Notts Rebels: Edward III

Words: Gareth Morgan
Wednesday 17 June 2020
reading time: min, words

In celebration of the Nottingham Castle Trust’s #VoicesofToday campaign, our Notts Rebels series continues with the story of Edward III and his audacious bid to rid England of a usurper at Nottingham Castle...


We all remember being seventeen. Early forays into the world of work, perhaps still at college, driving theory tests, cans of cider down the skate park – all done while not quite old enough to be out from under the watchful auspices of the parents. In 1330, being seventeen was a little different for Edward Plantagenet, the third King Edward of England – and not in the 17 Again Matthew Perry-Zac Efron cinematic epic way.

When he was fourteen, Edward’s dad (also Edward) was murdered, allegedly on the orders of his wife and young Edward’s mother Isabella – often referred to as The She-Wolf of France and played by the beguiling Sophie Marceau in Braveheart.

Edward’s dad, Edward II, is a king with a story that deserves some discussion, as it has been widely speculated that he was gay – he famously had male favourites at court who would accompany him, rather than his wife, on state affairs. Both of his two most famous favourites, first Piers Gaveston and then later Hugh Despenser, were exiled and later killed by supporters of Isabella. Although he had four children with Isabella and another child outside of his marriage, the idea that Edward II may have been gay or bi has stuck, though we will never know for sure and contemporary evidence is scant.

Isabella, during the times Edward spent away, had herself fallen in love with Roger Mortimer, a powerful lord from the Welsh borders, and the two struck up an affair. When this became public, the pair fled to France with young Prince Edward. In September 1326, they returned to England with an army to depose Edward II. The people of London rose in support of the queen and Edward fled, pursued by Mortimer and Isabella. After wandering helplessly for some weeks in Wales, the king was taken prisoner and was compelled to abdicate in favour of his son. He died less than a year later in captivity – some say murdered on the orders of Isabella and Mortimer by having a red-hot poker inserted somewhere rather painful.

As Edward’s chief supporter William Montagu told him: “it is better to eat the dog than be eaten by the dog”

Young Edward was installed as king aged just fourteen with his mother and her lover acting as his advisers and de facto rulers of the country. Nottingham was one of their favourite castles and it was here that their three-year proxy-reign came to an end, slightly ironically considering how Edward II was possibly dispatched, via an unguarded dark hole beneath them.

On the 19 October 1330, the young King Edward and a small group of heavily armed supporters were in Nottingham. Their intent: to dispose of Mortimer and allow Edward to rule uncontrolled by this usurper. They planned to enter the Castle at night and take Mortimer to London to be tried and executed. However, none of this could have happened however without a little bit of Notts, namely William Eland – one of the most important people who lived New Basford you’ve never heard of (apart from me). Eland was the deputy constable of the Castle and knew the hidden tunnel that would take Edward and his supporters from the base of the Castle Rock into the bowels of the fortress virtually unnoticed. Edward would stay in the Castle, so as not to arouse suspicion.

On the following day, Mortimer had planned to convene a Parliament at Nottingham at which Edward and his supporters feared the usurper regent would attempt further curtail the young king’s power. As Edward’s chief supporter William Montagu told him: “it is better to eat the dog than be eaten by the dog”. Though only a small group of 28, against the more than 200 Mortimer had defending the Castle, they set out from Eland Hall in Algarthorpe (now the Selco builders’ merchants on Radford Road) down the Leen to capture Mortimer.

At around midnight the raiders entered the tunnel through a concealed entry way in the deer park on the west side of the castle (now Castle Grove in the Park) with Eland leading the way. The tunnel is believed to have come out into the middle bailey, close to the royal apartments. Eland, Montagu climbed the stairs to the queen’s chamber where she and Mortimer were sleeping. Though there were 200 knights and men at arms guarding the castle, only three were outside the royal bed chamber. All three guards were dispatched by the mace of Sir John Neville, one of Edward’s more fearsome knights. The men broke into the chamber and disarmed Mortimer, placing him under arrest for treason against the king.

While Edward was a figure of great power, this act of rebellion was one which had a huge impact medieval Britain and on Europe

Edward now joined his men and went with Montagu from chamber to chamber, ordering the arrests of Mortimer's sons, Geoffrey and Edmund, and Mortimer's henchman, Simon Bereford. The bishop of Lincoln - Mortimer's closest friend - was captured trying to escape down a privy chute. Mortimer was bound and gagged then led to the castle’s supply tunnel. At the bottom, in Brewhouse Yard, he was tied to a horse and the ridden to London for trial and execution. Isabella was initially taken to Berkhamsted Castle, and then held under house arrest at Windsor Castle until 1332, when she then moved back to her own Castle Rising in Norfolk.

While Edward was a figure of great power, this act of rebellion was one which had a huge impact medieval Britain and on Europe. Edward would go on to be one of the great kings of the age, winning great victories against the French at Crécy and Poitiers; transforming England into one of the most formidable military powers in the West. He oversaw vital developments in legislation and government, the evolution of the English Parliament, as well as, topically, guiding the country through Bubonic plague.

He didn’t forget his friends either – William Eland was made Constable of Nottingham Castle within days of the successful raid, and Edward would return regularly throughout his reign, including for the great Parliament of 1337, where important laws around cloth and fur were enacted. Edward’s later life were more conventional for a medieval monarch but to perform a daring coup d'état which ends up with your stepdad (who allegedly ordered your dad to be murder by red-hot poker up the rear end) being hanged is quite the way to go, and all before reaching his twentieth birthday. Quite the teenage rebel.

Voices of Today’ is aimed at inspiring Nottingham residents to get creative and represent their experiences or perspectives on activism, protest and rebellion in a number of ways, including poetry, drawing, singing, acting, dance, creating a protest banner or something different altogether.

You can submit your artistic take on Nottingham's history of activism, protest and rebellion at @nottmcastle using the hashtag #VoicesofToday           

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