10 March, 2013

Godefroy of Paris and Edward II and Isabella's relationship

Several years ago, I wrote a post about Edward II and Queen Isabella's long and eventful trip to France in the summer of 1313.  A major source for this visit, written by a man who was closely associated with the French court at the time, is the rhyming chronicle of Godefroy or Geoffrey de Paris, who was almost certainly an eyewitness to the events he describes which occurred during Edward and Isabella's visit, or at least some of them.  Godefroy's Chronique Métrique, edited by J.-A. Buchon, is available on Google Books and Archive.org, in the original early fourteenth-century Parisian French; I'm not aware of a translation into English or modern French.  It deals with events in France between 1300 and 1316 and contains much information about the visit of Edward II and Isabella in 1313, which this post is, kind of, about.

Godefroy spells Edward II's name 'Oudouart' or 'Odouard'* and the queen's as 'Ysabiau' or 'Ysabelot', both of which I totally love as they sound like affectionate nicknames for her.  He calls her "the noble and wise lady, Isabella" and "the fairest of the fair" (des belles la plus belle).  Her father Philip IV, who is known to history as Philippe le Bel or Philip the Fair, in the sense of handsome, he describes in the same way (des biax le plus biau), and says that Isabella inherited her good looks from her father.  Godefroy is in fact pretty keen to talk about Isabella's beauty as often as possible; we also get, for instance, "In her time, no more beautiful woman in the kingdom or the empire could be found", "Splendid of body, fine of heart", and that she was "of the fairest, the rose, the lily, the flower and the exemplar."  Being, evidently, attracted to women but not men, Godefroy does not wax lyrical about Edward II's good looks and strength.  Shame.

* By way of comparison, Edward's name was spelt by other French writers of the time as Edouart, Edouwart, Edduvart, Edouars, etc.

Godefroy describes an occasion when Edward and Isabella were at Pontoise, where they stayed from about 10 to 30 June 1313 - it was on the 19th, the first anniversary of Piers Gaveston's death, that Edward paid Bernard the Fool and fifty-four naked dancers forty shillings for performing for him, heh - when tragedy almost occurred.  A fire broke out one night in the king and queen's wardrobe and they lost many possessions, but luckily Edward had the presence of mind to get himself and Isabella to safety outside, although they were toute nue (entirely naked).  Godefroy says that Edward was "brave against the fire" and "well proved himself bold" by his actions, and in another line comments "The king saved her by bravery," something he seems keen to emphasise.  Apparently, the king saved other people from the fire as well as the queen, members of his household.  The poet says that Edward was, however, keen to save Isabella above all else, Car cele amoit-il d'amor fine, "Because he loved her with fine love" (fin amour, with a few variant spellings, is also sometimes translated as 'courtly love').  Hmmm, this doesn't sound like the callously neglectful husband Edward is so often said to be in modern times, does it?  Here we have a man who saw Edward and Isabella in person saying that Edward loved his wife and was deeply concerned about her safety, and even if it was only in a conventional, expected way, it was still love.  Godefroy does not in any way say that Edward didn't love Isabella, or that he had ever considered her second best to (the now dead) Piers Gaveston or to have neglected her in Piers' favour, or that he treated her badly, or that anyone in her family or anyone else thought he treated her badly or indeed in any way other than with the respect, courtesy and love due to his wife and queen.

Godefroy de Paris died around 1320, well before Edward and Isabella's marriage went spectacularly wrong, and thus unlike most other fourteenth-century commentators did not have the benefit of hindsight and knowledge of what was ultimately to happen to the king and Isabella's pivotal role in this.  Another commentator whose work finishes before the end of Edward II's reign is the anonymous and very well-informed Vita Edwardi Secundi, which ends abruptly in late 1325 with Isabella in France refusing to return to her husband.  In neither of these works do we get any hint of marital discord between Edward and Isabella such as appears in chronicles written some time later which Isabella's modern biographers and novelists eagerly seize on, with the obvious exception of the Vita's narrative that the queen insisted on remaining in France with her son and brother and declared that she would henceforth dress as a widow until Hugh Despenser the Younger was removed from her husband's side. The Vita says that Isabella did not like Hugh and resented his presence so close to Edward.  It does not say anything about the queen being angry with her husband or disliking him, or suggest that anything had gone badly wrong between the royal couple before this, or suggest that they were unhappy or that there was anything unusual about their marriage or about Edward's treatment of his queen.  It's in the chronicles written with knowledge of Isabella's much later rebellion against her husband (after he had confiscated her lands and reduced her income in September 1324) that we find, for instance, statements that Edward 'abandoned' her when she was pregnant in May 1312 and that she wrote to her father in 1308 to complain about his neglect of her in favour of Piers Gaveston and called herself "the most wretched of wives".  Both of these are inventions of a St Albans chronicler decades later.

