30 April, 2006

Edward II Novel of the Week (1): 'Gaveston' by Chris Hunt

Beginning an occasional feature, where I review a novel of Edward II's reign. The first one is Gaveston by Chris Hunt, published by the Gay Men's Press in 1992, 309 pages.

The novel is narrated by Edward in the first person, dictated to his Fool, Robert, in 1322. The first few pages tell the story of Edward's boyhood and adolescence, spent mostly at Langley with his five elder sisters, in the shadow of his great and terrible father Edward I. On Edward's fourteenth birthday in 1298, he meets Piers Gaveston, who has been placed in his household by Edward's father. This marks the start of a passionate, doomed love affair, which is the main focus of the novel. Finally, Gaveston is murdered by several of Edward's barons, and the last forty pages or so detail Edward's grief and thirst for revenge, as well as his subsequent relationships with Hugh Audley, Roger Damory and especially Hugh Despenser. There are many explicit sex scenes in the novel.

Gaveston is, for the most part, extremely well-written. The moment when Edward first sees and falls in love with Gaveston is exquisite and touching, and bears repeated reading. Piers Gaveston comes vividly to life, beautiful, dazzling, strong, and Edward's love for him suffuses every page. Gaveston, to his credit, reciprocates Edward's love in full measure. There are many passages in the novel I read over and over again in pleasure at their poetry and lyricism. Edward's appalling grief when Gaveston is killed is extremely moving.

The novel is superbly well-researched. I could hardly be more impressed, and have so far been unable to find any historical inaccuracies in it, at least regarding characters, dates and chronology. Just about the only error I've found: Hunt makes Hugh Despenser the Younger the same age as Edward, when in fact he was several years younger. As errors go, it's hardly a major one! Hunt even realises that the Gilbert de Clare who lived in Edward's household when he was Prince of Wales was not the Earl of Gloucester, as assumed as almost every other novelist and historian, but his cousin of the same name, Lord of Thomond (who incidentally was the first husband of Hugh Despenser the Younger's sister Isabel).

Chris Hunt has a real talent for description. The early fourteenth century comes to life in well-chosen and interesting details which teach the reader a great deal about the period, but never swamp the narrative. We learn about festivals and rituals, banquets, clothes, buildings and many other things, and Hunt clearly did a lot of research on Edward's hobbies of digging, building, thatching and so on. The overall impression is one of a highly competent writer completely in control of his material.

Hunt, perhaps understandably in a gay novel, ignores the existence of Edward and Gaveston's illegitimate children (see here and here for my posts about them). As the existence of their legitimate children can't be ignored in the same way, he is forced to have Edward and Piers consummate their marriages, though this happens 'off-screen'.

Edward and Piers Gaveston are, of course, the main characters. Edward's first cousin, Thomas of Lancaster, is another major character, and plays a very interesting role here. In the first part of the novel, before Edward meets Gaveston, Lancaster is in lust with his young cousin and wishes to be his lover. Edward loses interest as soon as he meets Gaveston and rejects Lancaster, who is furious and never forgives them. He also lusts after Gaveston (as do a lot of the men in the novel, come to think of it)
Historically I find this extremely unlikely. Lancaster is known to have had a host of mistresses, and 'defouled a great multitude of women and gentle wenches' according to one of the chroniclers. In the novel, however, I think it works. Lancaster's sexual jealousy adds another dimension to his difficult relationship with Edward and provides a reason for him to want to destroy Gaveston. Lancaster - the historical one - was originally a supporter of Edward, but in 1308 moved against him and gradually became the leader of the opposition to the king, for reasons which remain obscure. In this novel at least, his opposition makes a lot of sense.

Some of the characterisation is not so impressive. As a woman, I'm rather annoyed by the lack of female characters in the novel - they appear, but rarely say anything. I realise it's a gay novel, but I don't see why the women should have to be so silent. Margaret de Clare, Edward's niece and Piers' wife, appears many times but doesn't get a single line of dialogue. Elizabeth and Joan, two of Edward's sisters, get a couple of lines each, and so does his stepmother Queen Margaret. Queen Isabella gets a few more scenes, but is a very unsympathetic character whom Edward dislikes, belittles and ignores.

