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Shedding Some Light on King Edward’s Bay

As with most things connected to Tynemouth’s deep history, there’s a whole load of mystery, complexity and confusion surrounding the issue. However, we do know that all three Plantagenet King Edwards had an affinity with Tynemouth Priory and had interests in fortifying the place. Although both Edward I and Edward III curtailed trade at the port of North Shields, which was owned by the Prior, they viewed the early Castle as of more importance as a bulwark against the threat from Scotland.

 Study of King Edward’s Bay by William Bell Scott (c. 1850s) – held by the British Museum

Edward I stayed at the Priory on several occasions, notably after victory over the Scotch forces led by William Wallace at the Battle of Falkirk in 1298. In 1299, two months following his stay, he ordered the Prior to build stone walls around the site and conferred on the Prior a number of liberties and privileges. Edward returned later that year and again in the summer of 1301. In 1303 on his final campaign, his wife, Margaret of France, stayed at the castle for several months awaiting his return.

Edward’s familiarity with the Priory and the building of a more substantial castle is likely to be the basis for the naming of the adjacent bay. Whether this was used in the medieval times or whether it is a more modern appellation is somewhat moot as Edward was the most prolific castle builder in British history and Tynemouth was clearly no exception to this policy.

‘Engraved for the Modern Universal British Traveller’ (1779)

Edward’s son, the less renowned Edward II, had a famous association with the Castle, immortalised in the eponymous play by Christopher Marlowe portraying the King’s downfall. In the play, three scenes are set in and around Tynemouth Castle. Edward II also granted charters of privilege to the Prior. His wife, Queen Isabella, stayed there while he was fighting in Scotland and was present when he escaped to Scarborough, pursued by the aggrieved barons following the fallout from the disastrous Battle of Bannockburn.

Lancaster: And it sufficeth: now my lords know this,

That Gaveston is secretlie arrivde,

And here in Tinmoth frollicks with the king.

Let us with these our followers scale the walles,

And sodenly surprize them unawares.

Mortimer:

Ile give the onset.

Warwicke:

And ile follow thee.

Mortimer:
This tottered ensigne of my auncesters,
Which swept the desart shore of that dead sea,
Whereof we got the name of Mortimer,
Will I advaunce upon this castell walles,
Drums strike alarum, raise them from their sport,
And ring aloude the knell of Gaveston.”

As with Shakespeare, Marlowe was directly inspired by Holinshed’s ‘Chronicles’ and this text was his main source for the play.

“therevpon assembling their powers togither, came towards Newcastell, whither the king from Yorke was remooued, and now hearing of their approch, he got him to Tinmouth, where the quéene laie, and vnderstanding there that Newcastell was taken by the lords, he leauing the quéene behind him, tooke shipping, and sailed from thence with his dearelie belooued familiar the earle of Cornewall, vnto Scarbourgh”

‘EDWARD THE SECOND, the sonne of Edward the first.’
‘Chronicles of England, Scotland and Ireland (2 of 6): England (10 of 12)’ by Raphael Holinshed, (1577).

In preparation for a further expedition north of the border in 1322, Edward ordered the Cinque Ports and other ports on the South Coast to muster ships in Tynemouth by 13th June. In September of that year Edward’s illegitimate son, Adam Fitzroy, was buried at the Priory after dying on the campaign.

Edward’s son and successor Edward III, also had numerous dealings with the Priory. In 1349, in the wake of the Black Death, the Prior in urging the Pope not to draw payment from the Priory obtained a royal letter to the papal legate, dated August 11th. In this letter the King stated that Tynemouth Priory was one of the strongest fortresses in the Marches, that during the Scottish Wars it had been garrisoned and provisioned against attack and that its revenues alone were not sufficient for the cost of defence. He commanded the legate not to appropriate the revenues, as such action would bring ruin upon the monastery. (‘History of Northumberland’ (1907)

Edward III visited Tynemouth Priory in 1334 and probably in 1333. In 1335, while in Newcastle en route to Scotland, he conferred a gold cloth for the altar of the chapel. In 1347 the Prior made Edward III a loan of 20 marks towards the preparations for the siege of Calais and this seems to be in return for reconfirmation of the Prior’s charters as well as the granting of tracts of land around Northumberland. More information on this is likely to be found in Historia Aurea (‘The Golden History’) by the chronicler John of Tynemouth who was Prior in the 14th century and wrote some of the most authoritative work on the Edward III.

King Edward’s Bay (1894) by Frederick Dove Ogilvie (1850-1921) – a coastal painter from North Shields

So those are the Plantagenet Edwards, but in addition to these, Edward III’s great-great grandson, Edward IV, in 1463 after restoration to the throne in the Wars of the Roses, re-conferred the Prior’s privileges, and provided funds for more building work to take place. It was from these funds that the chapel that stands today was built. As well as this, Edward IV reopened North Shields to the coal trade free from hindrance from the coalmen of Newcastle.

Of course, Edward VII and Queen Alexandra had further association with Tynemouth stemming from a visit in 1906(?) during which the bay, two roads and the school were officially named. I remember seeing information and photographs of this in a local history book, which escapes me now and this detail may be inaccurate.

Read the follow up post here with a survey of the 19th century paintings depicting the bay: https://penbal.uk/king-edwards-bay-art

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