05 September, 2010

Yet More Edward II Myths

Some myths I've seen posted as 'fact' about Edward II and Piers Gaveston online recently (truly, the crap never stops):

Myth 1) Isabella of France was buried with Roger Mortimer's heart in 1358, and was buried next to him at the Franciscan church in London.

I've seen this repeated at least three times in the last week or two. Mortimer was not buried in London but in Coventry, and Isabella was not buried with his heart but with her husband Edward II's. The queen's tomb, with all the others in the Franciscan church in London, was sold at the time of the Reformation - in the autumn of 1547, to be precise - and its subsequent fate is unclear, and the church itself was destroyed in the Great Fire of 1666. To quote Professor F.D. Blackley, Isabella's tomb "appears to have been a raised tomb of alabaster situated in the middle of the choir. On it was an effigy in the breast of which was placed the heart of Edward II. About the tomb were four archangels." [1] Isabella's body, lying at Hertford Castle for several months following her death in August 1358, was dressed in the clothes she had worn for her wedding to Edward on 25 January 1308: to quote Professor Blackley again, "The queen's body was clothed with a mantle of red samite lined with yellow sindon in which she had been married. The tunic and mantle, now over fifty years old, had been carefully preserved...It may be that burial in them was the wish of Isabella, as the preservation would suggest." [2] This implies that Isabella's husband was much on her mind before her death. Maybe Roger Mortimer was too, but there is no evidence to suggest it.

Myth 2) Piers Gaveston's mother was burned alive as a witch.

The hoary old chestnut of Piers' Mum The Burned Witch simply refuses to die, with the result that a whole horde of authors have inflicted sensationalist novels where Piers is a Goddess Worshipper and At One With Nature on us. Yaaaawwwn, what a tedious old cliché it's become. Claramonde de Marsan died shortly before 4 February 1287, of natural causes as far as anyone - 'anyone' in the sense of 'people who actually know stuff about the late thirteenth century and have done a lot more research on it than just flicking through a couple of crappy novels', that is - knows. The story first appeared in John Stow's Annales, or a General Chronicle of England from Brute... at the end of the sixteenth century: "that the father of this Piers was a traitor to the king of France, and was for the same executed, and that his mother was burned for a witch, and that the said Piers was banished for consenting to his mother's witchcraft..." [3] Piers' father Sir Arnaud de Gabaston died in England in 1302, also apparently of natural causes, and was buried in Winchester Cathedral; he was certainly not executed for treason against Philip IV. (He was Gascon, and thus not a French subject.) There is no contemporary evidence I know of to suggest that Piers Gaveston was not as conventionally devout as anyone else, and obviously that whole 'being banished for consenting to his mother's witchcraft' story of Stow's cannot be true given that he was probably no more than about five when she died.

Myth 3) Edward II confined Isabella to the Tower in the 1320s.

Can't remember now where I saw this one - probably on one of the forums that endlessly and breathlessly repeat utter crap about poor Edward as though it's fact (see below for more examples) - so I don't have the exact quotation, but this scores a big, resounding 'Huh???' from me. Edward never 'confined' Isabella to the Tower or anywhere else; what a very odd notion. Elizabeth Norton's book She-Wolves: The Notorious Queens of England includes a bizarrely inaccurate story about Isabella being besieged in the Tower by the earl of Pembroke in the summer of 1321. Isabella was then living in the Tower - which lots of people seem to forget was a royal residence as well as a prison - to give birth to her youngest child Joan, Pembroke was her husband's ally and would never have besieged the queen, and - seriously, how on earth did Norton come up with that story? Baffling.

Myth 4) "...Edward II, who within hours of his birth in 1284, was proclaimed as the first English Prince of Wales...in later years, the second Edward proved to be a great disappointment. Edward II was weak, lazy and perverted."

Edward was created prince of Wales and earl of Chester on 7 February 1301, when he was almost seventeen. [4] His ten-year-old brother Alfonso was still alive when he was born in April 1284 and for four months afterwards, so it's hard to see why Edward I would have made a new-born baby the prince of Wales, a vast territorial endowment, rather than the heir to the throne. Weak and lazy? OK, you could make a case for that if you wanted. (Not physically weak, obviously; "one of the strongest men of his realm" [5] was never that.) But 'perverted'? Was Edward a rapist or a child abuser or a sex pest? Er, no. Hmmm, I wonder why someone would call him 'perverted' then? Someone who lives in our supposedly enlightened society in the twenty-first century? I. Just. Can't. Imagine...

