09 April, 2008

The Death of Edward II

Ian Mortimer has recently added an article on the alleged death of Edward II to his website. Please, please read it!! Even if you're really sceptical about Edward's survival after 1327 - especially if you are - give it a read. You might be surprised that what you've always 'known' to be true isn't! If you can, read Dr Mortimer's biography of Edward III, The Perfect King, which goes into all this in more detail, or at least read this article. If you can get hold of English Historical Review, he's written a great piece, 'The Death of Edward II in Berkeley Castle', volume 120, number 489, from 2005. There's an abstract here.

And if you're in the mood to learn more about the oddities surrounding Edward's death, I've written a few posts on the subject, collected in the sidebar on the left under the heading 'Aftermath of Edward II's Reign'.

Over 1000 people have voted in my poll 'What happened to Edward II in September 1327?'. Fully 28% of you believe in some version other than the traditionally accepted one that Edward was murdered in Berkeley Castle in September 1327. And belief in the 'red-hot poker' story is down to 57%, which I'm really pleased about, considering that it's still often depicted as a certain fact, in published books and about nine zillion websites. A very heartening result.


Susan Higginbotham said...

Enjoyed reading the article! I'm really looking forward to his other books.

Anonymous said...

Great article! The argumentation is solid beyond doubt and the algorithm for drawing a conclusion extremely logical. Too bad most people still believe only what they've learned in school and wouldn't use their mind to put things together and judge for themselves, even if evidence stares them in the face. One single source asserting death (Lord Berkeley, not reliable, especially considering his trial) against several sources asserting the contrary and corroborating evidence!

Jules Frusher said...

Very informative article and a good example of scholarly research. I was a bit on the fence about Ed's death before I read this - now I think IM has presented a very tight case for Ed's survival.
Thanks for the link, Alianore!

Anonymous said...

I thought the whole argument was ridiculous when I first saw Ian Mortimer's theory detailed in "Greatest Traitor", and my opinion hasn't changed. I could more easily accept that Edward II liked to fly across Bifrost the rainbow bridge and frolick in the magical kingdom of the My Little Ponies than believe that Roger Mortimer would've allowed him not only to live, but live freely!

Roger Mortimer was intelligent, cunning, and had to know that Edward was a huge impediment to his own continued survival. If I'd been in Mortimer's place, I'd have had Edward killed so fast it'd have made your head spin. This is not me chosing sides, or preferring Mortimer to Edward or whatever. I don't think ANY of them were entirely in the right.

I personally doubt the hot poker story, but I do believe that Mortimer had him whacked.

Anonymous said...

It's not about what we believe or not about Roger, it's all about facts and evidence. An investigation is not based on personal feelings. Simply saying "I think so" is (fortunately) not enough to pass a guilty sentence in any court of law. Prosecution should construct a case, and a logical one at that, to counter the arguments of the defense, based on evidence. Ian Mortimer stands a solid case.

Kathryn Warner said...

Thanks all for the comments.

I suppose William Melton, the archbishop of York, also believed in the land of My Little Ponies, as he was convinced in 1329/30 that Edward II was alive, and wrote a letter to his cousin Simon Swanland saying that "my liege lord Edward of Caernarfon is alive, and in good health of body." (m' seign' lige Edward de Karnaruian qil est en vie et en bone sancte de corps). Melton knew Roger Mortimer far better than we do, and evidently he had good reason to doubt that RM had had Edward killed.

Gabriele Campbell said...

Lol, I have a post involving William Melton today as well. :)

Maybe Mortimer had reasons not to kill Ed even if we don't know or understand them. And don't forget, Ed was Isa's hubby and there's a chance she still had some feelings for him; there's more than love and sex that connect people emotionally. Just to speculate a bit. :)

Jules Frusher said...

Evidence should always take precedence over what people may believe. Sometimes the truth may seem odd or irrational to us, but we are looking at it from a long distance in time.

We cannot second guess what people back then may or may not have done without it being in the realm of speculation. Evidence as detailed by Mr Mortimer is all we have and no matter how little remains it is still better than supposition. You're right Elflady - Ian Mortimer does present a solid case!

