17 May, 2007

Blog Break

This will be my last post till 1 June or thereabouts.

I'm delighted to see the results of my 'Fate of Edward II' poll, in the sidebar - fully 39% of you don't believe in the infamous 'red-hot poker' death. That's great, considering it's usually presented as the definitive truth!
I'm slightly less delighted with the 'least favourite king' poll, which Edward is leading. Grrr. Still, he's in second place behind Richard III in the 'favourite king' poll, so I suppose a lot of people have strong feelings about him - which I'm happy about, even if they're negative!

I updated my website a few days ago with some spiffy new colours - it's looking a lot better, I think...;) Still thinking about what else to put there...

Joanne Renaud (aka Suburbanbeatnik) has done a great illustration of Edward II and Piers Gaveston. Doesn't Piers look brilliantly handsome and haughty? Joanne says in the comments below the illustration that Edward and Piers need lots of love - I couldn't agree more! ;) This site, at least, is overflowing with Ned and Perot adoration. [Edward called Piers 'my brother Perot']. *Hugs them both*

Finally, take a look at Realm of Conjecture, a new blog by GeorgeD. You probably wouldn't guess from her name and her astonishingly good English that she's a native speaker of German. She's written a great first post about Jane Austen.

Talking about Germany, I'm always surprised to see that around 10% or 12% of my blog visitors come from there. Germany, a hotbed of Edward II interest! Who knew?!

13 May, 2007

Two New Novels of Edward II's Reign (2)

Part two of my post on Virginia Henley's Notorious and Edith Felber's Queen of Shadows: A Novel of Isabella, Wife of King Edward II. The first part is directly below this one, or you can read it here.
This part also includes some comments on Alison Weir's Isabella, She-Wolf of France, Queen of England.

**Warning: plot spoilers!**

Characterisation and Stereotyping
Virginia Henley's depiction of Edward II in Notorious is just horrible. He's presented as "flabby...soft...his mouth is weak and petulant, like that of a spoiled woman". He's a worm of a man who makes women shudder with distaste whenever they see him, including Isabella, who by contrast is depicted as perfect in every respect. There's so much hatred and contempt for Edward in the novel that I actually felt quite ill reading it - even his lover Hugh Despenser despises him and watches him with "veiled contempt". Edward doesn't have a single redeeming feature; he doesn't even care about his children, and only "grudgingly agreed to pay for the children's nursemaids". Isabella says that Edward gives her no money to pay for her household, which isn't correct - although her income was drastically reduced, she certainly had enough money to pay her servants. And this reduction occurred in 1324, not 1321 or earlier as shown in Notorious.

And, offensively, Edward is highly feminised. Once more, in Notorious we're fed the stereotype that 'a man who loves men = feminine and weak'. Even the non-fictional biography of Isabella by Alison Weir is guilty of this. Weir describes Roger Mortimer as "everything that Edward II was not: strong, manly, unequivocally heterosexual, virile..."

Weir also describes Despenser's presumed sexual dominance over Edward as "perverted"; however, Mortimer's presumed sexual dominance over Isabella is proof of his manliness and strength, and also provides a convenient excuse for Isabella not to be responsible for any of their unpleasant deeds. Such depictions of non-heterosexual men are pretty nasty and offensive, especially given that we're in the 2000s - and notice that the excuse of 'sexual dominance' doesn't apply to Edward II, who's held completely responsible for his misdeeds and for allowing Despenser to rule him. In the Introduction to the biography, Weir even describes Isabella as "the victim, not of her own wickedness, but of circumstances, unscrupulous men and the sexual prejudices of those who chose to record her story." Given the negative attitude on display towards Edward II's non-heterosexuality, complaining about 'sexual prejudices' strikes me as deeply ironic.

And ah yes, those useful unscrupulous men, who often crop up to take the rap when a woman does something 'bad'. I'm not sure whether the "sexual prejudices" belong to fourteenth-century chroniclers, or historians of more recent times, or both, but yet again, here's the 'woman as perpetual victim' theme. Am I the only one getting really sick of it? "She's a strong, empowered woman...but ooooh, she did something horrid! Blame a man, quick! It can't possibly be her fault! She's not strong after all, a nasty man made her do it, poor ickle thing! But look, now she's doing something praiseworthy! Suddenly she's strong and empowered again, and the man had nothing to do with it!"

Much of Weir's biography has the effect of making Isabella seem weak, not strong - apparently, men are responsible for their own actions, whereas women are not. This attitude reduces women to the level of children. And almost every time Isabella does something that's less than perfect, Weir jumps in to defend and justify her actions. Edward's mistakes and misdeeds are evidence of his incompetence and weakness, and are frequently exaggerated; Isabella's are merely an understandable reaction to her long 'suffering' and are minimised as much as possible. Weir is at least honest enough to admit that the 1326 executions of the Earl of Arundel and his friends were "acts of tyranny, and Isabella was a party to them"; she also acknowledges Isabella's role in the judicial murder of her brother-in-law the Earl of Kent.

Weir does, however, ignore some of Isabella's more spiteful actions, such as the forced veiling of three of Hugh Despenser's young daughters, and her shabby treatment of Alice de Lacy, Countess of Lincoln, her aunt by marriage, by allowing Roger Mortimer to take over her most valuable lands. Although Weir states that Isabella "had sworn on the soul of her father that she would have justice" and had ordered the bailiffs of Winchester to execute Kent without delay, on the next page she states that Isabella was "deeply in thrall" to her lover, "[b]linded by her lust or love for him", and "tainted by association with him". Right at the end of the book, she comments "Isabella's downfall lay in her involvement with the rapacious Mortimer". To me, all this makes her sound passive, tolerating Mortimer's actions rather than sharing full responsibility for them, or even instigating them. Paul Doherty in Isabella and the Strange Death of Edward II agrees, saying that "Isabella was a remarkable queen, a woman of outstanding ability, flawed by her infatuation with Mortimer."
However, the mother of all one-sided depictions of Isabella is Katherine Allocco's PhD thesis, which is less an evaluation of Isabella's life and roles than it is a demand for her immediate canonisation.

I get that Isabella was vilified as 'the She-Wolf' for centuries, and a more balanced, sympathetic view of her was long overdue. But why do we have to go so far in the other direction? Isabella wasn't a she-wolf. But neither was she a long-suffering much-wronged saint, or an empowered feminist icon. She was a complex character with some great qualities, and a few flaws too - just like everyone else, including Edward II.

In the comments on my first part of this post, Susan pointed out the analogy with Richard III - for nearly five centuries, until around 1970, he was seen as practically the epitome of evil; these days, he's viewed by many people as the exact opposite, a hero with no discernable flaws, with several recent novels implausibly portraying him as the next best thing to a saint. But surely it's far more interesting to show people's flaws, too?