The love between Edward and Piers, while beautiful, unfortunately starts to grate after several hundred pages. Sometimes, I found myself wanting to shake Edward for being unable to get Piers' 'arse' out of his head for more than about ten seconds. The king too often comes across as a lovesick boy, unable to think about anything or anyone else, neglecting his duties. It makes him seem selfish too. In1307, Edward marries his 14-year-old niece Margaret de Clare (called Meg here) to Piers, to bring his lover into the royal family. Piers leaves Meg on their wedding night and spends it instead wrapped in Edward's arms. This struck me as extremely callous and cruel, especially as neither man gives the poor girl a second thought. If they'd thought of her, they would have seemed much more sympathetic. Something along the lines of 'poor Meg, we must be hurting her, but we love each other so much we can't bear to spend even one night apart' would have made them more likeable. As it is, they come across as selfish and thoughtless, and I found myself not liking them very much, in this scene and a few others.

If they'd cared about other people, I would have cared about them more. After a while, I started to get really irritated by Edward. He cares about nothing and no-one except himself and Gaveston. We hear of his children, but never see them - except briefly when young Edward is born in 1312 - or Edward being a father. A few weeks before Gaveston's death, Edward magnanimously allows his wife Meg (and baby daughter Joan) to briefly say goodbye to him, before taking Gaveston off to the garden by himself to kiss him and tell him how much he adores him. I wanted to slap him for this piece of selfishness.

Unfortunately, Gaveston drags horribly in the middle. Gaveston was exiled twice by Edward's barons (in addition to his exile by Edward I) and Hunt describes the political machinations in detail both times. Frankly, it gets rather repetitive. The novel continues for a few pages after Gaveston's death, and continues to 1322. We see Edward getting revenge on Thomas of Lancaster for his role in Gaveston's death. His relationships with Roger Damory and, more significantly, Hugh Despenser are briefly covered. Although the novel is titled Gaveston, I would have liked to see more on Edward's later life and less on every twist and turn in the period 1307-1312. Either that, or the novel should have ended with Gaveston's death. As it is, the last few pages seem rushed.

The ending is ambiguous. Edward is joyous that he has avenged Gaveston and brought Despenser back from exile. He thinks that all will be well. The Fool, Robert, narrates the last paragraph and sounds a note of caution. He sees what Edward cannot: that Despenser is with Edward for ambition, not love, and that Isabella is not the irrelevance that Edward thinks she is.

In conclusion, this novel is well worth a read for anyone interested in the story of Edward II and Gaveston. You might want to skip a few dozen pages in the middle, though.

28 April, 2006

Answer to 'Anonymous' art historian, part 2

I've just realised that I have an image of Isabella from the original 1972 series of Les Rois Maudits.

Answer to 'Anonymous' art historian

This comment has been added to a previous post, and as the post is from several weeks ago and unlikely to be seen by most readers, I've decided to copy and paste it here. Hope this is acceptable to the comment-leaver, as there may be people reading this able to help him/her.

"Hello -- I'm very new to the blog world and ran across this blog while looking up some materials on the Jarman Edward II. I'm an art historian who works on illuminated manuscripts and other things that have been attributed to the ownership of Isabelle of France. And I'm really pleased to see the interest in this early corner of the 14th century, and the balance that's being brought to the study of the period (particularly Isabelle). But I'm a little disturbed to read the bashing of Alloco's thesis. Admittedly it has a lot of problems (and when she cites my work she overstates things dreadfully) but the tone of the discussion seems a little spiteful. As someone new to the blog world, may I ask if this is common?

On another note, I was interested to know if any of you have seen the French Les Rois maudits miniseries, and could point me to any shots of the Isabelle character? I'm giving a paper on the afterimage of Isabelle (everything from chronicles & Elizabethan materials to Braveheart, Doherty, etc.) and would love an image from the miniseries.

Hi Anonymous, glad you found my little blog! :) Always glad to 'meet' people interested in the early fourteenth century. To answer your point about Allocco's PhD thesis first: yes, I've been a little more spiteful than perhaps I should have been, but to perfectly honest I think it's the shoddiest and most error-strewn piece of work I've ever seen. Frankly, I consider the fact that it was awarded a PhD an insult to all the people who work hard on their own theses and, you know, actually check incredibly basic facts about the people/events they're writing about: such as when they were born and died, the correct names and titles of their children, correct dates for events they were heavily involved in. I think that a 'PhD' thesis that can state on one page that the Earl of Gloucester was killed in battle and on another page have him 'keeping a low profile' after the battle is not worthy of the name.

