Aymer de Valence, 2nd Earl of Pembroke : biography
Aymer de Valence, 2nd Earl of Pembroke (c. 1275 – 23 June 1324) was a Franco-English nobleman. Though primarily active in England, he also had strong connections with the French royal house. One of the wealthiest and most powerful men of his age, he was a central player in the conflicts between Edward II of England and his nobility, particularly Thomas, 2nd Earl of Lancaster. Pembroke was one of the Lords Ordainers appointed to restrict the power of Edward II and his favourite Piers Gaveston. His position changed with the great insult he suffered when Gaveston, as a prisoner in his custody whom he had sworn to protect, was removed and beheaded on the instigation of Lancaster. This led Pembroke into close and lifelong cooperation with the King. Later in life, however, political circumstances combined with financial difficulties would cause him problems, driving him away from the centre of power.
Though earlier historians saw Pembroke as the head of a ‘middle party’, between the extremes of Lancaster and the king, the modern consensus is that he remained essentially loyal to Edward throughout most of his career. Pembroke was married twice, and left no legitimate issue, though he did have a bastard son. He is today remembered primarily through his wife’s foundation of Pembroke College, Cambridge, and for his splendid tomb that can still be seen in Westminster Abbey. He was also an important figure in the wars against Robert the Bruce.
Family and early years
Aymer was the son of William de Valence, son of Hugh X, Count of La Marche and Isabella of Angoulême.Phillips (1972), p. 2. William was Henry III’s half-brother through his mother’s prior marriage to King John, and as such gained a central position in the Kingdom of England.H. W. Ridgeway, ”, Oxford Dictionary of National Biography (Oxford, 2004). He had come to the earldom of Pembroke through his marriage to Joan de Munchensi, granddaughter of William Marshal. Aymer was the third son of his family, so little is known of his birth and early years. He is believed to have been born some time between 1270 and 1275.Phillips (1972), p. 8. As his father was on crusade with Lord Edward until January 1273, a date towards the end of this period is more likely.Phillips (2004). With the death in battle in Wales of his remaining brother William in 1282 (John, the elder brother, was dead in 1277), Aymer found himself heir to the Earldom of Pembroke. William de Valence died in 1296, and Aymer inherited his father’s French lands, but had to wait until his mother died in 1307 to succeed to the Earldom.Phillips (1972), p. 9. Through inheritance and marriages his lands consisted of – apart from the county palatine in Pembrokeshire – property spread out across England primarily in a strip from Gloucestershire to East Anglia, in south-east Ireland (Wexford), and French lands in the Poitou- and Calais areas.Phillips (1972), pp. 240–2.
In 1297 he accompanied Edward I on a campaign to Flanders, and seems to have been knighted by this time.Phillips (1972), p. 22. With his French connections he was in the following years a valuable diplomat in France for the English King.Phillips (1972), pp. 23–4. He also served as military commander in Scotland. He won an important victory over Robert the Bruce in 1306 at the Battle of Methven, only to be defeated by Bruce at Loudoun Hill the next year.Phillips (1972), p. 24Traquair, Peter Freedom’s Sword
T.F. Tout, in 1914 one of the first historians to make a thorough academic study of the period, considered Pembroke the one favourable exception in an age of small-minded and incompetent leaders.Tout (1918), p. 30. Tout wrote of a ‘middle party’, led by Pembroke, representing a moderate position between the extremes of Edward and Lancaster. This ‘middle party’ supposedly took control of royal government through the Treaty of Leake in 1318.Tout (1918), pp. 111–2, 144–5. In his authoritative study of 1972, J.R.S. Phillips rejects this view. In spite of misgivings with the King’s favourites, Pembroke was consistently loyal to Edward. What was accomplished in 1318 was not the takeover by a ‘middle party’, but simply a restoration of royal power.Phillips (1972), pp. 136–77.