10 August, 2008

Books

I've been tagged by Lady D for a post on A Writerly Life, but I've changed it slightly, to keep it on-topic (as everything I write on this blog has to be related to Edward II!)

Fiction about Edward II I like:

Brenda Honeyman's The King's Minions and The Queen and Mortimer: absolutely my two favourite Edward II novels. Beautifully written, touching and sympathetic to both Edward II and Isabella - something you rarely see - with great characterisations and lovely touches of humour.

Susan Higginbotham's The Traitor's Wife: a big, beautiful novel covering the period 1306 to 1337, seen through the eyes of Eleanor de Clare. Historically accurate, and a great perspective on Edward II by one of the people who knew him best.

Chris Hunt's Gaveston: Hunt has a great talent for description, and the love affair between Edward II and Piers Gaveston is vivid and fantastically well written. Moving, one of the most historically accurate novels I've ever read, and with lots of hot sex scenes. :-)

Juliet Dymoke's The Lion of Mortimer. Although the title is very misleading - the main characters are three generations of the Montacute family, not the Mortimers - a very nice, if short, dramatisation of Edward's reign, also with some lovely characterisations.

Paul Doherty's Cup of Ghosts, a murder mystery set in 1307 and 1308. A great, and very unusual, portrayal of Edward and Isabella's relationship - I don't want to describe it here, in case I ruin the plot for people who haven't read the novel - and a lovely Piers Gaveston too.

The She-Wolf by Pamela Bennetts: unusually, this one begins in 1325, and while this choice necessitates a lot of flashbacks and exposition to get the reader up to speed with the situation, it's a powerfully-written novel of hatred, jealousy, revenge, lust and madness.

Edward II Fiction I don't like (much):

Edith Felber's Queen of Shadows: Isabella, the proto-feminist, constantly moans about women being subject to men, and tells everyone "I am queen!" and refers to her husband as "Edward, the king" approximately every five pages, which gives the unfortunate impression that the other characters are suffering from amnesia and can't remember who Edward and Isabella are for more than about ten minutes. Also very inaccurate in places, though I do really like the depiction of Edward (except for the completely untrue statements that he committed atrocities in Wales and murdered Jewish people).

Notorious and Infamous by Virginia Henley, two romances set in Edward II's era. The most risible 'As you know, Bob' dialogue I've ever read, and deeply offensive portrayals of gay men. Bleugh. Just thinking about it makes me feel ill.

Harlot Queen by Hilda Lewis. I have mixed feelings about this one. It most unfairly accuses Edward II of cowardice at Bannockburn - that'd be the man who "fought like a lion" (Trokelowe) and who "struck out so vigorously behind him with his mace there was none whom he touched that he did not fell to the ground" (Scalacronica), then? Some weird characterisations too, for example the younger Despenser, who is all swishy and camp with girlish hips, yet also a brutal wife-beater. Still, the ending is terrific. Unlike most Edward II novels, he survives after 1327, and the last scene has Edward and Isabella finally achieving, umm, closure (to use a horrible modern word) on their relationship many years after his deposition - which is deeply moving.

Alice Walworth Graham's The Vows of the Peacock: narrated by the earl of Warwick's daughter Elisabeth (with an 's' for some reason) Beauchamp, one of Isabella's attendants, who manages to be the same age as the queen (i.e., born about 1295) even though her parents, historically, didn't marry until 1309. The novel gets bogged down in waaaaay too much description, and the odd choice of narrator means that we only read about most of the exciting events of the era second-hand.

Maurice Druon's The She-Wolf of France. Almost all the characters - at least the English ones -are ugly and contemptible, and also really boring. Poor Edward is shrieky, tantrumy and apparently deformed physically, while poor Isabella has 'little carnivore's teeth' (???). Too much telling and not nearly enough showing, relationships very weirdly portrayed by a man who seems to have no understanding of how human emotions work, and the dialogue is laughably bad. Yes, it's translated from the French, but I can't imagine that Edward's dying words "Oh you brutes, you brutes, you shan't kill me!" sound any better in the original. Crap dialogue is crap dialogue, whatever the language. I dislike this novel so much it's the only Edward II book I've ever given away.