But anyway! About your other queries. Yes, I have seen Les Rois Maudits - it's not as good as the original series from about 1972, but well worth watching. Have you seen the official website? Click here. At the top of the screen, click on 'Les episodes': the woman you see on Episode 4, wearing mail, is Isabella. There's another photo of her here. I have the DVDs of both the 1972 and 2005 series, and could probably send you some screencaps of Isabella if you like. Your paper sounds fascinating - I'd love to hear more about it!

25 April, 2006

Happy Birthday to Edward II

My favourite person in history was born on 25 April in 1284 - 722 today!! All together, "Happy Birthday to you, happy birthday to you, happy birthday dear Edward, happy birthday to you..."

(Also, a grudging Happy Birthday to Roger Mortimer, 719 today.)

22 April, 2006

The English Earls in the Reign of Edward II

It occurred to me that I haven't written a purely educational post for quite a while, so here's an essay on the high-born ruffians who comprised the top rank of the English nobility in Edward II's reign (there were no dukes in England till 1337, except that the king was Duke of Aquitaine). Be warned: it's very long! :)

1) The premier earl at this time was Thomas, Earl of Lancaster, Leicester, Derby, Lincoln and Salisbury, Steward of England. Born circa 1277/80, his ancestry was impeccable. His father was Edmund Crouchback (1245-1296), younger brother of Edward I, and his mother was Blanche of Artois (died 1302), niece of Louis IX. Blanche's first marriage was to Enrique, King of Navarre (died 1274); the only child of this marriage was Jeanne, Queen of Navarre in her own right, who married Philippe IV of France and was the mother of Queen Isabella, Louis X, Phillipe V and Charles IV. Thomas was thus grandson of Henry III, nephew of Edward I and first cousin of Edward II, as well as brother-in-law of Philippe IV and uncle of Queen Isabella and three kings of France.

In 1294 he was married to Alice, only child and heiress of Henry de Lacy, Earl of Lincoln and Salisbury. When Henry died in February 1311, Thomas inherited the two earldoms, in addition to the three he had inherited from his father. He was by far the richest man in England after the king, with an annual income of about 11,000 pounds. His marriage to Alice was childless, and disastrous: she left him in 1317 (or possibly was abducted) which precipitated a private war between Thomas and the Earl of Surrey, who had helped Alice escape. Thomas consoled himself with a host of mistresses, by whom he had two illegitimate sons, John and Thomas of Lancaster.

Thomas was originally loyal to his cousin Edward II. For the first sixteen months of Edward's reign, Thomas was in constant attendance on him, and in February 1308 even offered to defend the king in battle against the other earls, if need be. However, something went badly wrong between them, and in November 1308, Thomas abruptly left court. He then slowly moved into a position of opposition to Edward, which he held till his death. Edward was unable to reconcile him, but Thomas was far too rich and powerful to ignore, and for many years, English political life was poisoned by the enmity between the cousins. Thomas's execution/murder of Edward's beloved Piers Gaveston in June 1312 destroyed any chance of reconciliation, and from then on their relationship continually deteriorated. For several years, they moved around the country with large bands of armed retainers, ostentatiously avoiding each other.

Edward's defeat at Bannockburn in 1314 put him at Thomas's mercy, and until 1318, Thomas was all-powerful in England. Unfortunately, he had no more skill for ruling than did his cousin, and was only interested in thwarting Edward - which led to a situation of total stalemate in the governement, with neither Edward nor Thomas able to either overthrow the other or achieve anything. In 1318, a group of barons known to historians as the 'Middle Party' finally managed to manoeuvre Thomas out of power, and he retired sulkily to his favourite castle of Pontefract.

In 1321/22, Thomas again became the leader of the opposition to Edward following the 'Despenser War', when Hugh Despenser's overweening ambition in South Wales pushed England close to civil war. The Despensers were exiled, but the opposition failed to unite, and Edward moved against them in an intelligent policy of 'divide and conquer'. Thomas was defeated at the battle of Boroughbridge in March 1322, given a mock trial in the great hall of his own castle of Pontefract, and beheaded. If you don't include Piers Gaveston - who technically wasn't Earl of Cornwall at the time of his death, having been stripped of the title - Thomas was the first English earl to be executed since Waltheof in 1076.

