The Call for Papers for Kings and Queens II sent me scurrying through my *large* database of potential letters for a neat little nugget I might be able to turn into a conference paper. As I have about 13,000 individual items from the SC 1 (Ancient Correspondence) series at TNA saved as photographs on my hard drive, I’m quite spoilt for choice! I’d initially considered the correspondence of Edward I with his first cousin-once removed, Philip IV of France, as a potential case study. This seemed like an appropriate and interesting proposal since their relationship started off rosily, but took a particularly nasty turn around 1294 when Philip decided to annexe Edward’s Gascon territory to the French crown, despite having given assurances in private diplomatic meetings that he wouldn’t.[1] Sadly (although perhaps, on reflection, not particularly surprisingly), none of the extant letters between the two monarchs date from this crucial period. They come from earlier (up to 1293) and later (from about 1303). There’s probably still much of interest to be had from them, but this set back put a damper on my initial idea.[2]

Kew, TNA, SC 1/13/28. Detail of a draft letter from Edward I to Marie of Brabant, dowager queen of France, 12 August 1295. Photo by Kathleen Neal.

What does survive from the crisis period, however, is a set of draft letters drawn up on a single day in the name of Edward I to no fewer than three queens of France: his aunt, Marguerite of Provence, widow of Louis IX; Marie of Brabant, widow of his cousin Philip III; and Jeanne of Navarre, queen consort of Philip IV. Interestingly, in the same breath, as it were, the king also wrote to his ally against Philip, Adolph of Nassau, the so-called King of the Romans, but this letter was the last to be drafted in the set: it’s fourth on the parchment sheet under Edward’s letters to the three queens. Is this perhaps an indicator of a hierarchy of significance in political communication in which the royal women of Edward’s network were more important to his diplomatic efforts? Possible, although perhaps not provable… Nevertheless, this tantalising find – or rather rediscovery, since I’ve passed my eyes across this letter before – has got me rather excited in the context of the conference theme.

So how does this sound for the basis of a juicy little offering? Working title: Edward I and the Three Queens: working the royal network in a time of crisis. I’m seeing issues of letter writing and rhetoric, kingship, gender, and family/kinship networks, all being modulated (and placed under extreme stress) by a moment of acute political crisis. All of a sudden this sounds like a paper that someone has to give, so I guess it might as well be me. Let’s hope the organizers are equally enthused!

[1] For an astute discussion of the Gascon incident, the failed negotiations of Edmund of Lancaster – the king’s brother – to avert it, and Philip’s false promises, see: Marc Morris, A Great and Terrible King: Edward I and the Forging of Britain (London: Hutchinson, 2008), pp. 266-270.
[2] As did the disappointing news that the irrepressible Peggy (E.A.R.) Brown wont be able to make it. I had a momentary, glorious vision of running a session with her on Philip IV and Edward I as epistolary and political nemeses, but it was not to be! You can, however, find lots of Peggy talking about Philip in print to satisfy your needs in that direction. For instance, I refer you to: Elizabeth A. R. Brown, ‘The Prince Is Father of the King: The Character and Childhood of Philip the Fair of France‘, Mediaeval Studies, 49 (1987), 282-334; and Eadem, ‘Moral Imperatives and Conundrums of Conscience: Reflections on Philip the Fair of France‘, Speculum, 87 (2012), 1-36.