(Part one here, and part two here.)
3) Myth: Edward II allowed Hugh Despenser the Younger to rape Queen Isabella
I wrote an entire blog post (please do read it!) about this not long ago, but it's such a biggie that I want to mention it again here to ensure that I really get the message out there. The notion that Edward II's chamberlain and 'favourite' Hugh Despenser the Younger raped or otherwise sexually assaulted Queen Isabella in the 1320s, with Edward's permission or connivance, is entirely an invention of two modern writers, Paul Doherty and Alison Weir, in their books about Isabella published in 2003 and 2005 (though a fictional depiction of it also appeared in a novel published in 1974 which was a re-telling of Edward II's life, though set in nineteenth-century Ireland). Frankly, I think it's appalling and completely unacceptable to accuse a man - whoever he is and whatever you think of him - of such a serious and terrible crime on absolutely no evidence in a work you're claiming is factual, apparently just because you think it makes your beloved subject look like more of a victim and to make her more sympathetic and tragic in your readers' eyes (and does it also play into an attitude that in order to be 'strong', women have to be survivors of sexual assault?). There. Is. Literally. No. Evidence. Whatsoever that Hugh Despenser raped Isabella, or that he sexually assaulted her in any way or even that he lusted after her, or that Edward II would ever in a million years have been willing to allow anyone else (even a man he was so close to for so long) access to the royal person of his queen, and I sincerely hope that I never have to see anyone else claiming that any of this actually happened in reality ever again. (If you haven't already seen it, please also take a look at my Ten Commandments for Writing about History post, especially number 2.)
4) Myth: Edward II was a foppish weakling
Purely an invention of twentieth- and twenty-first-century books and crappy Hollywood films purporting to be about Scottish history though actually set in some weird parallel universe where some of the characters happen to share names with people who really lived 700 years ago, I'm sure you know the kind of thing I mean: Edward II prancing around, fluttering his hands, throwing petulant tantrums, stamping his feet, shrieking, flouncing, sulking, snivelling, whining, pouting and generally behaving like a teenage girl in a full-on melodramatic self-pitying strop. (I was going to cite some examples here of the many that exist, but after all these years I simply don't have the patience or tolerance to subject myself to it any more or pick up any book which portrays him like this just in order to cite it here. It gives me THE RAGE, and that's not good for anyone.)
I think it's perfectly obvious that offensive modern stereotypes of gay men are the inspiration for this lame, one-dimensional, grotesquely caricatured nonsense, some of which even appears in a novel which has been praised in certain quarters for its sympathetic depictions of gay and bi people in history, for pity's sake. This rubbish also appears in some works of non-fiction, which weirdly seem to believe that Edward was not 'virile' or 'strong' or 'manly' because of his 'perverted' and 'unnatural' sexuality, in stark contrast to the 'unequivocally heterosexual' hero, comments which say a lot more about the writer's beliefs and attitude than they do about Edward II himself. It's important to realise that none of this crap is based on any contemporary evidence whatsoever and derives solely from modern stereotypes. Here's what fourteenth-century commentators actually said about Edward II's appearance:
"Tall and strong, a fine figure of a handsome man"; "God had endowed him with every gift"; on the birth of the future Edward III in 1312, a wish was expressed that the boy would grow up to remind people of "the physical strength and comeliness of his father" (Vita Edwardi Secundi, a contemporary chronicle written by a royal clerk who must have known Edward well and seen him often).
"One of the strongest men of his realm"; the Scalacronica, written decades after Edward's death, but by a man (Sir Thomas Gray) whose father of the same name had been captured while fighting for Edward at Bannockburn and who later served in the retinue of the Despensers, who must therefore have known Edward very well.
"Of a well-formed and handsome person" (the Roll of Arms of Caerlaverock, a poem written in 1300 when Edward was sixteen).
"Fair of body and great of strength" (Polychronicon)
"A handsome man, strong in body and limb" (Anonimalle)
"Elegant, of outstanding strength" (Gesta Edwardi de Carnarvon)
What else do we know about Edward II's appearance? Well, from manuscript illustrations and other evidence (e.g. his effigy, sculptures) it appears that he had fair hair, curly or wavy and falling almost to his shoulders, and wore a bushy beard. Given that several chroniclers describe him as tall, and given that his father's embalmed body when measured in 1774 was found to be six feet two inches, I think it's a reasonable assumption that Edward also stood at least six feet tall. His good looks appear to have been widely known among his subjects, as do his enormous physical strength, love of the outdoors and fondness for physical exercise, and we know that he took part in hobbies such as swimming, rowing, digging, playing ball games and thatching roofs. "From his youth he devoted himself in private to the art of rowing and driving carts, of digging ditches and thatching houses, as was commonly said, and also with his companions at night to various works of ingenuity and skill, and to other pointless trivial occupations unsuitable for the son of a king," says the chronicle of Lanercost; "If only he had given to arms the labour that he expended on rustic pursuits, he would have raised England aloft," says the Vita; Edward's extant household accounts bear out his love of physical exercise and 'rustic pursuits'.
Does any of this, these descriptions of a man who was known across his kingdom for his enormous physical strength and love of the outdoors and exacting physical exercise (there are numerous other examples of this that I could cite), sound even remotely like the feeble snivelling pathetic effete foppish creature beloved of Hollywood and certain writers who are so supremely untalented they can't write Edward with any depth or detail at all, but just have to resort to offensive stereotyping based on his (presumed) sexuality? Edward II's character is rich in dramatic potential, conflict and complexity, and all they can do is have him 'snivel' and stamp his foot and shriek and generally carry on as though he's appearing in a bad 1970s sitcom. Such paucity of imagination. It's similar with Piers Gaveston; some modern novelists assume that he was bisexual and therefore have him hitting on and having sex with pretty well every person he encounters. That's all there ever was to Piers Gaveston, apparently, all he ever did. Hit on every male and female in sight and have constant sex with them all. Precisely when he found time to be an excellent soldier and jouster and lord lieutenant of Ireland, I cannot imagine.
The only comfort and consolation I have is to be in contact with various lovely people who are writing or have written novels featuring Edward II where the king is a far more complex and less stereotyped character, authors who have the skill and imagination to write Edward as a real person and who certainly don't believe or assume that his being a lover of men makes him in any way less of a man than men who love women. Funny how no-one's ever written the 'unequivocally heterosexual' Roger Mortimer as 'snivelling' whenever something goes wrong for him, or fluttering his hands when arguing with Isabella, or pouting and shrieking at her, isn't it? I'm so bored with these lazy stereotypes and people who choose to perpetuate them, ignoring all the evidence of what the physically impressive Edward II was really like.