08 July, 2012

Fictionally Adulterous Queens, Especially Eleanor of Provence, And Maligning Piers

Some weeks ago on her excellent history blog, my friend Sarah wrote a great post entitled The Queen As Whore, discussing the annoyingly popular trend in modern historical fiction of portraying medieval queens as adulteresses who willingly foist non-royal sons fathered by lovers onto the throne. It's becoming, to me and quite a few other people I know, profoundly irritating, and Edward II and Isabella of France are by no means the only victims of it. The medieval kings of England I can think of who have been portrayed as not really the sons of their fathers in various novels are: Henry II (fathered by his mother Maud's cousin and enemy King Stephen, not Geoffrey of Anjou); Richard I (fathered by a troubadour, not Henry II); Henry III (fathered by his mother Isabelle of Angoulême's half-brother, not King John); Edward I (fathered by his uncle Simon de Montfort rather than Henry III); Edward II (Edward I thinks an invented character called William Wild, The Irish Irishman Who Is Irishly Irish, may be his son's father, not himself); Edward III (fathered by William Wallace, Roger Mortimer, Robert Holland, Edward I or pretty well any other man alive or dead in England, Scotland or Ireland at the time rather than Edward II); Henry VI's son Edward of Lancaster, prince of Wales (fathered by the duke of Somerset or sundry others, at least one of them also dead at the time, rather than Henry); Edward IV (fathered by the archer Blaybourne rather than the duke of York). Perhaps you know of others, from different time periods or in different countries, or novels about English kings that I've missed. Admittedly, a couple of these depictions are based on contemporary or near-contemporary rumours and slurs, but most are not, and I find 'OMG, King Whoever was not really the son of his father, SCANDAL!!!!' a tedious and overdone cliché in historical fiction, a lame way of making a novel more salacious and sensationalist - and extremely disrespectful to the queens and their children.  Of the eight kings of England from the mid-twelfth century to the end of the fourteenth (Henry II, Richard I, John, Henry III, Edward I, Edward II, Edward III and Richard II), that's six whose paternity has been changed in print, with John and Richard II the only exceptions, at least that I know of.

In a post titled Edward I of England and his Legitimate Parentage, Sarah also discusses in greater detail (with a few contributions by me) the idea put forward in a series of four self-published novels that Simon de Montfort, earl of Leicester, killed at the battle of Evesham in 1265, was the real father of Edward I instead of Henry III. This of course presupposes that Eleanor of Provence was visiting Simon's castle of Kenilworth with the king in September 1238 - Edward I was born at Westminster on 17 June 1239 - and committed adultery with her husband's brother-in-law. (Simon married Henry III's youngest sister Eleanor in early 1238. She had taken a vow of chastity after the death of her first husband the earl of Pembroke from which she had to be released by the pope, but was not a nun, as the author states.) If this were just in a novel and clearly stated to be a fictional invention in an author's note or on her website, one would probably just roll one's eyes and let it be, but the author has been propounding her theory on Facebook, Amazon and various other websites and blogs as though it has a strong basis in fact. Henry III can be placed at Kenilworth on several days in September 1238, and presumably Queen Eleanor was with him, though this hasn't been proved conclusively. A member of the Historical Fiction Online forums pointed out a while ago that Simon de Montfort wasn't even in England at the time Edward I was conceived; he was still in Italy, and the chronicler Matthew Paris says that he returned to England on 14 October 1238, several weeks after Henry III stayed at his castle of Kenilworth. Unless Simon committed adultery with Queen Eleanor immediately on his return to England and Edward I was a month premature, both of these notions without a shred of evidence, this idea simply doesn't fly. 

