31 January, 2013

Dear Edward II Detractors...

...I just have some questions for you.  I'd be grateful if you could take the time to read what I write below and think about what it is precisely that you think Edward II did wrong in the situations I describe.  (If you could read this post as well, which covers a lot of the points I make here, and maybe this one too, that would be really helpful.)

I've seen it stated more times than I can count online and in books (both fiction and non-fiction) that Edward II cruelly neglected Isabella after their wedding in January 1308 because he didn't fall madly in love with her and consummate their marriage immediately.  There was a gap of a little over four years between their wedding and the conception of their first child Edward III, and you seem to think this is bizarre and unaccountable, and somehow wrong and bad of Edward, and proof of what a callous heartless neglectful uncaring husband he must have been and how he must have made Isabella suffer, and how this gap of four years must be attributable to his love of men in general or Piers Gaveston in particular, which love prevented him doing his marital duty, to the detriment of poor sad suffering Isabella.  I've lost count of the number of novels I've read which begin with Isabella upset at her wedding because her gorgeous new husband inexplicably shows no interest in her.

Let me remind you that at the time of her wedding on 25 January 1308, Isabella was twelve years old.  TWELVE.  Her date of birth has been estimated by her biographer Paul Doherty as late 1295 or even the beginning of 1296, so she hadn't long turned twelve when she married, either.  Edward was twenty-three going on twenty-four, twice her age.  So let me ask you, do you really think it would have been better if Edward, this grown adult in his twenties, had consummated his marriage to such a terribly young girl immediately?  Has it honestly never occurred to you that not consummating it was a humane act, and that he may have been unwilling to force this very young girl to go through pregnancy and childbirth, and that maybe she simply wasn't fertile yet?  That perhaps her father Philip IV had forbidden consummation until she was older?  Would Edward II really be a better person in your eyes if he'd fawned all over a prepubescent girl half his age?  Do you think Isabella would have been happier if she'd been forced into a regular sex life not long after she turned twelve?  If she'd had to face the dangers of pregnancy and childbirth (assuming she was even fertile) at such a young age?  By way of comparison, Edward's three de Clare nieces all married at thirteen and bore their first children at sixteen or seventeen.  None of his sisters gave birth before the end of their teens at the earliest.

And just be totally honest with me here: if Edward had made Isabella bear a child within a year or two of their marriage when she was still barely into her teens, wouldn't you then be shouting 'paedophile' and 'pervert' at him?  Wouldn't you be furious that he would so cavalierly ignore the health and well-being of his young queen and risk the possibility that she would be unable to bear more children and possibly die in the attempt to bear the first one?  Wouldn't consummating the marriage have been much more callous and cruel than not doing so?  So please, can you tell me exactly what it is that you think Edward should have done?  It seems to me that you think his not having sex with a twelve-year-old makes him a heartless neglectful husband and Isabella a poor little victim forced to 'compete' with someone else for Edward's affections, yet you cannot possibly prefer him to have had sex with a prepubescent.  I simply don't believe that.  So what do you think he should have done?  What would have been the 'right' time for them to consummate their marriage and become parents, in your eyes?  Do you really think that sixteen is too old for Isabella to have become pregnant for the first time, and if so, what do you think would have been a more suitable age?  Edward and Isabella's daughter Eleanor of Woodstock gave birth to her first child the month before her fifteenth birthday; do you find this preferable, and think that Duke Reynald (then well over forty) must have been a better and more caring husband than his father-in-law because he made a fourteen-year-old pregnant?  What would have been the right time for Edward to begin a sex life with Isabella that wouldn't make him look like either a child-molesting pervert or a callous husband thoughtlessly ignoring his wife to you?