Myth 5) "Edward II died as dishonourably as he lived. Spending more time with his lovers (he called his wife, Isabella, the 'she-wolf of France') than he did attending to affairs of state, he was murdered while in captivity."

The epithet 'she-wolf' was invented by Shakespeare for Margaret of Anjou and was first applied to Isabella in a 1757 poem by Thomas Gray.

Myth 6) "Edward III...had his mother sent to a convent for the rest of her life [in 1330]."

Yeah, and she went mad and was a mad evil mad old madwoman locked up at Castle Rising for nearly three decades and her ghost still haunts the castle - no, wait, she wasn't sent there, was she? She was sent to a convent. Hmm, it's tough to keep these contradictory old myths straight, isn't it? In fact, Edward III most certainly did not send his mother to a convent or imprison her at Castle Rising or treat her in any way that was inconsistent with the respect he owed to his mother and the dowager queen. Edward II didn't imprison Isabella and Edward III didn't either, so please, people, stop saying they did.

Myth 7) "The sweet little woman depicted in the movie [Braveheart] is quite unlike the actual Isabella, called the 'She-wolf of France', who personally murdered her husband with a poker so it would leave no marks on the body."

I have no words. None. Frankly it's beneath my and my readers' contempt to even bother to refute that one, so I'll merely point out that Isabella was in Lincoln, about 150 miles away, on the day (21 September 1327) that Edward II was supposedly murdered at Berkeley.

Myth 8) Question: "The story of the 3 Edwards is always fascinating--the second always coming off as weak and (ahem) unmanly. And of course, the 3rd Edward the strong, capable one. Did he have his father killed?"

Answer: "Legend is that Edward II was murdered in a most unpleasant fashion, but not, near as I can tell, by his son. Yet another murder unfairly pinned on Edward III?"

I had no idea that anyone had ever tried to pin Edward's alleged murder on his son. And again, Edward II is said to be 'unmanly'. I think we can all guess why. People really do love to hold onto these old-fashioned, stereotyped notions of sexuality, don't they?

Running a search for Edward II on Yahoo Answers is an amusing, though ultimately depressing, experience. Behold the crapness:

"He was a fairly weak king who seemed to have court favourites (who may have also been his lovers) and did not listen to his regular court. He did have a child with Katherine [sic] of France (afterwords known as the Shewolf of France) and was somewhat estranged from her husband."

(That reads as though Edward was 'estranged from her husband'.)

Q: "Was Edward II of England really gay?
He was known to favour male friends over his child bride Isabella?"

A: "I know that Sir Hugh le Despenser the son was allegedly the ''lover '' of King Edward II. What became of Hugh le Despenser.. I know he died in 1426 [sic] and Isabella of France went to France on a mission to meet her brother Charles de Valois [sic] VI [sic] and negotiate to regain some of the land the French had taken over from Britain [sic].. I know she was in love with Roger Mortimer but that he was later executed somehow... and King Edward II was executed [sic] in 1427 [sic] I believe on orders from the French [sic].. they called Isabella of Spain [sic] the French She Devil [sic] but was she really that bad considering what her husband Edward II had done [huh??]"

"Everyone knows that King Edward II of Great Britian was a very gay closeted man. It has been said through-out history. What if for example, gay-marriage existed in those days. Because of the British Government. That would not be allowed. He could not have a hubby like a Queen and name him a Prince Consort...would he? For example, lets say a man became King in the future. It would not be allowed for him to marry a man. He would have to abdicate the thrown. And loose his HRH status. As well as his peerage? Please help me set my friend straight that the U.K. or any other country would not allow that. She seems to think so."

"Why do english monarchs have the same names (henry, edwards, etc.) b/c if there were direct linage shouldnt edward III follow edward II...y then are there huge gaps between them"

"Isn't it a funny coincidence that the Hundred Years War started when...?
...Princess Isabella of France married King Edward II of England? You know, sort of like in Twilight?"