Still the author is insisting that her decades of research mean that her theory of Edward I's parentage has a strong factual basis, and Sarah has noticed a growing number of people hitting her blog searching for things like 'Edward I was Simon de Montfort's son' and 'was Eleanor of Provence a whore?'. (In much the same way as I get searches every day along the lines of 'Was William Wallace Edward III's father?'. Thank you, Braveheart and several crappy novels. I hope the 'But it's FICTION!' crowd take note, though of course they won't.) Sarah's blog post goes into detail about why we believe that of course Edward I was Henry III's son. Just pause for a moment to consider how incredibly, astonishingly, vanishingly unlikely it is that in 1238 the fifteen(ish)-year-old queen of England could have had sex with her husband's brother-in-law in a castle where her husband was also present and that lots of people knew that Edward I was the result but no-one ever mentioned it until the Super-Sekrit Hidden Explosive Truth That They Tried To Hide!!! was cleverly unearthed by one author more than 750 years later.  That's before we remember that Simon wasn't even in England at the time of Edward's conception, and that the chronicler Nicholas Trivet, who was a near-contemporary of Edward I (around eighteen years younger) and probably saw him often, mentions that the king had a drooping eyelid, which Henry III also had. What are the odds of this, if they weren't father and son? 

The author also depicts Henry III having Simon de Montfort - his own brother-in-law, remember - vilely tortured, and says that "for 700 years it was a hanging crime to speak his [Simon's] name." Sadly, despite repeated requests, the details of this particular statute and its repeal in or about 1965 have not been forthcoming. In 1323, incidentally, Edward II paid a group of women in Yorkshire to sing songs about Simon de Montfort for him, so evidently it wasn't a 'hanging crime' to speak of him then, even in front of Henry III's grandson. Neither does it seem to have been a crime in the nineteenth century when several constitutional historians wrote enthusiastically of Simon and his achievements in parliament. Several of us asked the author for evidence that Eleanor of Provence was at Kenilworth at the time her eldest child was conceived and that anyone of the era knew Edward I was not Henry III's son and so on, and in return were removed and blocked from her Facebook page, and accused on her blog of 'bullying' and of being 'trolls' and 'harpies'. Surely, if a person is confident that her theory can stand up to scrutiny, she can provide the sources and debate her ideas with people who care passionately about medieval history as well as with fans who don't question her. Blocking people, completely misrepresenting what happened, patronising people by assuming they can't read Latin and/or look at thirteenth-century sources, insulting them by calling them names and deleting comments that are anything less than fawning don't create a very good impression, or inspire me to read the novels in question. Whatever Eleanor of Provence's faults - and for sure she had plenty, and was very unpopular in England in her own lifetime - she was a loving and devoted mother and grandmother, and for that I can't help liking her enormously, especially her concern for the six-year-old Edward of Caernarfon when she asked her son Edward I to provide a safe and healthy place for him in the south of England when the king went north in 1290. I really don't feel inclined to read anything which paints her as an adulteress.

A comment on an Amazon forum, by a person claiming to be a fan of the author who in fact appears to be the author herself.

My Facebook comment which got me banned from the author's page and accused of bullying.  I'm  in good company; a few other people suffered the same fate.  There's a typo: 'dropping' should be 'drooping'.
A comment on Amazon addressed to me, by the same person as above.  (Who in other comments proves herself remarkably knowledgeable about thirteenth-century sources and goes out of her way to fight the author's corner, and uses a pseudonym which the author herself uses on another site.)
The author, errrr, I mean her number one fan, on Amazon again.
In certain quarters these days it seems to be the case that anything less than fawning praise and adulation, and complete unquestioning agreement no matter how far-out a theory, is interpreted as a 'personal attack' on a writer and deemed to be 'venom', 'spite', 'vindictiveness', 'bullying' and 'pillorying'. In the same vein, a polite request for sources to back up jaw-dropping statements such as Simon de Montfort being most probably the real father of Edward I is also often interpreted as hostility, discourtesy and a personal attack. If you hold a different opinion to the writer and her - and mostly, though not always, it is 'her' - fans, if for example you believe that an extraordinary statement that Edward I was his uncle's son requires extraordinary evidence rather than a deliberate and unconvincing misinterpretation of a line in Matthew Paris's chronicle (the author postulates that when Henry III publicly accused Simon of 'seducing my sister' at his son's christening in 1239, he really wanted to say 'seducing my wife' but didn't dare), then you are often made to feel that you are in the wrong, and being uncivil and unreasonable.

