16 January, 2014


In which I trawl through the internet to see what's been said about Edward II lately, good and bad...

Jules' fantastic blog about Hugh Despenser the Younger and all things Edward II has a new address and a new look.  Check it out!  This is my favourite post of hers, about the practically unknown rescue by Hugh of Margaret, Lady Badlesmere (his wife Eleanor's first cousin) when she was attacked and besieged by a large group of miscreants in Hertfordshire in 1319.  See!  He wasn't all bad!

Why can't you spell properly?

Just spotted this delightful and semi-illiterate comment on a blog post about the many historical inaccuracies in Braveheart. What a charming, polite person!

Totally bonkers and extremely hard to follow comment seen on a history forum: "I don't think Eddy II was he was [sic] born in Wales that title was just hearsay. He came across this possibility when was 16. The proof as the hearsay does not stack up, it is not possible."  Ummmm what?  There is no doubt whatsoever that Edward II was born in Wales.  In his own lifetime he was often known as Edward of Caernarfon.  Caernarfon is in North Wales.  QED.  I don't understand the rest of the statement, even though it was written by a native speaker of English, so can't comment.

From a book review: "Isabella finds herself nothing more than a political pawn in a loveless marriage."  You could say exactly the same thing about Edward II himself being a 'political pawn', no?  I am so bored with this endless modern 'Royal women in the Middle Ages were mere pawns in marriage!' whine, as though royal men had any choice in who they married either (with the exception of Edward IV).  Both Edward and Isabella were raised with the knowledge that they'd have to marry another royal person for reasons of foreign policy and political expediency (both of them were betrothed for the first time as little more than infants); they weren't twenty-first-century people dropped into the fourteenth century with the expectation of marrying for love; their marriage ended disastrously but for many years was pretty successful, and certainly wasn't 'loveless'.

I loved the following comment on a history forum.  Yes yes yes!  Let's face it, it can't have been easy, being the son and heir of a man like Longshanks.

From the sublime to the ridiculous:

Aaaggghhhh!!  A reminder of why I sometimes cannot stand historical fiction, because it spreads this kind of nonsense.  Hugh Despenser didn't become Edward's 'favourite' until 1318 or later, by which time three of Edward and Isabella's four children had been born, so let's throw this particular notion into the rubbish bin where it belongs.

Stereotypes R Us!
Stereotypes R Us, part 2!

I love this comment on Tumblr, from a poster who's very well-informed about Edward II and clearly reads my blog.  Well said!

From a great comment on Tumblr to a truly awful one:

Firstly, Isabella was not a 'princess'.  The daughters of kings were not called that until the sixteenth century.  Isabella, like the daughters of other kings in her era, was addressed from birth as ma dame in French or domina in Latin, 'lady' or 'my lady'.  Edward of Caernarfon likewise was monsire Edward or dominus Edwardus from birth, '(my) lord Edward'.  As prince of Wales from February 1301, he was addressed as 'my lord Edward, prince of Wales' or sometimes just 'the prince' for short, but never - this is a key point - as 'Prince Edward'.  The only princess in England in the Middle Ages was Joan of Kent (1328-1385), Edward II's niece, who married his grandson Edward of Woodstock, prince of Wales.

I'm uncomfortable with assertive declarations about the sexuality of people who lived 700 years ago, as in, assuming that Edward II was certainly 100% gay (which all too often leads to the notion that he couldn't possibly have been the father of his children*), or that Roger Mortimer was certainly straight or even 'unequivocally heterosexual'.  There are plenty of people I personally know very well about whom I couldn't, and wouldn't wish to, declare that their sexuality is 'unequivocally' anything, and I find it ludicrous to make such statements about people nearly 700 years dead.  It's presumptuous for one thing, and as Roger Mortimer wouldn't have thought of himself as heterosexual, let alone 'unequivocally' so, who are we to claim that he was?

