Saturday, May 28, 2005

Breakfast isn't always good for you.

I'm researching the Barons' War of the mid 13th century, when Simon de Montfort was leading an attempt to control the power of the monarchy and bring it under the partial control of the barons. At this time, Edward I was heir to his father, Henry III, but he was at times a supporter of reform. Even so, his relationship with Richard de Clare, Earl of Gloucester, one of the reforming barons, was instable, let us say.

From EDWARD I by Michael Prestwich, Methuen, 1988

"In late July 1258, at Winchester, Edward breakfasted with the earl of Gloucester and his brother William, an indication that he was ready to co-operate with the reforming barons. The meal was a disastrous one, however, for both the de Clare brothers were extremely ill afterwards. William never recovered, and died shortly afterwards, and Earl Richard’s hair fell out, as did his finger- and toe-nails. It was probably a simple case of food-poisoning [you think?], but in the excited atmosphere of the time rumours of plots abounded [you're not kidding!], and Gloucester’s steward, Walter de Scoteny, was accused of poisoning his masters. He was duly found guilty, drawn and hanged. [No comment.]

He was a tenant of Edward’s, and in the following year the prince was granted the proceeds of his lands. [Yet more lack of commentary.]

The fateful breakfast did not, it seems, poison relations between Edward and the earl of Gloucester. An important document shows that on 14 March 1259 a formal alliance was made between Edward and his supporters on the one hand, and Richard de Clare with his on the other. "

Richard died in 1262 at only age 40* -- possibly of poison. At breakfast again?

*The statistics that imply that most people died at about 35 are highly misleading. More on that another time.

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