27 February, 2006

Rules for historical fact and fiction on Edward II and Isabella

Thanks to Susan and Carla (and others - follow the links) for giving me a great laugh with their 'Rules for Historical Fiction'.

This gave me a few ideas for my own 'Rules For Historical Fiction (And So-Called Fact) Featuring Edward II And Queen Isabella':

1) Early on in Edward and Isabella's marriage, Edward is usually portrayed as ignoring the beauteous Isabella in favour of the appalling Gascon upstart, Gaveston. Isabella, madly in love with her handsome yet neglectful husband, must be distraught about this. As an alternative, however, you might prefer to show Edward enthusiastically consummating his marriage, in which case the fact that Isabella is only twelve will be emphasised. The main point is to depict Edward II as a pervert, either because he had sex with a twelve-year-old girl, or because he didn't.

2) In 1312, Isabella must be portrayed as the forlorn and abandoned victim of her husband's cruel neglect, as he abandons her at Tynemouth in order to take his lover Gaveston to safety. She must also be shown to be in dire peril from the pursuing Earl of Lancaster. The fact that Edward II almost certainly wanted to spare his young, pregnant wife the rigours of a 5-day sea journey, and that she was in no danger at all from Lancaster, her own uncle, must under no circumstances be mentioned. As ever, Isabella must be depicted as a victim, at all costs.

3) It must be taken as historical fact that Edward wanted to divorce Isabella in 1324, although no documents have ever been found proving this. Hugh Despenser, the arch-villain of all time, must be the instigator of this and all other 'humilations' of Isabella, to give Isabella a good reason for her hideous execution of him in 1326. Isabella is a Helpless Victim of Despenser's nefarious schemes (see also number 2)

4) Isabella must have an affair with Roger Mortimer while he is imprisoned in the Tower, 1322-23, despite the logistical improbability (impossibility?) of such an affair. If you have to change the date of birth of Isabella's youngest child Joan by a year or so in order to put Isabella in the Tower at the right time, that is perfectly acceptable. Showing that Isabella even helped Mortimer to escape is optional, but definitely preferred.

5) Edward II is abnormal for not loving Isabella simply because she is beautiful. Roger Mortimer, on the other hand, must fall madly and completely in love with her the first time he sees her in France in 1325. Mortimer's inconvenient wife is conveniently never mentioned (see also number 15)

6) Edward and Hugh Despenser's peace treaty with Scotland is a cop-out, a betrayal and proves their total incompetence. Isabella and Mortimer's peace treaty with Scotland proves Isabella's astuteness, statecraft and foreknowledge of the later existence of the United Kingdom. Not, as a cynic such as myself might think, that Isabella and Mortimer's greed had depleted the Treasury to such an extent that they couldn't afford a military campaign and had no choice but to make peace with Scotland, and were desperate to get their grubby little mitts on Bruce's 20,000 pounds.

7) Edward's (admittedly tyrannical) executions of his enemies in 1322 must be presented as the worst thing that had ever happened in England, as though nobody had ever been executed or imprisoned before. By contrast, Isabella and Mortimer's totally illegal 1326 executions of the Earl of Arundel and his friends, and Hugh Despenser's friend Simon of Reading, are ignored, or alternatively shown as fully justified, because Mortimer hated these men. (Apparently, it's acceptable to have men beheaded, simply because you hate them.) Isabella's role in the judicial murder of her cousin and brother-in-law Kent in 1330 is downplayed or denied altogether, and Mortimer blamed.

8) Edward II's 1324 establishment of separate households for his three younger children, a perfectly normal procedure for royal children in the Middle Ages, is usually portrayed as 'stealing' Isabella's children from her, as though she never saw them again (and as though a medieval queen would have raised her own children anyway). As always, your aim must be to increase Isabella's victimhood.

9) Hugh Despenser the Younger must be depicted as one of the worst men in history, a man who could teach Hitler and Stalin a thing or two about evil. Throw any negative character trait you can at him - a 20th century mass murderer would make a good model for Hugh. It doesn't matter if the traits are contradictory, like making him both girlish and weak but also a brutal wife-beater, or if there's no historical evidence whatsoever, like having him torture people for entertainment. The aim is to make the fact that Isabella feasted and celebrated while watching Hugh being disembowelled and emasculated seem Morally Justified.