I'm afraid I can't help feeling that what bothers and offends you is not really that you think Edward 'ignored' his wife for four years, but that he so openly and obviously loved a man, and that you think this man was a 'rival' to Isabella for the king's affections, which you find icky.  Because when I look at, for example, Edward and Isabella's granddaughter-in-law Constanza of Castile, arriving in England as a king's daughter, also very young (though not as young as Isabella), to marry John of Gaunt, I see a very similar situation: the rightful queen of Castile and duchess of Lancaster arrived in her new country to find her new husband already in an intense, long-term relationship with another person, which continued for Constanza's entire married life and produced children regularly for a few years.  Yet I never ever see you weeping and wailing over Constanza's 'neglect' and 'suffering' and the 'insult' and humiliation she endured at her husband's hands; on the contrary, you seem to find her husband's adulterous relationship romantic and fabulous and one of the most amazing love stories ever.  But then, of course, John's 'favourite' Katherine Swynford was a woman.  You point out that John had only married Constanza for political reasons and couldn't help being in love with someone else, but of course, exactly the same thing applies to Edward II, so why the massive difference in attitude?  I also often see you talking about how wonderfully romantic Roger Mortimer and Isabella of France's relationship supposedly was (I'm really not convinced, personally), but you rarely if ever talk about Roger's wife of twenty-five years, Joan Geneville.  I see comments from you like "Roger Mortimer fulfilled her [Isabella's] idea of romantic love which was unfulfilled by Edward" and "Isabella was married to a fastidiously gay guy who begat children on her - note not with her - as a painful duty. Roger Mortimer came as a happy thunderbolt into a bleak life", with not a mention of Roger's wife and how she might have suffered emotional pain and humiliation from seeing her husband in a long-term relationship with another woman and being her 'happy thunderbolt'.  It looks pretty strange to complain about the bad time you think Isabella had in her marriage being ignored by a husband in love with someone else, and then laud her allegedly passionate and wildly romantic relationship with a man who himself already had a wife and a dozen children.  And please note, you don't and can't have the faintest idea whether Edward II enjoyed having intercourse with Isabella or not, so it looks pretty silly to make statements like Edward 'begat children on her, not with her, as a painful duty' as though you have a webcam set up in their bedchamber.

Here's something else I've seen you say:

"Isabella is married off to Edward II at the age of thirteen - and soon discovers that as far as her husband is concerned, she is simply a brood mare for his children. He'd rather spend his time with his lover, Piers Gaveston."  (Funny how we never get something like "Joan Geneville is married off to Roger Mortimer at the age of fifteen - and discovers after a quarter of a century of loyal support, a dozen pregnancies and imprisonment on Roger's behalf that as far as her husband is concerned, she is simply a brood mare for his children.  He'd rather spend his time with his lover, Isabella of France.")

"I hate how people call Isabella of France homophobic for deposing her husband Edward II. Imagine being used as a broodmare by a gay dude."  (My query as to who, precisely, has ever called Isabella 'homophobic' went sadly unanswered.  It was in 'some documentary', apparently.  I really, really doubt that anyone has ever said anything like this.)

Edward II and Isabella of France had four children, well spaced out: they were born in November 1312, August 1316, June 1318 and July 1321.  (Additionally, Isabella may have had a miscarriage in November 1313, when pennyroyal was bought for her.)  How exactly does four, perhaps five pregnancies in almost twenty years of marriage equate to being a 'brood mare'?  If we're going to use idiotic terms like 'brood mare', why are you applying it to a woman who as far as we know was pregnant no more than four or five times?  Surely better candidates would be Eleanor of Castile (fourteen or fifteen children), Philippa of Hainault (twelve children) or Joan Geneville Mortimer (twelve children) - they're somehow not 'brood mares' to you, but a woman with four children is?  In which way was Isabella a 'brood mare' more than any other queen or noblewoman?  Oh wait, I think I know the answer to that one: is it that you think it's not a problem to be a 'brood mare' if your husband's assumed to be straight?

So on the one hand, you complain that Edward II took too long to consummate his marriage, then you declare that he was only interested in Isabella as a 'brood mare'.  If that were the case, why did he delay consummation for so long then?  Surely a man who only wants to use his wife as a 'brood mare' would be keen to get going as soon as possible, regardless of her extreme youth?  Again, I can't avoid the feeling that what you really object to is that Edward loved men and may have preferred having sex with them to his queen.  May.  We really don't know that, and we can't know that.  Edward may have enjoyed intercourse with Isabella enormously for all we know.  As I've pointed out before, they conceived the future Edward III during Lent when intercourse was forbidden, which hardly suggests that Edward slept with his wife unwillingly (Lent gave him the perfect excuse to avoid it if he wanted to).  During their visit to France in 1313, they overslept one morning which made Edward arrive late for a meeting with Isabella's father Philip IV, and another night, they were sleeping together naked when their pavilion caught fire and Edward scooped up Isabella in his arms and rushed outside with her, though they were both still naked.  Sounds to me like their marital relations were perfectly normal and intimate, and Edward fathered an illegitimate son called Adam so evidently wasn't repulsed by intercourse with women.  Please do remember we don't and can't know anything about Edward and Isabella's sex life, except that they had intercourse four (or five) times to produce their children.  And please do remember that you don't know anything about Isabella and Roger Mortimer's sex life either, assuming they had one, or about Edward and Piers Gaveston's sex life either, assuming they had one.  You don't actually know that Roger fulfilled Isabella sexually and/or romantically in ways which Edward II didn't or couldn't or wouldn't.  He might have done, yes, but basically that's only romanticised modern speculation.  (And also, you can't possibly know and state as fact that Roger was 'unequivocally heterosexual'.)  Alison Weir's book about Isabella also suggests that "intercourse [between Isabella and Edward] must have been infrequent" because of their "widely spaced" children, and that "Edward never visited her bed regularly," even though Isabella was, allegedly, "highly sexed."  Haha.  The things some people say!

