24 June, 2006

Edward II Novel of the Week (kind of) (4): 'Infamous' by Virginia Henley

Thanks once again to Susan Higginbotham for sending me a copy of this. (My Edward II library would be smaller without her kindness.) Although I've decided to review it, Infamous is not really an Edward II novel; although he appears a few times, he only gets one line of dialogue, the eloquent and moving "I am now Edward the Second, King of England!" Infamous is the story of Marjory ( known as Jory) de Warenne, the (fictional) niece of the Earl of Surrey, and her relationship with Guy de Beauchamp, Earl of Warwick - a real person and abductor of Piers Gaveston. Edward II's sister Joan(na) of Acre is a major character and friend of Jory, and most of the other characters are real people.

Poor Edward II gets a pretty rough deal here. Later in the novel, he is a "poor excuse of a king". He "weeps like a girl", is an "elegantly garbed lout" and gets drunk and has a snowball fight on the day of his mother's death. Jory thinks disapprovingly "What an unseemly display when his mother has just died. Edward is no longer a child!" Well, yes, he was; he was six years old when his mother Eleanor of Castile died in 1290. Much later, Joan of Acre says that her brother will make a "piss-poor king" and, while discussing fighting and warriors, that he "hates martial arts". I can't get rid of a mental image of Edward reluctantly karate-chopping Roger Mortimer.

Historical inaccuracies

- the novel begins in 1290, at the time of Joan's marriage to Gilbert de Clare. It ends in 1308. Clearly, eighteen years have not passed in the narrative.
- Joan was twelve years older than her brother Edward II, not four.
- Roger Mortimer gets married in 1291, when he was actually four years old. (At least Henley gets his wife, Joan de Geneville, right.)
- Joan has only one child, a daughter named 'Margaret Eleanor'. Historically, she had four children by de Clare and four by her second husband Ralph de Monthermer. As it adds nothing to the plot and 'Margaret Eleanor' plays no role (though she does get the best line in the novel, the classic "My doggie pissed on the carpet") I don't see the point of changing this.
- Joan isn't sure if de Clare is the father of the mysterious 'Margaret Eleanor', as she slept with another man on the eve of her wedding. Historically, her first child Gilbert was born a little over a year after her wedding.
- Joan worries that her father Edward I will "set aside" her secret second marriage to Ralph. Apparently, she thought that he'd been elected Pope....the only man who had the authority to do this.
- Edward I was married to Eleanor of Castile for thirty-six years, not "almost fifty".
- The Earl of Warwick was eighteen in 1290, not thirty-four. His previous two wives are dead in the novel - in fact, he was divorced from his first wife Isabel de Clare and she outlived him, as did his second wife Alice de Toeni. Still, I'm not complaining about this too much, as he obviously needs to be single for the purposes of the novel.
- Warwick says that his son 'Rickard' (not Richard) is the same age as the future Edward II. In fact, Warwick's son was named Thomas, and he was born in 1313/4, thirty years later than Edward II.
- At the end of the novel, it's clear that Rickard and Roger Mortimer's 'sister' Catherine are falling in love. Warwick's son Thomas did marry Catherine Mortimer, but she was Roger's daughter, not his sister.
- the name 'Plantagenet' is used, more than two hundred years too early.
- the King is called 'Your Majesty', which wasn't used until the time of the Tudors. In the Middle Ages, kings were called 'Your Grace'. Likewise, it's anachronistic to refer to the King's daughter as 'Princess' - they were known as 'Lady'.
- Warwick is described as a Frenchman. In fact, he was no more French than any other of the English nobility of the time.
- Jory asks Warwick to teach her French, which would have been her first language.
- Roger Mortimer and others are furious that Edward II gives Roger's wardship to Piers Gaveston, 'proving' how 'unnatural' his affection for the other man is and that he will do anything to please his favourite. It was Edward I who gave Mortimer's wardship to Gaveston, in 1304.
- Edward II and Robert Bruce are the same age here; Bruce was ten years older (born 1274)
- Edward is present when Edward I dies near the Scottish border. In fact, he was in the South.
- Hugh Despenser the Elder is already Earl of Winchester in 1307, fifteen years too early.
- Lancaster is Edward II's uncle - he was his cousin.