10) Hugh Despenser's greed and land-grabbing can be made to fill an entire book, but the fact that Isabella and Mortimer's relentless and ruthless self-aggrandisement was far, far worse can conveniently be ignored. You should mention as often as possible, and in terms of the greatest outrage, that Despenser's income was 7000 pounds a year and he held lands worth 6000 pounds, but ignore at all costs Isabella's annual income of 13,333 pounds, cash grants of 32,000 pounds in 6 weeks, theft of the 20,000 given to England by Robert Bruce, and appropriation of any lands she fancied. If you do choose to mention this, make sure you present her enormous greed as an acceptable and fully justified reaction to her long and terrible 'suffering'.

11) Edward II must be depicted as a misogynist, who only rarely comes to Isabella's bed because of his hatred and contempt for women. This means you will have to ignore his natural son Adam. If you can hint that Edward was not the father of Isabella's children, all the better. The same with Despenser and Gaveston - just ignore the former's 9 children, and the 2 daughters by 2 women of the latter, and make them as effeminate as possible.

12) In 1326, Isabella The Great Victim is suddenly and miraculously transformed into Isabella The Great Avenger, come to save the people of England from their terrible suffering. She is totally in control and capable of organising and leading a full-scale military invasion, despite the presence of Mortimer, the greatest solider in England at the time.

13) It's best to just ignore the fact that most of the men who supported Isabella and Mortimer in 1326/7 rebelled against them only 2 years later, including Isabella's uncle Henry of Lancaster, Mortimer's nephew Hugh Audley and his cousin Thomas Wake. If you really have to mention it, depict the men as a bunch of selfish, whiny malcontents with no legitimate grievances against Isabella's rule, which is of course perfect. (On the other hand, any rebellions against Edward and the Despensers are legitimate.)

14) Anything said or written by Isabella, especially in the years 1325-7, is presumed to be the gospel truth. If she said her life was in danger from the Despensers (1325) or from her husband (1327), then of course her life must have been in danger. If she said that Edward was a degenerate pervert, then he must have been a degenerate pervert. The fact that Isabella was the daughter of a master propagandist (Philip IV) is assumed to be irrelevant here.

15) The relationship of Isabella and Mortimer is the greatest love affair of the Middle Ages, fully justified because of Edward's neglect of her, and not at all a political marriage of convenience. Edward II's affairs with Gaveston and Despenser are, however, perverted and immoral. Even from a 21st century viewpoint, apparently. How nice that we've come so far. Mortimer must always be depicted as a heap of testosterone who makes Isabella quiver with desire, as opposed to Edward, who shuns her bed (see also number 1 and 11)

16) Any contemporary chronicle either hostile to Edward and the Despensers and/or approving of Isabella is assumed to be 100% true. Any chronicle which dares to criticise Isabella can safely be ignored, as it's clearly only propaganda to blacken her name, written by a misogynist who couldn't cope with powerful women.

17) You are allowed to make up any silly plot devices which 'prove' the survival of Edward II after 1327. Implausibility does not matter. The main aim is to get Isabella off the hook of having her husband murdered. If you do choose to have Edward murdered in 1327, make sure that Mortimer is solely responsible and that Isabella, implausibly, suspects nothing.

18) You are probably keen to re-write Isabella as a feminist icon, a kind of 14th century Warrior Princess who embodied the qualities of every powerful female leader who has ever lived. However, you don't know what to do when Isabella does something that you find morally repugnant. No problem! Mortimer only exists in the story to act as a useful scapegoat, and your strong-willed, powerful Warrior Princess was obviously temporarily possessed by a Fembot, who meekly did whatever her man told her to do. Hint: if Mortimer is unavailable, Henry of Lancaster makes a very acceptable alternative scapegoat. Even if you've portrayed both men elsewhere as possessing no power whatsoever, it doesn't matter. Who cares about contradictions?

Are all the above elements present in your book? Congratulations! You're ready for publication.


Anonymous said...