As I wrote a few months ago in a comment on Susan's post on Isabella, the modern re-telling of Isabella's life strikes me as a twenty-first century narrative, not a medieval one. A popular theme of recent years has been of people suffering through terrible situations, such as abuse, grinding poverty, drug addiction, etc, and overcoming them. And also, women finding the strength to get out of a bad, abusive marriage and take control of their own destiny, discovering happiness and fulfilment with lovers who are far superior to their husbands.

Isabella's story is made to fit into this category, which involves exaggerating her sufferings (and I'm not at all denying here that Edward II and Hugh Despenser treated her badly) and glossing over her faults - and also glossing over the fact that Mortimer himself was married. Weir barely mentions Joan de Geneville, and neither does Edith Felber in Shadows; I talk briefly about Henley's depiction of her in Notorious, below.

Rather belatedly coming back to the main topic of the post: Edith Felber, to her immense credit, doesn't go the route of feminising Edward II in Shadows. I read a review of the novel somewhere which said that Edward's homosexuality [bisexuality, surely?] is "clumsily handled." I don't agree. There's nothing remotely feminine about Edward here; in fact, he's described as an image of "masculine perfection" and called "a beautiful man" on several occasions. He's "tall, but lithe and graceful and perfect in every proportion." He's also courteous, "an intelligent man, and, according to his lights, a good one." Even in 1321, he makes Isabella's breath catch when she sees him, and she shivers in pleasure as she remembers the feel of his soft hair on her skin when they made love, a nicely erotic image. Even Gwenith, his "mortal enemy" (why??), thinks he's "beautiful and bright, clever and astonishingly charming". He's rather wonderful, in fact. ;)

And although Isabella recalls an occasion when she saw Edward and Piers Gaveston making love together, and knows full well that Hugh Despenser shares her husband's bed, there's not a hint that the reader is meant to be disgusted by this, and, again to Felber's great credit, she doesn't use Edward's sexuality as an easy way to garner sympathy for Isabella. It's Hugh Despenser's political power and disrespect towards Isabella that she hates and refuses to tolerate any longer.

So I was even more disappointed when I saw that I wouldn't be getting the balanced, sympathetic view of Edward and Isabella I expected from the early part of the novel. At times later in the novel, Edward is witty, sparkling, often very likeable, and near the end, there's a nice scene where he acknowledges his faults and his infatuation with Hugh Despenser, which he describes "like a high fever...leaving me weak and foolish". But nooo, for the most part, the usual clichés of Isabella The Great Victim are trotted out, such as 'losing' her children, and Edward running away and abandoning her "behind your enemy's lines" (an oddly modern-sounding phrase) in Scotland. Not to mention the atrocities he didn't commit in Wales and the Jewish people he didn't murder.

And coming back to unbalanced portrayals, everyone and everything in Notorious is totally black or white. Edward II and Hugh Despenser are totally bad, while Isabella and Roger Mortimer are perfectly good. I've enjoyed some of Henley's other romances, and she can write much more nuanced characterisation than she shows here. Her Marriage Prize, which I really enjoyed, is much more historically accurate than this one, and the characters are not nearly so stereotyped and one-dimensional. In Notorious, Edward is reduced to nothing more than a feeble, pathetic caricature, whereas Roger Mortimer is such a big manly hunk of manly chivalrous manly macho manly testosterone-ridden manly manliness as to be totally unbelievable. All the female characters swoon over him, while shuddering over Edward. Everything Roger is and does in the novel is over-valued - for example, the fact that many of the English nobility are his cousins is somehow proof of his "shrewdness". Umm, how? Did he go back in time and order his ancestors to make advantageous marriage alliances?

Roger's wife Joan de Geneville is an unsympathetic, rather pathetic figure in Notorious, despite being the hero's mother. She's very overweight and unattractive, presumably to ensure that she's not a rival to Isabella -who's incredibly beautiful, naturally - in any way. At the end, we learn that Joan is happy to put up with her husband's infidelity with Isabella because she gets her lands back. Which conveniently absolves Perfect Isabella and Perfect Roger from having to feel any guilt. Roger grants his and Joan's son Wolf the lands and possessions of his late uncle, Mortimer of Chirk - Henley conveniently forgetting to mention Chirk's grandson John Mortimer, who was disinherited by his cousin in 1330 (Roger claimed he was illegitimate, and took over his lands. Hugh Despenser would have been proud.)

In Queen of Shadows, Roger Mortimer never came to life for me at all. We're often told that he's handsome and brave, but somehow I never really felt it. Then there's the problematic expository dialogue, which does nothing to improve his characterisation.
By contrast, Hugh Despenser is by far the most vivid character in the novel, which improves immeasurably every time he gets a scene. He knows exactly what he is and why he does what he does; this self-insight makes him rather appealing, although he's a total lecher, with men and women - as well as greedy, ruthless and cruel. But kudos to Felber for not having him rape Isabella in the story, as Paul Doherty and Alison Weir have recently suggested (with zero evidence) he might have done. He desires her, but says that he'd never touch her without her permission.

On the subject of lechers, I found the hero of Notorious, Wolf Mortimer, pretty creepy. Henley dusts off another useful cliché, that of the Celtic character with the gift of second sight and other advanced mental powers - this time, it's Wolf. Mostly, he doesn't use his talents for anything useful - like warning his father that Edward is going to arrest him - but to spy on Brianna, watching her (in his mind) undressing. Eww.

Notorious has a pretty abrupt ending. We don't see the successful 1326 invasion of England, or Hugh Despenser's execution, or Edward's deposition, but only read it about before it happens through one of Wolf's numerous visions. The final scene takes place in June 1327, Perfect Isabella and Perfect Roger are being perfect, and everyone (except Edward II, one presumes) is deliriously happy - including Guy Beauchamp, Earl of Warwick, who's looking pretty good for a man who's been dead for twelve years. He's even partially regained his lost sight, but I suppose that's a minor miracle for a man who's been animating a corpse for more than a decade.

The ending of Shadows is so abrupt I looked for the missing chapters, then wondered if Felber had a pressing deadline from her publisher, or if she'd reached her word count and just put her pen down. It doesn't end, it just - stops, when the story is starting to get really exciting. Isabella is coming to realise what a horrible mistake she's made and how wrong she was about Roger - there's a nice bit where she sees Hugh Despenser sitting on the throne, then realises it's her lover. He has imprisoned Edward III (which didn't happen historically) and is proving to be every bit as tyrannical as Despenser. You turn the page and - suddenly it's 1355. The whole story is wrapped up in a couple of pages. Mortimer's fate is dealt with in a paragraph - apparently Isabella, who's overthrown a king, inexplicably becomes unable to deal with a mere baron and has to wait for her teenage son to save her.