So, Edward humanely waited till Isabella was old enough to bear children without risk, which meant that by the time their eldest child was born he himself was at the fairly advanced age of twenty-eight and, if he'd been able to marry a woman who was around his own age, could well have had an heir a decade or more earlier.  Then they had four children with long enough spaces between them to allow Isabella's body to rest and recover, which manages at one and the same time in the eyes of you, his detractors, to be a) proof that he wasn't interested in his poor little wife (even though she was soooo beautiful and every other man on the planet lusted after her!) or in having sex with her, which must have been so terrible for her given her high sex drive, and b) proof that he thought of her as nothing more than a brood mare.  Hmmm, curious.  So it would have been better if Isabella had borne a child every year then?  After all, if you're going to treat someone as a brood mare', you might as well do it properly.  It may be, who knows, that Isabella wasn't particularly fertile, or that she had miscarriages we don't know about (it's likely though not certain that she had one in November 1313).  Her five-year relationship with Roger Mortimer, which is always nowadays assumed on little evidence to have been certainly sexual, produced no children, unless you count the unproven claim that she was pregnant at the time of their downfall in October 1330.  Even if that's true, it had taken her nearly five years (since their relationship began in about late 1325) to become pregnant.  Admittedly Isabella was thirty to thirty-five between 1325 and 1330 and perhaps less fertile than she had been when younger, but if her relationship with Roger was the intensely, passionately sexual one her fans nowadays like to think it was, and she was the 'highly sexed' person she's claimed to be, that's still a heck of a long delay.

All kings needed heirs, y'know.  Edward II would have been failing in his duty to his kingdom if he hadn't fathered at least one son to succeed him, and so would Isabella.  You do know, don't you, that Isabella was a woman who lived in the fourteenth century, who had known since she was two or three years old that it was her destiny to marry the king of England in a political alliance between their countries, and bear his children?  You do realise that she wasn't a twenty-first-century woman with modern ideas and attitudes who time-travelled back 700 years?  You do realise she'd find your accusations that her husband treated her as a 'brood mare' utterly ludicrous?  (I really doubt that Isabella would recognise herself at all in the way many of her modern fans like to write her.)  You accuse Edward of treating her as a 'brood mare', but I have a feeling that if for whatever reason he and Isabella had had no children, you'd be weeping and wailing instead at the tragedy of her enforced childlessness, and cursing Edward's vile behaviour and neglect of her and her sexual needs.  Her apparently being so 'highly sexed' and all.  So what in your opinion would have been the correct number of children for Edward II to have had with Isabella?  So that in your mind he'd be neither a neglectful husband not sleeping with his tragic abandoned sexy wife often enough, nor treating her like a brood mare and risking her health by making her pregnant too often?  Six?  Eight?  What?

