Middle English Word of the Moment

Sunday, March 13, 2011

The Judgement and Death of Roger d’Amory (part 1 of 2)

This post was actually written a couple of weeks ago, but given the proximity of the date, I figured I might as well save it for an anniversary post!

On the 13th or 14th of March, 1322, Roger d’Amory died – ‘obiit morte propria’ – at Tutbury Priory, Burton-upon-Trent, Staffordshire[1].  As the remaining rebel barons fled north, their numbers greatly depleted, d’Amory was left at Tutbury to await the arrival of King Edward II, who had completely routed the rebel forces at Burton-upon-Trent on the 10th.  The castle was surrendered to him immediately, and with it d’Amory.


The phrase above, ‘obiit morte propria’, is from the Fineshade chronicle’s list of the slain, exiled, imprisoned and executed barons and knights after the denouement of the rebellion at Boroughbridge (16 March) [2].  Literally ‘died his own death’, it seems to refer to death from wounds sustained in the battle (not, eg, ‘natural death’), standing in contrast to the death in battle (as Hereford and others) or execution (as Lancaster and most others). It must have been a severe incapacitation to prevent him fleeing north with the other rebels, given the reception he could expect; and, given he captured Worcester for the rebels in January, and seems to have participated actively in the battle of Burton-upon-Trent, it can hardly have been a lingering illness. [3]

What is clear is that he was not executed.  In Edward’s eyes, d’Amory was a traitor, and he passed on him the same sentence that he passed on the others.  The sentence was largely the same for each of the traitors, differing usually only in details about which specific treacherous activities they were involved in – eg, some were not present at the burning of Bridgnorth, and for obvious reasons d’Amory’s sentence omits the usual itinerary after Burton-upon-Trent. I will include the usual text and d’Amory’s judgement in the following blog post. The sentence was sufficiently standardised that it was possible, some years later, when Edward needed to quash rising murmurs of rebellion again, to re-issue generic versions of it with no name attached at all.  One of these is the final folio of the Fineshade manuscript. [4]  There is, however, one moment in which the judgement on d’Amory departs dramatically – and, for me, rather movingly – from this standard.

Roger d’Amory was not just any traitor to Edward.  Edward II’s reign was characterised by his intense emotional attachments to a few favourites – Piers Gaveston in his early years, Hugh Despenser from about 1319 until the deaths of both men in 1327.  But in the years between the murder of Gaveston in 1312 and the emergence of Despenser as clear favourite, Edward had instead a group of men who were close to him and influential, d’Amory among them.  In 1317 Edward even arranged d’Amory’s marriage to Edward’s widowed niece, Lady Elizabeth de Clare / de Burgh. [5]  Edward tends to leave unambiguous traces of personal attachments on the historical record, and d’Amory was without question one of the ‘in’ crowd for those years.

Just why Roger d’Amory joined the movement against Edward that became a rebellion is, of course, unknown and unknowable. Politically, broad guesses might be made: Despenser had ousted him and the other ‘group’ favourites; Despenser and his father were dangerous and greedy and both sides were becoming increasingly litigious and violent; d’Amory and Despenser were both married to sisters of Gilbert de Clare, Earl of Gloucester and Hertford, who had died without issue in 1314, leaving his vast estates to be divided (and debated) among the husbands of his sisters. [6]  Logical reasons may be sought for one course of action or another, but the deciding emotions in the case – on the part of either man – are not a matter for historical inquiry. In the usual way of things I’d leave them be, but there are moments when they strike me forcibly.  Speculation aside, here is a man who had been very close to the king, who joined a movement against him that Edward took very personally (not to mention his fierce grudge against Lancaster, who gradually assumed the mantle of leader), and whom Edward found dying in Tutbury of wounds sustained in his first major engagement with the rebels’ troops.

In most of the copies of the judgement I’ve read, the conclusion reads as follows, with only the usual differences of spelling and punctuation:

Les queux treisouns, arsouns, homicides, robberies, chevaucheez ove bannere desplaie sont notoires as Countes & as Barouns & a autres grauntz & petitz de son Roiaume. Et nostre Seignur le Roi de son real poer le record; pur quoi agarde ceste Court, qe pur la traisoun soiez traynez & pur les robberies & homicides penduz. [See following post for citation.]
The which treasons, arsons, murders, robberies, and raids with banners unfurled, are well-known to the Earls, Barons and other greater and lesser men of the realm.  And our lord the King by his royal power records it.  For which this court finds that for the treason you should be drawn, and for the robberies and murders, hanged.

So the sentences passed on Bartholomew of Ashburnham and Francis d’Aldham; so the general sentence preserved in the Fineshade manuscript; so, up to a point, the judgement on d’Amory.

But d’Amory’s, uniquely, continues:

& pur les homicides arsons & roberies pendutz; mes Roger pur ceo qe notre Seignour le Roi vous ad en temps moult amez & fuistes de sa meygne & prives de lui & avez sa nyece esposee, notre dit Seignour le Roi de sa grace & de sa Realte met en respit execucioun de cel jugement a sa volunte.
and for the robberies and murders, hanged; but Roger, because our Lord the King did at one time love you greatly and you were of his company and close to him and did marry his niece, our said Lord the King, by his grace and his royalty, defers the execution of the said judgement according to his will.