2) Gilbert de Clare, Earl of Gloucester and Hertford. Born 1291, only son of Gilbert 'the Red' de Clare (1243-1295) and Joan of Acre (1272-1307), one of Edward I's daughters. Gilbert was the eldest grandchild of Edward I and nephew of Edward II, only 7 years younger than his uncle. Edward II, desperate for allies, allowed him possession of his lands in 1307 at the age of only 16 - and the Gloucester earldom was the single richest lordship in the country, giving Gilbert an annual income of around 6000 pounds. Gilbert was for the most part a loyal ally of his uncle, although he didn't intervene to help Piers Gaveston in 1312 when the Earl of Pembroke begged him to.

Gilbert was killed at Bannockburn in 1314, at the age of only 23. Apparently, he didn't stop to put on the surcoat bearing his arms, which would have identified him and saved his life; had the Scots known he was the Earl of Gloucester, they would have taken him hostage rather than killing him (as happened to the Earl of Hereford). Gilbert's death not only deprived Edward II of a useful ally, but allowed the dramatic rise to power of his brother-in-law, Hugh Despenser the Younger. Hugh's inheritance of part of the Gloucester fortune catapulted him to the forefront of English politics, and - ultimately - destroyed Edward II. Hugh became Edward's chamberlain in 1318 and used his position to make Edward infatuated with him, until Hugh was king of England in all but name and used his power to run the country as he liked and enrich himself enormously. If Gilbert had put on his surcoat and survived Bannockburn, Hugh would have remained a rather obscure nobleman and Edward II, perhaps, would not have been deposed. History turns on these little events.
Please note, Hugh Despenser the Younger did NOT succeed Gilbert as Earl of Gloucester, as is often reported. The earldom was in abeyance until 1337.

3) Piers Gaveston, Earl of Cornwall. Born circa 1281/83. Although of noble birth and far from being the peasant he is sometimes depicted as, he obviously owed all his wealth and influence to his close personal relationship with Edward II. Exiled by Edward I a few months before the old king's death, he was recalled as soon as Edward II became king, made Earl of Cornwall and married to the king's niece Margaret de Clare. There's a lot of information on Piers out there, so I'll keep this brief. He managed to annoy all the other earls with his sharp tongue, jousting skills and monopoly of royal patronage, and paid for it with his life in June 1312.

4) Aymer de Valence, Earl of Pembroke. Born circa 1268/70. His father William was the half-brother of Henry III, making Aymer the first cousin once removed of Edward II and the Earl of Lancaster. By far the best of the English earls of this period, Aymer was a talented diplomat and negotiator, and - apart from a brief period 1311-12 - staunchly loyal to Edward. On many occasions Aymer saved Edward from his own folly and was the key member of the 'Middle Party' which ousted the Earl of Lancaster and restored royal power.

Aymer lost a lot of influence after 1321, as he made himself an enemy of the Despensers by begging Edward to exile them. Still, he was an obvious choice for Edward to send to France in 1324 in an attempt to solve the growing conflict between England and France over Gascony. Aymer died as soon as he arrived in Paris, in June 1324. It's possible that he was murdered - but by whom? The Despensers, who enriched themselves after his death? I feel a good conspiracy theory coming on. :) It's my firm belief that the events of 1325-26 would have been drastically different if Earl Aymer had still been alive. He was the only man who could have negotiated between Edward and Despenser on one hand, and Isabella and Mortimer. As it was, nobody else was willing or able to do it, and violent conflict was the inevitable outcome. I don't know if he could have saved Edward's throne, but I'm convinced that events would have been much more peaceful.

Aymer was childless and the earldom eventually passed to Laurence Hastings, his sister's grandson. His second wife Marie de St Pol, only about 20 at the time of his death, outlived him by an astonishing 53 years, and never re-married. In 1347 she founded Pembroke College, Cambridge in his memory.

5) Guy Beauchamp, Earl of Warwick. Born circa 1272. The only earl in permanent opposition to Edward II, and a close ally of the Earl of Lancaster. His elder sister Isabel was the mother of Hugh Despenser the Younger. Guy was an interesting character, intelligent and cultured, but a real ruffian, who abducted Piers Gaveston from the care of the Earl of Pembroke in 1312 (and then refused to attend the execution). Gaveston called him 'the Black Hound of Arden' and supposedly Guy retaliated by threatening Piers that the hound would bite him. Earl Guy died quite young in the summer of 1315. There were rumours that he was poisoned by friends of Piers Gaveston, which I don't believe.