You see, I just don't know what it is you think Edward should have done.  In 1308 as a twenty-three-year-old he married, for political reasons arranged between his father, Isabella's father and the pope all the way back in 1298, a twelve-year-old girl he'd never met before.  It must have been hard for Isabella to move to another country permanently and have to make a life with this emotional, unpredictable and difficult man who was already deeply involved with someone else, and I do feel a lot of sympathy for her.  But think, it can't have been easy for Edward either.  In their rush to wail about the 'tragic pawns' medieval royal women supposedly were because they had arranged marriages, people nowadays forget that men had no more choice in the matter than their wives did either.  An arranged marriage means it's arranged on both sides, it's not forced on the woman's side and voluntary on the man's.  Edward had to marry this young girl and forge a relationship with her, and have children with her, whether he wanted to or not.  You call Isabella his 'brood mare', but why isn't Edward a 'brood stallion' then?  Most of the evidence that he 'neglected' her at the start of their marriage comes from the fact that he talked to Piers Gaveston at their wedding banquet more than he did to her, and the alleged complaint of her uncles Valois and Evreux that he preferred Piers' couch to hers (according to the St Paul's annalist; no letters from the two men exist to confirm this allegation).  As to the latter, I dealt with that above - it's hardly reasonable to criticise a man in his twenties for not wanting to sleep with a girl of just turned twelve.  And as for the banquet, well, wouldn't you perhaps prefer to talk to a close friend you've known for at least a decade and who's near your own age than to a twelve-year-old you don't know?  Do you, as an adult, find twelve-year-olds exciting and stimulating company?  Isabella was probably more mature than your average modern twelve-year-old, but still, there's a limit as to how mature, interesting and knowledgeable anyone can be at that age.  Might it not be, perhaps, that Edward was feeling awkward and shy and found it easier to talk to a person he knew really well and cared deeply for than to a child?  Does it always have to be deliberate and callous neglect and contempt for his wife, do you always have to interpret everything Edward ever did in the most negative and critical light possible?   Yes, he loved Piers Gaveston, but that doesn't have to make Piers and Isabella 'rivals' for his affection, and it certainly doesn't have to mean therefore that Isabella meant nothing to Edward, that he had no space in his heart left over for any feelings for her.  I've even seen Edward and Isabella's marriage called a "grotesque travesty", which made me laugh out loud at the stupidity.  I don't have enough space to discuss it here, but for many years there's much evidence of mutual affection and support between the couple - their marriage ended badly but that doesn't mean it was an utter disaster from start to finish.  Human beings are complex, human relationships are complex.  Don't reduce them to such silly one-dimensional characterisations.

Finally, one thing I'd dearly love to know: why you so often assume that a man described by fourteenth-century chroniclers as "one of the strongest men in his realm," "a handsome man, of outstanding strength," "tall and strong, a fine figure of a handsome man" and so on, a man who by all evidence was tall, well-built, muscular, enormously strong and a huge fan of the outdoors and exacting physical exercise - why this man must somehow have really been feminine and girly, a cowardly weakling who snivelled, whined, mewled and threw tantrums.  Have you seen a fourteenth-century primary source that I've somehow missed, which states that he ever behaved like this?  Because I've got to say, if there isn't, these things you say about him look very much like unpleasant prejudices based on what you think his sexual orientation was and stereotypes of how you think gay men are supposed to behave.  So please do cite that missing source for me.  Because I'd hate to think that you form your opinion of a man who lived 700 years ago on modern attitudes that frankly - sorry to be so harsh but here it is - look bigoted to me.

Yours sincerely,


Sami Parkkonen said...

Great stuff! I always have been thinking that many of today's writers seem to be somewhat ignorant about their own attitudes and thus projecting them on historical setting do not realise how funny the results sometimes are. The obsession about the sex life of the historical kings and queens just reflects the obsessions of todays celebrity cults. Did Britney have panties on? Was Madonna kissing a woman? With whom who ever sleeps with and how? Was Isabella oversexed? Was Edward gay or not, a bi-sexual or not, or what? Who was gay and who was not? Who cares?

As for the feminisation of Edward, it simply is an idea that many westeners have today: he is gay so he must be feminine and weak. Well, the spartans were gay, at least in the platonic way. Their big military secret was that their battle formation was based on lovers paring side by side on the shield wall. They were litterally fighting for their loved ones in battles and that made them really dangerous and strong. And on that note, Richard Coeur de Leon is also suspected to have been a gay but nobody claims that he was a weak tuttifrutti fashionista. Alexander the Great was definetly bi sexual but nobody is going around telling he was weak and girly. No, despite the fact that he was only 5 foot tall midget by present day standards, wore a make up and fondled and kissed his man lover publicly.

Anonymous said...

Great stuff, and well said!

Anerje said...

We've discussed this many times and I agree with you wholeheartedly! Just imagine though if Edward II had had mistresses in his life - Isabella would be painted as a 'harlot' for her relationship with Mortimer, whatever it's nature. How about by refusing to return to England, was Isabella an 'unnatural ' mother who abandoned her children for a reckless love affair? Puts a different spin on it then.

Anonymous said...

What I find weird is why so little attention is given to Isabella's own actions. Despite the alleged "insults", Isabella seems to have backed Edward quite loyally throughout his alleged "affair" with Gaveston; if she was so offended, why didn't she side with Gaveston's enemies, as she did about Dispenser?