Edward II non-fiction I like:

Caroline Bingham's The Life and Times of Edward II. Published in 1973 and a little dated now, and not always totally accurate, but a great overview of Edward's reign and sympathetic to him, while not glossing over his many faults and mistakes. It's also lavishly illustrated. A great book for the non-expert to learn about Edward II.

Harold F. Hutchison's Edward II: The Pliant King. For a book published in 1971, surprisingly advanced in its discussion of Edward's (presumed) sexuality. You get the feeling that Hutchison really likes Edward and is very sympathetic towards him, although he doesn't whitewash him.

J. R. S. Phillips' Aymer de Valence, earl of Pembroke 1307-1324: Baronial Politics in the Reign of Edward II. Very academic - it's based on the author's doctoral thesis - but extremely readable, with lots of great information. I come back to this one again and again. Ditto J. R. Maddicott's Thomas of Lancaster 1307-1322: A Study in the Reign of Edward II.

Michael Prestwich's Plantagenet England 1225-1360. A big, gorgeous book, extremely readable, covering political, social and economic history. The kind of book you can read cover to cover - all 600 pages of it - or dip in and out of.

Non-fiction I'm not so mad about:

Paul Doherty's Isabella and the Strange Death of Edward II, a gripping account of Edward and Isabella's marriage and Edward's survival, but with numerous sloppy errors and an unconvincing depiction of Isabella as an evil bitch-queen who wanted Edward dead and never gave him a second thought after his deposition (which is demonstrably not true).

Natalie Fryde's Tyranny and Fall of Edward II 1321-1326. Very useful in many ways, but the author never passes up a chance to sneer at Edward - why anyone would write an entire book about someone they obviously don't like baffles me - and full of silly errors. Much of it is so dry and scholarly that even I, more obsessed with every aspect of Edward's reign than most people on the planet and with two degrees in medieval history to boot, can't read it without my eyes glazing over.

23 comments:

Gabriele C. said...

Hey, but you didn't tell us if you have a little bust of Edward on the bedside table. :)

Alianore said...

Haha, I have a portrait of Edward, by Mark Satchwill, that I keep where I can see it often. ;)

Gabriele C. said...

I remember that one. Can't blame you. :)

Lady D. said...

Great to see all these books listed in one post for comparison. Funnily enough, I have 'Cup of Ghosts' lined up on my 'to read' shelf, so maybe I'll have to shuffle it a bit closer to the front of the queue.

I totally agree with 'The Pliant King' and the Philips and Maddicot books (although I've had to give them back to the library necause someone else wants them:-( )

Susan Higginbotham said...

Thanks, Alianore!

My favorite Druon line is Hugh Despenser's: "Oh, Edward, Edward, why did you marry her?" I do hope this doesn't sound as silly in French as it does in English.

Alianore said...

Gabriele: one word, two syllables to describe Mark's portrait of Edward: GORGEOUS!!! :-)

Lady D: I suppose, looking on the bright side, at least someone else wants to read them. ;)

Susan: IMO, that would sound just as silly in French as it does in English (and as you say on your site, would a pirate really talk like that??)

Gabriele C. said...

Lol, that sound like opera. La mariti, Edgardo, perchè?

Kevin said...

I was particularly amused about the book review commentary re: Isabella as the "evil bitch queen" who didn't give a farthing for Edward post-deposition.

Isabella was buried in her wedding finery, with Edward's heart tucked close to her body. This last act of Isabella's seems much more than just an expression of conventional religious piety and remorse. No, this is a gesture of human remembrance that belies the appellation of a "she-wolf."

Alianore said...