6) Humphrey de Bohun, Earl of Hereford and Essex. Born 1276. In November 1302, he married the widowed Elizabeth, youngest daughter of Edward I, and was thus Edward II's brother-in-law. Despite this, he was one of the killers of Piers Gaveston, though Edward apparently forgave him for this and they were reconciled. Humphrey was a member of the Middle Party, though remained sympathetic to Lancaster. The death of Elizabeth in childbirth in 1316 possibly weakened his relationship with Edward, and the 'Despenser War' of 1321-22 pushed Humphrey into rebellion again. He died a horrible death at the battle of Boroughbridge in March 1322, fighting against the royal army - a pike skewered him in the anus as he fought on the bridge.

7) John de Warenne, Earl of Surrey. Born 1286. When he was a few months old, his father William was killed in a tournament, and he succeeded his grandfather as Earl in 1304. In 1306, he was married to Edward I's granddaughter Jeanne de Bar and was thus Edward II's nephew by marriage, though only 2 years his junior. The marriage was disastrous in the extreme, and John spent many years trying to get a divorce - he never succeeded. One of his attempts was hilarious - he claimed to have had an affair with his wife's aunt Mary (Edward II's sister), a nun and 7 years his senior! Needless to say, this didn't work, but he was excommunicated in 1316 for deserting his wife and openly keeping a mistress - Maude de Nerford, by whom he had several children.

Once part of the Earl of Lancaster's retinue, the two men later became enemies and John was one of the earls who condemned Lancaster to death in 1322. John switched sides even more than the other earls did, though he was loyal to the king more often than not. He stayed loyal to Edward in 1326, and somehow survived Isabella and Mortimer's vengeance. I don't know why - perhaps he paid a huge fine, or perhaps his marriage to Jeanne saved him. She was a great friend of Queen Isabella, and as John's wife, would have lost her lands and income if he was found guilty of treason. It would be extremely ironic if John's marriage saved his life, given his strenuous efforts to get a divorce. John died in 1347, the last of the Warenne earls of Surrey.

8) Edmund Fitzalan, Earl of Arundel. Born 1285. Married to the Earl of Surrey's sister Alice. Edmund's career is interesting, to say the least: he was present at Gaveston's death and also refused to fight for the king at Bannockburn, but later did a complete about-turn and became a faithful supporter of Edward and Hugh Despenser. In 1321, he married his son Richard (aged 7) to Hugh Despenser's eldest daughter Isabel (aged 8) and in 1322 was another of the men who condemned Lancaster to death (Kent, Pembroke and Richmond were the other earls present at Lancaster's 'trial').

Earl Edmund remained loyal to Edward in 1326. On 17 November 1326, he was beheaded at Shrewsbury on the orders of Roger Mortimer and Queen Isabella, who didn't bother giving him even a show trial. Also executed were Edmund's supporters John Daniel and Thomas de Micheldever, who hadn't done anything wrong. It's interesting how few historians condemn these illegal acts - the same historians who are quick to pile criticism on Edward and Despenser but are willing to forgive anything their precious Isabella did. Another example of this is the execution of Hugh Despenser the Younger's friend Simon de Reading, a week later. I've seen Simon described as Hugh's 'henchman' (which makes him sound pretty sinister, doesn't it?) but I've never seen anyone describe his death as the act of tyranny it was. Apparently Simon 'insulted' Isabella in some way, and he remained loyal to Hugh and Edward. Oh well then, obviously he was begging to be hanged, drawn and quartered, by the very same people who were 'saving' England from the tyrannical regime of Hugh and Edward. Hmm.

The Earl of Surrey supported his widowed sister Alice and her children, as all of Arundel's lands and wealth were forfeit to the Crown. After Edward III overthrew Isabella and Mortimer in 1330, one of his first acts was to restore Edmund's son Richard to the Arundel earldom. Richard was probably the richest man in England in the 14th century.

9) John of Brittany, Earl of Richmond. Born 1266. The son of Edward I's sister Beatrice and the first cousin of Edward II and the Earl of Lancaster. However, as a Breton he was of little importance to English politics. He was a faithful supporter of Edward until 1322, when he was taken prisoner by the Scots. Edward didn't bother paying the ransom and Richmond remained in captivity until 1324. Understandably angry at this shabby treatment, Richmond went to France and later joined forces with Isabella and Mortimer, ignoring Edward's letters ordering him back to England.

