Invasion of England (1326)

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Isabella and Mortimer's campaign
Part of the Despenser wars
Isabella's invasion route (1326).png
Isabella's Campaign (green) and the Royalist retreat (pink)
Date24 September – 16 November 1326

Isabella and Mortimer's victory[2][3][4]


Marcher Lords


  • Despensers
Commanders and leaders
Isabella of France
Roger Mortimer, 1st Earl of March
Henry, 3rd Earl of Lancaster
Thomas, 1st Earl of Norfolk
Edward II of England
Hugh Despenser the younger  Executed
Edmund Fitzalan  Executed
Hugh Despenser the Elder  Executed
1,500 (Invasion)[1] Unknown
Casualties and losses
Unknown Unknown

The invasion of England in 1326 by the country's queen, Isabella of France, and her lover, Roger Mortimer, 1st Earl of March, led to the capture of Hugh Despenser the Younger and the abdication of Isabella's husband, Edward II. It brought an end to the insurrection and civil war.[3][4]


Roger Mortimer of Wigmore was a powerful Marcher lord, married to the wealthy heiress Joan de Geneville, and the father of twelve children. Mortimer had been imprisoned in the Tower of London in 1322 following his capture by king Edward. Mortimer's uncle, Roger Mortimer de Chirk finally died in prison, but Mortimer managed to escape the Tower on his birthday in 1323, making a hole in the stone wall of his cell before escaping onto the roof and using rope ladders provided by an accomplice to get down to the River Thames, across the river and then on eventually to safety in France.[5] Victorian writers suggested that, given later events, Isabella might have helped Mortimer escape and some historians continue to argue that their relationship had already begun at this point, although most believe that there is no hard evidence for their having had a substantial relationship before meeting in Paris.[6]

Isabella of France landing in England with her son, the future Edward III of England

In 1325 Edward, then Duke of Aquitaine and heir to the throne of England, journeyed to France to pay homage to Charles IV of France as his vassal.[7] Isabella accompanied her son and it was during that journey that her affair with Mortimer began.[8] Isabella was reintroduced to Mortimer in Paris by her cousin, Joan, Countess of Hainault, who appears to have approached Isabella suggesting a marital alliance between their two families, marrying Prince Edward to Joan's daughter, Philippa.[9] Mortimer and Isabella began a passionate relationship from December 1325 onwards; Isabella was taking a huge risk in doing so—female infidelity was a very serious offence in medieval Europe, as shown during the Tour de Nesle Affair—both Isabella's former French sisters-in-law had died by 1326 as a result of their imprisonment for exactly this offence.[10] Isabella's motivation has been the subject of discussion by historians; most agree that there was a strong sexual attraction between the two, that they shared an interest in the Arthurian legends and that they both enjoyed fine art and high living.[11] One historian has described their relationship as one of the "great romances of the Middle Ages".[12] They also shared a common enemy—the regime of Edward II and the Despensers.[3]

Isabella was ordered to return to England after homage was paid to Charles but refused to do so in January 1326, unless Hugh Despencer was exiled. Edward refused and then ordered Charles to make her return, he refused also and in return Edward cut off all financial supplies to Isabella.[4] Isabella turned to Charles for aid but he refused, only allowing her an occupancy in his palace. This however did not last long when word got through that Pope John XXII had spoken out against Isabella; Charles swiftly ordered her away and would not speak to her again for a long time.[13] Mortimer's supporters in England started to send him victuals, armour and other aid by March 1326,[14] which Edward tried to stop, and also ordered his ports to be on the lookout for spies entering the kingdom.[15] The authority of the Despencer regime suffered an increasing amount of rebellious acts including the audacious killing of the Baron of the Exchequer, Roger de Beler by Eustace Folville, Roger la Zouch and their gang.

Without French support Isabella and Mortimer left Paris in the summer of 1326 taking Prince Edward with them, and travelled North East into Holy Roman Empire territory to William I, Count of Hainaut.[13][16] As Joan had suggested the previous year, Isabella betrothed Prince Edward to Philippa, the daughter of the Count, in exchange for a substantial dowry[17] She then used this money to raise a mercenary army, scouring Brabant for men, which were added to a small force of Hainaut troops.[18] William also provided eight men of war ships and various smaller vessels as part of the marriage arrangements. Although Edward was now fearing an invasion, secrecy remained key, and Isabella convinced William to detain envoys from Edward.[18] Isabella also appears to have made a secret agreement with the Scots for the duration of the forthcoming campaign.[19]


On 22 September, Isabella, Mortimer and their modest force set sail for England[1] in ten fishing vessels.[20] Having evaded Edward II's fleet, which had been sent to intercept them, Isabella and Mortimer landed at the mouth of the Orwell on the east coast of England on 24 September with a small force. Estimates of Isabella's army vary from between 300 and around 2,000 soldiers, with 1,500 being a popular middle figure. Most were mercenaries consisting of Flemish, Germans and Bohemians,[1] as well as English exiles who had opposed Edward[3] including Edmund of Kent, Thomas Rosslyn, William Trussell, John de Cromwell, John de Ros, Simon de Berford, John de Hainault and the Count of Tylers.[21]