GeorgeD said...

If I'd been in Mortimer's place, I'd have had Edward killed so fast it'd have made your head spin

This statement (combined with the magical kingdom image) sounds rather trollish to me; otherwise I'd scruple to admit that I thought it exceedingly funny at first. Somehow, it seems, people do easily overlook that Mortimer and Edward weren't two mob bosses fighting over some Las Vegas casinos...!

However, after giggling for some time, I realized that this is a good starting point for thinking the whole business over.

Yes, let's put ourselves in Roger Mortimer's shoes. We, the adulterous bedfellow of the king's wife, have just captured and deposed her husband, the king -- you know: the rightful king, the anointed king, the 'by God's grace' KING --, and now it's time for our next move.

Please answer the following questions:

1) How did we rise to this place where we can decide whether the KING shall live or die?

2) If we decide to kill the KING, how do we go about it?

3) Which KING do we kill?

4) What will be the consequences if we kill the KING?

There are a lot of cases in history where speculating is better than just copying what former historians have written before you. Please speculate.

For my part, I can't imagine that Roger Mortimer would have outlived the year 1327, had he really killed Edward II.

Kathryn Warner said...

Gabriele: Melton is suddenly popular! Thanks for the speculation - you make a very good point. (Love your new pic, by the way!)

Lady D: so true, and people often act in ways that seem unaccountable to us now. For me, the argument that 'Mortimer must have had Ed II killed because the former king was a danger to him' is unconvincing, when there's so much evidence that many of Mortimer's contemporaries believed he hadn't had Ed killed.

GeorgeD: another great thought-provoking comment, thank you!!

suburbanbeatnik said...

That's one fascinating article, Alianore! And it's very well argued too. Count me as one of the death-in-1327 party now going over to the survival-past-1327 party. I was particularly impressed by Mr. Mortimer's discussions of certainty, proof, evidence, and contextualization; and how he addresses the chain of reportage to Edward's death and how stories about it developed.

I sure wish I could find writing of this quality about Republican Rome. I've been reading about Cicero and his contemporaries lately, and it is just... mind-boggling to me how many historians take the old sources at face value, and take it absolutely no further. If Cicero argued in the "Pro Caelio" that Clodia Metelli was a slutty incestuous femme fatale, than lo, it is so! Perhaps I've been reading the wrong books, but I have seen little discussion in classicist circles of what I have seen here on this blog, and among medieval historians; of the "streams of information" and how they developed and transmitted. I want to cry: yo, what is up, classicists? Is it just that medievalists drink more Vitamin Water?

Thanks for the thought-provoking link. I look forward to reading more from Ian Mortimer!

Gabriele Campbell said...

Well, I'm having some fun deconstructing Tacitus *evil grin* But I'm not a classicist, I'm a writer first, and I'm not sure I'd ever dare to write an academic paper about Tacitus' view of the Germans as I see it. ;)

suburbanbeatnik said...

Gabriele: I used to study Nero extensively, and I remember finding a few books, published in the late '90s (i.e. Jas Elsner's "Reflections of Nero") that deconstructed the sources in a really fascinating and thought-provoking way. Also, there's Lucy Hallett-Hughes' "Cleopatra: Histories, Dreams and Distortions," which traces the development of the legend of Cleopatra through the ages. However, it seems to me that most historians of this period still seem to interpret the existing documentation with a depressing literalism, like Anthony Everitt in his recent bio of Cicero.

If you don't mind, could you tell me more about your deconstruction of Tacitus? You've got me curious now! :)

Kathryn Warner said...

Hi Joanne - glad to hear that the argument is starting to win you over. :-)

Carla said...

That's a fascinating article. Thank you for the link, and I shall have to move his books on Edward III and Roger Mortimer further up my reading list! I like people who explain logically where their conclusions came from.

I do like his Father Christmas analogy, BTW! Just imagine a future historian or archaeologist unearthing mountain upon mountain of Christmas cards and concluding that 21st-century England worshipped robins and stagecoaches :-)

Kathryn Warner said...

Glad you liked the article, Carla!

Yes, I wonder what bizarre conclusions historians of the distant future will make about us?! :-)