Gabriele: oooh, now you've got me thinking about 'Edward II: the Opera'. Or, 'Edward II: the Musical'. Or, even better: 'the Soap Opera'. :-)

Kevin: oops, got a bit carried away there. ;) But you're exactly right. Isabella sent Edward letters and gifts at Berkeley in 1327. Although she slipped mostly into obscurity after 1330, and few records survive of her life and doings, she founded a chantry in Coventry in 1342 to pray for the soul of her 'dear lord Edward'. The only household records of hers which survive after 1330 are from the last few months of her life, 1357-58, and show that she gave a donation of 40 shillings to an abbess in London on the anniversary of Edward's (supposed) death in 1327. That's a whole 30 years later, so it's fair to assume that she did this every year (would be odd if she went 30 years without remembering his death and suddenly did it in 1357). Paul Doherty says that "otherwise the record is silent on any memory of or regret for Edward" - but there are no records!

I'll happily admit that Isabella is not my favourite person in history, but calling her a 'she-wolf' is really unfair, and completely inaccurate.

Alianore said...

Oops, forgot to point out that we could equally say "the record is silent on any memory of or regret for Roger Mortimer," as there's nothing in the records that suggests she ever remembered him. But that's extremely unlikely to be the case.

Kevin said...

I think the directness of your thoughts on Isabella as not a particularly good choice for a "royal favorite" are right on. She learned intrigue and backstabbing from the best: her relatives at the French royal court. Their busy tongues never rested for too long. Isabella is hard to love, but she was somebody's grandma (my 21st great-grandma in fact). Edward III did allow her to visit his court; obviously he knew the art of forgiveness. It's difficult to put your own mum in jail.

My sympathies ultimately rest with our fated protagonist, Edward II. He'd be right at home with today's royals. I bet he'd even be a famous playwright. Or a folk or jazz musician. He had style.

I cannot help seeing the people at the center of Edward's final end and its aftermath (Edward himself, Isabella, Mortimer, the Hughs Jr. and Sr., Thomas de Berkeley, Edmund of Kent, Gavaston's widow) as ancestors. As in fact each of them are. Historical characters, placed in the context of one's own family tree, give history a poignancy that the average student cannot begin to grasp.

Gabriele C. said...

Lol, Edward II would make a fun TV series - if the director will be brave enough to include some hot man love. :p

Kevin said...

Now there, Grandfather Edward wasn't messin' around. He and Piers were merely "brothers in arms" (each other's, apparently)...

Alianore said...

Now there's the unanswerable question - how exactly did Ed and Piers love each other? I'd give a great deal to know...;)

Gabriele: there was a *bit* of hot man love on the TV show The Tudors - but sadly, not much, and nowhere near as explicit as the hetero scenes!

Kevin: exactly - there's little doubt that Ed III loved his mother, and no chance that he would execute her or lock her up. I think his forgiveness of her reflects very well on him.

Poor Ed II would be so much happier - and infinitely more popular - if he'd been born in 1984, not 1284. He was centuries ahead of his time in so many ways (his common touch, his hobbies etc, his willingness to be unconventional, etc)

It must be great to know that you're descended from all these people, so their stories are part of your family history. I've been tracing my own ancestors recently, but come to a grinding halt in the 16th/17th century on most lines. :(

Gabriele C. said...

Alianore, I'm not so sure Ed would have been better off in 1984, not as member of the Royal House. Prince Charles still had to marry a woman who was wrong for him - imagine the outcry if he said he was into men and wouldn't marry at all, and Andrew could produce the heirs.

Kevin said...

Since no contemporary chronicler had the courage to directly state what many of the king's friends (and enemies) might have seen as obvious, we can only guess about Edward's attractions. Though it was probably a propaganda piece (there's that gossipy French court again), there is on record Isabella's bitter complaint that Edward had given away his marriage bed. However, there are two ways to be unfaithful: the physical as well as the emotional. One need not have both elements in order to have an affair. And I think we could safely say that, whether they made "hot man love" or not, Edward was "in love" with Piers.

I don't know if the subject of his son, Adam, has come up here before, but this boy's existence is proof enough that, aside from Edward's kingly duties to produce heirs and commune sexually with his wife (even if the idea may have been at times personally distasteful to him), there was a certain evidence of heterosexual *choice* in Edward's preferments--if only for that one time with this unknown mistress. On the other hand, since Piers (or Edward for that matter) never got pregnant...

