05 February, 2006

Random musings on Isabella and Mortimer....

.....from someone too lazy to write a proper structured post! :)
I've been musing the last few days on the nature of Queen Isabella's relationship with Roger Mortimer - described as 'one of the great romances of the Middle Ages' by Ian Mortimer, an excellent scholar who was evidently possessed by the spirit of Barbara Cartland when he wrote that! Paul Doherty too believes their relationship was a great love affair, and I've already posted how Doherty perpetuates myths relating to Mortimer and Isabella by claiming that she helped him escape from the Tower in 1323, and chose to be buried next to him in 1358. Wrong, wrong, wrong! (By the way, Dr Doherty, if you're reading this, I'd love you to respond to my email and my comments on your work. Don't be shy!)

Well, hmmm. A great love affair, indeed? Maybe I'm terminally cynical, but it's always seemed a little bit too convenient to me, at least from Mortimer's point of view. He escaped from the Tower in August 1323, and had nothing much to do between then and 1326 except plan the downfall of his nemeses Hugh Despenser and Edward II. Mortimer had always been loyal to Edward II until Edward took up with Despenser, and Mortimer must have been furious to be imprisoned and sentenced to death by the man he'd loyally supported. It's known that he sent assassins into England, who unfortunately for him failed to kill Edward and Despenser. I think Mortimer, a capable and energetic man and a great soldier, spent years planning an invasion of England, gathering money, men, allies and making alliances with all the English exiles in France. But, the great problem: who would follow him in invasion? What could he do? He could hardly overthrow Edward II and proclaim himself King of England, as Edward had 2 sons and 2 brothers who were next in line. He could hardly overthrow Edward II in favour of his son without the son in his custody. Possibly Mortimer was hoping to have Edward II killed when he came to France to pay homage to Charles IV for Gascony, and Despenser, left behind in England, killed also. Still, even that drastic action wouldn't benefit him too much, except as revenge, because even if Edward II and Despenser were dead, what would that really have meant for Mortimer, except that he could have returned to England?

And then, the miracle. Edward refused to leave Despenser alone in England, and sent Isabella to negotiate instead - and then, in an act which ultimately destroyed him, his elder son the Duke of Aquitaine too. (Edward gets a lot of flack from historians for this admittedly stupid action, but I'm not sure what else he could have done, really) Isabella and her young son were a godsend for Mortimer. Suddenly, he held all the cards - the future King of England, and the beauteous Isabella, trailing sorrowfully round Paris in her widow's weeds. What a wonderful figurehead for an invasion! A beautiful young woman, badly treated and ignored by her vicious husband and his evil lover, deprived of her children and her income and her friends. Mortimer and Isabella really were masters of propaganda and public relations. Many, many men in England were prepared to fight for the cause of a young woman come to 'liberate' them, where they wouldn't have followed Mortimer alone.The real nature of Mortimer's and Isabella's relationship can of course never been known, as they never wrote down their feelings for each other. I find it quite easy to believe that Isabella genuinely fell in lust with Mortimer - having been ignored by Edward II for quite a while, she was probably susceptible to male attention, and her actions 1327-30 seem to suggest that Mortimer had a powerful influence over her. On the other hand, I think Mortimer set out to seduce her, systematically and ruthlessly, to use her for his own ends. Of course he stayed with her after the invasion - without her, he would have had no influence at all on the young Edward III. Isabella was his route to power, besides which, he probably had a lot of fun cuckolding the man who'd sentenced him to death. Ian Mortimer comments on the episode prior to the invasion of England (witnessed by the future Edward III and one of Despenser's spies) when Isabella suggested that she should go back to her husband, and Mortimer threatened to kill her with a knife if she did so. Ian Mortimer thinks this proves Mortimer's great love and passion for Isabella, and that he couldn't stand the thought of Isabella taking up again with her husband, whereas I would argue that being threatened with murder is the least romantic thing I can imagine, and that it's far more likely that Mortimer was furious with Isabella for jeopardising his long-term plans to invade England - he really couldn't do it without her. Despite what some of Isabella's fans seem to think, it seems blindingly obvious that it was Mortimer who planned the invasion of England. I mean - you've got the greatest soldier in England on one hand, and a woman with no military experience on the other. Who do we think was more likely to plan a military invasion? Please.

More to follow shortly! :)


ilya said...

i too think it was a little too convenient for roger to fall in love with isabella. however, i think he must have liked her at least a little. i mean, i believe she was beautiful and smart enough to be liked for herself, not just for her crown. i think maybe it was a combination of the two... as for isabella, she also had great use of roger (i'm sure she must have desired for revenge) so in her case i also think there was a combination of the two...

Kathryn Warner said...

Yes, by all accounts Isabella was a beautiful woman, and no doubt the pillow talk was fascinating. Mortimer didn't have to close his eyes and think of England, I'm sure! :)

And yes, you're right - for Isabella it might also have been a great opportunity for revenge - she probably got a kick out of sleeping with her husband and Hugh Despenser's greatest enemy.

And why exactly has Susan's comment disappeared?? Blogger has really been playing up the last couple of days.