10 January, 2021

My Edward II Story

My blog celebrated its fifteenth anniversary on 3 December 2020, and has now had just under three million visitors. A new reader emailed me recently suggesting that I explain how I came to be so interested in, and devoted to, Edward II, so here's a post explaining how it came about.

As a teenager, I was blinking well obsessed with the Middle Ages, and made the decision to study medieval history and literature at Manchester University in the second half of the 1990s. Funnily enough, during my studies I always felt that Edward II was the medieval king of England I knew the least about. My so-called 'knowledge' of him and his reign was limited to: Piers Gaveston; execution of Thomas of Lancaster in 1322; deposition; red-hot poker (!!). After university I became an English teacher, and didn't do anything much with my medieval history degrees. For half a decade, my interest in the Middle Ages faded almost entirely, with the exception of watching and thoroughly enjoying the film A Knight's Tale in 2001 or 2002, and reading one or two of Margaret Frazer's Dame Frevisse novels.

In September 2004, I read a novel called Days Without Number by Robert Goddard. It's set in modern times, but the first-person narrator, Nick Paleologus, is a supposed descendant of the Paleologus emperors of Byzantium, and much of the plot revolves around Tintagel Castle in Cornwall and its builder, Richard of Cornwall (1209-72), younger son of King John and brother of Henry III. At university, I'd been interested in Richard, and Goddard's novel awakened that interest. I did lots of reading about him on the internet and ordered two biographies of him from Amazon, and for a few weeks was pretty obsessed with Richard and his life. I printed out lots of family trees from the internet and pored over them, and kept seeing Richard's great-nephew, Edward II. Huh, I thought, now there's someone I know virtually nothing about. Maybe I should read up on him, and fill the massive gap in my knowledge of medieval English kings.

The rest, as they say, is history. Pretty soon my interest in Richard of Cornwall receded into the background - though I'm certainly still keen enough that I'd buy a new biography of him if someone wrote one - and Edward II came to occupy more and more space in my head. Within weeks, I had the very strong feeling that I'd finally found the thing I was meant to be doing with my life: researching Edward and his life and reign. My obsession with Edward is the part that I find hard to explain. I suppose I just find it endlessly fascinating that someone born as the son of a king and the grandson of two more kings proved to be such a disaster as a leader; that a man born into a hereditary monarchy was so unsuited to his position, leading to tragedy both for himself and his subjects; plus Edward's sheer unconventionality, the endless contradictions of his character, and the incredible drama of his comparatively short reign.

One of the first books I bought in October or November 2004, when it became apparent to me that this was developing into way more than a fleeting interest, was Ian Mortimer's Greatest Traitor, and I also got a copy of Caroline Bingham's dated but gorgeously illustrated and sympathetic Life and Times of Edward II. Early in 2005, I bought a copy of James Conway Davies' Baronial Opposition to Edward II from a seller in New Zealand, got hold of Roy Martin Haines' scholarly bio of Edward published in 2003 and J.R.S. Phillips' brilliant Baronial Politics in the Reign of Edward II, and soon afterwards started delving into primary sources as well. You probably won't be surprised to hear that the first chronicle of Edward's reign which I read was the Vita Edwardi Secundi. At the beginning of December 2005, my partner suggested that I share my knowledge and interest by starting a blog, so I did, and here we are still, a decade and a half later.

I still have my copy of Robert Goddard's Days Without Number, and treasure it. Without it, I might not have discovered my love of Edward II and the fourteenth century, so I owe a great deal to that novel. Over sixteen years after I began reading about Edward's life and reign, my fascination with him has not faded one iota, and in fact grows stronger and stronger. I still learn new things about him, often from his wonderful chamber accounts which survive from 1324-26, and no matter how often I look at them, I still find fascinating snippets I hadn't noticed before!


Gabriele Campbell said...

Happy Bloggiversary. I followed your blog pretty much from the beginning.

Mine turned 15 back in May. It has morphed a bit from a mixed box about travels, history and wrting to concentrating more on history, but still based on my travels, so the history is a bit more all over the place - though mostly Roman and Mediaval. And I still collect castles. *grin*

Kathryn Warner said...

Thanks, Gabriele! I had an idea that your blog was a little older than mine - belated congrats on your anniversary too!

Ken Bourque said...

