26 September, 2006

Blog Hiatus, and Queen of Shadows

I'm off on my holidays for a couple of weeks - we're staying with my mum in the Lake District for a few days, then driving down to Gloucestershire on my 'Edward II Pilgrimage'! My next post will be on 11 October, or thereabouts.

If you haven't read the comments on the last post, please do so - Carla and I had a fascinating discussion going on. When I get back, I'll write some more posts on the theory that Edward II wasn't murdered at all, and on his escape from Berkeley Castle in the summer of 1327.

Before I go, here's a review of Edith Felber's Queen of Shadows, released 7 November, from Amazon.com:

Isabella, the French princess at the center of Felber's deftly plotted historical, matures from a 12-year-old bride of Edward II of England to a clever conspirator driven by a thirst for power. Not so secretly gay and viewed as weak, Edward is ordered by Parliament to share his throne with the Earl of Winchester, whose son, Hugh, attracts Edward's attention. Isabella chafes at having to share the throne, particularly with Hugh, who proves to be a rapacious presence. One of Isabella's ladies-in-waiting, Gwenith of the Marches, secretly plans revenge against Edward for his killing of her family, but her dedication to Isabella complicates her mission. After being introduced by Gwenith, Isabella takes condemned nobleman Roger Mortimer, imprisoned in London Tower, as a lover and with him plots a coup that unseats Edward and positions Isabella's son Edward as king. But Roger is shiftier than he initially appears, and allegiances, as ever, are up for grabs. The book is filled with strong-willed characters, though Edward's homosexuality is clumsily handled. Felber, who has written many historical romances as Edith Layton, delivers what fans of the genre want.

A big, resounding 'hmmmm....'. The bit about Edward being ordered by Parliament to share his throne with Winchester (Hugh Despenser the Elder) is complete nonsense, and the bit about Isabella and Roger Mortimer being introduced by Gwenith makes me giggle ("Your grace, this is Lord Mortimer, whom you've been seeing around court for the last few years. Lord Mortimer, this is the queen of England." Mortimer: "Seriously??") Not sure about the 'clumsily handled homosexuality' either. I hope Felber hasn't made Edward into a flaming queen, or there may be a book/wall interface. And 'London Tower'?? I hope that's Publishers Weekly's error, not Felber's.

Still, I'm looking forward to it, although I have a feeling I'm not going to like it very much...but only time will tell.

21 September, 2006

Edward II's Death (?)

Today marks the 679th anniversary of Edward II's death...allegedly. I suppose most people know, or think they know, the story of Edward's terrible death - the 'red-hot poker' narrative that's passed into legend.

After Edward II's forced abdication in January 1327, he was first 'imprisoned' at Kenilworth Castle, under the care of his cousin Henry of Lancaster, who treated him with respect and honour. In April, he was transferred to Berkeley Castle, Gloucestershire, where his jailor was Thomas, Lord Berkeley - the son-in-law of Roger Mortimer. Berkeley had been imprisoned for several years by Edward, and his father had died during his own imprisonment, so he had little reason to like the king.

The chronicle of Geoffrey le Baker, written about thirty years later, mentions Edward's ill-treatment. He was held in a cell above the rotting corpses of animals, in an attempt to kill him indirectly. But Edward was extremely strong, fit and healthy, and survived the treatment, until on the night of 21 September 1327, he was held down and a red-hot poker pushed into his anus through a drenching-horn. His screams could be heard for miles around.

This has become the standard narrative of Edward's death, but there are problems with taking it at face value. Baker hated Queen Isabella (the 'iron virago') and was constructing a narrative of 'Edward as martyr'. The chronicles written shortly after Edward's death (Anonimalle Chronicle, a shorter continuation of the Brut, Lichfield Chronicle, Adam Murimith) variously state only that he died (with no explanation given), that he died of a 'grief-induced illness', or that he was strangled or suffocated. The official pronouncement of Edward's death, in September 1327, claimed that he died of 'natural causes'. It wasn't described as murder until November 1330, when Roger Mortimer was accused of 'having [Edward] murdered at Berkeley' during his show trial.