"Is it possible I inherited the genes from a king that lived hundreds of years ago?
I can trace my royal ancestry back to Edward I. I looked at several paintings of him and I noticed that I look exactly like him. I was more convinced when I watched Braveheart and the actors playing Edward I and Edward II looked like the paintings that I saw, and I realized I looked more like Edward II. I also read about how they acted. I am always ready for a fight like Edward I and I have an extremely quick temper, I am obsessed with military, and I admit I am somewhat dictator-like. How could this be? Could it be because of the DNA we share?"

And if you've ever wondered why I have a blog, a website and a Facebook page about Edward II, the errors above are just some of the many, many reasons...


1) F.D. Blackley, 'Isabella of France, Queen of England (1308-1358) and the Late Medieval Cult of the Dead', Canadian Journal of History, 14 (1980), p. 29.
2) Ibid., p. 26.
3) Cited in Vivien Thomas and William Tydeman, eds., Christopher Marlowe: the plays and their sources, p. 373.
4) Calendar of Charter Rolls 1300-1326, p. 6.
5) Description of Edward II from the Scalacronica ("de soun corps vn dez plus fortz hom de soun realme"): Scalacronica: By Sir Thomas Gray of Heton, knight. A Chronicle of England and Scotland From A. D. MLXVI to A. D. MCCCLXII, ed. J. Stevenson, p. 136.


Ragged Staff said...

This is just so sad, Kathryn!

Kathryn Warner said...

It really is! My work will never be done. :-(

Carla said...

Some variations of the Arthur legends have Guinevere besieged in the Tower by Mordred. How about that as a source for that particular myth? If the rest of the post is anything to go by, it's as good a source as any....

Anyone who is genuinely interested in the evidence and the facts will likely find their way to your blog sooner or later and find your research invaluable. Take heart!

Kathryn Warner said...

Aww, thanks, Carla! I appreciate that! You could well be right about the Guinevere/Mordred source; it makes as much sense as anything else! :-)

Anonymous said...

What was generally done with human remains when religious houses were destroyed during the Reformation? No matter what one thinks of Isabella, it is sad that her tomb has been lost. I think it is especially sad that the tomb of Piers Gaveston has also been lost.

Kathryn Warner said...

Depends a lot on the religious house, I think - most underground remains were left there, and some which were removed from tombs were propped up and displayed in public. Maybe some were re-buried (I hope so). Unfortunately I don't know what happened to Isabella's remains when her tomb was sold off. I agree it's very sad that so many tombs have been lost; I'm particularly sad about Piers Gaveston's!

Kathryn Warner said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Anerje said...

Yo mean, Piers' mother wasn't really a witch? :> Just kidding! There are some SERIOUS misconceptions there! Keep up the good work!

And I wish Piers' tomb could be discovered. It could still be intact, I'm told - and currently, a school has been built on top of the site.

Bryan Dunleavy said...

Well, that was fun! I particularly liked the last one by the guy, who after 30 generations, believed he might have an identikit personality with Edward I. Perhaps he should be on X-Factor!
Just laugh it off Kathryn. There will always be a majority out there who will credulously take on any half-baked story and a minority (such as those who read your blog) who will want to assess information more critically. I'm not claiming to be part of an elite. but your work is appreciated, respected and enjoyed.

Gabriele Campbell said...

Well, if they bring Braveheart and Twilight in, Wikipedia can count as reliable source. :)

That's worse than the TV report about sex in ancient Rome I saw last night that made pretty much every emperor into a pedophile and rapist (of both sexes).

Anonymous said...

I'm not convinced that historical fiction has to be completely "historically accurate", but some of these works really slander people who are no longer able to defend themselves, such as Piers' mother! (And Piers' brothers were depicted as drunken buffoons in "Confessions..." with Edward no better than a sadistic rapist in some of his sexual encounters with Piers.) And I suppose some viewers of The Tudors really think that Henry's sister murdered her husband!

Susan Higginbotham said...

Keep on busting those myths! It's chipping away at a very big stone of nonsense, but it's something!

Kathryn Warner said...