Congratulations on 15 years of blogging. That's quite an achievement. Thank you for responding to my query as to what piqued your interest in Edward II. You have certainly grabbed mine. I still have a small bit to finish in Greatest Traitor but I have a copy of Bingham's bio and I'll make that next on my list after your book on the murder/not murder (unless you think I should read it first to get a deeper background). Keep up the good work.
Ken B.

Ken Bourque said...

Congratulations on 15 years of blogging. That's quite an achievement. Thank you for responding to my query as to what piqued your interest in Edward II. You have certainly grabbed mine. I still have a small bit to finish in Greatest Traitor but I have a copy of Bingham's bio and I'll make that next on my list after your book on the murder/not murder (unless you think I should read it first to get a deeper background). Keep up the good work.
Ken B.

Kathryn Warner said...

Hi Ken, thank you! I do really like the Bingham book, and it's sympathetic to Edward, though of course scholarship has come on a long way since it was published in the 70s.

sami parkkonen said...

Being a medieval fan myself, I happened to come across this blog years ago and the rest is history, indeed. I found a cornucopia of information, data and stuff I could not find from anywhere else on my own. For that I am for ever grateful. And for other stuff too (winkwink).

As for you work in here and in the books, your research and dedication to history, I am completely sure and in firm belief that your work has already changed the official history and that it will grow in importance in the future as the decades go on. Not only by the sheer volume of your massive body of work but also by dispelling so many myths and legends surrounding king Edward II.

Out of morass of falsehoods and stupid fiction you have brought us an honest portrait of a man who lived few centuries too soon. Had he been born in 1950's or 60's he would have been very popular monarch in our times indeed. His bisexuality would not be seen as a hindrance or scandalous thing, his ability to relate with the commoners and his jovial relationships with lower born subjects would make him super popular today. Imagine queen Elizabeth drinking a stiff glass of gin in some pub with local women!

For all your work, Kathryn, we are for ever in debt to you. Keep on going for the decades to come. Bless you,

Kathryn Warner said...

Thank you, dear Sami! It was a blessed day when my blog led to us getting to know each other!

Anonymous said...

Congratulations on the anniversary! (FWIW, I found this website when researching the Princes in the Tower -- which lead to a search for information on other depositions.) I've merely added the fate of Edward II to the other historical mysteries (Princes; Darnley, etc.) on the list.


Karen Hill said...

It is such a joy to come across a site like this. Everytime I find some small snippet I log on to the blog to scroll through the list, is there more info to be had on whatever has taken over my thoughts on Edward and his household.
My own interest in medieval history was the result of being walked around every North Welsh castle, then every other castle that came into view on holiday with my father, when I was small. Then like you picking up a novel at about 13/14yrs - this was about William Marshal. I followed his story and beyond into Edward's story. My realisation that I was obsessed came when jumping on every path stone in Chepstow castle saying, Marshal must have walked over this/through this door. And with Edward.....when I was the last to be thrown out of Gloucester cathedral and chatting to the guide about why I was there (because of Edward) I said to him,'you know he's not in there, he escaped'. The guide gave me a Oh your one of them looks...
I love the fact that you reiterate over and over about the physical stature, strength of these men, Edward, Piers, Roger and others. Having been involved in medieval reenactment and seen the effort it takes for merely a half hour/hour battle display in armour, my other half jousted for 20yrs plus - and that is no sport for the cowardly or weak - for people to say this of Edward or Piers makes me so annoyed.
And me, I'm still in my medieval world, so happy to find you and others that are like minded on your blog.....long may you keep unearthing this wondrous world. X

Piratejenny20 said...

Thank you so much for your story; I enjoyed learning about how you got to where you are. Lucky, lucky, lucky for us!

As for Edward - well, I just really LIKE the guy. I do.

And thus was he added to my list of obsess ... error, interests. "Interests" is of course what I meant to say. Not "obsessions." 😉

Kathryn Warner said...

Thank you, Esther! So glad you found the website!

Thank you so much for the kind words, Karen! I also remember my first visit to Caernarfon Castle, aged six. :-) Hoping to keep the blog going for plenty more years yet. :) xx

Hi, Jenny, and thank you! Know exactly what you mean ;-)

Roebuck said...

Very interesting. Have you read Name to a Face, by Robert Goddard? There is a strong implication in there that events of 1327 in Berkeley Castle did not follow the popular "Berndt Haas" theory...

Kathryn Warner said...

Thanks, Roebuck! I did read it a few years ago, but weirdly can't remember anything about it now. Must re-read sometime.