The earliest reference to the 'red-hot poker' method is found in a longer continuation of the Brut, written in the 1330s. However, many other fourteenth-century chronicles do not repeat this allegation. None of the men who killed Edward - for the purposes of this post, I'm assuming that he really was murdered in 1327 - ever spoke about it publicly. Therefore, we're dealing with rumour and hearsay, how the chroniclers thought he'd been murdered.

Admittedly, I find it very hard to view Edward's death objectively - I'm very fond of him, and would rather believe that he didn't die in such a vile way. However, the red-hot poker story does seem implausible. The idea was to kill him in such a fashion that no marks of violence would be visible on his body. However, why then kill him in such an agonising fashion that his screams could be heard for miles around? Why torture him, so that his (dead) face wore an expression of agony, if you were trying to pretend that his death was natural? Surely strangling or smothering, or even poison, would have been more effective. These methods would also have left physical traces on Edward's body, but if his eyes were closed and his body covered up, they would have been missed by the people viewing his body.

Here are some other ideas on the story:
- Mary Saaler, in her 1997 biography of Edward II, quotes Adam Murimith's comment that Edward was killed per cautelam, by a trick, and wonders if this phrase became corrupted to per cauterium, a branding-iron.
- Pierre Chaplais and Ian Mortimer have commented on the death of King Edmund Ironside in 1016, said to have been murdered in a similar way to Edward, while sitting on the privy. The story was often repeated in thirteeth-century chronicles.
- And finally, Edward's brother-in-law the earl of Hereford was killed at the Battle of Boroughbridge in 1322 when he was skewered through the anus by a spear pushed up through the bridge.

It's my belief that the grotesque 'anal rape' narrative of Edward's death (Dr Ian Mortimer's phrase) is nothing more than a reflection of the popular belief that Edward was the passive partner in sexual acts with men, and that this means of death represented Edward receiving his 'just desserts'. The deaths of the earl of Hereford and Edmund Ironside may have provided the inspiration for this.
Similarly, the castration (or emasculation) of Edward's favourite, the younger Despenser, in November 1326, was said by the chronicler Jean Froissart to be a punishment for his sexual relations with Edward. Whether this is true or not is impossible to say, but I think the narratives of both men's deaths reflect the widespread belief that they had sexual relations and were punished for them. Often, a story that begins as a joke or a rumour takes on the aura of 'truth' - such as the death of Edward's descendant George, Duke of Clarence, who died in the Tower of London in 1478. He is supposed to have drowned in a 'butt of malmsey'. It's difficult to ascertain whether this is the truth, or merely reflects his reputation as a drunkard.

Perhaps the story also represents a general human willingness to believe the most gruesome story - after all, being murdered with a red-hot piece of metal in the anus is far more 'interesting' than being smothered. And perhaps we shouldn't discount the early account of Edward's death from 'grief-induced illness', the accusation against Mortimer notwithstanding. At first sight it's not very plausible, but it is possible - given that Edward had lost his throne, his friends were dead, his family had turned against him, and he never saw his children again. If Edward was murdered in 1327, I'm far more inclined to believe that he was suffocated or strangled. He was a strong man and would have resisted, but of course he could have been murdered while he was asleep, or drugged.

But a far more fascinating question is - was Edward really murdered in 1327? Some modern historians incline to the view that he wasn't - which will be the subject of a further post shortly!

Until then, I'm going to raise a glass to King Edward II, who may or may not have died exactly 679 years ago. Cheers, Your Grace!

15 September, 2006

One Letter Makes All The Difference

From Sarah and Susan: a meme where you change just one letter in a novel title, and describe the new plot. Here are mine, featuring novels set in Edward II's reign (or thereabouts).