After a short period of confusion during which they attempted to work out where they had actually landed, Isabella moved quickly inland, dressed in her widow's clothes. A number of her key supporters immediately joined her, perhaps having been pre-warned of her arrival, including the Bishops of Lincoln and Hereford.[20] Local levies mobilised to stop them immediately changed sides and victims of the Despencers and relatives of Contrariants flocked to their cause.[20] By the following day Isabella was in Bury St Edmunds and shortly afterwards had swept inland to Cambridge.[22] Thomas, Earl of Norfolk, joined Isabella's forces and Henry, Earl of Lancaster—the brother of the late Thomas, and Isabella's uncle—also announced he was joining Isabella's faction, marching south to join her. On 26 September, Isabella captured Cambridge.[23]

Isabella oversees the Siege of Bristol
Hugh Despenser the younger and Edmund Fitzalan brought before Isabella for trial in 1326; the pair were gruesomely executed
Despenser's death

By 27 September, word of the invasion had reached the King and the Despensers in London. Edward issued orders to local sheriffs, including Richard de Perrers the High Sheriff of Essex, to mobilise opposition to Isabella and Mortimer, but with little confidence that they would be acted upon as he suspected that Perrers detested the Despencers.[20] London itself was becoming unsafe due to local unrest and Edward made plans to leave. Isabella struck west again, reaching Oxford on 2 October where she was "greeted as a saviour"—Adam Orleton, the Bishop of Hereford, emerged from hiding to give a lecture to the university on the evils of the Despensers.[22] Edward fled London on the same day, heading west toward Wales. Isabella and Mortimer now had an effective alliance with the Lancastrian opposition to Edward, bringing all of his opponents into a single coalition.[3]

Isabella now marched south towards London, pausing at Dunstable on 7 October. London was now in the hands of the mobs, although broadly allied to Isabella. Bishop Walter de Stapledon, unfortunately, failed to realise the extent to which royal power had collapsed in the capital and tried to intervene militarily to protect his property against rioters; a hated figure locally, he was promptly attacked and killed—his head was later sent to Isabella by her local supporters. Edward, meanwhile, was still fleeing west, reaching Gloucester by the 9th. Isabella responded by marching swiftly west herself in an attempt to cut him off, reaching Gloucester a week after Edward, who slipped across the border into Wales the same day.[24] Isabella was joined by the northern baronage led by Thomas Wake, Henry de Beaumont and Henry Percy which now gave her total military superiority.[20]

Hugh Despenser the Elder continued to hold Bristol against Isabella and Mortimer, who placed it under siege between 18–26 October when it fell.[2] Isabella was able to recover her daughters Eleanor of Woodstock and Joan of the Tower, who had been kept in the Despenser's custody. By now desperate and increasingly deserted by their court, Edward and Hugh Despenser the younger attempted to sail to Lundy, a small island just off the Devon coast, but the weather was against them and after several days they were forced to land back in Wales.[25]

With Bristol secure, Isabella moved her base of operations up to the border town of Hereford, from where she ordered Henry of Lancaster to locate and arrest her husband.[26] After a fortnight of evading Isabella's forces in South Wales, Edward and Hugh were finally caught and arrested near Llantrisant on 16 November, the same day that the rest of the Despensers were defeated in Wales which brought an end to the insurrection and the civil war.[27]


Edward II of England died somehow, most likely assassinated by orders of Isabella and Mortimer. What is known is that both Hugh Despenser the younger and Edmund Fitzalan were both hanged, drawn, and quartered. The death of Fitzalan, Despenser the younger, Despenser the elder, and Edward II brought an end to the Despenser wars but saw the start of a year of looting of the Despenser's estates and the issuing of pardons to thousands of people falsely indicted by them.[24]

On 31 March 1327, under Isabella's instruction, Edward III agreed a peace treaty with Charles IV of France: Aquitaine would be returned to Edward, with Charles receiving 50,000 livres, the territories of Limousin, Quercy, the Agenais and Périgord, and the Bazas country, leaving the young Edward with a much reduced territory.[28]


  1. ^ a b c d Weir (2006), p 223
  2. ^ a b Prestwich pp 86-87
  3. ^ a b c d e Lehman pp 141-42
  4. ^ a b c Richardson p 61
  5. ^ Weir (2006), p 153
  6. ^ Weir (2006), p 154; see Mortimer, 2004 pp 128-9 for the alternative perspective.
  7. ^ Ormrod, W. Mark. "England: Edward II and Edward III." The New Cambridge Medieval History. Ed. Michael Jones. Cambridge University Press, 2000. Cambridge Histories Online. Cambridge University Press. p. 278
  8. ^ Ormrod, p 287
  9. ^ Weir (2006), p 194
  10. ^ A point born out by Mortimer, 2004, p.140
  11. ^ Weir (2006), p 197
  12. ^ Mortimer (2004) p 141
  13. ^ a b Weir (2006), p 215
  14. ^ Patent Rolls 1232–1509.
  15. ^ Close Rolls 1224–1468.
  16. ^ Prestwich p 86 there was no danger from France for Isabella found her support from Hainaut
  17. ^ Kibler p 477
  18. ^ a b Weir (2006), p 221
  19. ^ Weir (2006), p 222
  20. ^ a b c d e Fryde 1979
  21. ^ Lumley 1895
  22. ^ a b Fryde pp 182-86
  23. ^ Weir (2006), p 226
  24. ^ a b Fryde pp 190-92
  25. ^ Haines p 224
  26. ^ Wier (2006), p 234
  27. ^ Richardson p 643
  28. ^ Neillands, p.32.


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