10) Thomas of Brotherton, Earl of Norfolk. Born 1300. The elder of Edward I's sons by Marguerite of France, and Edward II's half-brother. I don't know that much about him - he seems very obscure, somehow. By the time he was old enough to be any use to Edward II politically, Hugh Despenser was all-powerful at court, which might account for Thomas's marginalisation. And yet - his younger brother Kent (see below) played much more of a role, so Hugh Despenser can't be the only reason for Thomas's obscurity. His marriage is really odd. He was the son of Edward I, and the nephew of Philippe IV - yet he married Alice Hales, a coroner's daughter! The marriage can't be dated any closer than '1316-1320'.

Thomas supported Isabella and Mortimer in 1326/7, probably disgusted at Hugh Despenser's dominance over his brother. His son Edward later married one of Mortimer's daughters, though he died young and childless. Thomas died in 1338. His daughter Margaret lived till 1399 and was made Duchess of Norfolk in her own right in 1397.

11) Edmund of Woodstock, Earl of Kent. Born 1301. Youngest son of Edward I. He played more of a role in Edward II's reign than his brother Norfolk - for example, he was head of the English forces in Gascony in 1324-25. Often unfairly described as an idiot or a gullible fool, because of his changes of side (which actually make perfect sense), his military loss to his uncle Charles de Valois in 1325, and his attempts to restore his half-brother Edward II to the throne.

Earl Edmund joined Isabella and Mortimer in Paris in 1325, possibly because he was too afraid or reluctant to return to an England where Hugh Despenser seemed untouchable. He married Mortimer's cousin Margaret Wake in late 1325 to cement their alliance. However, he also sent letters to Edward II, assuring him that he wasn't working against Edward's interests. I'm not sure when Isabella and Mortimer and their allies took the decision to depose Edward II - possibly that had always been their aim, though publically they stated that they only wanted the Despensers to leave court. Although I think Edmund shared this anti-Despenser sentiment, I'm not sure that he realised his brother would be deposed. He joined Henry of Lancaster's rebellion in 1328-29, though soon abandoned him, and tried to restore Edward II in 1329-30 - a bizarre episode I'll come back to sometime, as I don't have the time to do it here.

Edmund was judicially murdered by Mortimer and Isabella in March 1330, and his 9-months-pregnant wife (Mortimer's cousin) and children were imprisoned until released a few months later by Edward III. Anyone who thinks that Queen Isabella was 'nice' should bear that in mind. Edmund's daughter Joan, the 'Fair Maid of Kent', was the mother of Richard II.

12) Hugh Despenser the Elder, Earl of Winchester. Born 1261/2. A loyal royal servant all his life, and the only English nobleman who was faithful to Edward II from beginning to end. He was rewarded with the earldom of Winchester in 1322, after the Despensers' triumphant return from exile - an ephemeral triumph, as it proved, ands Hugh was closely implicated in the tyranny of his son. He was given a mock trial by Mortimer, Isabella, Henry of Lancaster and a few others at Bristol Castle in October 1326, in what was clearly intended as a parody of Thomas of Lancaster's trial. He was hanged in his armour, his head was sent to Winchester on a spear, and his body was cut up and fed to dogs.

13) Andrew Harclay or Hartley, Earl of Carlisle. Born ? An obscure man who was Edward II's Sheriff of Cumberland. He defeated Lancaster at Boroughbridge and rewarded with an earldom, which he didn't have long to enjoy: he was executed for treason in March 1323 after trying to negotiate peace terms with Robert Bruce, King of Scotland. Shortly afterwards, Edward II was forced to come to the same terms with Robert.

14) Henry of Lancaster, Earl of Leicester. Born circa 1281. The younger brother of Thomas Earl of Lancaster, he wasn't implicated in his brother's treason in 1322 and was allowed to succeed to the earldom of Leicester in 1324. His wife Maud Chaworth was the half-sister of Hugh Despenser the Younger, which may have helped save him. He had to wait till the regency of Mortimer and Isabella (his niece) to inherit all his brother's lands, minus a few that Isabella, never one to give up the chance to increase her estates, kept for herself. He rebelled against Mortimer and Isabella in 1328-29, lost, but may have helped Edward III in his coup d'etat in 1330. He went blind around 1328-30 and died peacefully in 1345. His granddaughter Blanche married Edward III's son John of Gaunt.