Then there's the odd lines "Her beloved grandson Edward was the image of his father. God willing, he'd never know that." How would Edward of Woodstock, who lived to his mid forties, not know if he looked like his father Edward III or not?? I can only assume that 'grandson' is a mistake for 'son', and Felber meant to say that Edward III looks just like his real father - whoever he may be. Even right at the end, we never learn the identity of Isabella's mysterious lover.

In both novels, even the Author's Note/Afterword at the end contain historical errors. Henley says that "most historians" agree that Edward II suffered the 'red-hot poker' death. Wish she'd tell me one historian who believes it to be totally, definitively true, never mind 'most'. Felber says that Edward III moved against Roger Mortimer "almost immediately" after his marriage to Philippa; it was nearly three years later. The Earl of Lancaster didn't die of plague in 1345, as it hadn't reached England then. Edward III didn't have "many mistresses" and "many illegitimate children" that anyone knows of (only one acknowledged mistress, Alice Perrers, and three illegitimate children). And it's disengenuous of Henley to claim that Isabella only became known as 'the She-Wolf' because of her marital infidelity. That's part of it, but I'd imagine that invading her husband's country, imprisoning him, deposing him, executing his friends, not allowing him to see his children, and (just possibly) being responsible for his murder comes into it too.

Probably a lot of people would say "But this is fiction, not a history book!" Of course, and I should point out that I don't think it's possible to write historical fiction without some errors. I'm not looking for perfection. But there are many gaps in our knowledge, and that's where historical novels can really come into their own. In the fourteenth century, we know what people did, but for the most part we have no idea why, or how they felt or what they thought. How Isabella really felt about her husband before the 1320s is anyone's guess. Maybe she truly loved him, or maybe she was dissatisfied in her marriage but made the best of it, or maybe she took the decision to depose him reluctantly and at the last minute, or maybe she had long despised him and plotted his downfall...there's no way of knowing, and this is something historical fiction can explore.

But if you choose to write about real people, I think you have a duty to stay as close to the known facts as possible. If you don't want to do that, why not invent your own characters? Then you can do anything you like with them! If Isabella was known not to be in Scotland in 1312 - and she certainly wasn't - then you shouldn't put her there. In Paul Doherty's Death of a King, he changes Edward III's date of birth from November 1312 to March 1312, so that he can work in the plot device that Roger Mortimer was his real father [which, in fact, still doesn't work, as Mortimer was in Ireland]. Maybe lots of readers would say 'March, November, what's the difference?' But I think that changing a historical date which is not in doubt or dispute to hang a major plot point on it, without acknowledging the fact, is, simply, cheating. Doherty was awarded a DPhil from Oxford for his thesis on Queen Isabella; obviously, he knows Edward III's correct date of birth.

Personally, I much prefer Sharon Penman's approach. She sticks closely to the facts, rounds out her characters brilliantly, and mentions in her Author's Note when she changes something, which are only ever small details. For example, in Falls the Shadow, she changes the date of a meeting by a few weeks, to accommodate the birth of Eleanor and Simon de Montfort's son Harry - which is a pretty minor change anyway.

Ultimately, I found Notorious and especially Queen of Shadows terribly frustrating, because both authors are capable of so much better. Some of Henley's other romances are far superior to this stereotypical, one-dimensional, melodramatic, totally inaccurate effort - and Brianna's often-repeated credo "I shouldn't...but I shall!" is even more irritating than Jory's "I've quite made up my mind!" in Infamous.

In much of Queen of Shadows, you can see what a good writer Edith Felber is, and there are occasional glimpses of what a terrific novel this could have been - but isn't. Some scenes sparkle and crackle with tension, some are pretty moving, and Hugh Despenser is such a well-developed and well-written character he comes right off the page. But Felber lets herself down with most of her dialogue, the endless repetition, the silly coy hints of Isabella's affair, the many historical inaccuracies, and the bizarrely abrupt ending. A good edit would have made this an infinitely better novel, and would have left a lot more space to explore Isabella's actions and feelings during the most eventful phase of her life, 1327-30.

Throughout much of the post, I found myself wanting to write a disclaimer about Notorious - something along the lines of "well, it's only a romance". But that sounds pretty insulting to the romance genre, which I don't mean at all. I've read and enjoyed some damn good romances, and I don't see why their characterisation, dialogue etc shouldn't be judged in the same way as other genres. Maybe Henley's fans would argue that the romance is key - which of course it is - and that the background doesn't matter. But if Henley chooses to write about real people and events rather than invented ones, she should make a much greater effort to get them correct. If she chooses real political events to serve as the backdrop to her novel, then I think I have the right to point out all her errors.

If an author wants complete control over her characters, then she should invent them. If she writes about real people, she shouldn't change most of the details of their lives to suit her story. And if she wants to write about people who lived 700 years ago, she shouldn't give them modern attitudes, ideas, and freedoms - especially when the sympathetic characters hold twenty-first century, politically correct opinions, while the unsympathetic ones hold views compatible with their time and society. That's just dishonest.

12 May, 2007

Two New Novels of Edward II's Reign (1)

Part one of some comments on two recent novels set in Edward II's reign: Virginia Henley's Notorious (published May 2007) is a romance novel, the sequel to Infamous, which I reviewed here. Edith Felber's Queen of Shadows (published November 2006) is a straight historical, subtitled A Novel of Isabella, Wife of King Edward II.

**WARNING: post contains plot spoilers!**

Notorious tells the story of the romance between the fictional Brianna de Beauchamp, daughter of the real Guy Beauchamp, Earl of Warwick, and the fictional Wolf Mortimer, son of the real Roger Mortimer.
Roughly half of Queen of Shadows is told from the viewpoint of Queen Isabella, the rest from that of her fictional Welsh handmaiden Gwenith de Percy. The novels have some similarities: both take place in the 1320s, and both feature a young woman heavily involved in Roger Mortimer's escape from the Tower in 1323. Both have very abrupt endings. And both contain zillions of historical errors.

In contrast with some of Henley's other medieval romances, in Notorious the cast of made-up, main characters is huge: Brianna and Rickard de Beauchamp, Jory, Jane and Lincoln Robert de Warenne, Lynx de Warenne (Earl of Surrey), Wolf Mortimer, Blanche Fitzalan...

