28 October, 2015

Edward II in The Bastard Executioner

Yesterday evening, I watched part of the fourth episode of the historical drama series The Bastard Executioner (which presumably means an executioner who is illegitimate rather than one who only executes bastards).  The reason?  Edward II and Piers Gaveston appeared in it.  The series is about a Welsh knight who fought for Edward (or his father? Not sure) and takes place in a Welsh county called 'Ventrishire', and the episodes have titles in both English and Welsh.  I haven't seen the first three episodes; frankly I'm not interested enough, but just wanted to see how it portrayed Edward and Piers.  The fourth episode is called 'A Hunger/Newyn'.

Ummmm yeah.  One of the main characters, who appears to be called 'Lady Love' for some weird reason, travels from Wales to Windsor Castle as she's been summoned by Edward II.  She meets Piers Gaveston and is rudely kept waiting for many hours by Edward, hungry and forced to sit at a table groaning with food which she is not allowed to eat.  In fact, she is only summoned to the king after she's gone to bed and is asleep, when Piers waltzes into her bedchamber and sits on her bed.  Piers is young, handsome, elegant and very French (played by Tom Forbes, who also played William Stafford in Wolf Hall; see here, and here for a pic of him as Piers).  So, weirdly, is Edward II (played by Jack Greenlees, very nice!), who speaks English with a strong French accent and keeps lapsing from English into French.  At one point he called Lady Love une petite scarabée d'or, 'a little golden beetle', and on another occasion says something in French and looks to Piers to translate it for him.  This is bizarre.  Although French was almost certainly Edward's first language, he wasn't a Frenchman.  On quite a few websites I've seen, viewers are - understandably - confused about this and refer to him as 'the French ruler'.  I've also seen various people online claim that Edward II grew up in France, and that the makers of The Bastard Executioner therefore did good research.  Nope, Edward grew up entirely in England (having left his birthplace of Wales when he was only a few months old) and set foot in France for the first time in January 1308 when he was twenty-three, when he married Isabella in Boulogne.  Given that Edward was born in Wales and was the first member of the English royal family to be prince of Wales, and given that the whole show is about Wales, I'd have thought the producers could have made good use of that fact, but no.  Edward is...French.  Okey-dokey then.  I think the programme missed a trick there.

The titles are odd: Edward II keeps being called 'His Majesty', a later invention, and 'Lady Love' addresses Piers Gaveston as 'Sir Gaveston', even though she knows he's the earl of Cornwall.  'Sir' should be used with a man's first name, not his last name.  Lady Love is called 'the baroness'.  The makers of the programme seem to confuse Edward II with his father and call him 'Edward Longshanks II'.  Lady Love addresses her female attendant as 'Maiden', and I seem to recall hearing another character addressed as 'Chamberlain', presumably because that's what he is.

The best you can say really is that Piers and Edward are both young and good-looking, though Edward tends perhaps to a certain femininity.  He's also immature and faintly useless; when he meets Lady Love, he's far more interested in continuing to take part in archery (at night) than in sorting anything out for her, and hands the whole matter over to Piers.  I suppose the whole thing could have been much worse.  (It could also have been a lot better, but still.)  At least Edward isn't snivelling and throwing tantrums and generally behaving like a teenage girl in a strop, the way he's so often depicted.  Instead he's doing something active and sporty, which I rather liked.  He's tall, handsome and has long fair hair, which is accurate, and the Twitter account of the programme acknowledges his great strength.  He's useless but not malicious, and friendly, apart from rudely keeping Lady Love waiting for him all day.  It looks as though Piers Gaveston appears again in episodes five and nine, so I might have to watch those soon.  It'll be something of an ordeal for me though, I'm afraid.  I skipped through episode four searching for the Piers/Edward scenes, but still saw the grotesque torture of a man having his eye put out with a knife and both his arms cut off, which made me shudder with horror and disgust.  Absolutely, definitely not my kind of programme.  Anyway, I suppose at least the programme is increasing Edward II's name recognition among an audience who've probably barely heard of him before.  So yay for that.


Sonetka said...

It all sounds very puzzling -- though it's probably one of those things where it makes more sense if you watch the whole thing and buy into the premise. I also assume the executioner is a bastard himself and not a roving headsman ridding people of their inconvenient offspring, as interesting as the latter premise could be :). Edward II's English was pretty good, though, wasn't it? At least, it's hard to imagine how he managed all that hobnobbing with commoners and thatching their roofs if he couldn't easily talk to them!

Kathryn Warner said...

Hi Sonetka! There's no direct evidence about Edward's ability to speak English, but I'm sure you're right, given how much time he spent with fishermen, carpenters, shipwrights and the like! Maybe sometime I'll give the whole series a go - as you say, it's hard to come into a programme halfway through and make much sense of it - but I found the blood and gore hard to take. A friend of mine on Facebook told me there's a horrible hanging, drawing and quartering scene in the seventh episode. I just don't have the stomach for it :/

Anonymous said...