Also, what kind of evidence is there for her alleged "affair" with Mortimer? I've yet to read about any observed act that would indicate fondness, such as Elizabeth I's tickling Robert Dudley's neck when making him an earl.


Kathryn Warner said...

Many thanks to everyone for your great and supportive comments - will reply properly to them all tomorrow when I have more time! ;-)

Rowan said...

With bad books, bad movies and people all too eager to believe all that crap, your quest will be a neverending story, I fear.
But you are not alone.
*brandishing my Ned and Piers defender flag*

Kathryn Warner said...

Sami and Anerje, totally agree! The things people write about Edward nowadays say far more about them than they do about Edward, and it seems clear to me that it's his love of men they really hate, not the fact of his (presumed) adultery. If it was adultery they disliked, they wouldn't write such romanticised nonsense about Roger Mortimer, and John of Gaunt.

Erin and Ashmodiel, thank you for the support! :)

Esther, that's a great point. It baffles me as to why Roger and Isabella's relationship is so often assumed these days to have been wildly romantic and passionate, when there's so little evidence for this. Some 14c chroniclers just call Roger Isabella's 'chief counsellor' or even just 'of her faction'. Adam Murimuth says they had an 'undue familiarity' but he says the same thing about Edward and Piers. I am deeply unconvinced that Roger and Isabella's relationship was romantic, at least at the start (it may have developed into more later). It's all just too darn convenient for me.

chris y said...

How much of the blame for the popular misconception of the man do you think rests with Christopher Marlowe? Indeed, where do you think he got it from?

Kathryn Warner said...

Chris, that's a very interesting question! I think Marlowe had a great deal to do with the popularising of the red-hot poker story, but as far as I remember (it's a good while since I read or saw the play), he doesn't turn Edward into some feeble effeminate weakling. It was writers of novels and a certain film of the 20th century who did that. :/ Same with the double standards (e.g. Edward's presumed adultery is vile, Mortimer's is romantic) and the damned if he did, damned if he didn't mentality.

Kathleen said...

It seems awfully sad that you have to keep saying this, but given that it seems necessary, you go girl!

Anonymous said...

Many years ago at university, I wrote a very anemic research paper on Edward II. After a visit to England in 2011, and an attempt to visit the Gaveston Cross, I decided to reread many of the sources I had used in my research. I greatly enjoyed your accurate and concise article on Isabella and Edward, with its excellent interpretation of the situation.

Anonymous said...

Many years ago at university, I wrote a very anemic research paper on Edward II. After a visit to England in 2011, and an attempt to visit the Gaveston Cross, I decided to reread many of the sources I had used in my research. I greatly enjoyed your accurate and concise article on Isabella and Edward, with its excellent interpretation of the situation.

Kathryn Warner said...

Thank you, Kathleen! I agree, and it's such a shame to see this nonsense continuing to be perpetuated. :/

John, many thanks! I hope you enjoyed your visit to England, and managed to see the Gaveston Cross! My friend Anerje, who has a blog about Piers, once wrote a post about her visit to it.

Jerry Bennett said...

Hi Kathryn

I don't disagree with anything you say, and I wonder if the judgement of so many others isn't warped by other matters that occurred in Edward's reign. To pick on Sami's point, wasn't Richard the Lion Heart supposed to be gay as well? But Richard captured Acre while Edward lost Bannockburn, and when many of the earlier histories were being written, that success or otherwise in war was an important factor in their writers' minds, more so than it is today I think.

I personally think Edward was guilty of mis-judgements in his reign, which were compounded his lack of success on the battlefield, and that has affected the views of later writers. Lanercost's comment about him being "ever chicken-hearted and luckless in war" has stuck for a long time, and could well have influenced Marlowe. Luckless in war is certainly true, and I believe his battlefield judgement was a fault as well, but chicken-hearted? Certainly not, to judge by his conduct in the heat of battle at Bannockburn. And he was pretty luckless in matters outside of his control, such as the appalling weather and the agricultural diseases that ravaged the years from 1315 to 1317.

In different circumstances he might have been a pretty reasonable king. Probably not a great one, but half-decent. I do wonder if he was bi-sexual, but that is a personal feeling unsupported by any evidence, and there must have been genuine affection between him and Isabella as well. She came out in his support so often that I do not think it could have been otherwise.

Did Isabella have an affair with Roger Mortimer? On balance, I think she probably did. He carried too much influence up to 1330, and Isabella could have turned to Lancaster or Kent for support had she wished to do so. But again, that is a personal view, based on me trying to get inside their minds from this present day, and I could be falling into the same trap as other writers.