* The history forum poster who made the comment above that 'Eddy II' might not have been born in Wales also made this assertion: "We all know he was gay. How come he was able to perform in the bedroom, he had four children. Edward, John, Eleanor and Joanna. I believe his wife had a lover called Roger Mortimer, Earl of March. Did he have some help in this direction?"  And "Sorry there has been to much recorded about him being gay, not to mention what happen with his death. I have known quite a few gay men and I know enough to say the last thing they would is go with a women. Although gay men like to talk and be friends with women, that where it stops there."

'Their princess was stood to the side, while the king ruled with his loverboy'.  Isabella was a queen consort, not regnant.  It wasn't her place to rule England.  And 'loverboy', oh please.

Yet again, we see the assumptions that Edward II and Isabella had only one child together, when in fact they had four, and that Isabella overthrew Edward when their only child was a toddler and they'd been married for about five minutes.  And we see yet again the malign influence of Braveheart, which gives the impression that Isabella - pregnant by William Wallace, of course - will rebel against her husband and rule England shortly after her father-in-law dies.  Edward and Isabella married in January 1308 and so had been married for nineteen years at the time of his forced abdication in January 1327, though admittedly they hadn't seen each other since March 1325.  That's still over seventeen years of marriage, however - hardly a short time.


Anonymous said...

Another great post! IMO, though, the "royal woman as pawn" meme gets more traction than the "royal man as pawn" because it was considered socially acceptable for men of that era to find "true love" (or at least, pleasure) outside of marriage, whereas women were more restricted.


Sami Parkkonen said...

Brilliant! It just is mind boggling how long this can keep on going. Same old stories and falsehoods, lies and fantastic stories...

One day, I hope, there will be a book to set the record straight!

And one day there will be... :-D

Caroline said...

Oh how I love you Kathryn - you always make my day when I pick up your blog. It should be compulsory reading for any would-be writer of historical fiction no matter what era they are writing about.
Can I ask a question in case anyone knows the answer. As riding sidesaddle did not occur until late in the fourteenth century how did young unmarried women ride? Surely not astride as that might create problems on the morning after the wedding when there was no blood on the sheets? If they rode with a man, was it in front as I have read somewhere, or was it behind as most films, writers etc would have us believe.
If anybody has any information I'd be really pleased to know.

Keep blogging because we all want to keep reading. I loved your blog on the Christmases but had promised myself no messing about on the internet until I'd finished another chapter so I didn't have time to comment.

A very belated happy new year or as Edward would have said in the land of his birth Blwyddyn Newydd Dda.

Anerje said...

It just goes on and on, doesn't it? I can't believe this stuff is still being written!

Thanks for the info on Jules' blog etc!

Anerje said...

btw, the Braveheart comment has been deleted! I really should check my comments more regularly.

Jules Frusher said...

Whoops, left last comment on wrong post lol!!! Thanks for mentioning the new Lady Despenser's Scribery :-) x

Anonymous said...

Was Edward good king, though? Did his quite long reign have benefits for England?


MRats said...

Yikes! Those are Americanisms even I can't translate!! And I'm fluent!

Ah, yes, Sami. We will all have that book one day, but when? It's apparent that many people prefer to learn their history from fiction. Oh! Wouldn't it be wonderful if an expert on Edward II wrote a novel about him? ;-D

All wheedling aside, at least when there's a resurgence of interest in "Braveheart" (as happened recently after it aired with Story Notes on AMC in the U.S.) many curious viewers visit this blog and find out the truth!

Thank you, Kathryn, for using the dregs of Internet historical "intelligence" as an opportunity to provide us with interesting information, such as that about the proper titles. Also, I read the post from "Lady Despenser's Scribery" just two days ago. Fascinating! But as you know, I already suspected Hugh had a more sensitive, or perhaps even vulnerable side which may have ultimately caused him to become so acquisitive. You said it yourself: "there are many gaps in our knowledge, and that's where historical novels can really come into their own." But first they must be written . . . :-)

P.S. Please forgive my cyber ignorance (yet again), but what is a "meme"?

Sami Parkkonen said...

