bruce. It would eventually culminate with a crushing defeat for the English in 1314 at the Battle of Bannockburn. Edward had no idea of strategy or good positioning for an army.   He thought that it was enough to turn up with lots of men.  The north of England found itself open to wave after wave of Scottish invaders and raiders. Skipton Castle came under attack in 1317, 1318, 1399 and 1322. It was partly because of this that Sir Roger Clifford, second Lord of Westmorland joined with the king’s enemies.

 

It didn’t help either that the harvest failed in 1315. The famine was not the king’s fault but it was symptomatic of the problems besetting his realm. The country was descending into chaos and just to make matters worse Edward found himself a new best friend. Hugh Despenser and his dear old dad also called Hugh Despenser. Hugh Despenser the Younger was married to Edward II’s niece so he was already part of the family.

Edward was clearly attracted to arrogant and greedy men. The Despensers made Gaveston look positively mild in comparison. They seized castles that didn’t belong to them, bullied women (by which I mean breaking their legs) and were probably unkind to small animals.  Things came to a head when they took possession of land in the Welsh marches that definitely didn’t belong to them. It was at this point that court politics erupted into open rebellion. Parliament caused the two men to be banished in 1321 but Edward called them home the following year.

 

At first Edward was victorious. His army quelled the Mortimers and then another army loyal to him was victorious at the Battle of Boroughbridge. The army was led by Sir Andrew de Harcla who knew that Thomas of Lancaster had called upon the Scots for support. Lancaster is supposed to have said that Sir Andrew would find himself in a position similar to that of Lancaster before the year was out. It turned out to be true. Roger Mortimer found himself in the Tower of London and Thomas of Lancaster found himself without a head. The following year Sir Andrew de Harcla, who had lost confidence in his king’s ability to protect the people of the north following the Battle of Byland in 1322, was found guilty of treating with the Scots. He was hanged, drawn and quartered in Carlisle. Ironically Edward was forced to make terms with the Scots shortly afterwards because he’d had his best warriors executed.

 

It was just after this in 1325 that Queen Isabella took the opportunity to go home to France for a holiday along with her son where she wreaked havoc upon her family as well as meeting and falling in love with Roger Mortimer who had managed to escape from the Tower.

 

Isabella and Mortimer invaded England from the Continent in 1326 with only 1500 men. Such was the unpopularity of the king and his favourites that people flocked to join them. The Despensers suffered unpleasant deaths. Hugh Despenser the younger was taken to the market place in Hereford covered in tattoos outlining his many sins which included rape (Alison Weir has a theory that Despenser raped the queen) before being hanged, drawn and quartered.

 

Edward was forced to abdicate in January 1327, in favour of his son another Edward. Edward II was murdered at Berkeley Castle. He is the king purported to have been killed with a red-hot poker shoved somewhere unmentionable. However Dr Ian Mortimer presents an intriguing theory that the king’s death was feigned.

 

 

 

Robert, First Lord Clifford

IMG_4008Robert Clifford was born in 1274. He was the son of Isabella de Vieuxpont and Roger Clifford. The Cliffords were an old Norman family who took their name from their main seat in Herefordshire meaning that the Lords of Skipton were distantly related to Rosamond Clifford (Fair Rosamond) who was Henry I’s mistress. On his mother’s side – Isabella and her sister Idonea were coheirs to the lordship of Westmorland which, together with Edward I’s campaign to subdue Scotland, would ultimately change the marches upon which the Cliffords prowled.

 

Young Robert lost his father early so the vast lands (including Brough, Brougham and Appleby) that would one day be his passed into other hands for the time being. When he reached his majority Robert would spend years trying to regain property which had been stolen during his minority.  He ultimately grew to maturity under the care of Edward I from whom he learned the art of warfare in North Wales before making a name for himself in Scotland. By 1297 he was responsible for Edward’s castles in Cumberland as well as taking part in the perennial border warfare of the period. The following year, according to Summerson, he became Keeper of Nottingham Castle and the justice in the royal forests north of the River Trent. That same year Edward I gave Robert Clifford Caerlaverock Castle and all the lands that belonged to Sir William Douglas as a reward for his work. On one hand this was very nice for Robert on the other hand the Douglas family were not best pleased. Edward’s grant triggered a feud between the Douglasses and the Cliffords that lasted for the next hundred years.  It probably didn’t help that Robert’s actions in Dumfries and Annan were recorded in the Song of Caerlaverock. Clifford was undoubtedly a capable as well as loyal officer to the crown – it certainly helped him to build an extensive power base on which to build his family’s fortunes.

He attended Edward I until his death and from his appointment as Marshall of England by Edward II whom Clifford had served during the Prince of Wales’ time on campaign in Scotland. He didn’t hold the job for long. He also gave up his role of Justice and Keeper of Nottingham Castle.  In October 1309 he was appointed keeper of the English West March with Carlisle as its headquarters, and was ordered to act as Warden of Scotland, with a force of 100 men-at-arms and 300 foot soldiers – so he probably didn’t have much time to sit around in Nottingham.

 

It was at about this time Robert came to an accommodation with his childless aunt (Idonea) which ultimately resulted in the Lordship of Westmorland being granted to him. Robert Clifford already held Brough Castle and Appleby and now he was granted Skipton Castle making him a force to be reckoned with in the north.

 

Unfortunately the business of the Scottish Wars of Independence were somewhat sidelined by Edward II’s relationship with Piers Gaveston. The King’s favourite was greedy for wealth and power. In October 1310, just as Clifford was building a substantial power base for himself in the north-west the king granted the Honour of Penrith to Gaveston – a bit of a fly in the ointment so far as Clifford was concerned but not sufficient to make him join with many of the other English barons who formed a commission against Edward II to reform the way in which Edward governed his household and the realm.  The barons issued ordinances from which they gained the name Lords Ordainers.  One of the ordinances made Edward II take back into royal custody all the land which he’d given away.  This meant that Robert having gained Skipton was forced to return it to the crown.  A bizarre game of pass the castle then followed in which Skipton was then handed back to Clifford.  The reason behind this probably lies in the fact that Clifford had given his lands in Monmouth in exchange for the Honour of Skipton – so he wasn’t depriving the crown of its revenue. Clifford resumed his building work on the outer defences of the castle.

 

This uncertainty and his previous record for loyalty didn’t mean that Clifford wasn’t sympathetic to the demands of the Lords Ordainers. In 1312 he prevented Gaveston from receiving Scottish help, besieged him in Scarborough Castle and recovered royal jewels from Newcastle when they were abandoned by the king and his favourite. Later he acted as a go-between for the Earls of Lancaster and Warwick who sought a pardon when Edward II regained control of his realm. The earls received a pardon and so did Robert Clifford.

 

The pardons signaled a resumption of the Scottish War of Independence. In June 1314 Clifford was summoned to Berwick and the start of the campaign that ended in disaster for the English at Bannockburn. Clifford was killed in action. His body was taken to Carlisle and from there to Shap Abbey where he was buried.

Skipton Castle was about to face Scottish invasion and be plunged into civil war – life wasn’t going to be very restful for the Clifford family either.