It wasn't until 1322 at the earliest, perhaps 1324, that Edward and Isabella's marriage started to go badly wrong.  In 1313 when they were in France, no-one could have known or predicted Isabella's later actions, and those writers who had no later knowledge of what she did do not seem to have believed that her and Edward's marriage was anything out of the ordinary.  Quite the contrary; there is evidence in Godefroy of Paris's metrical chronicle of marital affection between the couple.  Far from suggesting or saying that Isabella was some poor little victim of a neglectful husband, Godefroy - who, remember, knew the queen's family and their court very well - seemed to think that Edward and Isabella's marriage was a perfectly happy, successful and conventional one when he saw them in France in 1313.  On another occasion, he says that Edward missed a meeting with his father-in-law Philip IV one morning because he and Isabella had overslept (my translation following, somewhat paraphrased):

"But this morning, the English king
Could not see the Frenchman
Because he had slept the morning away
With the queen, his wife.
And so one could see
That it pleased him to ruser? her
Which cannot be wondered at
Because she is the fairest of the fair."

I'm not sure how to translate ruser here - in modern French, it means to use cunning, as in the English word 'ruse', but that's clearly not the sense Godefroy was using 700 years ago, and he meant something positive, that it pleased Edward to stay in bed with Isabella because she was so beautiful.  Again, not exactly the the neglectful husband who could hardly bear to touch his wife we see so often, then.

There is of course much, much else in Godefroy's chronicle, including his fantastic description of something he evidently saw with his own eyes: Edward II's banquet at Saint-Germain-des-Prés on Tuesday 5 June 1313, where attendants on horses served guests in richly draped tents which were extravagantly lit with torches even in the middle of the day.  But I'll have to save that for another post sometime.  I wrote in a guest post on my friend Sarah's blog lately that I believe Edward II and Isabella of France's relationship was far more complex and interesting than the dull and one-dimensional 'it was a disaster from start to finish, he neglected her constantly, she hated him always' portrayals we find nowadays, and Godefroy confirms it.  As well as the evidence of mutual support and affection between the couple I cited in my post on Sarah's blog, Claire Valente has pointed out* that the Anglo-Norman poem of c. 1327 known as the 'Lament of Edward II' and formerly, almost certainly falsely, attributed to the king himself, includes lines which portray Edward as "a grieving courtly lover, who has lost his joy with his love" after his deposition.  The poem is written from Edward's perspective and talks about La Bise, 'the Doe', an anagram of 'Isabel' (as noted in the Valente article), and, to quote again from the article, "the poet also clearly expected his audience to accept that she [Isabella] and Edward had once loved each other as courtly lovers."  Valente notes the existence of Edward's illegitimate son Adam (who died as a teenager in 1322) and that "at least one contemporary poet did not find "true love" for women and in particular his queen an implausible emotion for Edward II."  Edward II's sexuality was more complex than it is usually assumed to have been nowadays; his relationship with his queen was likewise far more complex than most modern commentators seem to think.  This should come as no surprise to anyone who realises that human beings are complicated, and that human relationships are also complicated.  I'd just like to end by saying that we really have very little idea how Edward and Isabella felt about each other at any given time - it's not as though we have any written evidence that says something like "I hate my lord husband and that horrid Piers Gaveston, by Isabella" - and no doubt their feelings changed and developed and evolved over their nearly twenty-year marriage, as people's feelings for their partners generally do.  Simplistic declarations about their marriage and how Isabella 'must have' felt about Edward, such as "she could feel nothing but profound revulsion for her husband", made with 700 years of hindsight are, frankly, pretty meaningless, especially when they ignore so much evidence which doesn't fit this particular view.  Thank goodness for Godefroy de Paris, an eyewitness, and the contemporary 'Lament' poet for helping to show us Edward and Isabella's relationship in a different light, and to tell us that yes, as far as some people who knew them were aware, Edward II did indeed love his wife.