They intermingle uneasily with the historical characters, such as Edward II and Isabella, Roger Mortimer, Hugh Despenser, Robert the Bruce, Thomas of Lancaster, Roger Damory, etc. In addition, many of the details of the historical characters are wrong: Guy Beauchamp, Earl of Warwick, is still alive in the 1320s, though historically he died in August 1315. We see a 'James Audley', son of Hugh Audley and Margaret de Clare - who didn't exist - and the first names of the Earls of Hereford and Arundel are also wrong: Henley calls them Henry and Richard respectively, instead of Humphrey and Edmund. Whether this is a mistake on Henley's part, or whether they're also fictional characters, I don't know. Guy Beauchamp's son Thomas is renamed 'Guy Thomas' here. Henley likes giving her characters two first names: Guy Thomas, Lincoln Robert, Margaret Eleanor (Infamous) and Margaret Katherine Plantagenet (The Dragon and The Jewel). I wish someone would tell her middle names didn't exist back then - and that the name Plantagenet wasn't used till the fifteenth century.

The huge number of made-up characters and the countless historical errors gave me the feeling that I was reading a novel set in a parallel universe that bears some vague resemblance to early fourteenth-century England. But only a very vague resemblance.

Likewise, the fictional Gwenith in Shadows plays a huge role in the novel and drives some of the action, such as introducing Isabella and Roger Mortimer (because of course they'd never have met before). Gwenith is an OK character, reasonably sympathetic, but Shadows is subtitled A Novel of Isabella, and that's what I thought I was getting - not a novel partly about Isabella and partly about a made-up Welsh 'handmaiden' and her silly attempts to kill her "mortal enemy, the despised Edward" because of the atrocities his father committed against the Welsh, and some that Edward II himself is supposedly responsible for. (Number of atrocities Edward II actually committed in Wales: none.)

On the other hand, Gwenith switches immediately from hating Roger Mortimer and calling him a "beast" - in the first scene of the novel, his uncle Mortimer of Chirk triumphantly bears the head of her relative Prince Dafydd to Edward I - to liking him and helping him escape from the Tower, apparently for no other reason than it serves the plot.

Both novels contained some Americanisms that jolted me right out of them - like Brianna saying to Isabella "it's good that you got mad" (she's insane?) and Isabella complaining to Edward in Shadows that he'd patted Hugh's "ass". (Hugh has a donkey?!) And Henley's purple prose rears its ugly head again - in Infamous, we got "honeyed sheath", and here she goes one better and uses "sugared sheath". Bad. Mental. Images.

Virginia Henley, as usual, writes very melodramatic, over-the-top and clichéd dialogue and monologue (e.g., "Beneath her fiery temperament, she has a heart of gold" and "Don't try crawling back to me...I wouldn't lower myself to spit on you!") as well as a fair bit of 'As you know, Bob' dialogue - which is, however, not as bad as in Infamous.

Edith Felber chooses to do most of her exposition through dialogue, which leads to some amusing 'As you know, Bob' moments of her own, such as Edward II taking an entire paragraph to explain Hugh Despenser's piracy to Hugh himself ("...You lay in wait in the channel, near our shores. Two loaded merchant ships and their cargo, one after the other, snatched up by you.") and Isabella saying to Margaret de Clare "Why not ask your sister Eleanor, who is wed to Hugh Despenser? She sits right next to you."

Later in the novel, this expository dialogue has the unfortunate and presumably unintended effect of making Roger Mortimer look a bit thick, as Isabella has to keep explaining things to him, e.g., "There are no kings in Holland...William, Count of Holland and Hainault, is as powerful and rich as any king."

On the plus side, there are some cracking lines of dialogue in Shadows: Isabella says to her husband's lover Hugh Despenser "I don't get down on my knees to do anything but pray to my God. Now that is a sight more than can be said for you." That's probably my favourite bit of the whole novel, and there are some great conversations too, usually when Isabella and Hugh Despenser are bantering. But too much of Felber's dialogue is rather awkward, such as "I know, too well, that you pray for my ouster" and a couple of pages later, "I do seek Hugh Despenser's ouster". I get what she means, but it reads very awkwardly. The dialogue is often stilted and repetitive, and sometimes the meaning is hard to grasp - such as Hugh Despenser saying to Isabella "A man on the side is no better or holier than one on either side of you. At least not in the eyes of the church." I don't know how to interpret that statement. Something to do with the medieval church condoning threesomes?

Isabella constantly, and I mean constantly, reminds everyone that she's queen, just in case they've forgotten in the last five pages. Much of her dialogue consists of "How dare you say that to me? I am queen!" with seemingly endless variations. She's said to be a strong woman, but mostly just wanders around complaining about her husband and men in general.

Historical inaccuracies
It's the numerous historical inaccuracies that really put me off both novels, however. Both authors have a reasonable grasp of the events of the 1320s; Henley describes the Despenser War and Marcher campaign of 1321/22 with at least some degree of accuracy, and Felber covers many of the later events of Edward II's reign, though many of the dates are wrong: e.g., Roger Mortimer's escape from the Tower took place in August 1323, not 1324; Isabella left England for France in March 1325, not June; her son joined her in September 1325, not August 1326; Edward II's funeral took place in December 1327, not October. [Small points, maybe, but to get so many dates wrong gives an impression of sloppiness.]

There are so many historical errors in Notorious that it would take me an entire post to detail them. I felt like applauding on the rare occasions when Henley actually gets something right - such as realising that the woman in charge of Edward II's daughters from 1324 was the Younger Despenser's sister. And surprisingly in Shadows, Felber is aware of Edward's illegitimate son, Adam.

However, Felber makes most of the usual historical errors. A small sample: Edward II arranged the marriage of Eleanor de Clare and Hugh Despenser after Hugh had become his favourite, which led to a deep groan on my part and a book-wall interface; Roger Mortimer is misidentified as the 'Earl of Wigmore'; Isabella's brother Philip V is older than their brother Louis X, when it should be the other way round; the description of Hugh Despenser the Elder's execution of Llywelyn Bren in 1318 is obviously confused with his son's seizure of Tonbridge Castle in 1315, and in fact it was the Younger Despenser who had Bren executed; Edward and Isabella married at Boulogne, not Vincennes as stated; and Edward II was born in April 1284, not August. There are many others.
Oddly, the Kings are always called 'King Edward Second', 'King Philip Sixth', and Henry of Lancaster is called 'Henry Plantagenet, Third Earl Lancaster'. Probably the best mistake in either novel is Felber's statement that Edward II's niece Elizabeth de Clare founded the religious order of the Poor Clares - who were in fact founded in 1212 by St Clare (Chiara) of Assisi. Bit of a difference.

Both authors' grasp of fourteenth-century politics is shaky, to say the least. Felber uses the bizarre plot device that Parliament has ordered Edward II to "share his throne" with the Despensers. That's as nonsensical as the House of Commons nowadays ordering the Prime Mininster to share his premiership with another person of their choosing. Utterly ridiculous.
Henley states that Hugh Despenser the Elder used his influence with Edward II to make his son royal Chamberlain. I bet Despenser wished he had that kind of power, but it was Parliament who elected Hugh the Younger as Chamberlain, in 1318.