Please keep this blog running, because it is thought-provoking, enlightening, and very interesting.

Kathryn Warner said...

Jerry, thanks so much for the supportive and really interesting comments! I really appreciate your kind support, and yes, I will definitely keep the blog running and updated regularly!

Anerje said...

Richard the Lionheart - now there was a king who neglected his wife and England - and what a hero he's gone down as:> Richard's sexuality has never been under the scrutiny that Edward II's has. He did not provide England with an heir - so how neglected was his wife? We know very little of her. And of course, we have no chroniclers telling us about his 'inordinate' love of another man.

Red Hot Poker alert - it was Richard III night on Saturday night, and Tony Robinson's 'investigation' into Richard's character. Low and behold, he finds out that Richard may not have been as bad as Shakespeare (a dramatist) painted him - and that there were much worse kings than him - even one who was so bad he was murdered with a red hot poker........Couldn't even be bothered to name him, and of course, the implication is he was so bad he deserved the red hot poker

Kathryn Warner said...

Yes, I wonder how much time Richard ever spent with his wife, and why people don't weep and wail over her 'neglect' the way they do over Isabella. Maybe if Berengaria had had a relationship with a married man and they'd led an illegal invasion of her husband's territories, she'd get some sympathy too. :/

Ohhhh my, I'm so glad I didn't see that. Hideous. :(

karacherith said...

Speaking of Richard III, how interesting that they have positively identified his remains! As he is one of Ed's descendants, I feel sad that his body was so ignobly laid to rest. I hope he finds a proper burial place at last. I also found it interesting that they can now say with certainty that Richard had something of a hunchback (which doesn't make him evil, but perhaps made his subjects think less of him).

Maybe some day we'll find out more about what happened to Ed, or where he is laid to rest. You never know!

Anerje said...

Richard III was given a Christian burial by Henry VII in Leicester. It's not his fault the church fell into disrepair. It was better than the resting place Richard afforded the princes. There are other lost tombs as well - Henry Ist at Reading, Edward's Queen Isabella, plus Piers Gaveston. Unfortunately, they do not have rich benefactors to search for them. I've just blogged about Piers' tomb on my blog. If you saw the documentary last night, you will see clearly Richard did have a hunchback - the shape of his spine was very clear. Sorry Kathryn to hijack your blog - but I feel strongly that there are many more 'mysteries' that lack the 'romanticism' of Richard III that are more intriguing - especially Edward II and his survival - now that's definitely worth pursuing - starting with opening his tomb - would you approve of that? Then we can get his age etc.

Katarzyna Ogrodnik-Fujcik said...

I'm not going to dwell on Richard III, Anerje :-) Not after the heated argument we had the other day on Piers's blog :-)

Kathryn, as for Edward not consummating the marriage immediately after the wedding, I'm sure that if he had bedded Isabella on their wedding night he would have been (would be) called a pervert. His contemporaries would have found it shameful, not to metion today's public.

Anonymous said...

I guess I'm sort of an Ed II detractor. I don't disagree with you about any of the stuff you've written, though. I think Edward was a bad king because he basically let the Despensers do what they wanted near the end of his reign, and that led to a general breakdown of law and order.

I think my problem with Edward is that he really wasn't that great a king. He alienated his barons, he offended the French, he alienated the church, and he lost the war in Scotland.

Kathryn Warner said...

Anon, it's totally fine as far as I'm concerned to be critical, even harshly critical, of Edward II - after all, no king ends his reign the way he did without having made a long series of truly horrible mistakes! Having read so much about him over the years, though, I see a difference between valid criticism (such as the points you mention) and the things I talk about in this post that I've seen so often, the seething hostility and even anger I see towards him, the endless double standards and hypocrisy, the finding fault with every tiny little thing he ever did.

But making genuine criticism of Edward's errors and flaws will always be welcome on my blog ;)

John said...

I always thought Edward was widely hated because he was, by the standards of the time, a lousy king. He could neither defend England against the Scots nor keep order domestically. As many historians have noted, the power of crown was so great in the 14th century that only a complete incompetent could possibly be overthrown, whether he had sex with men or not.

And if you think Edward was good to his wife early in their marriage, what about abandoning her in the north after Byland Moor, so that she had to make her escape in a small boat? Seems to me that as medieval aristocrats saw things, for a man not to defend his wife in battle was a much worse crime than not loving her or having affairs.

