10 August, 2019

Isabella, Gaveston and Those Wretched Jewels

Sad, though not entirely surprising, to see Wikipedia repeat this annoying myth. See here and here.

The source for this statement, note number 22, is a book about England's queens-consort published in 2008. Here's the relevant passage:

Notice that the author doesn't cite a source for this allegation. (Incidentally, the 'magnificent 18,000-pound dowry' is wrong; although Philip IV did originally discuss giving his daughter a dowry of 18,000 livres tournois or 'pounds of Tours', the equivalent of 4,500 pounds sterling, he ultimately decided that her 'dowry' would be the duchy of Aquitaine, over which he and Edward I had battled for many years.) Agnes Strickland in her Lives of the Queens of England, volume 2, p. 131, published in the middle of the nineteenth century, first invented the notion that Edward II gave jewels to Piers Gaveston which Isabella considered rightfully hers. The passage is below. Notice that Strickland doesn't claim that Gaveston actually wore Isabella's jewels in front of her or went 'peacocking about' in them; that appears to be a fictional invention that appears in some twentieth-century novels about Edward II and Isabella of France which has found its way into non-fiction.

Yet even here, Strickland doesn't claim that the gifts were Isabella's, only that she 'resented' her husband giving his own gifts to Gaveston and was displeased about items she considered her own 'heirlooms' being given to someone else. Later writers picked up her claims about Isabella's resentment and displeasure - for which she didn't cite any source - and ran with them, until eventually we reach the whole nonsense about Gaveston prancing around in jewels which Edward has bestowed on him and which actually belonged to Isabella. The source for this entire story is the Annales Paulini, which states: "The king of France gave to his son-in-law the king of England a ring of his kingdom, the most beautiful bed ever seen, select war-horses, and many other extravagant gifts. All of which the king of England straight away sent to Piers [Gaveston]." As I've pointed out before, this in no way states that Philip gave these gifts to Isabella, or even to Isabella and Edward jointly. They were Edward's own wedding gifts from his new father-in-law, and why would Philip IV give his daughter war-horses anyway? Philip 'gave' the items to Edward, and Edward 'sent' them to Gaveston, his regent of England while he was in France to marry Isabella. There's no real indication that Gaveston was meant to keep the items permanently, and Isabella is not even mentioned. Why would she consider these items her own 'heirlooms'? The gifts were given to Edward II. By the norms of the fourteenth century, anything given to Edward legally belonged to Edward. Anything given to Isabella legally belonged, also, to Edward. When Isabella wanted to make her will when heavily pregnant in October 1312, as a married woman she required her husband's permission to dispose of her goods, as legally everything she owned was his. In a fourteenth-century context, to suggest that Isabella would have considered items given to her husband to be her own, to be 'part of her dower', makes no sense. And only one of the gifts given to Edward by Philip was jewellery anyway, the ring, unless perhaps the other 'extravagant gifts' included other pieces of jewellery. So where on earth has this nonsense about Gaveston 'peacocking about in Isabella's jewellery' even come from, and why are books of allegedly serious non-fiction repeating it as fact?

Agnes Strickland's books, and her prejudices, have proved extraordinarily influential and enduring. She often cites the St Albans chronicler Thomas Walsingham as a source for Edward II and Isabella, as though a man who was born c. the 1340s and died in c. 1422, the year Edward and Isabella's great-great-great-grandson Henry VI succeeded to the throne, is in any way a reliable source for things that happened in 1308. The letter Isabella supposedly sent to her father complaining that she was 'wretched' comes straight from Walsingham. Strickland, however, living and writing in the Victorian era - she was born in the late eighteenth century - can be forgiven for her prejudices and for her misreading or misunderstanding of fourteenth-century sources in Latin. For her time, she did incredible research and her contribution to medieval scholarship was immense, and we should acknowledge her as a pioneering female historian. Modern writers who copy her prejudices and her misconceptions, however, and who don't check the primary sources for themselves, and repeat stories told in novels as though they're fact, cannot be so easily forgiven.