The theme of Scotland brings up some major inaccuracies. Henley's foreword to Notorious states that Edward II "loses Scotland to Robert Bruce at the Battle of Bannockburn". He didn't 'lose' Scotland, because Scotland had never been won, and certainly not "conquered and subdued" by Edward I, as Henley states. [And if anyone in this period can be said to have 'lost' Scotland, it's Isabella and Roger Mortimer, who signed the Treaty of Northampton in 1328 recognising Scottish independence and Bruce's right to be King.]

I can't reconcile the criticism Edward gets in the novel for 'losing' Scotland with the boasts of his nobles that they refused to fight for him there - and especially with the way some of the English characters bang on about how wonderful and beloved Robert Bruce is. Near the end of Notorious, Bruce makes an alliance with Isabella, promising that after Edward's deposition, he won't invade England. Shame that he did then, within months of Edward's deposition in 1327. Long-term peace between England and Scotland is hinted at, with Isabella the prime instigator, naturally, because she's a woman and women love peace, you know? Edward III definitely did not "approve wholeheartedly" of his sister Joan's marriage to Bruce's son David II - he refused to attend the wedding - and emphatically did not desire a "lasting peace" between England and Scotland; he repudiated the Treaty of Northampton as soon as he was able to do so.

Scotland plays a very puzzling role in Shadows. Felber frequently drops coy hints that Isabella took a lover while in Scotland in 1312, abandoned by Edward, and that her lover fathered Edward III. As I've pointed out, this is complete nonsense, and it doesn't work as fiction either, as we never learn the identity of Isabella's lover and he plays no role in the novel. It seems utterly pointless. Is Felber perhaps planning a prequel? Why tell half the novel from Isabella's point of view but never reveal who her lover is?

Felber's placing Isabella in Scotland in 1312 so she can have another man father Edward III is just strange. Isabella's and Edward II's itineraries are well-known, and they definitely weren't in Scotland in 1312. Felber must have done a lot of research for her novel, and I assume she must know that.

However, perhaps my biggest problem with the novels, Notorious in particular, lies in the attitudes displayed by the characters. The people in Notorious are not medieval. They're modern people, dropped into a medieval setting, in fancy dress and on horseback. Shadows is rather better in that respect, but even so, Isabella's rants owe a great deal to modern feminism and notions of sexual equality. In both novels, the amount of freedom the women possess is ridiculous. Brianna in Notorious spends much of the novel gallivanting around the country by herself - she just rides her horse off wherever and whenever she feels like it. For an Earl's daughter in the fourteenth century to go anywhere without her ladies and an escort was unthinkable, and so ludicrous I found myself laughing out loud.

Other modernisms: Brianna's parents insist that she is not to be married until she's at least eighteen. She's stunned when her fiancé Lincoln Robert tells her that noble titles and a good marriage alliance are more important to him than love. Why would a fourteenth-century noblewoman believe any different? Lincoln asks Brianna to marry him without consulting their parents - possibly the most ludicrous thing in the novel. [And anyway, first cousins didn't marry in the English nobility at this time.] Brianna manages to have pre-marital sex, with a man who isn't her fiancé. And when her fiancé Lincoln makes a young serving girl pregnant, his parents are furious because of the "dishonour" to Brianna. Why would they consider that their teenaged nobleman son having sex with a servant, betrothal or not, is a "dishonour"?

In Shadows, Isabella is so enlightened that she secretly consults a Jewish physician, although her father-in-law Edward I had expelled all Jewish people from England in 1290 (her father Philip IV did the same thing in France in 1306). Felber gets in a nice bit of ahistorical criticism of Edward II by stating that he 'murders' any Jewish people found in England. In fact, there were several occasions when he gave Jewish traders safe-conducts to visit England, and - astonishingly! - not a single recorded occasion when he had one murdered. Poor Edward II - as though he doesn't get enough criticism, without inventing slurs to throw at him.

In both novels, Isabella manages to have sex with Roger Mortimer while he's imprisoned in the Tower, without anyone noticing, although she had a household of close to 200 people and spent every minute of every day surrounded by servants, guards, ladies-in-waiting, courtiers...As I wrote in a previous post, she must have become invisible.

I realise that fourteenth-century restrictions on women's lives place limitations on the plots you can use, especially if you want to write about female adultery, but that being the case, why write historical fiction in the first place? Why give your characters such anachronistic attitudes? Either accept the limitations placed on women in your chosen time period and write around them, or write contemporary fiction. Or at the very least, show that the women are aware of breaking the rules and the harsh penalties imposed - for Isabella, the punishment for adultery would possibly have been execution, as it was treason, or at the very least, life-long imprisonment (as happened to her sisters-in-law in 1314). For Brianna, her behaviour would have meant disgrace, shame, and possibly being sent to a convent for the rest of her days. Certainly, it would have drastically limited her ability to make a good marriage. Of course, Queen Isabella did commit adultery, but the circumstances were exceptional - her marriage had irretrievably broken down, and she was in Paris and beyond Edward's reach. The notion that she could have had sex with Mortimer in the Tower in total privacy - well, I keep using the words 'ludicrous' and 'ridiculous', but that's what it is.

To depict women casually breaking the rules without a second thought, barely even acknowledging that there were strict rules, makes a mockery of the reality of women's lives, as though breaking your society's norms of behaviour was easy and consequence-free. This excellent article by Anne Scott MacLeod makes these points far more eloquently than I ever could, especially in the last few paragraphs.

[I'll post the second part of this tomorrow.]

07 May, 2007

My Edward II Website

I finally got round to setting up my Edward II website! I've been meaning to do it for months and months. (I am not a woman of swift action.) And here it is.

The site's not terribly thrilling at the moment - so far, I've just transferred some essays from the blog, and the template etc needs a lot of work. But still, I have a website! *Is delighted*.

One new feature: I've added a page of some fictional extracts I've written on Edward and Isabella, etc. And I'm intending to do a page on 'Images of Edward II's Reign' - illustrations from contemporary psalters, manuscripts etc. (But given my tendency to procrastination, don't hold your breath.)

If there's anything you'd like to see on the site, please let me know, here on or the 'Comments' page of the site.

EDIT: I've updated my Fictional Extracts page with some more snippets - hope you enjoy them! :)

05 May, 2007

Hugh Despenser the Younger's siblings

A post on the lesser-known members of the notorious family...

Hugh Despenser 'the Elder' was born on 1 March 1261, the son of Hugh Despenser the Even Elder, Justiciar of England, who was killed at the side of Simon de Montfort at the Battle of Evesham in 1265, when his son was four years old. In 1271, Hugh's mother Aline Basset married Roger Bigod, Earl of Norfolk. She had no more children, though Hugh had three sisters, or possibly a sister and two half-sisters by his father's (unknown) first wife.