Yes, many of the nobles hated Edward, but as king it was his job to make friends, not enemies. He was terrible at this, which is why nobody rallied to his side when Mortimer and Isabella invaded.xz

So count me among the "detractors," for reasons that have nothing to do with whether Edward was a nicer guy or better husband than his enemies.

Kathryn Warner said...

I'm afraid you're confused about events in 1322, John. Isabella was nowhere near the battlefield of Byland, but was at Tynemouth, more than 70 miles away - so how did her husband not 'defend her in battle'? I have never said anywhere that Edward II was a 'better husband than his enemies', so please don't represent my views.


Sami Parkkonen said...

I think it is weird to claim that Edward II "lost the war" against the Scotts. He lost one battle. His father had lost more and yes, won them sound at Falkirk later and invaded the country, BUT did not stop it or win it either, it went on till he died.

As for being a "bad king" and not making "friends", he did inherit a state which had terrible economy, thanks to his father, he faced a climate change which caused terrible calamity and hunger AND caused general unheaval across the Europe(1315-17) from which Europe never recovered fully and thanks to that Black Death arrived three decades later, and he was surrounded by treacerous and selfserving nobles. He was even betrayed by his own wife. Now how was this his fault?

He was able to hold on to the throne for a quite a long time despite the fact that others planned his down fall all the time. Yes, he relied too much on Despensers and such and that was a terrible mistake. But his old man was not making friends either. On the contrary, he was greatly feared and people were genuinely scared of him. If anything, the people who plotted the down fall of Edward II were not affraid of him and thoughed him too soft.

There are countless stories in records of Edward II and the common folk, how they got along and how the king interacted with them. There are no mentions that the people did not like him or saw him as a bad king. On the contrary. It seems, judging from the records, that the ordinary people liked him and he liked them. Perhaps that makes him so bad?

Who did not like him? The noble men, particulary those who were busy planning his demise and who wanted to take the throne from him. They wrote the stuff down. Not the people. So when someone claims that "everybody hated him", that is not the true. The ones who hated him, were in the upper leves of society and they had many reasons to hate him. Not just one or two.

Despite the fact that he faxced on of the worst enviromental catastrophes in the history of Europe, he was able to get the finances of the crown back in order. No one seems to remember that. He was also able to keep the peace with France and with Scotland (sort of), but that is bad?

I think too many read these stories which were written to tarnish Edward II and take them at face value because they fit to their own ideas. Edward II was not a great king but not as nearly as bad as it has been claimed. His sexual orientation is a big reason for the animosity towards him even today.

And yet, Richad Lionheart may have been gay, taxed England to ruin even before he was kidnapped and ransomed, fought wars in France, visited England perhaps twice ot trice in all his life, cut open thousands of women and children in Holy Land when he suspected that they had swallowed some prescious stones, neglected his wife totally etc. and he is a Great king??

Unknown said...

You make several valid, interesting points. However, for me, the problem was never the way he treated Isabella. The problem was the way that Isabella was treated in general. I think that Isabella was always keenly aware of her place in the world and how she ought to have been treated. I also think that because Edward was, to put it lightly, a less than stellar king, her life as queen was rougher and more troublesome than it should have been.

The truth is that, because she ruled during a time of such turmoil and upheaval, she was probably not dealt the respect that she must have felt she deserved. She was not necessarily treated badly BY Edward, but her life was made more difficult BECAUSE of Edward.
Am I making any sense?

Mario Porto said...

Very good article. Objective, substantiated in a vision consistent with the world of the 14th century and undeniable.

J.R. Holt 2013 said...

As I am not anywhere near as accomplished a writer as most of the above, I hesitate to comment. Still, fools do charge in where angels fear to tread. I am no angel, and I am going to tread where I think they would not so you can take my comment for what I admittedly am if not a fool, then perhaps a dilettante.

I have been researching the Edwardian era from the beginning of the reign of Edward longshanks' rule to the end of Henry VI's reign and the advent of the War of the Roses. Edward I's and Edward III's reigns have been ascribed to have been successful reigns, and both have been held out as examples of mostly exemplary warrior kingship. As some would say, the image of say John Wayne as a man's man Longshanks and his grandson Edward III were and I suppose still are held out as well a King's King. King Edward II did have at least the attribute of recognizing that war was a horrible waste of time, talent, and treasure and, as such, was a severe drain on the economy of his country and worked largely ignored hardships on the common folk of his country.

