28 February, 2008

Edward II and Oxbridge

It's a little-known fact that Edward II was the first king of England to found colleges at Oxford and Cambridge, one at each university.

In 1317, Edward founded King's Hall at Cambridge, to educate clerks for his Chancery. It housed thirty-two scholars, known as King's Scholars, though they had no fixed residence until Edward provided them with one in 1336, a house he had bought from Robert de Croyland: "he founded for the aforesaid scholars, in honour of God, the blessed Virgin, and all saints, and for the souls of King Edward his father, himself, and his queen Philippa, a college..." King's Hall was the second college of Cambridge University, after Peterhouse, founded in 1284 by Hugh de Balsham, bishop of Ely. (There's a book about King's Hall, which unfortunately I haven't read yet.)

Edward II gave books on canon and civil law, worth ten pounds, to the new Master. One of the earliest King's Scholars was Nicholas Damory, mentioned there in 1318 and 1321. Presumably he was a relative of Roger Damory, favourite of Edward II in the middle years of his reign, though I'm not aware of the precise connection - perhaps a nephew, or an illegitimate son. Nicholas was later steward of the household of Edward II's eldest granddaughter Isabella (born 1332), and also served Edward's niece Elizabeth de Clare for many years.

In 1546, Edward's descendant Henry VIII incorporated the Hall into his new foundation of Trinity College. At the same time, Michaelhouse College was also incorporated into Trinity. Michaelhouse was founded in 1323 by Hervey Staunton (or Stanton), one of the premier lawyers of the age: Chancellor of the Exchequer 1316 to 1326; Chief Justice of the King's Bench 1323 to 1324; and Chief Justice of the Court of Common Pleas 1326. An ally and supporter of Edward II, Staunton lost his position after the regime change of November 1326. In autumn that year, following her invasion, Queen Isabella seized 800 marks (a little over 500 pounds) Staunton had deposited at the abbey of Bury St Edmunds - on what authority, I have no idea - and used it to pay her mercenaries. Staunton died in 1327.

Today, Trinity College is the largest and richest of all the Oxford and Cambridge colleges. The roll-call of famous alumni is far too extensive to write here, but includes Isaac Newton, Lord Byron, Andrew Marvell, Alfred Tennyson, the earl of Essex executed by Elizabeth I in 1601, and an astonishing thirty-two Nobel Prize winners. A much longer list is here.

Edward II also founded Oriel College at Oxford, in 1326, the fifth oldest of the Oxford colleges. The slightly later chronicler Geoffrey le Baker claims this was to give thanks for his escape from the field of Bannockburn, though I'm not sure if that's true. In April 1324, Edward granted his almoner Adam Brome a licence to endow a small group of scholars at the 'Hall of the Blessed Mary' at Oxford, with the aim of building a "certain college of scholars studying various disciplines in honour of the Virgin". The endowment was thirty pounds a year.

On 21 January 1326, Edward granted the foundation charter for the college. Whether it ever used the Blessed Mary name is unclear, and in fact it seems to have been called King's Hall, like Edward's foundation at Cambridge. The college admitted ten graduate students; undergraduates weren't admitted until the sixteenth century. In 1329, after Edward's deposition, Edward III granted a college a large house called La Oriole, hence the name of the college, first used around 1349.

Oriel alumni include Sir Walter Raleigh, Cecil Rhodes, British empire-builder in southern Africa, and Thomas Arundel, archbishop of Canterbury 1397 to 1414, grandson of the earl of Arundel of Edward II's reign.

The fourteenth century saw many other colleges founded at Oxford and Cambridge, including:

Exeter College, the fourth oldest Oxford college, founded in 1314 by Walter Stapeldon, bishop of Exeter 1307 to 1326 and treasurer of England 1320 to 1325. Stapeldon was another ally of Edward II, and suffered a far worse fate than Hervey Staunton: on 15 October 1326, a London mob hacked his head off with a bread knife, and sent it to Queen Isabella at Gloucester. Her reaction is not recorded, but as she hated him, she probably didn't grieve for him too much. In the fourteenth century, Exeter was called Stapledon Hall and had about twelve to fourteen students. Alumni include J.R.R. Tolkien, novelist Martin Amis, and John Ford, author of the 1633 play Tis Pity She's a Whore.

Clare College, Cambridge, originally founded in 1326, was refounded in 1338 by Edward II's niece Elizabeth de Clare (1295 to 1360), the widow of Roger Damory, above. Alumni include Hugh Latimer, bishop of Rochester and one of the Protestant Martyrs burned alive in 1555, and First World War poet Siegfried Sassoon.

Pembroke College, Cambridge, was founded in 1347 by Edward's cousin Marie de St Pol (c. 1303 to 1377), widow of Aymer de Valence, earl of Pembroke. (Marie was the great-granddaughter of Henry III, Edward II's grandfather). Originally called the Hall of Valence Marie, it gave preference to students born in France. Famous alumni include William Pitt the Younger, Prime Minister 1783 to 1801 and 1804 to 1806, Elizabethan poet Edmund Spenser, and Thomas Grey, author of 'Elegy Written in a Country Churchyard' (1750), one of my favourite poems.

25 February, 2008

25 February 1308: Coronation of Edward II

On this day 700 years ago, Edward II and Isabella were crowned king and queen of England at Westminster Abbey. Edward was exactly twenty-three and ten months, Isabella just twelve. The coronation differed from its predecessors in several respects. Firstly, the wives of peers attended for the first time. Secondly, Edward took his oath in French, not Latin - a fact often used to condemn him as 'stupid, lazy, ignorant and uneducated' by historians of the nineteenth and early twentieth centuries, conveniently ignoring the fact that Edward, even if he was ignorant of Latin, which is most unlikely, could easily have learnt the short responses by heart, and that French was the native language of probably everyone attending the coronation.* Thirdly, a new clause was added to the coronation oath: "Sire, do you grant to be held and observed the just laws and customs that the community of your realm shall determine, and will you, so far as in you lies, defend and strengthen them to the honour of God?" More ink has been spilt on the meaning and intention of this clause than you could possibly imagine, but I'm not going to analyse it here because, frankly, the whole subject is tedious beyond belief. (The full text of Edward's oath, in the French original and English, is in the sidebar on the left.) 