On Kinsey's scale, then, I'd suggest that Edward was perhaps bisexual.

Because Edward lends himself to be psychologized so readily, I suspect that the main reason he hung about with male laborers and athletes to the exclusion of his stuffy peers is that these common men represented physical strength that was non-threatening to him (unlike the violent image of strength his father projected).

Edward II has millions of descendants worldwide, thanks to the English nobility's practice of marrying off their younger sons and daughters to those on a lower social scale. Persistence in examining the records, and not a little bit of luck in the strange arrangement of fate, is how I discovered Edward as my granddad. I enjoy learning about him and his family, so thanks for your blog!

Alianore said...

Gabriele: but if he was born in 1984, he'd be Prince Harry (who actually was born in 1984) and he could mess about with a South African while his elder brother carried the burden of future kingship. ;) Or, if his entire family had been born 700 years later, he'd have 3 elder brothers - who would be extremely unlikely to all die in childhood as Ed's brothers did - and he'd only be the 4th son of the king and have a lot more freedom.

Kevin: you're welcome! I have some posts planned that you might be interested in - on Ed's household ordinance of 1318. (I've been translating some of it.)

Yes, there's little doubt that Piers was the love of Ed's life - whether it was sexual or not.

I did write a post on Adam once, but he's so obscure it's hard to find much to say about him. I would say, though, that Adam's mother must have been reasonably important to Ed, given that he acknowledged the boy and must have been certain he was the father - which he (presumably) wouldn't have been if he'd only met her once and didn't know her well enough to know if she was sleeping with other men or not.

Gabriele C. said...

Kevin, I think bi is the most likely option for Ed's sexuality.

That talk about hot man love going on here is due to the fact that Alianore and I are very naughty girls who'll probably end up in hell one day. *grin*

Kevin said...

Alianore, sounds like some interesting posts you have planned. The intersection of much of what interests me both historically and genealogically occurs in the reign of Edward II--by default he becomes the monarch of greatest interest to my studies. I will have to figure out how to bookmark your blog (I'm fairly new to "social software"). My own blog needs some attention. Waiting on the opportunity to obtain a critical study of Cecily Neville's last will as well as mustering the discipline to put together my materials on Thomas of Woodstock (the desk is piling up with paperwork).

Gabriele, I'll just close my eyes while you two talk about naughty medieval behaviors. But I'll keep my ears open. Would hate to miss anything... ;O)

Alianore said...

Gabriele: we're going to hell, but it will be soooo worth it. :-)

Kevin: your posts sound very interesting. I love medieval wills (I was reading the earl of Surrey's from 1347 yesterday) and I don't know that much about Thomas of Woodstock, so that will be fun to read. As he was Ed II's grandson, naturally I want to know more about him. ;)

Kevin said...

Alianore, I forgot to mention that Christopher Dyer has a brand new book out, _An Age of Transition?: Economy and Society in England in the Later Middle Ages_, a scholarly book that reads very easy. The book talks about the details and economic/social significance of household expenditures, inventories, floor plans, etc. An update of his previously published work on the subject, this is a good background study of the times in which Edward lived and seems fitting to mention here--since we revel in the small details.

I am working with an outline right now of my Woodstock blog article. Of course I'm not the fastest blogger in the world, to be sure, but had to put the brakes on finishing it when I happily discovered a published inventory of the duke's personal estate at the time of his arrest. Woodstock's personal goods demonstrate what a sumptuous life the youngest grandson of Edward II enjoyed.

Alianore said...

Thanks for the tip, Kevin - I hadn't heard of the book, but looked it up on Amazon, and it definitely looks worth a read.

The inventory of Woodstock's sounds fascinating. I love things like that.

Alianore said...

Thanks for the tip, Kevin - I hadn't heard of the book, but looked it up on Amazon, and it definitely looks worth a read.

The inventory of Woodstock's sounds fascinating. I love things like that.