Building was, in his opinion, to be much preferred over killing and destruction. The problem is idealism if that is what this is needs to be tempered by reality. Too much of any aspect of leadership throws the entire reign of a given leader - King out of kilter, and the most common result is a failed reign. Sexual proclivities aside, I suspect King Edward II would have been considered an excellent peace King but his lack of discretion. His apparent abandonment of reason regarding the profligate gift-giving and the undercutting of his governmental authority with the excess of delegation to "lesser men," usually his most sycophantish hence his specific court favorites not only disgusted the nobles he needed to retain the support of to rule his realm effectively but his tendency to take away from long time loyal, long-serving noble families who did not feel inclined to kiss the King's derrière. Not only disgusted but, in the end, frightened them into taking action, they were hitherto loath to even consider the deposing of a King. Kings Ruled by Divine Right: to take any action leading to the removal of a King who was King because God made him King they felt to their very cores flew in the face of the God they all more or less devoutly worshipped and in doing so, they feared they might be condemning themselves and any who supported them to eternal damnation. Now those who are not believers may make light of this theological conundrum. Still, even those who were not particularly strong in the Faith had to feel at least some reluctance to take action against the King because doing so might give their vassals pause to question the authority of their lordships to rule in their feifdoms. Ultimately King Edward II was deposed, abdicated, and ultimately almost certainly murdered and if rumors are true in a most hideous manner. No one deserves to die that way if the rumors are true.

All of this underscores in my mind the philosophy that those who govern, govern at the will of the governed. Neglecting to take proper notice of the intention of the governed will sooner or later end up in the fall of the governor and the replacement of the governor by someone the will of the people at least temporarily believes will pay more appropriate head to the will of the governed for better or worse.

It's all about creating the proper illusion. Just because an image created and nurtured may be an illusion doesn't mean the illusion is a mirage.

Anonymous said...

so, i don't know (at all) what i'm talking about here, yes? i started reading about edward-and-isabelle-history because of fanfiction, and i've found wikipedia and what-i've-seen-so-far of your blog.

but you ask why people have a negative opinion of edward ii, and i can only say why *i* have one of him.

let's say, that (i desperately hope that) my disapproval is not disparagement of his sexuality, or a wish that he had relations with a 12-year-old. instead, my ill-opinion mostly comes from the wikipedia information about him. In bullet-points:
- that he neglected his job, for his hobbies (ditches and hedges and a camel)
- that he gave isabelle's jewelry to piers gaveston (who then wore it publicly), and then later confiscated isabelle's land and gave isabelle's youngest 3 kids to hugh depenser more-or-less as hostages.
- that (as another commenter also said), he lost battles, was permanently broke, and (though *we* know that volcano-induced climate disasters aren't really his fault, we might presume that if he hadn't been broke he might have found some way to avoid) leaving his country to starve.

and, if true, those three things *do* seem really negative. especially for a medieval king who had a lot of power over his wife, and a large responsibility to his country.

but again, i'm not an expert on this. my knowledge is very, very superficial, and i rely on sources like *wikipedia*, where i - personally - don't have the competence to check the claims made.

so, but i can't help thinking that if you're *truly* upset about the way people see the edward/isabelle situation, maybe you might consider editing wikipedia with your-understanding-of-events?

anyways, thanks for your blog! i've been enjoying it!

Kathryn Warner said...

Hello, thanks for the comment! I have no idea how to edit Wiki, unfortunately, so I prefer to write properly-sourced posts here instead, and have written bios of Edward, Isabella, Hugh Despenser the Younger and Edward's de Clare nieces, as well as other books on the era, and some academic articles.

The idea that Edward gave Isabella's jewels to Gaveston was invented in the late 19th century; the idea that Gaveston then wore the queen's jewels is an invention of twentieth-century novelists; the idea that Edward took away custody of Isabella's three younger children - who were also *his* children, don't forget - from her is an invention of the late 1970s and is absolute nonsense. I've dealt with that nasty little tale several times here. Ditto the silly Victorian story that he gave away Isabella's jewels to Gaveston.

The idea that Edward neglected his job for his hobbies such as ditching and thatching is pretty much true. He inherited debts of something like £200,000 from his father Edward I, which in modern terms is billions, so it's hard to see how his being permanently broke is his own fault. It wasn't as though he was massively extravagant, or at least, no more than medieval royals were expected to be. Edward II was a disastrous ruler, though it's interesting to me how his father seems to escape all criticism for leaving him a seriously difficult legacy, and the kind of enormous debts that seriously hobbled him.

All the best! Kathryn.