That sounds a very gruesome series. I know they fake it all (the TV torture I mean) and I know the middle ages were not all that "merry" all the time (William the Conqueror was a horror without going into details). There was (in my view) a very hammy version of the "Camelot" legend about five years ago on the TV and the actress who played Morgan Le Fay had a noticeable French accent (she actually was French in real life). I mean a British princess would have sounded Welsh if anything I'd have thought though I know we know very little about the real Arthur (if he existed). The same character on the Beeb's children's version of the legend had an Irish accent - but at least that was Celtic! Perhaps the showrunner on this gorey series think a French accent sounds sexy. The TV French accents I like are those spoken by the cast of "ENgrenages" - I know it isn't on at the moment. An oldster like me has to use the sub-titles for the modern French slang in "ENgrenages" though.

I suppose it is something if the B.E. at least portrayed Edward and Piers as pleasant looking.

Patricia O

sami parkkonen said...

When I studed the period I got this impression about the languages spoken: yes, the nobility and upper classes used french, or anglofrench, but many, if not most of them, could and did speak also english. The knights and upper class members who could not speak english at all were at this point of history a minority.

Sometimes knights and others used the language to point out that they were upper class, that is they used their french to mark the difference between them and lower classes. Not because they could not speak english but because it made them different from others. Also, many of the lower classes could speak and undestood this french to some extent, particulary the merchants etc., even if they could not write at all.

As for Edward II, I think it is very much certain that he could and did speak english. He, after all, as being told, spent much time with commoners and enjoyed particulary their rough humor and jokes, which to me implies that he knew english well enough to understand the nouances of the language to get the jokes.

He was also seen with commoners, discussing with workers, thacthers, hunters, fishermen, stable boys, and others, laughing and joking with them, meaning he could and did communicated with them fluently. This he had to do with english, the common language, rather than french of the upper classes which the commoners did not manage so well.

Personally I believe that Edward spoke english fluently as his second language, besides the anglofrench and latin, and some other languages he perhaps was educated in. I think his behavior and ability to be at ease with the commoners (one thing which was greatly annoying in the eyes of the highest ranking people of the society) proves that he was "on the level" with them, and this could not have happened unless they had a common language. Given that he was the king and that was a hurdle enough, if he had not been able to put the commoners as ease in his presence, the interaction would have been impossible in a way it was between this king and his subjects.

I may be wrong here but this is the impression I have.

Kasia Ogrodnik said...

Interesting observations - I agree, Edward's English must have been good enough to make communication with the commoners possible.

M. Reed McCall said...

Episode Three of this program, which I saw sometime last week after the fact (as I'd recorded it), features Piers in a very unsavory light and portrays him as cruel and perverse to another man of lower station (The oddly named Lady Love's Steward I believe), while also alluding to Piers having twin sisters (and hinting at carnal activities between the three).

While I like the premise and the main character of the series as a whole (because I do enjoy the journey of emotionally wounded heroes), this historical inaccuracies and some of the more gruesome parts, as you mentioned, are off-putting.

I may watch more just to see how the series/characters develop, but I'm not holding out too much hope.


sami parkkonen said...

In general what irritates me now a days in historical movies/series is this: nearly in all the women have huge puffed up wild hairs, huge wild bushes flowing freely in the wind, when in reality the only women who kept their hair open and without cover in public were prostitutes. Other women did not show their hair. This is really stupid but it annoys me! :-D

Another is this: the only women who revealed even the skin of their arms were washer women. Everybody else kept their sleeves down. Perhaps in some remote country, like really far out in the wild, women might have rolled their sleeves up when working with their families but never in public.

And I can not even start with the men and their hair do's and don'ts.

Anerje said...

How on earth have I missed this series? I'm gutted! A handsome Piers and Edward? Bound to be full of inaccuracies, as you point out Kathryn, but worth watching!

chris y said...

The titles are odd: Edward II keeps being called 'His Majesty', a later invention, and 'Lady Love' addresses Piers Gaveston as 'Sir Gaveston', even though she knows he's the earl of Cornwall. 'Sir' should be used with a man's first name, not his last name. Lady Love is called 'the baroness'. The makers of the programme seem to confuse Edward II with his father and call him 'Edward Longshanks II'. Lady Love addresses her female attendant as 'Maiden', and I seem to recall hearing another character addressed as 'Chamberlain', presumably because that's what he is.

This sort of thing drives me mad! It would take 20 minutes googling by an intern to get it right, even if, as seems unlikely, there was nobody associated with the production - perhaps the caterers - who knew better. Why do people think it's OK to treat their viewers with such contempt?

sami parkkonen said...

Well, the creator of this series has used his "artistic freedom" as he did in his previous hit series too, which also was full of all sorts of mistakes, misses, falses and failures but was very successful indeed.

But perhaps these series should not be called "historical" at all but just tv-shows, which they are?