Bravo Alianore, that was absolutely wonderful! You really did have me 'laughing out loud!'

Gabriele Campbell said...

And Isabella was so right to have Edward killed in an especially cruel way: by shoving a ramshorn up his behind and then insert a hot iron poker through it. After all, he's always been mean to her. ;-)

Don't know if that's true, though.

Title and author escape me at present, but I remember having read a novel where most of those points have been (mis)used.

Carla said...

'Cashelmara' and 'Braveheart' have a lot to answer for :-)
Puzzled as to how Isabella is both a Warrior Princess (though, I trust, in something more sensible than a leather bikini) and a Victim.

Kathryn Warner said...

Gabriele, the story of Edward's demise may or may not be true - in my view, it's more likely to be symbolic than real. It's far more likely that he was smothered, or poisoned. I think medical opinion tends to the view that the 'hot poker'method would kill you within days, not minutes or hours. Hideous! :(

Sarah Cuthbertson said...

Exemplary Rules, Alianore. As a result of reading them, I've consigned the MS of my sorry Edward II and Isabella novel to the Flames of Shame.

wil said...

Just found your site via Sarah's Bookarama. Great rules list and terrific subject overall...I look forward to more!

Kathryn Warner said...

Thanks, Wil and Sarah! My campaign to rehabilitate Edward II continues....!

Susan Higginbotham said...

Loved the list! All sadly all too true!

ilya said...

just pointing out that i AM reading this thing, just that i don't have many smart things to reply to it so i just lurk in a corner. but i'm still on board, it's all very interesting :)

Anonymous said...

I would LOVE to see a Rashomon-style retelling of Edward II's reigns, perhaps with Edward, Isabella, Roger, and Hugh each giving their own side of the story. Most historical fiction authors tend to pick one character and follow them slavishly -- but I think it'd be absolutely fascinating to see the same events from four different perspectives. Each person is the hero of his or her own story, after all.

Kathryn Warner said...

Hi Mip. It's so funny that you should mention Rashomon - I'm fascinated by the notion of telling a story from different perspectives, and that film inspired me. A few months ago, I started something along those lines, in multiple first person, from Edward, Isabella and Hugh's POVs. I haven't worked on it for ages, but I loved doing it - getting into all their heads was great, and all of them had secrets the others didn't know, misinterpreted the others' behaviour, and so on...;) I must get back to it - it was great to plan and write. (Maybe also including Roger, or even Eleanor de Clare).

Anonymous said...

ROTFL! This was fun!! It really cheered me up after reading *shudder* "Queen of Shadows".

If you change the name "Isabella" to "Mary, Queen of Scots", "Mortimer" to "Bothwell", and "Edward II" to "the Earl of Moray/assorted Scottish nobles", you have a perfect template for "Mary, Queen of Scots" novels too.

Blue Jean

Kathryn Warner said...

Thanks very much, Blue Jean! Haven't read many (if any) Mary novels, but books about 'powerful, empowered women' tend to follow the same format, I suppose! :)

Have you read my two posts on Queen of Shadows? They're two of the latest posts, May 2007. Agree with the shudder...;)

suburbanbeatnik said...

I love Mary Stuart to pieces, but I can't stand most Marian fiction. She's either portrayed as a stupid slutty girly girl or Catholic-tyrant-in-training, or is a sainted damsel in distress. *sighs*

I think Mary was generally a kinder, more approachable person than Isabella, but was an over-confident gambler who was not always the best judge of character. What drives me crazy is when people say, "oh, why didn't Mary act like her cousin Elizabeth, who died safely in her bed!" Mary's circumstances were not similar to Elizabeth's, as Mary was the queen of a poor vassal state (the state of which verged on anarchy most of the time) and she didn't have a lot of room to manoeuver. A lot of her sometimes inexplicable decisions seem like the 16th century political equivalents of Hail Marys (I can see her saying later, with a shrug- "well, it seemed like a good idea at the time!") Besides, Mary doesn't strike me as the sort who would want to safely die in bed... she strikes me as being a bit of a risk-loving adventurer, which is probably why I find her so appealing.

Kathryn Warner said...