15) The Earl of Oxford. One of the de Veres, so obscure that I don't even know what his first name was (Hugh??) or anything about him. He played no role at all in Edward II's reign.

16) Roger Mortimer, Earl of March. Born 1287. Technically he doesn't belong here as he was awarded (or rather, awarded himself) the earldom in 1328, but as the years 1327-30 are politically more of a continuation of Edward II's reign than part of Edward III's reign, I've decided to include him here. His story is also well-known, so I'll keep this short. Loyal to Edward II until Hugh Despenser pushed him into opposition, he escaped from the Tower in 1323 and successfully invaded England with his lover Queen Isabella in 1326. He and Isabella ruled England till their overthrow in 1330; Roger took the chance to marry off his many daughters as advantageously as possible, and enriched himself even more than Hugh Despenser had done. Roger was dragged to his execution in November 1330 wearing the black tunic he'd worn to Edward II's funeral, and was hanged as a common criminal at Tyburn. Edward III, that amazingly non-vindictive son of vindictive parents, allowed Roger's grandson to succeed to the earldom in the 1350s.

10 April, 2006

Happy Easter!

I'm off on my holiday tomorrow, so I'd like to wish you all a happy Easter, and see you in a couple of weeks. In the meantime, here's a photo of the French actor/model Andy Gillet, who played Hugh Despenser the Younger in the recent TV series Les Rois Maudits. That's the reason for posting his picture here. It has nothing to do with the fact that I find him incredibly, jaw-droppingly, traffic-stoppingly, heart-breakingly beautiful. Nothing at all, really. Honest.

09 April, 2006

Derek Jarman's 'Edward II'

This is a film by the late British director, released in 1991 (three years before his death), a loose adaptation of Christopher Marlowe's play of c. 1592. Although intended far more as an indictment of Thatcher's Britain than a depiction of fourteenth-century or Renaisance history, I thought it would be interesting to discuss it here.

Prior to watching the film, I fully expected to hate it. To my surprise, I didn't, but rather enjoyed it, though I found it very bizarre (whatever else Jarman was, he wasn't conventional). The film is not a straightforward chronological re-telling of the play, but more a series of scenes and fragmented images, framed by Edward's imprisonment in a water-logged dungeon, where he is closely watched by his jailer, Lightborn (played by Jarman's partner of the last few years of his life, Kevin Collins). Lightborn spends most of his time forging the 'red-hot poker' he will use to murder the king. The sets are bleak, concrete rooms with no decoration, and the costumes range from Edward's gold robe to Mortimer's military uniform to Isabella's beautiful gowns and (later) power suits. Edward and Gaveston even dance in pyjamas!

What I liked about the film:
Some of the scenes are very powerful, and my absolute favourite one is Edward and Isabella in bed together, in a room with bare plastered walls. Isabella is trying to make love to Edward, but he rejects her caresses and pushes her away - with frustration rather than cruelty, it seems - until she rolls off him. Edward then gets out of bed and bangs his head against the wall, making himself bleed, while Isabella stares at the ceiling. There are no words in this scene: the actors (Tilda Swinton and Steven Waddington, both superb throughout) communicate the characters' desperation through their eyes and movements.

I enjoyed the (possibly) 'happy ending' scene. We see Edward's hideously cruel murder by red-hot poker, but then - he awakes on the floor of his dungeon. The jailer Lightborn comes in - and throws the poker away in a pool. He then kisses Edward briefly, but tenderly, on the lips. Are we to understand that the scene of Edward's murder was simply a nightmare he had, and he doesn't die at all? Or is it a dream he's having at the moment of his death - a kind of wish-fulfilment? I'm not sure, but it seems possible at least that he survives.

Another good, though strange, scene, is the one where Queen Isabella kills Kent (Edward's half-brother), who has turned against Edward to follow Isabella and Mortimer and then changes sides again. She does it by biting into his neck, in front of her young son. Queen Isabella as vampire, who'd have thought it?!

Things I didn't like:
The scenes with Edward and Isabella's young son, the future Edward III, are excessively bizarre. At one point, he is wandering through the castle at night, and sees a large group of men, all naked, in a rugby scrum. I'm really not sure what this is supposed to mean. At the end of the film, Isabella and Mortimer are imprisoned in a cage, covered in flour, while Edward III dances on top of the cage. He is wearing high heels, earrings and make-up, and is dancing to the 'Dance of the Sugar Plum Fairy' on his walkman. Interesting, but odd!