Other irritations:

- I find the premise of the novel rather silly - Jory's uncle and brother refuse to marry her to the Earl of Warwick because he was sixteen years older. That strikes me as highly unlikely in the fourteenth century, as does the notion that they would turn down such a splendid match for Jory.
- Jory goes around everywhere with her hair uncovered, all the better to make men lust after her, which is improbable in the extreme for a married woman around 1300.
- Warwick constantly calls Jory chéri. That's the male version; the female version is chérie.
- Warwick hits the young Edward, on the day of his ill-advised and callous snowball fight. I doubt he could have got away with doing such a thing!
- It's Jory who has the brilliant idea that Bruce should marry the Earl of Ulster's daughter Elizabeth, who lives in his own household, to ally himself with the Earl. Because, you know, he'd never have thought of that himself.
- Joan says that she herself would make a much better king than her brother, but "Edward would make a far better queen!" Ooh, hilarious!


The novel contains a lot of amusingly bad "As you know, Bob" dialogue [that is, when one character tells another something s/he already knows, in order to inform the reader]. Some examples:

- "Your uncle, John de Warenne, and your brother, Lynx, will soon be arranging your marriage."
- "Your shining silver-gilt hair and pale green eyes make a perfect foil for the sultry dark colouring I inherited from my mother's Castilian ancestors."
- "You had an opportunity last year when we travelled to the Bruce estates in Essex for the ceremony where Bruce passed the Earldom of Carrick to his eldest son."
- "That happened the year after your brother wed Sylvia Bigod, the queen's lady-in-waiting."
- "Gilbert de Clare, Earl of Gloucester, is England's premier noble."

And that's just from the first scene of the novel!!

Some of the names are just ludicrous. For example, Jory's father is called Lincoln, her brother is Lynx, and her daughter is named Brianna. Lynx's son is Lincoln Robert. Puh-leeze! Looking at Virginia Henley's website, she does this a lot; three of her other heroines are called Jasmine, Sabre and Summer. *Sniggers*

A lot of the language seems far too modern and/or colloquial, and often rather American. On the first page, Joanna of Acre talks about 'going all the way'. Jory is 'conflicted' several times, ponders 'sexual compatibility' and 'sexual energy', and wonders if her husband is 'sexually inadequate'. Also, some of the euphemisms are very silly. "He gloved himself in her honeyed sheath"??! *Sniggers uncontrollably*. The unfortunate phrase 'honeyed sheath' crops up a few times, in fact, as does 'her woman's center' (in the American spelling).

Near the end of the novel, I was jolted right out of the story by the references to Edward II and Piers Gaveston as 'cocksuckers'. Piers is also called a 'Gascon bum-fucker'. Nasty. I suppose you could argue that Henley is describing contemporary attitudes, but there are numerous other ways they could be expressed without using such crudely offensive language. It really doesn't belong in a romance novel, in my opinion (or any other kind of novel, come to think of it) . Warwick's son 'Rickard' is sexually assaulted (off-stage) by Piers Gaveston, and Roger Mortimer leaves court to avoid the same fate. Men who love men just have to try to seduce every young man in sight, apparently.


Virginia Henley is a hugely popular and successful romance author, and I suppose I can see why. Jory is a lot less irritating than other romance heroines I've read, and Warwick is pretty damn sexy- though he's waaaay sexier earlier in the novel, when he's rather sinister, than later on, when he evolves into a kind of modern New Man. He unhesitatingly agrees to marry Jory although she is pregnant by another man, and even helps to deliver the baby (and manages to keep a straight face when Jory names her Brianna).

However, I think that if Henley chooses to write about real people, she should make more effort to get the - incredibly basic - details correct. Her next novel, provisionally entitled Scandalous or Notorious, due for publication next summer, deals with Queen Isabella and Roger Mortimer, with the delightfully-named Brianna as the heroine. I dread to think what Henley will do with Edward in this one.

In conclusion, this is reasonably enjoyable as a romance. But it bears little resemblance to the real fourteenth century.

13 comments:

Susan Higginbotham said...

"Honeyed sheath"? This conquers up unpleasant images of bumblebees flying where they really shouldn't be . . .

Missed the part where Warwick teachers Jory French. A medieval 'enry 'iggins. I suppose.