Hmm, don't think I'll be rushing to read any Marian fiction if that's how they portray her, Joanne! :)

Anonymous said...

Awesome post. As a lover of historical fiction of this period, I could not agree more with your rules. Sadly I've found them to be all too true in most of the work I've read.

Just finished Confession of Piers Gaveston, an awesome, if not totally historically accurate, take on the early period of Edward II.

Thanks for posting,

Kathryn Warner said...

Thanks, Sue - glad you liked them! Glad too that you enjoy reading hsitfict from this period - always great to meet Ed II fans. ;) Have to admit though I'm not a great fan of Confession, thanks mostly to the portrayal of a shrieky Ed, which I found very cliched.

Rachel said...

I've been remiss in not commenting before, but I love and adore these! Your post inspired a group of us on Facebook to come up with our own Anne Boleyn novel rules (which started out listing the cliches, then got progressively more and more bizarre ... although, only slightly more bizarre than Nicholas Sander's propaganda or some of the plot elements of a few recent books. Which says a lot, really).

Rachel said...

PS. I agree with you on the portrayal of Vicious Queen!Edward in "Confession" (not to mention Rentboy!Piers) - I loved that book when I first read it, then after I finished it found myself thinking, "Hey, HANG on ..." Overall I liked it as a *story* if that makes sense, and reviewed it positively, but I have issues with it as a portrayal of the real people, and could have done without the stereotypes. Similarly with Purdy's novel about Jane Boleyn (I'm a massive George and particularly Anne Boleyn fangirl, so I get a bit protective of them when it comes to fiction!) - I was drawn into the story, but afterwards was going, "WTF?"

Kathryn Warner said...

Thanks, Rachel! I had enormous fun writing these (though they do also make me clench my teeth at the blatant double standards of certain writers regarding Ed and Isa) and I'm really glad to hear they inspired some Anne rules - I'll pop over to Facebook now and have a read.

LOL at your names for Ed and Piers in Confession! I keep quiet these days about my opinion of that novel, as a friend of the author (you probably know who I mean) has never forgiven me for daring to say that I didn't think it was the greatest piece of lit ever written and that I didn't adore all the characters more than I love my own mother. :-)

Rachel said...

Yes, I know exactly who you mean :-) I was going to say more, but I'll take it to Facebook instead ... I reposted the Anne rules on my review of TOBG at Amazon as well because a couple of my Ammie friends wanted to see them, and my friend Kellie has just come up with several more that are utterly hilarious!

Kathryn Warner said...

That'd be great, to keep in touch via Facebook!

LOVE the rules, which are laugh out loud funny - I haven't read too much Anne fiction, but even I was nodding with recognition at lots of them! I'm especially fond of the Mary Boleyn one, no. 6. Great, spot-on review of TOBG, too.

Florence said...


Just great!!!!!

I laughed a lot, thank you for that XD

I had the feeling to have the synopsis of the fifth book of the Maurice Druon's work: "the Crused King"!!!

Everything is there!!!

But it seems to me that Thomas of Lancaster (until 1321 of course) could make a good scapegoat too XD

But well Philippe IV was a master of propaganda but he had too if you see the huge talent of Edward I in this!!! lol

It was that or to be eaten without having the time to notice this XD

About that (Philippe IV=> trial of Templiers between 1307-1314)
Did you write an article about the link between Edward II and the Templiers?

I know that in 1307 he welcomed and helped them even if his beloved (lol) step-father was against it.
And to thank him they were in the Scottish army in Bannockburn in 1314...

So gratefull...

Have a nice day!

Florence (again^^)

Kathryn Warner said...

Actually, the Templars fighting against Edward at Bannockburn is a much later myth (fortunately!). No, I haven't written anything about Ed and the Templars - I should, sometime! I think his attempts to protect them reflect well on him.

Really glad you enjoyed the post! :) Have a good day, too.

Florence said...


I'm enjoyed that they didn't do a bad thing like that!!!

From servants of God it would have been (?) just reluctant!

What a great man (specially when you remember that the great master of the order was the godfather of Isabella and that he tried to help him without any success... linked or not?^^)!!!!
It is so him *o*