Lard of Misrule: Piers Gaveston's problems with overeating and the fury it engenders in Edward II's barons. (Lord of Misrule, Eve Trevaskis)

King's Wade: Bored with rowing and swimming, Edward II constructs a new water feature at his favourite manor of Langley. (King's Wake, Eve Travaskis)

The Traitor's Wire: Hugh Despenser becomes a successful pirate with the aid of a length of cable, and wonders how it could help him improve his extortion skills. (The Traitor's Wife, Susan Higginbotham)

Harlow Queen: The famous actress learns that she was Queen Isabella in a previous life. (Harlot Queen, Hilda Lewis)

The Tournament of Brood: The women of Edward II's court take part in an unusual competition to see who is the most desperate for a baby. (The Tournament of Blood, Michael Jecks)

Isabel the Pair: Isabel(la) is shocked to learn that she has an identical twin sister with the same name. (Isabel the Fair, Margaret Campbell Barnes)

The Love Knit: Isabella gets out her needles to make Roger Mortimer warm cardigans and mittens, in order to prove her love for him. (The Love Knot, Vanessa Alexander)

The Dollies of the King: Edward II tries desperately to keep his large collection of dolls a secret. (The Follies of the King, Jean Plaidy)

The Zion of Mortimer: After escaping from the Tower, Roger travels to Jerusalem to drum up support for his anti-Edward platform. (The Lion of Mortimer, Juliet Dymoke)

The She-Golf of France: Fed-up with unisex sports, Isabella returns to France to play her favourite game on a women-only course. (The She-Wolf of France, Maurice Druon)

Death of a Ming: During a row with Edward, a furious Isabella throws a vase at him. (Death of a King, Paul Doherty)

The Bows of the Peacock: Edward tries to teach a bird how to genuflect before his royal majesty. (The Vows of the Peacock, Alice Walworth Graham)

The King is a Ditch: Edward II takes one of his favourite hobbies very seriously indeed. (The King is a Witch, Evelyn Eaton)

Hummer of the Scots: Edward I invades Scotland with the aim of providing all the inhabitants with an SUV. (Hammer of the Scots, Jean Plaidy)

09 September, 2006

Edward II's Maternal Family

Edward II's mother was Eleanor of Castile, probably born in 1241. On 1 November 1254, she married the future Edward I (born 1239), elder son of Henry III, in Burgos; their marriage was intended to prevent her half-brother Alfonso X from claiming Gascony, which was ruled by England at that time. Eleanor bore fifteen or sixteen children, but only six of them outlived her (see here and here for my previous posts on her children).

Eleanor's mother was Jeanne de Dammartin, born circa 1216/20, Countess of Ponthieu and Montreuil in her own right. Jeanne had once been betrothed to Henry III, but he broke off the engagement in order to marry Eleanor of Provence. She married Fernando III, king of Castile and Leon, in 1237. Born circa 1200, Fernando united the kingdoms of Castile and Leon in 1231, and spent a large part of his reign fighting the Moors. His first marriage to Elisabeth of Hohenstaufen, cousin of Emperor Frederick II, produced ten children. On his death in 1252, Fernando was succeeded by his son Alfonso X, born 1221, reigned 1252-1284. He was known as 'El Sabio', 'The Wise' or 'The Learned', and was Edward II's half-uncle. Fernando III was canonised in 1671 (I really like the fact that Edward II was the grandson of a saint!)

The marriage of Fernando III and Jeanne de Dammartin produced one daughter, Eleanor, two sons who died in early childhood, and two other sons who both died in 1269. After she was widowed, Jeanne returned to her native Ponthieu, where she died in 1279. Her only surviving child Queen Eleanor inherited Ponthieu and Montreuil, which eventually passed to her son, the future Edward II, on her death in 1290. As Edward was only six years old then, the lands were adminstered for him by his uncle Edmund of Lancaster. Edward granted the revenues of Ponthieu and Montreuil to Isabella three months after their wedding in 1308. The lands passed to the French crown during the Hundred Years War.

Alfonso X was succeeded by his son Sancho IV, Edward II's first cousin, who ruled from 1284 to 1295. Sancho's son Fernando IV was the king of Castile and Leon at the time of Edward II's succession in 1307 (Fernando ruled 1295 to 1312, and died at the age of twenty-six). Relations between Edward II and Castile were generally very good throughout his reign. He was keen to marry his daughter Eleanor of Woodstock to Alfonso XI, son of Fernando IV and thus Edward's first cousin twice removed, and his son the future Edward III to Alfonso's sister Leonor, but nothing came of the plans. Eleanor of Woodstock had a lucky escape, as Alfonso XI neglected his Portuguese wife in favour of his mistress, who bore him ten children, and is known as 'The Avenger' or 'The Implacable'.