From the author's website.
I'd like to reiterate my strong belief that Edward I was indeed the biological son of Henry III and that there is absolutely no reason to think otherwise, and certainly no reason to malign the memory of Eleanor of Provence by portraying her as an adulteress.  Among the many, many reasons why I'm totally sure that Edward I was Henry's son, I'd like to mention the Lancasters - the author believes that Eleanor of Provence's second son Edmund of Lancaster was Henry III's biological son, so in that case, why didn't Edmund's son Thomas, Edward II's first cousin and greatest enemy, ever try to claim the English throne as Henry III's rightful male heir, or at the very least spread malicious rumours about his cousin's lack of royal blood?  The royal pretender who appeared in 1318, John of Powderham, was believed in some quarters (not among anyone who mattered, though) to be Edward I's real son because Edward II's behaviour was so unregal, and it had nothing to do with Edward I's parentage.  Evidently John of Powderham had never heard that Edward I was meant to be Simon de Montfort's son; no pretender ever claimed the throne on the grounds that Edward I was not Henry III's son.  All his life, Edward I was treated with the respect and deference due to a man of royal birth, and no-one, not even his, his father or his mother's enemies, ever behaved as though he wasn't Henry III's son, the rightful heir to the throne and the rightful king.

EDIT: Thanks to Andrew Spencer in the comments of this post and Susan Higginbotham on Facebook for providing information that is the final nail in the coffin of the 'Simon de Montfort fathered Edward I' theory: the theory hinges on Eleanor of Provence being at Simon's castle of Kenilworth in September 1238, but the castle wasn't granted to Simon until 1244, as an entry on the Patent Roll proves: Calendar of Patent Rolls 1232-1247, p. 419, dated 13 February 1244: "The like [appointment during pleasure] of S[imon]. earl of Leicester to the custody of the castle of Kenilleworth, with like mandate to the tenants of the castellany.  And G. de Segrave, who had the custody of the said castle, has letters patent testifying that he surrendered the castle to the king at Wudestok on Saturday before Ash Wednesday."  Kenilworth was a royal castle when Henry III and perhaps Queen Eleanor stayed there in the early autumn of 1238, and thus there was no reason for Simon de Montfort to have been there, even if he had been in England at the time.

 And I still firmly believe that writers should avoid making up unpleasant tales about historical people they don't like, simply to make a person they do like look better or more sympathetic by comparison, or to claim that the royal line of England after 1239 wasn't royal at all but descended from a French nobleman they happen to be a huge fan of. I wrote a post recently about the serious allegation in books by Paul Doherty and Alison Weir that Hugh Despenser the Younger raped or physically assaulted Isabella of France. I dismissed as almost certainly untrue the notion that Hugh ever did such a thing and expressed my concern that, because Hugh is seen as some kind of one-dimensional evil villain with no redeeming features, certain writers feel they can invent any charges they like against him on the flimsiest of 'evidence' and use weaselly justifications such as "it is not beyond the bounds of possibility" that he did in fact do it. Frankly, I was quite upset to see a comment on Facebook recently on a post about the 700th anniversary of Piers Gaveston's execution, which said that "For what he (rumored) did to Isabella, he had it coming." When I asked what Piers was meant to have done to the queen, the answer was "Alison Weir hints that he physically assaulted her." You see, this is what happens when authors, authors claiming to be writing non-fiction at that, start making up unfounded, slanted nonsense about someone in an effort to make their beloved subject appear even more of a victim to their readers. Some readers will believe their inventions, and years later, mixing up Edward II's two best-known 'favourites', will believe Piers Gaveston to have been the perpetrator of a crime which didn't happen and declare that he deserved to die because of what he did. Lies told about historical people spread and grow in the telling. So stop telling them.

EDIT: Thanks to Kathleen for kindly providing a reading list of proper histories in the comments:

Margaret Howell, Eleanor of Provence: Queenship in Thirteenth-Century England (Oxford: Blackwell, 1998).

J. R. Maddicott, Simon de Montfort (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1994).

Louise J. Wilkinson, Eleanor de Montfort: A Rebel Countess in Medieval England (London: Continuum, 2012)

I'd also add David Carpenter, The Reign of Henry III (London: The Hambledon Press, 1996), which incidentally, clearly states on p. 226 that "Simon had received Kenilworth from the king in 1244..."

I have the first two, and they're excellent.

The author in another of her incarnations on Amazon.
EDIT: A comment I left today, 14 July, on a blog where the author expands on her theory of Edward I's paternity and once again claims that it was a 'hanging crime' to speak of de Montfort. At the time of writing, the comment has not been approved.