I found this at a moment when I was looking for something else.  I wasn’t prepared for it, wasn’t thinking about these two men and their relationship, was not particularly invested in its termination.  But I found it suddenly and deeply touching. D’Amory would die: that much was clear.  It was necessary to pass the sentence of death, but it was not necessary to kill him.  He was dying already; and perhaps if Edward had been feeling particularly vindictive he might have dragged him out to the gallows.  But he didn’t: he deferred the punishment and let him die ‘morte propria’, not the death of a thief.
Edward, however, was not there to see it.  Roger d’Amory died on the 13th or 14th of March, 1322, and on the 11th Edward had left, pushing north in pursuit of the fleeing Lancaster.

Sometimes, in reading these documents – particularly in manuscript form – these moments just happen, moments in which I find I have to pause and sit back for a moment to allow myself to realise the weight of centuries-past human emotion behind the tiny glimpse afforded by the words on the page.  It is necessary to sit back because distance is, of course, necessary. Emotion is a difficult and potentially highly subjective field of study, and I’ve not the courage nor the background to go there yet. Even if I did, the question is irrelevant to my present studies, and in engaging my own emotions too far could potentially jeopardise my discussions of (particularly) Edward’s actions in these few months.  But I think it is also necessary to have that realisation.  Just from time to time.



[1] Here and elsewhere, for specific (and occasionally debateable) details as to people’s lives – particularly dates – I have preferred to follow their biographies in the online Oxford Dictionary of National Biography, accessed 7 February this year.


[2]  BL Cotton Cleopatra D IX, mss. 3 and 3a within the codex, f. 88r l. 8, published by George L. Haskins as “A Chronicle of the Civil Wars of Edward II,” Speculum (1939): 73-81.  I will include my edition of this chronicle and the documents attached to it as an appendix to my Masters thesis, and will publish it if I can.  The only other extant copy of this list, in MS Egerton 2850, calls itself “Les nouns des grauntz mortz a Borghbrigge le Marsdy  & le Mekerdy apres la feste Saint Gregoire”, and says of d’Amory merely that he “fust mort un poy devaunt a Tottebury”.  The Egerton list is transcribed in Parliamentary Writs and Writs of Military Summons, 2.2.ii, Appendix pp. 200-01, but I couldn’t get hold of it without actually going to the British Library anyway, so I just read both!  That was the first roll I ever handled.  It was rather nerve-wracking.

[3] See also Kathryn’s post on the latter part of his career on her Edward II blog, where she includes (among other details) other contemporary theories about his death.

[4] For this argument see George Sayles, “The Formal Judgement on the Traitors of 1322”, Speculum 16 (1941), 57-63.  He writes in response to Haskins’ publication of the Fineshade judgement, in which Haskins attempts to identify it as passed upon a single condemned (“Judicial Proceedings against a Traitor after Boroughbridge, 1322,” Speculum 4 (1937): 509-511).

[5] While in London last October I transcribed, on Kathryn’s request, a letter from Edward to Elizabeth on the matter, written 10 September 1316.  I’m sure I remember Kathryn writing a blog post based on it, but I can’t find it now – sorry Kathryn!  I may do something on it myself, as it’s rather interesting on its own terms – there are three clear stages of revision to it, in three different hands, and each revision sounds sterner than the last.  Edward clearly had second (and third) thoughts about Elizabeth’s biddability – and given she’d run away with and married Lord Verdon early in 1316, he probably had good reason.

[6] The third sister was Margaret, widow of Piers Gaveston and remarried in 1317 to Hugh d’Audley, another of Edward’s then-favourites.

4 comments:

Kathryn Warner said...

Great post, Hannah - many thanks for posting it. Will have to read it again and again. ;-) I have to admit that the part about Edward loving Roger very greatly almost makes me cry, but then I'm pretty heavily invested emotionally in their relationship anyway.

I don't think I ever did write a blog post about Edward's letter to Elizabeth that you kindly transcribed for me, actually - would love to read your thoughts on it!

Hannah Kilpatrick said...

Maybe I was remembering you mentioning it on facebook, or something! My memory's filing system is kind of erratic. :)

I may get around to doing something on that letter then, if you don't mind my using it - I doubt there'd be much overlap in what we'd say about it, given I'd be looking mostly at paleographical aspects and their implications.

Kathryn Warner said...

Yes, I did mention it on FB, and as far as I remember called Edward a big fat liar for pretending that Elizabeth was his favourite niece when he was trying to manipulate her into marrying Roger. :-)

Would be great if you wrote a post about the letter - you're right that if I ever get round to writing one, no doubt we'll focus on very different aspects of it.

Jonathan Jarrett said...

These moments, when we get them, are the things that make slogging through all the documents worthwhile, when you make contact with another human being very briefly in a recognisable way. Of course, as you leave room in your caveat that might contain, we may be wrong or just anachronistic about how that person felt; but the moments are vital fuel for the interest anyway and should be embraced, especially when, like this one, it's a tale of love as well as of a good or bad death. I am too used to only getting the latter.