Aline, only child and heiress of Philip Basset, died before 11 April 1281, and although he wasn't yet twenty-one, Hugh received livery of his Despenser and Basset lands that year. Despite - or because of - his father's rebellion against Henry III, Hugh would be intensely loyal to both Edward I and Edward II all his life.

Hugh's wife was Isabel Beauchamp, widowed from Patrick de Chaworth in July 1283, and the mother of Maud de Chaworth, who was born on 2 February 1282. Isabel was the daughter of William Beauchamp, Earl of Warwick (c. 1237-1298) and Maud FitzJohn (also called Fitzgeoffrey, died 1301), who was one of the four sisters and co-heiresses of John and Richard FitzJohn, who both died childless. Through her mother, Isabel Beauchamp was the first cousin of Richard de Burgh, Earl of Ulster (1259-1326) and of Robert, Lord Clifford (born 1274, killed at Bannockburn 1314). Isabel's date of birth is not known, but was sometime in the 1260s. Her younger brother Guy, Earl of Warwick, was probably born in 1272. He kidnapped Piers Gaveston in 1312, and was one of Edward II's most implacable enemies.

The date of Hugh and Isabel's wedding is not known either, but in the Highworth Hundred Rolls of 10 September 1285, Isabel was still referred to by her married name, which places their marriage after this date. In 1286, they were fined 2000 marks for marrying without royal licence. Isabel died shortly before 30 May 1306, which was appalling timing as far as her elder son Hugh the Younger was concerned: he was knighted on 22 May, and married Eleanor de Clare on the 26th.

Hugh the Elder never married again. At the beginning of Edward III's reign, on 15 February 1327, the Calendar of Miscellaneous Inquisitions records the complaint of William de Odyham, keeper of Odiham park, that he "was removed therefrom [from his keepership] by Hugh le Despenser the younger because he levied hue and cry upon Isabel the said Hugh's mother, who was taking 5 bucks in the park without warrant."
Which tells us that: Isabel was a keen huntswoman, not too bothered about breaking the law, and that her son felt enough affection for her that he remembered the incident many years later, and used his influence to remove the man from his position.

Isabel and Hugh the Elder had two sons and four daughters. Their dates of birth are not recorded, and what follows is just my best guess.

Aline (or Alina) was named after her paternal grandmother Aline Basset; her elder half-sister Maud de Chaworth was named after their maternal grandmother Maud FitzJohn. I assume Aline was the eldest of the Despenser children, as her marriage was arranged in 1302, and her brother Hugh's in 1306. Her parents married in late 1285 or 1286, so I'd tentatively place Aline's birth in 1287, and therefore fifteen or close to it when she married.

Aline married Edward Burnell, who became Lord Burnell on 19 December 1311. Edward was probably born on 22 July 1286, the son of Philip, Lord Burnell and the great-nephew of the famous Robert Burnell, Bishop of Bath and Wells and Chancellor of England. Edward's mother Maud was the sister of Richard Fitzalan, Earl of Arundel (died 1302), which makes Edward a first cousin of Edmund, Earl of Arundel, beheaded in 1326. As the great-grandson of Roger Mortimer Senior and Maud de Braose, he was also the first cousin once removed of Roger Mortimer. Edward was the ward of Joan de Munchesni (or Munchesney, Munchensey, etc), Countess of Pembroke, and grew up in her household.

Edward and Aline married shortly after 3 May 1302. Edward paid homage to Edward II for his lands on 6 December 1307, was summoned to Parliament in 1311 and 1315, and fought in Scotland, probably also at Bannockburn. The couple had no children, and Edward died on 23 August 1315, only twenty-nine. Although only in her late twenties herself, Aline never re-married. This probably means that she took a vow of chastity, generally the only way noble widows could remain single and not have to enter a convent.

Her father Hugh the Elder granted her the manor of Martley in Worcestershire, which he had inherited from his uncle John Despenser. Aline held dower lands in Warwickshire, Somerset, Worcestershire, Gloucestershire and Shropshire, and was later granted further lands in Shropshire by her nephew, Hugh the Even Younger.

On 30 January 1326, presumably through the influence of her all-powerful brother, Aline was made Constable of the great Conwy Castle: "Appointment during pleasure of Aline Burnel to the custody of the castle of Coneweye, so that she answer for the safe custody thereof at her peril; she taking for the custody the same as other keepers."
This was an extremely rare honour for a woman. I only know of one other contemporary example: Edward I made Isabella de Vescy Constable of Bamburgh in 1304, and Edward II confirmed the appointment as one of his first acts as King (Isabella was his mother's cousin). However, Aline was replaced by Sir William Ercalowe (or Erkalowe or Erkalewe) on 20 October that year. At this time, Edward and Hugh Despenser were in South Wales, fleeing from Isabella and Roger Mortimer, and probably decided that they needed a man with military experience to hold such a strategic stronghold.

After the downfall of Edward II and Hugh Despenser, Isabella and Mortimer, to their credit, left Aline in peace -something she might not have expected, given her relationship to Hugh, and his own treatment of the female relatives of his enemies. On 15 November 1329, 24 April 1330 and 3 February 1331, she was granted protection for a pilgrimage to Santiago. In the records, she's always called 'Aline (or Alina) late the wife of Edward Burnel'.

On 26 April 1338, Aline was granted "alienation in mortmain...to two chaplains to celebrate divine service daily in the chapel of St Giles, Lolleseye [Lulsley, Worcestershire] for the souls of the said Edward [Burnell] and Alina, Hugh le Despenser, her brother, and Hugh le Despenser, her cousin [nephew], William de Ercalewe and Walter de Lench."
Ercalewe was the man who had replaced her as Constable of Conwy Castle in 1326, and her nephew Hugh the Even Younger's steward. Born in 1284 or 1285, and a former Sheriff of Staffordshire and Shropshire, Ercalewe and his father were closely connected with the Burnells as well as the Despensers.
Walter de Lench was a landowner in Worcestershire, where Aline also held lands, so was probably a neighbour and associate. Aline's inclusion of her brother Hugh might signify that she thought his soul needed all the intercession it could get, or might point to a genuine sisterly affection. None of her other siblings, or other nieces and nephews, are included.

Aline died shortly before 24 May 1353, well into her sixties, having lived as a widow for nearly four decades. Her Inquisition Post Mortem gives the year of her death as '37 Edward III' which is 1363, but this seems to be a mistake for '27 Edward III', as a Patent Roll entry of 28 November 1353 refers to her death. Her heir was her great-nephew, Hugh the Younger's grandson Edward Lord Despenser (born 1336), and she also left lands to Edward Burnell's nephew Nicholas Burnell.

