12 January, 2016

Naked Edward II Saves Isabella: 'Love Made Him Do It'

This is a post about a dramatic incident which took place in the summer of 1313, during Edward II and Queen Isabella's long visit to her homeland of France, which isn't well-known at all and thoroughly deserves to be.

Between 10 and 30 June 1313, Edward and Isabella stayed at Pontoise, twenty miles from Paris where they had been staying since the beginning of June, before travelling on to Poissy where Isabella's great-grandfather Saint Louis IX had been born, exactly seventy years to the day before Edward II as it happens, on 25 April 1214. They then returned to England, having spent a couple of days at Hesdin with Mahaut, countess of Artois and Burgundy, mother-in-law of Isabella's brothers Philip and Charles, on the way. The royal couple landed at Dover on (says a memorandum on the Close Roll) "Monday before St Margaret the Virgin, at vespers, in the seventh year of his [Edward II's] reign," which sounds like sunset on 16 July 1313 to me. It was during the stay at Pontoise that Edward famously paid Bernard the Fool and fifty-four naked dancers for performing for him on the first anniversary of Piers Gaveston's murder on 19 June 1312. (And I can never mention that delightful fact often enough.) The English royal couple, new parents - their first child the future Edward III had been born the previous November - seem to have had a whale of a time during their visit, eating, drinking and generally making merry.

It was also during the stay at Pontoise that the dramatic incident took place. Edward and Isabella appear to have been sleeping in a silken pavilion - it may have been pretty warm in mid or late June, I can imagine, and this was probably more comfortable than sleeping inside a building. The chronicler Geoffrey or Godefroy of Paris, who was an eyewitness to the couple's French visit, describes what happened. A fire somehow broke out in their sleeping quarters the middle of the night, and Edward and Isabella had to leave behind their rich possessions, which were lost to the fire. Fortunately they woke up in time, and Isabella tried to rescue some of her things from the fire. In doing so, she suffered bad burns to her arms for which she was still being treated months later. Edward had the presence of mind to scoop Isabella up in his arms and rush outside with her, and managed to get them both to safety and mostly unharmed. He may well have saved her life. Geoffrey of Paris comments that even though the king of England was 'completely naked' (toute nue) at the time, he saved members of his entourage from the fire as well, which presumably means that as soon as he had taken Isabella outside and ensured his wife's safety, he ran back inside the burning pavilion (or wherever their retinues were sleeping), and rescued other people too. Apparently while still naked.

This incident is almost entirely unknown to modern readers, though it appears (briefly) in my biography of Edward and (at greater length) in my forthcoming Isabella book, so I'm doing my best to make an event which shows Edward II in a much better light than usual as well-known as it deserves to be. Geoffrey of Paris was extremely impressed with the English king's actions, and in his rhyming chronicle wrote that Edward "was brave against the fire" and "well proved himself bold by his actions." He also commented that Edward "saved her [Isabella] with his bravery, and many more people" (la sauva por proesce, et plusors), and that he was keen to rescue her above all else car cele amoit-il d'amor fine, "because he loved her with amor fine," i.e. 'fine love' or 'courtly love'. Finally, Geoffrey comments Mes amor le fesoit ouvrer, "But love made him do it."

But of course, certain modern writers just know that Edward hated Isabella really. Totally loathed every fibre of her being, neglected her and didn't give a damn about her. She suffered terribly from his lack of care and concern. Yeah.

Incidentally, the bit about Edward sleeping naked presumably in the same bed as Isabella, coupled with the fact that on 5 June he'd missed a meeting with her father Philip IV because he and Isabella had overslept - which an amused Geoffrey of Paris put down to their night-time dalliances and Edward being unable to keep his hands off his beautiful desirable wife - gives a very pleasant insight into Edward and Isabella's marriage and sex life. There's also the fact that on the same day they overslept, they watched a parade together in Paris from a tower in their quarters in Saint-Germain surrounded by a large group of ladies and damsels, which also sounds pleasantly intimate and jolly. I get the strong impression that they were really enjoying each other's company in France, and there's no reason to think that this was the only time they did. These comments by a French writer who observed them at close quarters give us some fascinating glimpses into the marriage of Edward II and Isabella of France, and it sure as heck wasn't the hateful, unhappy disaster other writers would have you believe.

Source: Chronique métrique de Godefroy de Paris, ed. J.-A. Buchon (Paris: Verdière, 1827), pp. 196-7 (in fourteenth-century Parisian French, my translations).


sami parkkonen said...

Great stuff once again! I have always loved this incident and can not believe that not one movie maker had not taken it. It is dramatic, it is a good moment to show some nudity (at night and the flames etc. very nice lighting for a scene) and most of all it is also hilarious. I mean, this is The King of England and after rescuing his wife, the queen, he charges back to the flames in the midst of all the coutiers and bodyguards and others BUTT NAKED all the time.

Now let us pause to the moment for a moment. Just imagine a scene where the tall and muscular king acts completely natural and according his position with his staff and members of his household, discusses what could have caused the fire and are everybody ok, and all this time he is completely naked. If this is not a movie scene material I do not know what is.

But I guess this kind of scene would destroy the evil gay king theme for good. Like all those where Edward and Isabella have too much fun and stay up too late, giggle and show off their love. Yes, that would be... well, that would be too truthful and not in accordance with the monstrous gay king theme so many seem to like for some weird reason.

I love this story because it really shows that these two humanbeings really did love one another, they shared real, carnal and emotional love for real. No one can deny that. I mean, the guy who tells this was with them. These others, who do not like this scene, were not.

Anerje said...

It's a superb anecdote and one I knew nothing about until I visited your site. Edward as a dashing, romantic hero - I'm so glad you are focusing on it in your Isabella book - will undoubtedly come as a surprise for some!

Anonymous said...

Great post, as usual ... and I agree this would make a wonderful film! It is a great pity that this type of relationship couldn't last under Despenser.


Gabriele Campbell said...

Sami, the ladies of court would have loved to watch that discussion. Until some officious spoilsport threw a cloak around Edward, which was bound to have happened at some point.

Anonymous said...

Awwwww. Almost deserves to be put alongside the story about Eleanor of Castille sucking the poison out of Edward I's wound in the Holy Land. Might not be true, but a great story......

Kathryn Warner said...

It is a really great story ;) And it's confirmed by Isabella being treated for burns months later (which OK, proves that there was a fire, not that Edward saved her, I suppose...:)