18 July, 2008

Time Travelling, and Terrible Kings

My favourite historian, Ian Mortimer, has a new book coming out in October, called The Time-Traveller's Guide to Medieval England. It's a brilliantly original concept - a travel guide to fourteenth-century England as though it were a place you could visit, with tons of information on what to wear, what to eat and where to stay, how to greet people in the street, what you'll see when you enter a town or travel through the countryside, and loads more. It's available for pre-order on Amazon, and you should definitely buy it, because it's absolutely fantastic. There's more info on the author's website.

I've just finished reading Marc Morris's new biography of Edward II's dad, A Great and Terrible King: Edward I and the Forging of Britain, which I enjoyed a lot. Definitely recommended, it provides a thorough chronological overview of Edward's long and extremely eventful life, with his campaigns in Wales and Scotland, his survival of an assassination attempt in the Holy Land, his struggles against Simon de Montfort in the 1260s, and all the rest.

Finally, an article appeared in the British newspaper the Daily Mail a couple of days ago - the ten worst monarchs in British history. With his great-grandson Richard II, Edward II is only the joint fourth worst king ever! Yay! Disappointingly, but by no means unexpectedly, the article repeats the red-hot poker myth as fact, and describes Edward as "the utterly pathetic bisexual Edward II." It describes the red-hot poker method as "A nasty way to go, but if anyone deserved it, it was he." That's pretty horrible. How could anyone deserve to die in such a hideous manner? (It also gets Hugh Despenser's date of death wrong, she said pedantically.)

Hope the weather's better where you are. It's a whopping 16 degrees here, barely even 60F. In the middle of July!


Gabriele Campbell said...

Yikes was is wrong with being gay of bi?

Here our gay politicians bring their boyfriends to official events, and no one cares.

I agree, no one deserves to die that way. Not to mention I could name a bunch of kings in Mediaeval Europe who were a lot worse than Ed. A few Roman emperors as well. ;)

Anonymous said...

Wow, King Stephen as Worst Monarch! I actually quite like him and thought that, like Ed II, he was just unsuited to the task. I would never have labelled him "corrupt", more ineffective.

The writer of the article kind of tells a story as to what sort of person they are by saying that "if anyone deserved to go that way it was him"!

Anonymous said...

Alianore, knowing Ian Mortimer as you do, is there another source for buying his book on Edward III? (Like from the author? Maybe even autographed?) I've had that book on my Amazon wishlist for awhile, and because it's out of print, the price for a used paperback is up to US$140. Ouch!

Jules Frusher said...

I've been looking forward to that book since I firstheard about it! I shall definitely be ordering it!

The Mail is notoriously biased towards the right so I'm not surprised by their comments on Edward. I am disappointed though that bisexual seems to be linked with pathetic in the same sentence - times haven't moved on that much, have they?

He deserved a death like that???? Words fail me.

And as for getting my dear Hugh's death date wrong... I think they need a spell in the stocks! With a red hot poker at hand!

Anerje said...

Thanks Alianore for the info on the Mortimer book. Sounds very promising.

I expect the Daily Mail found the whole idea of the red hot poker story very funny without actually stopping to think about it and hence the tasteless remarks. That really is a horrible thing to say about Ed - or anyone.

Anonymous said...

I've just published a book on pub history and discovered that royalty inspired many pub names. Edward II ties in to a couple, namely the New Inn and the Sun.

The New Inn in Gloucester was built in 1430 specially to accommodate pilgrims on the way to Edward II's tomb.

His son, Edward III, adopted a sunburst as his badge, the sun's rays shining up through a bank of cloud and topped with a crown. It was said to represent a new dawn after his father's reign. Many pubs named The Sun are said to be inspired by this badge.

Elaine Saunders
Author - A Book About Pub Names

Kathryn Warner said...

Gabriele: I know...*rolls eyes*. Sooo typical of the Daily Mail.

Paul: I'm really surprised about Stephen too.

Christy: I'll email you about that. Ouch indeed!

Lady D: Notice that Ed II and Rich II are 'utterly pathetic bisexuals' but Henry VIII isn't a 'heterosexual psychopath'. And the comments about James I kissing a man at his coronation??? Please.

Anerje: it really is!

Elaine: thanks for the info. I love English pub names.

Anerje said...

Thanks Elaine for the info - your books sounds very interesting!

Carla said...

That comment says more about the Daily Mail writer than about the history (so no surprise there).
Trying to be charitable, I suppose there could be a confusion caused by failing to specify what makes a king "worst". Bad person, or bad at the job? It's perfectly possible to be a nice, kind, attractive person and still be a hopeless monarch.

Kathryn Warner said...

Carla: indeed - it made me laugh, because it's so exactly what I'd expect from the Mail.

I get the feeling that Stephen was a rather nice person, albeit a terribly ineffectual monarch, whereas Henry VIII, say, was a cruel tyrant, but not necessarily an ineffective king, so it depends a lot on the criteria, as you say.

Anonymous said...

It's funny you mention that it depends on the criteria as the bloke actually puts both Henry VIII and Stephen in despite, as you point out, their wildly different faults.

I can see the guy at his desk with the names on a piece of paper. I'll put him in because he was cruel, her because she was cruel, him because he was greedy, those two because they were gay.....!

It's funny that James II is included at #9 as he "failed to learn the lesson of the English Civil War" while his Dad who started it isn't there at all!

No spots for such regal luminaries as the ineffective Henry VI, cruel William Rufus, the afore-mentioned Charles, the US losing George III and depending on how you see things Richard III.

Kathryn Warner said...

Paul: the list is pretty weird and seemingly random, isn't it? Charles I is an odd omission, given that James II is there. Ditto Henry VI - I'd think that if you're including monarchs who, while not being bad people, were hopelessly ineffective, he'd be high on the list. I read on another blog that you could make out a case for practically every British monarch being the worst ever, depending on the criteria!

Carla said...

'Tis the silly season, and the Mail into the bargain, so I wouldn't take the list too seriously :-) Random may just about cover it, with research from film and TV (Braveheart, The Tudors) plus 1066 And All That for the in-depth academic angle.

Kathryn Warner said...

Carla: *grins*. Funny that you mention 1066 And All That - I read it again recently, for about the 7th time, which is a Good Thing. :-)

Brian Wainwright said...

I suppose it all comes down to opinion in the end. Personally I think Charles I is worst by a country mile and Henry VIII second, because these guys were directly responsible for the deaths of large numbers of their subjects. But some people think Charles was a saint, and Henry VIII the personification of England. (If he is I claim my Welsh ancestry!)

Similarly I have a relatively low-opinion of Edward III and Henry V, who started wars they couldn't finish and left huge financial and political messes behind for their successors to clear up. But most historians rate these two as the bees knees.

It depends where you're coming from...

Kathryn Warner said...

If Henry VIII was the personification of England and Englishness, I'm changing nationality immediately!

That's a good point about Ed III and Henry V. I know we're supposed to love them because they kicked French arse, but how much of the social unrest at the start of Rich II's reign was a direct cause of all those hideously expensive French wars? And I won't even start on Henry V. Suffice it to say that I find him utterly repellent.