Hugh the Younger: I'd estimate Hugh's birth year as 1288 or 1289, making him four or five years younger than Edward II and seventeen or eighteen at the time of his wedding on 26 May 1306 (Eleanor de Clare was thirteen and a half).
Given Edward II's later infatuation with him, it's interesting to note that, for the first half of his reign or thereabouts, he barely seems to have noticed Hugh's existence. Hugh received the manor of Sutton in Norfolk on 14 May 1309, was granted licence to hunt "with his dogs by himself, or any person whom by his letters he shall depute to do so...foxes, hares, cats and badgers" on 8 September 1312, and received the wardship and marriage of Roger Huntingfield on 9 October 1313. And that's about it, apart from a handful of requests and pardons, and an exemption made at his request in April 1313 "to the provost and chaplains of St Elizabeth by Winchester of the service of rendering every year a sore sparrow-hawk for the manor of St Valery..." ('Sore' means the reddish-brown plumage of a sparrow-hawk in the first year of its life, untrained and therefore less valuable.)

Isabel(la), the third Despenser child, was probably born around 1290/91, and like her brother, married a de Clare. Hugh's marriage to Eleanor is recorded as it took place in the presence of the King; the date of Isabel's wedding is not known, but probably took place around the same time, in a double de Clare-Despenser marriage alliance. As girls usually married a little earlier than boys, it's highly likely that she was younger than Hugh and about fifteen when she married.

Her husband was Gilbert de Clare, Lord of Thomond, son of Gilbert 'the Red' de Clare's brother Thomas and a first cousin of Eleanor de Clare and the Earl of Gloucester. He was a former ward of Joan of Acre, who may have been instrumental in arranging the two de Clare-Despenser marriages. Gilbert was born on 3 February 1281 and was one of the young men selected to grow up in the household of the future Edward II, who was three years his junior. Gilbert is often confused with his cousin of the same name, the Earl of Gloucester. He died before 16 November 1307, childless; his marriage to Isabel is often overlooked by authorities.

In 1308 or 1309, Isabel married John, Lord Hastings, a former claimant to the throne of Scotland. Born on 6 May 1262, John was only a year younger than Isabel's father, and had been widowed from the Earl of Pembroke's sister Isabel de Valence since October 1305. John Hastings junior, son of John and Isabel de Valence, was born in 1286, and was several years older than his stepmother - which has confused some historians, most notably Natalie Fryde, who assume it was the younger John who married Isabel Despenser (in fact, he married Juliana de Leyburne). The elder John was a close associate of the Elder Despenser from the mid-1290s onwards, if not earlier, and served on Despenser's council. In 1308, he and Despenser were two of the few barons who stayed at Edward II's side during the Gaveston crisis.

Despite the huge gap, Isabel bore John Hastings three children. Their elder son Thomas died childless on 11 January 1333, and their daughter Margaret married William, Lord Martin, only to be widowed in 1326 when she can't have been more than about sixteen. She married Sir Robert Wateville soon afterwards, and died in 1359. (There were two men in England at the time called Sir Robert de Wateville, confusingly, and separating their careers is difficult. One, presumably this one, served in the younger Despenser's retinue). John and Isabel's second son Hugh Hastings married Margery Foliot, and was very active in the Hundred Years War with his half-nephew Laurence Hastings, Earl of Pembroke. He also served as Queen Philippa's steward in the mid-1340s and was appointed Seneschal of Gascony in May 1347, a position he never took up, as he died a few weeks later. His tomb in Elsing, Norfolk, was opened in 1978, revealing that he had been five feet ten inches tall, had osteoarthritis in his shoulders and elbows, and had at some point suffered a severe blow to the mouth.

John, Lord Hastings, died in February 1313. Sometime in 1318, Isabel Despenser married for the third time, to Ralph de Monthermer, who had made a secret marriage to Joan of Acre in 1297. He had been widowed since April 1307, and was also much older than Isabel, probably born in 1262. Letters of Edward II written before he became King reveal that he was on very good terms with Ralph; however, Ralph didn't play a big role in Edward's reign, though he fought for the King at Bannockburn, where he was captured (and released without ransom). Isabel and Ralph married without the necessary royal licence, for which they received a pardon on 12 August 1319.

Isabel continued to use the name Hastings throughout her third marriage and widowhood. In September 1324, she was put in charge of the household of Edward II and Queen Isabella's daughters Eleanor and Joan, aged six and three - an act inevitably described as 'stealing' Isabella's children from her, though it was usual for royal children to have their own households from a very young age, and royal/noble women in the Middle Age rarely brought up their own children. Eleanor de Clare took charge of the household of John of Eltham, Edward II's younger son.

Ralph de Monthermer died on 5 April 1325, leaving two sons and two daughters by his marriage to Joan of Acre. Isabel continued to take care of Edward II's daughters. In October 1326, she was (presumably) with them in Bristol Castle when Queen Isabella and Roger Mortimer and their followers took the town. She was probably inside the castle when her father was hanged in his armour outside; the chronicler Jean Froissart wrote later that little Eleanor and Joan saw the execution out of the window.

Like her sister Aline, Isabel was mostly left in peace by Roger Mortimer and Isabella, though in June 1328, she acknowledged a debt of just under £300 to Isabella - whether a real debt or not, I don't know. (Her brother Hugh had forced people to bind themselves to him by acknowledging fake debts).
In December 1327, Edward II's niece Elizabeth de Clare left her young children in Isabel's care while she attended her uncle's funeral - a nice gesture on Elizabeth's part, given all that she had suffered at the hands of Isabel's brother.

Isabel Despenser Hastings died on 4 or 5 December 1334, leaving lands in Huntingdonshire, Warwickshire, Leicestershire, Suffolk and Hampshire to her son Hugh Hastings and her step-grandson Laurence Hastings. She had outlived three husbands, and lived as a widow for just under a decade, but was probably still only about forty-four years old.

Philip, the fourth child, was probably born about 1292/93. He was certainly born by 1294, when a letter patent of his father apointed the rector of 'Louctheburg' as his guardian. On 12 April 1306, in Edward I's reign, Philip's uncle Guy Beauchamp received a "licence for Guy de Bello Campo, earl of Warwick, to enfeoff Philip son of Hugh le Despenser of all his lands in England which are held of the king". Guy was unmarried and childless at this time (he would later have two sons and five daughters) and decided to make Philip his heir.

Philip's wife Margaret Goushill was born on 12 May 1294, the only child and heiress of Ralph Goushill. She inherited lands in Shropshire, Yorkshire, Essex and Lincolnshire. The date of their wedding is not known, but was probably around 1310. Their only child, also Philip, was born on 6 April 1313, and Philip died on 24 September of the same year, aged probably about twenty, and long before his brother became the real ruler of England.