Carla said...

You sum it up perfectly at the end when you say it's a romance that bears little resemblance to the real 14th century. Romance and reality make uncertain bedfellows...

"Your shining silver-gilt hair and pale green eyes make a perfect foil for the sultry dark colouring I inherited from my mother's Castilian ancestors." And a character called Lynx. Ack. Those tell me all I need to know about the book.

Was accusation of homosexuality a mortal insult at the time? If so, might the salty language have been intended to give just that jolt of offence and disgust?

Sarah said...

Thanks for the review! It's pretty much what I expected. And here Romantic Times gave it a 4 1/2 star, Top Pick rating, partly because it's "lush, lusty, and overflowing with vivid historical details."

For anyone who wants to read more about Lynx de Warenne, well, that's another book...

Prince_Lieven said...

Ick! I *hate* vulgar colloquialism in historical novels. Obviously you can't be too 'period' (shouts of 'Jesu' can get irritating after all!) but what's the point in setting it in the 14th Century if the language sounds so modern?? Even the names - Lynx, Brianna, 'Lincoln' (sounds like what some celebrity might call their next child!).

Alianore said...

Thanks for the comments, everyone!
Carla: accusing someone of 'sodomy' at that time was indeed a mortal insult, I suppose (not 'homosexuality' as this wasn't used as an identifier back then). So maybe you could excuse Henley on the grounds you suggest. However, I hate seeing words like that in a novel...just my instinctive reaction.

Hi Sarah: I didn't mention the historical details, unfortunately. There are a lot of them, not always accurate (eg, Jory writes Warwick a letter then puts it in an envelope!)

PL: Ah, but how else would you describe that a 14th C character is sexually inadequate?? ;)

Gabriele C. said...

Fine, another book I must not read. ;)

I'm not enough of a romance reader to excuse the sloppy history.

Alianore said...

Gabriele: yes, this is one to miss, unless you're a real fan of romance novels (or Edward II!)

Gabriele C. said...

I think Edward is an interesting character for a novel as long as he isn't reduced to 'incompetent, whiny cocksucker'. :)

Alianore said...

Hehe! And don't forget, he's a 'queen' as well! ;) But at least he doesn't have 'shining-gilt hair'...though maybe he has the sultry colouring of his Castilian ancestors. ;)

6CM Aktuell said...
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MRats said...

Thank you for turning the review of an historically inaccurate romance novel into a wealth of interesting facts!

I didn't know that the Kings of England before the time of Henry VIII were called "Your Grace" rather than "Your Majesty". Were the queens addressed the same way?

I recall from your post about "Queen Isabella and the Strange Death of Edward II" that Doherty incorrectly described Isabella as a "princess" since the daughters of kings weren't referred to that way until centuries later. But I did not know that her proper title would have been "lady".

You wrote that the royal family did not call itself "Plantagenet" in the fourteenth century. I'm curious to know the surname that Edward, or for that matter, Thomas of Lancaster, would have used back then.

Kathryn Warner said...

Hi MRats! :)

I think now that Edward II was addressed as 'my lord king' most of the time. Isabella in writing was always 'ma dame la royne', my lady the queen, and maybe this was how she was addressed in speech too. Richard II used 'Majesty' for a while near the end of his reign, attracted a great deal of criticism, and it wasn't used again till the Tudors.

Yes, the children of kings were the only people with the automatic right to the title Lord and Lady from birth. Edward before his accession was always Monsire Edward, or Dominus Edwardus in Latin. After 1301, he was 'Lord Edward, prince of Wales' or 'Lord Edward, the prince', but never 'Prince Edward'.

Edward was called by his birthplace, Edward of Caernarfon, in place of a surname. As far as I know, it was the same with Thomas of Lancaster, his and his father's premier earldom. Geoffrey le Baker in the mid-14c even called Isabella 'Lady Isabella of Caernarfon', though that's the only time I've seen that!

MRats said...

Thank you, Kathryn. That's fascinating. It puzzled me that the earls--le Despenser, de Warenne, de Lacy, de Beauchamp--would all have surnames while Edward and his cousin Thomas did not.

Of course, if we believe the legend about King Stephen and Matilda, the royal family didn't have a right to the name Plantagent anyway! ;-)