37 comments:

Sarah BF said...

Excellent post! and thanks for the links :-)

Ragged Staff said...

I was exhausted reading this. Well said!

Sarah BF said...

Excellent post Kathryn! and thanks for the links :-)

The more people that are made aware of these ridiculous lies and accusations, the better I'll sleep at night. Medievalists exposing the truth! xx

Kathryn Warner said...

Thank you, both! xx

Yes, I feel a lot better since posting this too! We're fighting for these people and it feels great! ;-)

Susan Higginbotham said...

What is telling is the author's refusal to give any sort of citation to her sources (my favorite was her comment that her 16th-century copy of Matthew Paris wouldn't be accessible to anyone besides herself--has she never heard of research libraries or any of the companies that are making rare books available online?). Most people with a controversial theory are more than willing to give sources to support it, because they realize that without providing evidence, they'll be dismissed as crackpots.

Kathryn Warner said...

Exactly, Susan! You'd think it was an edition of a chronicle which had been made 400-odd years ago solely for her future use that no other person could possibly have laid eyes on.

Susan Higginbotham said...

By the way, to add to your list of novels where the paternity of various kings is questioned, there's a novel where Jane Seymour gives birth to Jane Grey, who's switched at birth by Edward Seymour and Frances Grey with the son of a serving wench (i.e., the future Edward VI). At least Jane Seymour isn't portrayed as an adulteress!

Kathryn Warner said...

Ohhhhh lordy, another one, kind of?! :-(

Christy K Robinson said...

...not to mention, the books that invent royal ancestry or perpetuate untruths that have been soundly debunked in peer-reviewed journals.

Why should we care? That myth/lie/supposition/made-up crap gets copied into genealogical pages and replicates. And when a serious researcher, interested in the unvarnished truth, asserts fact and disputes the fiction, the truth-seeker is vilified.

Kathryn Warner said...

So true, Christy! I've had people arguing with me because I told them that a) their ancestor William Alfred was not the son of Roger Mortimer and Isabella, and b) their ancestor whose name now escapes me who was an obscure knight of Norfolk did not marry a hitherto unnoticed by historians daughter of Edward II and Isabella. Some people are so desperate for royal ancestry they make up the most unbelievable rubbish.

Brian Wainwright said...

I don't actually object to fiction writers writing fiction. Even if what they make up is, to say the least, highly unlikely. For all I know Margaret of Anjou, for example, may have gone to bed with, for example, the Earl of Wiltshire. However there is absolutely no proof that she did! What *does* annoy me is for fiction authors to pretend that what they have written is history, and that no-one is allowed to question their 'interpretation'. And to make up imaginary statutes and insist they were real is, well, stretching things a bit, isn't it?

Kathryn Warner said...

Yes, if it was just fiction I'd roll my eyes and let it be, except for an occasional grumble (apart from the assumption that Edward II wasn't Edward III's father, because that's so widespread and a plot point in a few novels and the B-film I won't mention). It's the author's insistence that her theory has a strong basis in fact and her repetition of this on quite a few websites that really gets me.

Anerje said...

Am slightly incredulous reading this post - and perhaps naive. Basically, the author pretended to be a fan of herself to ward off any questions about sources? How bizarre! If someone wants to write fiction, say that Simon de Montford was the father of Edward Ist, why don't they just say 'I made it up for dramatical purposes'? That's all that needs to be said. And just accept the flak they get. I find it beyond belief to see historical 'experts' on tv, eg, Philippa Gregory, saying that Mary Boleyn's children were fathered by Henry VIII and Edward IV was the son of an archer and talking about how this has a bearing on the line of succession! Huh?! and even worse, someone telling me they saw it on tv and therefore it's fact! Dor the casual tv viewer, it convinces them this is fact - but for those who know their history, it's a case of 'how do they get away with it?'

Anerje said...

and it's bad enough Despencer being slandered for 'raping' Isabella, without Piers getting the blame as well!

Ken JOhn said...

