04 December, 2005

Edward and Isabella's children

I've decided to make my first 'real' post a commentary on the children of Edward II and Isabella. It seems to be almost an accepted 'fact' on the web these days that Edward wasn't the father of Isabella's children, which is complete nonsense! Read on to learn the truth!

Many people have seen Mel Gibson's film Braveheart, a multi-Oscar-winning look at the life of Scottish hero William Wallace. In the film, there is a storyline that Wallace was the true father of Isabella's eldest child (who we can presume to be the future Edward III). Even today, a full 10 years or so after the film's release, I still read comments that this is a historical truth. Well, people, unless they had the ability to freeze sperm 700 years ago, this cannot be true. Wallace was executed in August 1305, and Isabella gave birth to her first child on 13 November 1312. Not only is the chronology totally impossible, but Isabella was only a child and still in France in 1305 - she married Edward II on 25 January 1308, and was never Princess of Wales as the film depicts her. Her date of birth is unknown, but is assumed to be 1295/6, so at the time of Wallace's death, she was probably around 9 or 10. I'm sure paedophilia wasn't the image of Wallace Gibson really wanted to portray!
It's also nonsense that her father-in-law, King Edward I, could have fathered her child. He died 7 July 1307, and it's probable that they never even met, unless it was when she was a child and still in France.

The truth is that we can be virtually certain that Edward II fathered all her children - at least, as certain as anybody can be regarding paternity. As I said above, the future Edward III was born 13 November 1312. If we count back 38 weeks, the full-term length of a pregnancy from the time of conception, we get 20 February - and we know what happened on this date: Edward II held an enormous (and hugely expensive) celebration at York to mark the birth of Joan, daughter of his great favourite, Piers Gaveston. The celebration lasted a week, and it seems that a combination of party spirits and (perhaps) seeing Gaveston's venture into fatherhood induced Edward and Isabella to start their own family. Edward and Isabella were certainly together in York at this time - Isabella sent Edward a letter from Northampton on 8 February to inform him that she was on her way. Coincidence, or not?! It's certainly a telling one. Even if the pregnancy was not full-term, no matter: Edward and Isabella remained together at York until well into March. Edward II was the father of Edward III.
Some people (including the novelist Paul Doherty, who holds a doctorate from Oxford on Edward and Isabella and should know better) have also postulated that Roger Mortimer (Baron of Wigmore and later Earl of March) was Edward III's father. He DID have an affair with Isabella, but it didn't begin until they were in France, in November/December 1325 - a full 13 years after Edward III's birth. And, to kill that particularly silly theory stone dead, Mortimer was in Ireland from September 1310 to July 1312 at the earliest, and possibly until January 1313.

2 comments:

Prince_Lieven said...

I've always hated the Braveheart misconception of Isabella having an affair with Wallace! The period during which their children were born was the best period of Edward and Isabella's marriage, I think.

Anthony said...

Alison Weir has a great novel on Isabella which is the most up to date and from the perspective of an intelligent woman