Margaret Goushill married her second husband John Ros sometime before 22 April 1314, less than seven months after Philip's death. He was the second son of William, Lord Ros; his elder brother William was one of the delegates sent to depose Edward II in January 1327. His mother Maud de Vaux was the sister of Petronilla, the mother of Maud de Nerford, the Earl of Surrey's mistress.

On Sunday 22 February 1316, in the cathedral church of Lincoln, Hugh Despenser the Younger attacked Ros in the middle of Parliament, in the presence of the King. He strode up to him and punched him in the face until he drew blood, "and inflicted other outrages on him...to the terror of the people present at the said parliament."

The reason for the attack - according to Hugh himself - was that Ros had tried to arrest Sir Ingelram Berenger, a knight long in the service of the Elder Despenser, whom Hugh had probably known most of his life. However, I can't help wondering if Ros's marriage to Philip's widow had something to do with it, too. Ros and Margaret married less than seven months after Philip's death, which was very fast, and perhaps Hugh was angry at the implied insult to his brother, and the attempted arrest of Berenger was the final straw.

Hugh, amusingly, defended himself by claiming that Ros had attacked him first, "heaping outrageous insults on the same Hugh [and] taunted him with insolent words, and putting his hand to his knife he menaced the same Hugh, and made a rush towards the said Hugh as if he wanted to strike him with his knife..." Hugh claimed that he had merely stretched out his hand to prevent Ros from striking him, and accidentally hit him in the face. You'd think he could have come up with a better story, especially as just about everyone in Parliament had witnessed the attack, not least Edward II himself. Hugh was fined the staggeringly huge sum of £10,000, many millions in modern values, which needless to say he never paid. Four years later, after he had become Edward's favourite, the King "of his special grace pardoned the aforesaid Hugh the aforesaid trespass".

Margaret Goushill died on 29 July 1349, aged fifty-five. She had outlived her son Sir Philip Despenser by three months; he died on 23 April 1349, just past his thirty-sixth birthday, leaving a six-year-old son, also Philip. (This Philip grew up to have a son, and the son grew up to have a son. Bet you can't guess what they were called.)

Margaret was the fifth Despenser child. Her father arranged her marriage to John de St Amand in 1313, paying St Amand a dowry of 1000 marks (£666), a standard amount for the nobility at the time. The date of her marriage places Margaret's birth around 1296/98.

John, Lord de St Amand, was probably born around 1280, so was a few years older than his wife. He was the third son of Amaury de St Amand, who supported Henry III in the Barons' Wars and died in 1285. John's elder brothers Guy (1267-1287) and Amaury (1268-July 1310), the Governor of Bordeaux, died childless, so John had become his father's heir by the time of his marriage. He was a doctor of canon law and acted as his father-in-law's attorney, and held lands in Bedfordshire, Buckinghamshire, Surrey, Sussex, Nottinghamshire and Derbyshire. He was first summoned to Parliament in 1313. [There's an excellent article on the St Amand family here.]

John and Margaret's son Amaury (or Amauri, or Almaric or Almeric) de St Amand was probably born in early 1314; he proved his age on 16 March 1335, and did homage for his lands. He served as Justiciar of Ireland, fought in Scotland and France, and married, before 3 November 1329, Maud Burnell, niece of Edward Burnell [above]. John and Margaret also had a daughter Isabel, who married Richard de Haudlo; Richard was the son of John de Haudlo, an adherent of the Despensers since 1299, and was either the half-brother or stepbrother of Maud Burnell. Amaury de St Amand lived until 11 September 1381.

The date of Margaret Despenser de St Amand's death is not known, but as she didn't play any role in the regime of her father and brother as her elder sisters did, it's possible that she died young. John de St Amand died on or shortly before 25 January 1330, having been Commissioner of the Peace in Bedfordshire in 1329. He doesn't seem to have played any role in supporting his father-in-law and brother-in-law in 1326.

Elizabeth was the sixth and youngest Despenser child. Sometime before 20 May 1316, she married the widowed Ralph, Lord Camoys, which would place her birth around 1299/1301. I should point out that Ralph's second wife is usually said to have been an Elizabeth Rogate, not Elizabeth Despenser. However, this Google thread sets out the case that Elizabeth was in fact a daughter of Hugh Despenser the Elder.

Ralph was another long-term follower of the Despensers, probably born around 1280. He was a member of the Elder Despenser's retinue as early as 1299, though he wasn't knighted until the great Feast of the Swan of 22 May 1306. In 1303, he married Margaret de Braose, and had a son Thomas. He was apparently taken prisoner at Bannockburn, and made two pilgrimages to Santiago.

Elizabeth and Ralph had five children: John, Hugh, Ralph, Isabel and Elizabeth. The names Hugh and Isabel, almost certainly named after Hugh the Elder and Isabel Beauchamp, are a strong indicator that Elizabeth was a Despenser, not a Rogate. Likewise, Ralph Camoys was the first cousin of Margaret Goushill's mother Ela Camoys; Margaret Goushill married Elizabeth's brother Philip, yet another inter-marriage among the Despenser affinity.

Ralph Camoys was closely associated with the Despensers, his father-in-law and brother-in-law; in the charges against them in Parliament in 1321, he is named as one of their 'evil and corrupt counsellors'. However, he survived their downfall; on 19 February 1327, there's a record of a "[p]ardon to Ralph de Camoys, knight, for adherence to Hugh le Despenser the younger, lately a rebel." Ralph crops up occasionally in the records of Edward III's reign - for example, on 12 March 1334, he and other men were accused of carrying away four tuns of wine, worth £20, and other goods, from a shipwreck in Sussex, and also of carrying away the deer and assaulting the servants of John, Lord Mowbray.

Ralph died before 24 June 1336. The date of Elizabeth Despenser Camoys' death is not known; an 'Elizabeth, widow of Ralph Camoys' mentioned in 1370 and sometimes assumed to be her was in fact her granddaughter-in-law. William, Lord Hastings, executed by Richard III in 1483, was their great-great-grandson (his mother was Alice Camoys). Ralph and Elizabeth's daughter Isabel Camoys was Abbess of Romsey from 1352-1396. In 1344, their son Hugh Camoys and his first cousin Hugh Despenser the Even Younger went abroad with Richard Fitzalan, Earl of Arundel who got a divorce from Hugh the Even Younger's sister Isabel that year. There's a great site on the Camoys family here.

Hugh Despenser the Elder and Isabel Beauchamp had more than twenty grandchildren, and Isabel had seven others, through her daughter Maud de Chaworth. The Despensers are an interesting example of how marriage was used by the nobility at this time to bind their adherents and supporters to them, and to strengthen their affinity - though the Despensers' connections couldn't save them from the consequences of their greed and tyranny.