In response to Anonymous:

Was Edward a good king? Well, he did found universities and was in tune with the commoners, but really annoyed the nobility.

He was also one of the most unlucky ones. In Scotland he faced Robert the Bruce, a guy who outmanouvered even his father the Longshanks, and France was a mess he could not get away from.

In 1315-17 perhaps the most devastating hunger hit the whole Europe, and meant the beginning of the climate change which in turn lead into Black Death some 30 years later.

He was a good hunter, outdoors man and capable fighter, he did after all fought at Bannockburn for hours and lost a horse from under him and fetched another and went back in (he did not run away, but was taken away by his bodyguard despite his protests)but as a war leader and strategist he was not that good.

But, once again, the barons sabotaged his every move against Bruce, Lancaster was actually in cahoots with Bruce. Also, if we look at the destruction and killings, his celebarted son Edward III was much worse. He took thousands and thousands of englishmen to France where thousands of them perished. But he won wars, sort of, so he was good where as Edward II was not, despite the fact that he was not at war all the time, like his Old man and son.

Perhaps the best summation is this: he had many qualities we think as good. He liked the commoners and spent time with them, he learned handcarft and working mans jobs, he was not eager for war and gave away considerable sums of money to the ordinary folks.

But in medieaval eyes he was a total failure.

Kathryn Warner said...

Thanks for the great comments, everyone! x The sidesaddle question, I'm afraid I'm not really sure about - I've often heard that it was introduced to England by Anne of Bohemia, but also seem to remember reading that the Empress Matilda (or Eleanor of Aquitaine?) was mocked in a chronicle for having to ride astride once instead of sidesaddle. So really not sure, sorry! :/

Meme, to quote from the Urban Dictionary: "1 : an idea, belief or belief system, or pattern of behavior that spreads throughout a culture either vertically by cultural inheritance (as by parents to children) or horizontally by cultural acquisition (as by peers, information media, and entertainment media)

2 : a pervasive thought or thought pattern that replicates itself via cultural means; a parasitic code, a virus of the mind especially contagious to children and the impressionable"


Katarzyna Ogrodnik-Fujcik said...

Wow, Lady Despenser's new site looks fantastic! I'm highly impressed and already "hooked" :-) Thank you for the link. Now, down to reading the recommended text about Hugh (the rescuer).

chris y said...

Same old stories and falsehoods, lies and fantastic stories...

Sadly, the people who make films and television seem to know what sells.

Different period, but I recently spent a gruelling couple of hours in a pub with my wife's sister in law who had been watching The White Queen. She was so excited, there was so much stuff she hadn't known! I hadn't known most of it either nor, I venture to guess, had any scholar of mediaeval England.

Said sister in law is hugely intelligent, but she has no background in history and it wouldn't occur to her that people would bill a programme as a historical dramatisation and then serve up a farrago of fictions.

It would be lovely if programmes like that, and movies like Braveheart would show a disclaimer at the start saying: "The characters in the following production have the names of historical members of the English and Scottish aristocracy in the middle ages, but the events portrayed have as much resemblance to reality as The Lord of the Rings." But then the people who know what sells would have a word in somebody's ear...

Bryan Dunleavy said...

Was Edward II a good king? Sami Parkkonnen has offered a fair summary above. History does give us some advantages in. That we can come up with an assessment that is unclouded by contemporary opinion. Unfortunately, as Kathryn (grinding her teeth) will keenly note, Edward II's press is generally clouded by unsubstantiated myth.
There were periods when Edward was a very effective king, but he tends not to get credit for that. He did after all survive for 20 years. His son, on the other hand, gains all the glory for his victories in France, while being excused for the sorry mess of the latter part of his reign. Life is never fair!

Gabriele Campbell said...

Since Edward liked all sorts of physical things, be they in fashion for his class (tournaments) or not (digging ditches), I can imagine he just liked sex, too. And maybe it was easier for him to express himself physically - as far as I know he didn't write love poems or odes to friendship.