This year, which marks the 700th anniversary of the birth of Edward III, I feel like starting a new blog
feature called Who's Edward III's Father This Week? A friend on Facebook told me the other day about a person of his acquaintance who thinks that Isabella conceived the future king with Sir Robert Holland, on the grounds that - get this - she and he were once supposedly 'in the same vicinity'. What an utterly fabulous, well-thought-out and plausible theory. Don't know about you, but I'm totally convinced. In fact, Sir Robert Holland (whose grandsons, via his second son Thomas who secretly married Joan of Kent, were Richard II's half-brothers) was a close adherent and friend of Thomas, earl of Lancaster; Edward II wrote to Holland in November 1311 about an illness Lancaster was then suffering from. Given the political situation in February/March 1312 when Edward III was conceived, when Edward II and Piers Gaveston were skulking in the north to avoid Lancaster and actually fled from him when he arrived in Tynemouth a few weeks later, anyone as close to the earl as Holland was is incredibly unlikely to have been anywhere near the queen. Still, don't let that stand in the way of a good theory, eh? It strikes me as odd, the way some people who otherwise seem to like and admire Isabella of France are so happy to trash her morals and accuse her of being willing to foist a child of non-royal blood onto the English throne. You'd think they didn't understand the contemporary mindset or hadn't done any basic research at all or something.
(Why does Blogger's formatting always go weird when I include an image in a post?)
Talking of trashing people, and referring to what I wrote at the end of my recent post about Hugh Despenser and Isabella, I had the misfortune recently to read part of a novel about Isabella and Roger Mortimer which really made my blood boil. In it - besides the usual tediously predictable stuff about Edward II being a 'coward' and the useless whining pathetic fool and callous uncaring husband he always is in badly-written and researched melodrama - the author has Isabella claiming that Edward couldn't care less about their four children and can barely even remember their names, and that if anything happens to Isabella they'd be better off if he were dead too and they were orphans. That just made me...I cannot believe...I literally have no words. What a laughably blatant and obvious attempt to make Edward II even more unlikeable than he already is to readers of the novel. No-one in the fourteenth century ever accused Edward of not caring about his children, unless you count the Brut chronicle, which repeats a rumour that in 1326 Edward wished to strangle his wife and eldest son to death. The chronicle reports that when this rumour was repeated to Edward after his forced abdication - evidently he hadn't heard it before - he was so upset and horrified that he exclaimed "God knows, I thought it never, and now I would that I were dead! So would God that I were! For then were all my sorrow passed." (The Brut or the Chronicles of England, ed. F.W.D. Brie, vol. 1, pp. 252-253.)
Hideous, and I'm sure that no-one who actually knew Edward believed that he would have ever wished to kill his son, including Isabella and Edward III himself. Edward II is generally accepted to have been a good and loving father, something even Alison Weir, who appears to despise him, admits. It just makes me so furious that modern writers invent this hateful, hurtful nonsense about him (another novelist has him committing 'atrocities' in Wales and having Jewish merchants visiting England during his reign killed, for pity's sake). How would they like it if someone made up crap like that about their families and people they care about? "The writer's late grandfather was a cruel and neglectful husband who cared so little about his children he struggled even to remember their names. Conceiving his children was nothing more than a painful and unpleasant duty for him and he may not even have been their real father; he was a feeble drunken weakling; and his wife despised him and chose to punish him by committing adultery with another man who was much better and manlier than him in every way. He was so evil that he had innocent people murdered for the sheer hell of it, and allowed his lover to rape his wife and torture anyone he felt like." How would these writers who obviously adore the story of Isabella and Roger Mortimer feel if I wrote a novel or story and made out that Roger frequently beat up and raped his wife and treated her with utter contempt as nothing more than a brood mare, and that Isabella was a nasty, spiteful little madam who treated everyone she met like dirt and didn't give a damn about her children except as a means to manipulate her husband and make herself powerful? After all, it would be reasonably easy - given that Roger had a dozen children and that Isabella did use her elder son as a means of striking against her husband in 1326, and sent her daughter Joan away to Scotland when she was only seven - to make these characterisations seem plausible and historically accurate to readers. But I'd never do that, because there is absolutely no basis in fact for such portrayals and it would be an incredibly unsubtle way of making the pair unsympathetic to readers, with the equally unsubtle aim of making Edward II, who would naturally be a candidate for Father Of The Year and a loving tolerant husband who becomes a tragic, even saintly victim of his adulterous wife's cruel manipulations, look much better to readers by comparison. True, you can't libel the dead. True, historical fiction is, of course, fictional and shouldn't be taken as actual historical fact (though lots of people do just that). But why invent and write nasty things about people who aren't around to defend themselves? Such a shame that some writers can't give their characters depth and complexity without resorting to such obvious and lame devices as making Edward II an even worse father than he is a husband - and sheesh, they might as well just have him walk into the novel carrying a neon sign proclaiming 'I AM A HORRIBLE CHARACTER! HATE ME!!!'.