15 December, 2005

Merry Christmas and a happy New Year!

I'm going on my Christmas holidays very soon, so this is my last post till January. Wishing everybody a fabulous festive season.
In the New Year...lots more posts on Edward and his life! :)

09 December, 2005

Edward II's sexuality

I knew that'd get your attention! :) I've often seen Edward described as 'England's only openly gay king' or something similar, and it seems to be taken as historical fact that he was homosexual. This is based at least in part on the previously-mentioned Hollywood film Braveheart, where Edward appears screamingly camp and correspondingly incompetent, in a manner I for one find disturbingly homophobic and unpleasant. His lover even gets thrown out of a window by Edward's father (this didn't happen in reality). A much more sympathetic portayal can be seen in Derek Jarman's 1991 adaption of Marlowe's play - I find the film a rather wonderful piece of work. However, this also over-simplifies the situation, and Edward and his lovers Gaveston and Spencer are shown simply as the victims of homophobia, with the English nobles simply unable to cope with the king's different lifestyle. An important thing to remember is that it's only been fairly recently in history that people have defined themselves as homosexual, heterosexual or bisexual. Whoever Edward slept with, he couldn't have thought of himself as gay: so it is really possible to argue today that he was, when his society had no concept of this? In the 14th century, declarations of love were bandied around pretty freely. Edward's cousin, Thomas Earl of Lancaster, had a retainer called Sir Robert Holland, and some of the contemporary chronicles speak of the Earl's love for Holland. So when we read the comments of the Vita Edwardi Secundi - a chronicle of Edward which ends abruptly in 1325 - that "I do not remember to have heard that one man so loved another" we should be careful not to interpret this in a modern way. We know that Edward referred to Piers Gaveston as ‘my brother Perrot’. However, the Meaux chronicle states that "Edward took too much delight in sodomy" (written decades later). The Flores history calls the friendship of Edward and Piers "beyond the bounds of moderation" and speaks of Edward’s desire for "wicked and forbidden sex" and the Westminster chronicler says that Piers led Edward to reject the sweet embraces of his wife.

None of this necessarily proves that Edward really did sleep with Gaveston, of course: only that some of his contemporaries and later writers thought that he did. Hugh le Despenser, Edward’s presumed last lover, was said by the chronicler Froissart, writing in the 1360s or 1370s, to have been castrated during his execution, because of his sodomy with the king. This could, again, be a matter of perception than reality. The point is, that until someone invents a time machine so that we can go back to Edward’s bedchamber, we’ll never know who he slept with.

Edward fathered 4 children by Isabella, but this proves nothing: kings needed heirs and we have no way of knowing how he felt about performing his marital duty. Edward is also known to have fathered an illegitimate son, called Adam, who crops up in a wardrobe account of 1322 and is described as "Ade filio domini Regis bastardo": "Adam, bastard son of our lord the king". He was provided with equipment for the Scottish campaign, but was accompanied by his tutor Hugh Chastilloun, which suggests he was somewhere around 14 or 15. After this, he disappears from the records and is assumed to have died on the campaign. The fact that Edward openly acknowledged the boy suggests that perhaps he had a relationship with the mother – if Adam had been the result of a one-night stand, could Edward really have been sure that Adam was his? Interestingly, Piers Gaveston also had an illegitimate daughter called Amie, as well as a legitimate one called Joan. We do not know the mothers of either Adam or Amie.

So there is direct evidence, via children, that Edward slept with at least 2 women. Clearly, there cannot be direct evidence that he slept with men, and we have to rely on what the chroniclers say (bearing in mind that they had their own prejudices and agendas) and also by our judgment of Edward’s actions. I personally think it is clear that Edward was emotionally reliant on men, whether he had sexual relations with them or not – although I also tend to think that he did. I strongly doubt that that it was the simple act of having sex with men that caused his downfall –the English nobles hated Piers Gaveston and Hugh Despenser, whatever they did or didn’t do in bed. Piers was hated for overwhelmingly personal reasons – he was good-looking, had a sharp tongue and could knock the nobles off their horses at jousting events almost at will. Edward’s relationships with Gaveston and Despenser are fascinating topics, which I’ll be returning to soon.

07 December, 2005

A new novel of Edward II's reign

Edward II has traditionally been given a pretty raw deal in books, and fiction is no exception. For anyone interested in a more sympathetic portrayal, check out Susan Higginbotham's 2005 novel, The Traitor's Wife, an account of the reign seen through the eyes of Edward's niece and Hugh le Despenser's wife, Eleanor de Clare. Take a look at her website, too: http://www.susanhigginbotham.com/
(By the way, I have no connections with Susan, except as a fellow Edward sympathiser!)

04 December, 2005

Edward and Isabella's children, part 2

Many people seem to believe that Edward and Isabella only had 1 child, Edward III. In fact, they had FOUR children together. The others were:
John of Eltham, born 15 August 1316
Eleanor of Woodstock, born 18 June 1318
Joan of the Tower, born 5 July 1321

Again, counting back approximately 9 months before the births, it becomes quite clear that Edward and Isabella were together at the right times for Edward to have fathered them. In November/December 1315, they were at Clipstone in Sherwood Forest, a royal hunting lodge; in September/October 1317, they stayed together at Lincoln, Tickhill and and York; and in October/November 1320, at court in Westminster. It should also be noted that Mortimer was in Ireland during the conception periods of John of Eltham and Eleanor of Woodstock.