Hi Kathryn. Very well written. As you've quoted from my posts in HFOL you know what I think about her theories. I entered into a dialogue with her following her reaction to those criticisms and, while still accepting that she seems like a genuinely nice person, I struggle with her defence of some really preposterous theories of the life nd times of Simon de Montfort. I have read all four 'novels' and am appalled at the lack of historically accurate research. For example, and reinforced in her Historical Notes, She mentions Eleanor de Montfort marrying Llywelyn ap Llywelyn, son of Llywelyn ap Gruffudd after having had sexual 'liaisons' with the Lord Edward. Llywelyn ap Llywelyn? Never existed! Why would you get that wrong? Sloppy!

Ken John said...

Well said Kathryn. And as you quoted from my postings on HFOL you know exactly how I feel about these 'novels!
'

misshannah1980 said...

This is becoming absurd. I started The Thomas Cromwell Experience in a vague effort to debunk the endless myths about him. But, since that time, I realise I'm getting off lightly. He has nothing on these guys! Plus, this crap replicates faster than bacteria.
I am truly shocked at the search terms showing up on Sarah's blog. A Queen of England has basically had her reputation trashed on the say so of a 21st Century author looking to sell a few books. It's kind of insulting when history is nothing more than plunder for half-wit, faux-historians.

misshannah1980 said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Kathleen said...

I am so busy choking I can harly type, but for anyone who finds their way to this post by searching for "Eleanor of Provence adultery" or "Edward I Simon de Montfort paternity" I would just like to point them to three books of *proper* scholarship, so that maybe one day they will see the light:

Margaret Howell, Eleanor of Provence: Queenship in Thirteenth-Century England (Oxford: Blackwell, 1998).

J. R. Maddicott, Simon de Montfort (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1994).

Louise J. Wilkinson, Eleanor de Montfort: A Rebel Countess in Medieval England (London: Continuum, 2012).

brenday said...

Thank you for this post, Kathryn, and for the list of reputable books. (No, I did not get here through the search terms you listed. :) )

Kathryn Warner said...

Thanks, everyone, for the great comments! I'm also incredulous that anyone who wants to sell novels can behave like this to potential readers, baffled at the many basic errors ('Llywelyn ap Llywelyn', confusing the father and son William Marshals, etc) in a work being touted endlessly as the result of '30 years' research', and amazed that an author who has complained on her blog about the supposedly excessive amount of sex in modern histfict has a) Montfort sleeping with the queen and b) his daughter having 'sexual liaisons' with Edward I. In her novel, doesn't that make it incest between half-siblings?? Uck.

Absolutely agree, Hannah. It's vile. Thanks for the comment, Brenday, and so glad that's not how you reached the blog! :) :) Kathleen, thanks for providing a list of proper works of scholarship (I have the Howell and Maddicott, and they're excellent). If you don't mind actually, I might edit this post to include these works, to make sure readers see them.

Anonymous said...

Thanks for posting this. It is doubly dangerous (IMO) when these kind of statements are attributed to "serious historians". For example, according to this, a historian named Michael Jones is supposed to have "proved" that Edward IV was not the son of the Duke of York http://news.yahoo.com/rightful-heir-british-monarchy-dies-australia-101205966.html

Another example is Weir's "Despenser raped Isabella" theory.

Why don't the creators of these theories put them where they belong? (for example, on fanfiction.net, anyone who wants William Wallace to be Edward III's father can write a "Braveheart/ Harry Potter" cross-over (Potter for invisibility cloak and time turner to make affair possible).

Esther

Kathryn Warner said...

Thanks, Esther. Yes, the Edward IV thing is really getting out of hand now, with prominent news articles about 'the rightful king of England' in Australia, and such nonsense. I hope we can nip the Montfort/Edward I thing in the bud before it's taken too seriously. I really don't know why people choose to write stories about real people then make up all kinds of silly things - why not invent your own characters if you want total control over their action, or write fantasy?

Kathleen said...

No problem at all. I am especially glad to be of service in this instance!

karacherith said...

How interesting! Sadly, the Internet seems to be the natural habitat for quackery. It happens in spheres other than history, too--I recently won a legal case and it made some of the papers. In the online comments section for the local paper, some "objective observer" kept insisting that the defendant had "actually won." This "observer" seemed to know a lot of personal information about the case, so I'm sure it was actually the defendant. Now if you search for the case online this person's (false) comments immediately pop up. It's sad that it's so difficult to fight for the truth. Keep up the good work!

Andrew Spencer said...