I thought the actors Andrew Tiernan (Gaveston) and Nigel Terry (Mortimer) both did a fine job, but I'm not sure about the characters. Gaveston is not at all likeable (to me, anyway) and I even found myself secretly sympathising with the barons, who want him exiled or dead, and Isabella, who wants to be with her husband. (Heresy on my part, to feel like this!!) Mortimer looks a bit like an SS general with his uniform and crewcut. He kills Spencer (aka Hugh Despenser) with his bare hands, spitting out 'girlboy' as he does so.

Things I'm not sure about:
Jarman presents Edward and Gaveston purely as the victims of homophobia, both killed (or perhaps not?) on the orders of brutal, militaristic barons who can't cope with their different lifestyle. Gay activists appear near the end, mourning the deposition of Edward and holding placards which call for gay rights. Jarman saturates his film with erotic elements which are not in the play - for example at the beginning, Gaveston reads a letter from Edward while sitting on a bed; behind him, two men make love. I certainly don't object to any of this in itself, but it does seem to have reinforced many people's belief that Edward was 'the only openly gay king of England', a victim of homophobia and nothing else. Of course, this is a work of art, not a realistic depiction of history, but generally it's films and plays that remain vivid in the mind long after dry history books have been forgotten. Look at the effect Braveheart has had on the public perception of Edward II.

I would certainly recommend the film, however, especially to anyone sick of the usual samey stuff churned out by Hollywood. Jarman was a brilliant filmmaker, and whether you love this film or hate it, it's worth watching.

02 April, 2006

Random Edward II stuff

Feeling guilty for not posting more lately - I seem to be suffering from a lack of inspiration at the moment! I've noticed a few comments about the blog on forums and other people's blogs - it seems that there are quite a few of you reading, so welcome, and hope you're enjoying my scribblings!

Just discovered that one of my favourite writers, Geoffrey Chaucer, has discovered cyberspace and is writing his own blogge! You should check it out.

Want to know The Truth about William Wallace's affair with Queen Isabella, and his true fate?? Check out Susan Higginbotham's latest post. Susan has finally learnt what really happened, and is hard at work on her next novel about it! :)

I'm currently reading, and enjoying, Ian Mortimer's The Perfect King, a biography of Edward III (you know, the one who was THE SON OF EDWARD II). Dr Mortimer is also the author of The Greatest Traitor, a biog of Queen Isabella's lover, Roger Mortimer (no relation to the author). Both of these are highly recommended, combining a very readable style with the highest levels of scholarship.

Talking of Dr Mortimer, the Edward III biography expands on his theory that Edward II was not murdered in 1327, but survived until about 1341. As I said before, I'm intending to write a post or two on this, very shortly, as soon as I get round to it! :)

I have to confess to experiencing an excess of Schadenfreude these days, in relation to Katherine Gretchen Allocco, author of the "astonishing howler on every page!" 'PhD' thesis I critiqued in January. If you google her name, almost all the results are this blog, hehehe. Now, normally I don't consider myself to be a harshly critical or vindictive person, but quite frankly, anyone awarded a PhD on the basis of the shoddy, sloppy rubbish she wrote deserves to be held up to public ridicule. At least, the thesis has been removed from sale at Amazon.com, after I and another reader pointed out its sheer awfulness and gave it one-star reviews (I would have given it minus 10 stars, if that were possible).

I urge you to read my post on the subject, if you haven't already (in the archives for Jan. 2006). Until you do, here are my highlights (lowlights?): she states correctly that the earl of Gloucester was killed at Bannockburn in 1314, but on a later page has him 'keeping a low profile' after the battle. Yup, six feet under, about as low as you can get. She confuses the brothers Richard and Roger Damory several times and has Roger receiving a letter from Isabella four-and-a-half years after his death, which she mentioned on the page before! Nobody can have proof-read this thesis. Aagghh!!!

I'm truly appalled that this piece of (not to put too fine a point on it) crap received a PhD from the University of Texas at Austin. So appalled, in fact, that I mailed Katherine Allocco, her supervisor Martha Newman, and her 'committee' Alison Frazier, Brian Levack, Julie Hardwick and Geraldine Heng to express my utter disgust. Needless to say, none of them have bothered to reply, but if they're reading this: you should be ashamed of yourselves.