More importantly, perhaps, is to consider how exactly Edward might not have been the father. For this to be the case, of course, Isabella would have had to commit adultery with another man. Was this possible? I would say, definitely not. It's vital to remember that privacy is a modern invention, and Isabella as the queen of England probably had less privacy than anyone else in the country. She had a household of around 200 people, and was surrounded and watched all day, every day, and even at night would have shared a chamber with her ladies. The idea that she could have taken a lover without anyone noticing is frankly ludicrous! Plus, adultery at that time was a terrible crime for the queen - treason, in fact, because of the possibility that she would become pregnant and a 'bastard' child could become king.
What do the contemporary chronicles have to say about this? Surprise, surprise, absolutely nothing. Whatever people might have thought about Edward II's sexuality (which I'll be returning to in a future post) it never seems to have crossed anyone's mind that he wasn't the father of Isabella's children. And if it HAD crossed anyone's mind, we would definitely know about it - it would be one of the greatest scandals of the Middle Ages. If anyone had thought for a second that Edward III wasn't Edward II's son, nobody would have made him king in 1327. Nobody would have taken his claims to the French throne seriously, thus sparing Europe the 100 Years War. And if nobody at the time thought he was illegitimate, why are people seriously arguing nowadays that he was?? It betrays a deep lack of understanding of medieval realities, a failure even to pick up a history book and check the facts of Edward and Isabella's whereabouts (which are very well-known, for most of the reign) and an anachronistic and incorrect opinion of Edward's supposed sexuality, which will be the subject of my next post!

Edward and Isabella's children

I've decided to make my first 'real' post a commentary on the children of Edward II and Isabella. It seems to be almost an accepted 'fact' on the web these days that Edward wasn't the father of Isabella's children, which is complete nonsense! Read on to learn the truth!

Many people have seen Mel Gibson's film Braveheart, a multi-Oscar-winning look at the life of Scottish hero William Wallace. In the film, there is a storyline that Wallace was the true father of Isabella's eldest child (who we can presume to be the future Edward III). Even today, a full 10 years or so after the film's release, I still read comments that this is a historical truth. Well, people, unless they had the ability to freeze sperm 700 years ago, this cannot be true. Wallace was executed in August 1305, and Isabella gave birth to her first child on 13 November 1312. Not only is the chronology totally impossible, but Isabella was only a child and still in France in 1305 - she married Edward II on 25 January 1308, and was never Princess of Wales as the film depicts her. Her date of birth is unknown, but is assumed to be 1295/6, so at the time of Wallace's death, she was probably around 9 or 10. I'm sure paedophilia wasn't the image of Wallace Gibson really wanted to portray!
It's also nonsense that her father-in-law, King Edward I, could have fathered her child. He died 7 July 1307, and it's probable that they never even met, unless it was when she was a child and still in France.

The truth is that we can be virtually certain that Edward II fathered all her children - at least, as certain as anybody can be regarding paternity. As I said above, the future Edward III was born 13 November 1312. If we count back 38 weeks, the full-term length of a pregnancy from the time of conception, we get 20 February - and we know what happened on this date: Edward II held an enormous (and hugely expensive) celebration at York to mark the birth of Joan, daughter of his great favourite, Piers Gaveston. The celebration lasted a week, and it seems that a combination of party spirits and (perhaps) seeing Gaveston's venture into fatherhood induced Edward and Isabella to start their own family. Edward and Isabella were certainly together in York at this time - Isabella sent Edward a letter from Northampton on 8 February to inform him that she was on her way. Coincidence, or not?! It's certainly a telling one. Even if the pregnancy was not full-term, no matter: Edward and Isabella remained together at York until well into March. Edward II was the father of Edward III.
Some people (including the novelist Paul Doherty, who holds a doctorate from Oxford on Edward and Isabella and should know better) have also postulated that Roger Mortimer (Baron of Wigmore and later Earl of March) was Edward III's father. He DID have an affair with Isabella, but it didn't begin until they were in France, in November/December 1325 - a full 13 years after Edward III's birth. And, to kill that particularly silly theory stone dead, Mortimer was in Ireland from September 1310 to July 1312 at the earliest, and possibly until January 1313.

03 December, 2005

Introduction to the Blog

Hi there! This blog is my attempt to salvage the reputation of one of England's most-maligned kings, Edward II. Edward reigned from 1307 to 1327, and was famously deposed (and probably murdered) by his French queen, I sabella, and her lover Roger Mortimer. Now, I'm not denying that Edward was a disastrous king, but, in my opinion at least, he was a fascinating personality with many excellent character traits. He really gets it in the neck these days on-line, especially from people who assume that he wasn't really the father of his children - a charge which is endlessly recycled, and which annoys me immensely as there isn't a shred of evidence for it. I also believe there's a lot of homophobia (conscious or not) implicit in the criticism of him. I'll be looking at Edward's life and reign, his relationships with Gaveston and the Despensers and most importantly with Isabella, his deposition and presumed murder, and anything else which occurs as I go along...his strange (for his time) hobbies, the motives of the barons who opposed him, the legacy of his famous father....:-)