Anerje, thought you'd appreciate that one! ;) Wouldn't it be amazing if Piers' tomb was discovered? That would make me sooo happy...sigh...

Bryan, thank you for stopping by and for your kind words! That one made me laugh, too; going back 20 or 30 generations, we must all have millions of ancestors, yet somehow he thinks he's inherited the appearance and character traits of just one of them??! You're right - I shouldn't let the crap get to me - it's just that there's just so much of it! :-(

Gabriele, agh, I dread to think! Glad I didn't see it.

Anon, haha, yes - she married the king of Portugal and killed him, and Henry VIII's uncle was murdered, and...! :) Funny how the later series of The Tudors got more historically accurate. I feel quite strongly that we shouldn't defame the dead, and I hate it when historical novelists turn people who really lived into rapists, wife beaters, child abusers and so on with no evidence. The least said about Confession the better, as far as I'm concerned!

Susan, thanks! There's still so much rubbish out there, but I'll keep fighting against it...!

Anerje said...

Oh Anon, don't mention 'Confessions.....' to me. It's a HORRIBLE book. And it just reinforced certain social stereotypes. I gather the author is a 'fan' of Piers - but how she can produce a book like that, I don't know. Oh, don't get me stated.....I need a glass of red to calm down......

Anonymous said...

I doubt if Piers' tomb still exists. He was probably buried in an above ground tomb, so unless the ground level in that area has really risen over the past several hundred years it seems unlikely that his tomb has become buried there. The British Archaeological
Association might know something about this (in the 19th century they stated that 2 of Piers' brothers were also buried at Langley)

Anerje said...

Anon - I contacted the local history society, and they told me it could exist underneath the school. Sure the land would need to have subsided, but who knows? His remains may also have been reburied in the local church nearby - I know one tomb was (I forget which one, Kathryn will know!).

Kathryn Warner said...

Anerje, it was Ed's grandson Edmund, duke of York (d. 1402) and his wife Isabel of Castile.

I'd love to join you with the glass of red, btw - mine's a very large one...! :-)

Anonymous said...

Unfortunately, it's not just movies and bad novels that contain these myths. Some books that are classified as "history" are very inaccurate, especially what I would call "survey" books with titles like "Lives of the Kings and Queens....". Whenever I see something in a book which I know to be wrong, I feel that I can't trust the author to be accurate on other subjects which I'm not as familiar with.

Gabriele Campbell said...

I'll have one, too, a large one. Still dealing with the memory of that craptastic novel that made Varus and Arminius lovers.

Some slash pairings just Don't Work.

Kathryn Warner said...

Gabriele, I remember that one! Eek!

Anon, I totally agree - there are some really bad non-fiction history books out there. :-(

Anerje said...

see, I knew Kathryn would know:> Thanks!

Anonymous said...

I just saw the Facebook entry about the horses etc. taken in May 1312. Isn't this another myth - that all these jewels etc. were the property of Piers Gaveston?!! I have even seen reputable historians claim that Piers' vast wealth captured at this time substantiates the accusations that he was "stealing" all the kingdom's wealth for himself.

Kathryn Warner said...

Anerje: :-) :-)

Anon, you're right - Piers was accused by contemporaries of sending England's wealth back to Gascony (and of wearing Isabella's jewels, which is ridiculous). Do you know J.S. Hamilton's biog of him? He (Hamilton) demolishes this myth to a very great extent.

Louis X said...

These things make my head ache! I think I shall try to drink enough wine to make me forget I have read them—though, I am not certain there is that much wine in all of France. ;P

Kathryn Warner said...

They're pretty awful, aren't they, Monsire? Would love to share some of that wine with you...;)

Louis X said...

I would love to share wine with you, ma très chère dame! And cheese! <3

We shall also accost all these malfaiteurs and bring them to our hall, where they shall be dressed in rags and silly hats and made to dance like monkeys before us. I think this would be a satisfying pleasantry to be had whilst we enjoy our cheese and wine. Bring all your friends, so that we shall have plenty on hand to hoot and jeer and taunt in many languages. >:)

Kathryn Warner said...

That's a great plan, mon trescher et tresredoute seignur! I know Edward would enjoy it enormously, too. :-)