Good post Kathryn, what a bizzare theory. If Montfort *was* abroad that would help scotch it. The only royal charter from September 1238 is at Bridgnorth on 19 September and Montfort is not among the witnesses (indeed no earl is).

A clincher though is that Kenilworth was NOT Montfort's castle in 1238. He wasn't granted it until 1244. In 1238 Kenilworth was still a royal castle so there was no reason why Montfort would be there.

Kathryn Warner said...

Karacherith, I'm so sorry to hear of your experience! :( There really is so much rubbish out there. :( I'll keep fighting!

Andrew, thanks so much for that! The final nail in the coffin of the theory, an absolute clincher, as you say. If it's OK, I'll update this post again with that info as it's absolutely essential.

Kathleen said...

Andrew's comment motivated me to follow up some details. It seems Eleanor de Montfort (disambiguation: she was Henry III's sister and Simon's wife) was staying at Kenilworth in 1238, presumably by royal permission, while Simon was overseas. She was pregnant with Henry de Montfort, her first child, who was born at Kenilworth in November that year. I would say it is likely any royal visits to the castle during this period were to pay a call on the pregnant countess rather than to commit any supernatural feats of conception. I refer readers to pp.67, 69 of Wilkinson's new book, and to citations from Matthew Paris and the Patent Rolls found there.

Kathryn Warner said...

Thanks for the info, Kathleen! The novelist changes the birthdate of Simon and Eleanor's son Henry from November 1238 to August 1238, to make out that Eleanor was already pregnant when they married. I don't know why...:(

Gabriele C. said...

I think I can count myself lucky that my dear Romans and Germans don't atract that many weitd theories. The strangest I have cone across is the 'only reason' why Varus trusted Arminius against the warnings from other German chiefs was that he had a sexual relationship with Arminius. Let's forget that the warner was Arminius' rival and notorious troblemaker (a fact Varus knew), let's forget that Arminius had been Roman educated and a successful and loyal officer for years - it always boils down to sex, right? ;)

Kathryn Warner said...

Yes, that's pretty lucky, Gabriele :). And yes, it's always about sex...:)

Gabriele C. said...

Well, there is this portrayal of Varus as greedy, imcompetent, lazy and gullible which doesn't the man justice at all. But at least those writers have the excuse that this portrayal comes from an author who personally knew all the players, including Arminius (who gets a better press than the Roman governor). But Velleius Paterculus was utterly biased for various reasons, and even he called Varus 'mild mannered'. So why one of those writers whose novels popped out in 2009 (the 2000 year anniversary of the battle) turns him into an evil slave beater is beyond me.

And another one who does Varus justice turns Arminius into a moustache twirling evil ovelord. *sigh* But at least there are no questionable parenthoods. ;)

Kathryn Warner said...

That's something, at least...:) :)

There's another blog post now where Montfort's paternity of Edward I is being put forward as highly probable, and the strange notion that it was a 'hanging crime' to speak his name stated as fact. *le sigh* http://www.bragmedallion.com/blog/montfort-the-founder-of-parliament-of-journey-and-research

I left a comment, so let's see if it's approved.

Gabriele C. said...

Yeah, I've come across this mess; it's all over the net - at least the history and hist fic part of it.

I don't check Varus and Arminius online, or I might be in for some surprises, too. Those novels were enough, thank you very much. And I seriously hope there'll never be a movie about the Battle of the Teutonic Forest. King Arthur's Sarmatians are bad enough (and taken for fact by some).

Kathryn Warner said...

There are times when the amount of crap is so overwhelming I feel like giving up, but then I never do, because I want there to be somewhere online with proper info about these people. And it's great that your blog is there too, just in case there's any online silliness about Varus and Arminius.

Gabriele C. said...

Yeah, I should post more about those two instead of Petersburg palaces. ;)

I should post more. Period. A new one every other week and half of them lazy photo stuff isn't what I set out for; I wanted a weekly essay. But since my topics are so over the place, I get bogged down in too mcu research, or in some cases have to settle for only superficially researched posts which doesn't make me happy, either. Well, at least I admit when I didn't do in-depth work and found stuff I don't have the time to hunt down.

Kathryn Warner said...

Yeah, it can be difficult to update the blog every week - finding time for the research and writing. :/