24 April, 2012

Something Of A Rant

But first: The words in the image below are part of Edward II's speech when he was forced to abdicate in January 1327, as recorded in the Flores Historiarum: "I greatly regret that I have so utterly failed my people, but I could not be other than I am."  The Flores was written in Latin, though anything Edward would have said - and whether or not he really said anything like the words ascribed to him here is anyone's guess - would have been in Anglo-Norman.  The design was made by my friend Tim.  Thanks for sharing and giving me permission to use it here, Tim!

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!!!'.

17 comments:

Susan Higginbotham said...

Good rant! I hate it when authors feel the need to prop up their heroes or heroines by tarnishing the reputations of other historical characters.

Kathryn Warner said...

Thanks, Susan! I feel the same way. At least some of the maligned characters of the 14th and 15th centuries have us to stick up for them!

Rowan Lewgalon said...

Not only a good rant, a well said rant and a gorgeous rant.
And I totally agree.
Worst thing is that I sometimes can't sleep when I'm enraged like that.

Kathryn Warner said...

Thanks so much, Rowan! xx I'm exactly the same. I try to turn off the computer a couple of hours before I sleep and do something else, otherwise I stay awake as well, thinking about this crap. :-(

Kathryn Warner said...

BTW, Rowan, your comment posted three times, so I just posted it once. :)

Anerje said...

Great post! And I KNOW the 'novel' you are on about. It's not enough now to have Edward as a woman-hating coward - he now has to have contempt for his children. How much lower can you go? I would lve to have a novel written from Mortimer's wife's viewpoint!

Kathryn Warner said...

There are no depths to which some writers will not sink! Who else can we make Edward hate...hmmmm...hey, how about his children? Yeah, that'll really make him hateful to readers, woo-hoo! Who cares about inventing even more nasty things about Edward II, anyway? He didn't fall madly in love at first sight with Perfect Beautiful Wonderful Sexy Perfect Isabella and deserves to be punished for that for the rest of eternity!

I'd love a novel from Joan's perspective too. Such a shame to see her maligned by authors who don't have enough talent to write complex characters and motivations and instead turn her into an unpleasant character simply because readers then won't mind that her husband cheats on her.

Anerje said...

I have a new angle! How about Edward hates Piers after meeting the most beautiful woman EVER and Piers writes as the neglected lover. Then he goes off with Mortimer. Or better still Robert the Bruce. When Piers is killed Bruce takes revenge at Bannockburn! There history rewritten again.

Kathryn Warner said...

Yeah! Re-writing history is fun! And who cares if it's even remotely plausible or not? It's FICTION! We can make up anything we want! Let's have the 'unequivocally heterosexual' Roger Mortimer falling madly in love with Edward II and/or Hugh Despenser, who reject him, and that's the reason for his opposition to them. :-)

Anerje said...

Hmmm only problem is, Kathryn, we'd have to accept that Edward is actually the father of Edward III - surely that's too much for writers of historical fiction to accept :>

Kathryn Warner said...

Darn, we can't have that! I think Robert Bruce was his father actually. :D

stag said...

If you take out the word "fiction" and insert the word "lies", it becomes easier to deal with.
Anything written about anybody at this distant remove is by its nature a falsehood to a greater or lesser extent. Far too much (some would say all) "history" is written by people with an agenda, so much that I often feel that there is no such thing as "history", but only "historical lies".
That being said, there is a difference between lies and slander. Lies of course are just a person's position on a subject. The spin as it were. What infuriates me, and you, is slander. I don't think it is right to get away with slandering somebody, and then get away with it by calling it fiction.
Is it really such a fine line? No. Any lie which is designed to injure the reputation of somebody is a slander. And such is reprehensible.

Kathryn Warner said...

Great perspective, Stag, thank you. I completely agree.

Gabriele C. said...

I know how you feel. I've read a novel (which I try to erease from memory) where Varus, whom even sources that don't overall paint him in a nice light, called mild-mannered, flog a slave because he spilled a few drops of wine. Only to make Arminius decide that man's not going to do Germany any good - as if one can't come up with a dozen better motives why Arminius turned against the Romans than Varus being a jerk. It's lazy characterisation. /end rant

Kathryn Warner said...

Thanks, Gabriele. Isn't it infuriating? Lazy characterisation is exactly right.

bluffkinghal said...

I absolutely love the reason for knowing the father - same vicinity - I get it! It was the DNA testing of the medieval times.

Bad characterisation annoys me majorly! My favourite novels are those in which everyone is painted in shades of grey. None of this angel/devil nonsense!

Kathryn Warner said...

Yeah, I laughed myself to bits at the rationale for that one. :)

I am also so SICK of one-dimensional characterisation, people either saintly or villainous with nothing inbetween. There's a real trend to portray Isabella these days as this beautiful wonderful long-suffering saint - even her 'flaws' are not really flaws. Grrr.