* Claire Valente, 'The "Lament of Edward II": Religious Lyric, Political Propaganda', Speculum, 77 (2002), pp. 432-3.

12 comments:

Anerje said...

Isn't it strange that we never get brave, handsome Edward saves beautiful Isabella from a fire in any novels?;> and the fact they were naked and in the same bed - shocker;> They might even have been having sex! Doesn't quite go with the usual portrayals, eh? I'm sure their relationship was much more complex than we'll ever know.

Kathryn Warner said...

I totally agree, Anerje! The writers who love to portray him as callously uncaring of Isabella's welfare never seem to notice this.

Jules Frusher said...

A wonderful alternative view of Edward and Edward and Isabella's realtionship in the earlier years - particularly interesting about him saving others from the fire too. As for 'ruser', I was wondering if (considering it *may* be connected somewhere to cunning), whether it means 'to know'?

Gabriele C. said...

Yeah, what Anerje said; they both being naked makes it very possible they just had some naught fun. ;-) And sleeping in because they had not spent the night sleeping.

Anonymous said...

Great post. IMO, this really highlights the massive problem with Despenser if he could do such damage to what once was a healthy marriage. (I think that Isabella feared Despenser as well as hating him ... and that both fear and hatred were quite genuine. Isabella took good care of Isabella ... she wouldn't have reacted to Despenser as she did at Tynemouth, if she didn't fear him more than the Scots)

Esther

Sami Parkkonen said...

good post, once gain. enlight us!!

Kasia Ogrodnik said...

Kathryn, thank you for all the delightful nuggets of info concerning the people who happened to be king and queen of England living in the 14th century and still, were so very human to oversleep and be late for an important meeting :-)

Anerje, I absolutely agree! It would be fantastic to read about the fire incident in one of the novels or watch the scene in a movie.

Kathryn Warner said...

Thank you, everyone, for the comments! :) Really glad you liked the post!

Carla said...

Exploring how the relationship between Isabella and Edward changed, and the part Hugh Despenser may have played in that, would make a fascinating story. Do you happen to know if anyone has done that in a novel? It seems to offer much more scope than the instant-disaster-from-day-one scenario.

Kathryn Warner said...

That's the kind of novel I'd love to read, Carla - something that explores Edward and Isabella's relationship with the emotional depth that's lacking in almost every fictional and non-fictional account of them. Some of the responses to this post on Facebook indicate to me that some people simply cannot imagine that Edward and Isabella's relationship was anything more than 'disaster from start to finish' or had any complexity whatsoever, because they've never read anything different. Sigh.

Anonymous said...

This is personal but I hope helpful. I was married to a man who later came out as homosexual. He had relationships with men before our marriage. When we were together, there were times when he was the most loving and romantic man. Let's just say I was the last to figure out about his secret affairs with men. We divorced because I couldn't stand being lied to. Also, he didn't want children. He didn't want to divorce and continued "normal relations" with me the entire marriage. I really don't think sexuality is as simple as the media claims it to be.

I can totally see Edward and Isabella warming up to each other but it just got to a point where Isabella couldn't take Edward anymore.

Wasn't Isabella's own father dependent on his ministers much to the hatred of the aristocracy? Didn't they sneer at him for raising a hair cutter or something to the post of minister. It is very late at night so I don't have the time to go get all of the details.

TO be honest, this is why I loathe historical romance. These people were very complex and interesting and it is insulting what these writers come up with. I recently read a romance book that went into gross detail about the sex life of Marguerite of Provence who would have been horrified if she lived today. I felt like she would haunt me for reading that.

Anyway, thanks for your wonderful blog that has kept me awake into the wee hours of the night. I love history, the more accurate and detailed the better. Because of the personal anecdote I am anonymous but inthe future I will write as myself, or at least my internet self!

Kathryn Warner said...

Thanks so much for sharing your experience, and of course I totally understand why you don't want to give your name - absolutely no problem at all. Thank you too for your valuable insight, which I appreciate very much.