Also, Edward did not 'refuse' to grant Isabella her own lands: he gave her his county of Ponthieu on 14 May 1308, three months and seven days after her arrival in England. This is another modern myth, created - like numerous other modern myths - by a writer determined to find examples of Isabella's alleged suffering and victimisation at the hands of her husband everywhere. The usual dower lands given to the queen of England were still held by Edward's stepmother Queen Marguerite, and alternative arrangements had to be made. The widow of Edward's nephew the earl of Gloucester, killed at Bannockburn on 24 June 1314, did not receive her dower lands until mid-December 1314 nearly six months later, and in 1317 it took almost another six months to partition Gloucester's lands for his three sisters. Philippa of Hainault married Edward III in January 1328, and received no lands for more than two years, until February 1330. And Edward II gave Isabella a household of almost 200 people, far larger than that of any previous queen of England, so I haven't the faintest idea where this 'refused to give her a household' comes from. But who cares about silly things like facts and about being fair when you can further the Victim!Isabella agenda?


Anerje said...

Oh no, this is still doing the rounds! I would have thought by now this myth had been debunked - you've done it yourself many times on this blog and in your books, and yet here it is again. Those gifts were for Edward and he could do what he liked with them. Note we don't get stories of Piers riding 'Isabella's horses' - as that's not as good a story as Piers pinching her jewels and flaunting them in front of her!!!! When I was about 12 I used to read Strickland's legendary 'Lives of the Queens of England' on rainy Saturday afternoons in the reference library. They've been the source of many historical novels across the centuries, and done a lot of damage to various reputations. And of course, I'm sure the jewels looked fabulous on Piers;>

Anonymous said...

Did Strickland invent the "victim Isabella"? IIRC, she followed more the "evil Isabella" rather than one victimized.


sami parkkonen said...

This is all due the fact that some writers are homophobic. In order to paint Edward as a super homo they have to make Isabella a super hetero who is treated badly by this super homo. In order to prove that Edward was a super homo they create the narrative which then tries to alleviate the fact that Edward was a super homo and thus also a bad man and terrible king and all that goes with the fact that he was a super homo.

All these writers and story tellers forget the fact that Edward was NOT a super homo. He was at least bi-sexual. He had a child out of wedlock with a woman BEFORE he became the king when he already knew Piers and he had several children with Isabella when they were married. Thus, Edward could not be their imaginary super homo. He had sex with women. Plus even when we know he loved Piers very much we have no absolute evidence which shows that he had sex with Piers. BUT we have a french writer who tells us that when the house in which Edward and Isabella were staying caught fire Edward carried his queen out from the burning building and they were both nude. The writer explains that this was because they had had or were having "a noisy" night of "love" at that night. All this is conveniently forgotten by the writers who wish to paint Edward as a terrible gay king.

They also forget that Isabella expressed her love to her husband in her letters many times and in a highly exceptional language using words which were very much unorthodox and direct in describing her feelings towards Edward. Her words were almost unique in a royal writing which proves her love for her husband. Even when their relationship was on the rocks she still told him that she loved him even though Hugh had gotten between them. Not to mention that she wanted her wedding dress to be in prominent role in her own funerals. If she hated Edward from the wedding day onward none of this would have been.

So, the writers who hate Edward because they think is a gay man create a fictional narrative of heterosexual princess who was treated badly by her husband because he was gay and because he was gay he was a failure as a king and as a man. The historical facts tell us a different story and it is much more complex and interesting than this silly and extremely childish bad gay king vs hetero princess fiction.

Puzzled Onlooker said...

Could Catherine (or somebody else) correct the Wikipedia entry? Just asking because I was discussing with a friend that I thought Wikipedia was more reliable than it used to be. The other lady said I wouldn't say that if I looked at the Richard III Wikipedia entry because it is in a constant state of flux - depending on whether somebody who believes RIII was responsible for the disappearance of the princes in the tower or someone has a different opinion on said king has made the most recent entry. That said, I'm not sure what the criteria are for making an entry on Wikipedia but should be easy enough to find out.

Kathryn Warner said...

I remember many years ago (about 2006/7) I was on Wiki and contributed to a couple of discussions, though never edited a page. I suppose it should be easy enough to do really!

Kathryn Warner said...

Esther - I didn't claim that Strickland invented the Victim!Isabella myth - she went a long way to perpetuating the 'she-wolf' myth, and divided the medieval queens of England into the 'good' and 'bad' ones. But she did invent the story about the jewels, and later authors ran with it and embroidered it, using it to bolster their Victim!Isabella agenda.

Anerje: hehe, yes, that story would actually be more plausible than the invented one, given that Philip actually did give horses to Edward - 'Piers rode Isabella's war-horses!' :=D