 [* Edward III also took the coronation oath in French in 1327, and nobody has ever accused him of being stupid and ignorant because of it. Poor Edward II; every single damn thing he ever did has been used against him one way or another.] 

 The coronation was delayed by a week, possibly because of all the conflicts caused by Edward's obsession with Piers Gaveston, or more likely, because Robert Winchelsey, archbishop of Canterbury, was ill and out of the country, not returning until 24 March. Winchelsey was a staunch opponent of Edward I, who in 1306 asked the Pope to suspend Winchelsey, which he did. When Edward II acceded, he asked the Pope to reinstate the archbishop. The ungrateful git repaid Edward by joining his enemies, becoming one of Gaveston's most implacable foes, and excommunicating him in 1312. Henry Woodlock, bishop of Winchester, performed the coronation ceremony in Winchelsey's stead. 

 Edward and Isabella stayed at the Tower of London from 19 to 24 February, and on that date, rode through London in procession to Westminster. On the morning of the 25th, they walked from Westminster Hall to the Abbey, along a carpet strewn with flowers. Edward wore a green robe and black hose, and was barefoot. Above them, the barons of the Cinque Ports carried an embroidered canopy, and before them, proceeded the prelates and the barons. Directly preceding Edward and Isabella were, in this order: William Marshal, carrying the gilt spurs; Edward's brother-in-law the earl of Hereford carrying the royal sceptre; his cousin Henry of Lancaster carrying the royal rod; the earls of Lancaster, Warwick and Lincoln carrying the three swords. Then, four men carrying a board covered with chequered cloth, on which the royal robes were placed. They were Hugh Despenser the elder, Roger Mortimer, Thomas de Vere, son of the earl of Oxford, and Edmund Fitzalan, earl of Arundel. Mortimer, de Vere and Arundel were cousins. Then, Edward's treasurer Walter Reynolds, carrying the paten of the chalice of St Edward the Confessor, and the chancellor John Langton carrying the chalice itself. And finally, and controversially, Piers Gaveston, just before the king and queen and therefore in prime position, carrying the royal crown. A chronicler described Gaveston as "so decked out that he more resembled the god Mars than an ordinary mortal". The other earls wore cloth-of-gold, as they were entitled to do in the king's presence (cloth-of-gold is material shot through with gold thread, so sadly, they are unlikely to have much resembled the Bee Gees), but Gaveston wore royal purple, of silk, encrusted with jewels. 

 Isabella's uncles Charles of Valois and Louis of Evreux attended the coronation, as did her brother Charles, the future Charles IV, and Edward's sister Margaret and brother-in-law Jan, the duke and duchess of Brabant. Presumably, his other sisters Elizabeth, countess of Hereford, and Mary, the nun, also attended, as did the mayor, aldermen and citizens of London. Supposedly, a knight called John Bakewell was crushed to death in the great crowd of people in the Abbey. At the altar, Edward and Isabella both made offerings of gold. During the ceremony, the count of Valois put on Edward's left buskin (a kind of boot) and left spur, the earl of Pembroke Edward's right buskin, and Gaveston the right spur - to the anger of many, as these duties were of profound significance, and Edward was publicly placing Gaveston above the rest of the nobility. 

 Edward swore his oath and was anointed with holy oil on head, hands and chest, then he himself raised his crown from the altar and handed it to Bishop Woodlock, who placed it on Edward's head. Edward was then escorted to his gilded and painted throne, with the Stone of Scone underneath, which his father had removed from Scotland eleven years earlier. A long line of prelates and barons came to kneel before him and swear (homage and) fealty. Finally, it was Isabella's turn to be consecrated, crowned and anointed, on the hands only. Edward and Isabella received the sacrament, and then were escorted back to the palace, Edward carrying the royal verge (his staff of office) in his left hand. Piers Gaveston carried the sword Curtana, which the earl of Lancaster had carried previously in the procession to the Abbey, which caused more mutterings, or rather shouts, of discontent. 

Edward changed out of his coronation robes and proceeded with all the others to Westminster Hall, where a banquet was to take place. Edward knighted several young men at this time, including his sixteen-year-old nephew the earl of Gloucester. Gaveston had been responsible for arranging the banquet, and it was a fiasco, either because Gaveston wasn't much of an organiser or because he was already so resented the cooks, servers etc did their worst, in order to embarrass him. It was long after dark when the banquet finally got underway, and although there was a vast amount of food, it was badly cooked, badly served and close to inedible. (Possibly, the French had expected nothing less of English food.) Edward had ordered tapestries bearing his own arms, and those of Piers Gaveston, to adorn the walls of the hall, as though Gaveston was his consort and not Isabella. Even by Edward's standards, this was astonishingly tactless. He then made matters worse by sitting next to Gaveston and ignoring everyone else, including Isabella, talking and laughing with his friend. Isabella's uncles were, not unreasonably, grievously offended. Although it's understandable that a man in his twenties would prefer to talk to a friend of his own age than to a twelve-year-old he barely knew, there's no doubt that Edward's behaviour was extremely insulting to the French. Whether he intended to be rude, or just didn't care, is not certain. 

 After the banquet, the counts of Evreux and Valois returned to France and complained to Isabella's father Philip IV that Edward II favoured Gaveston's couch to Isabella's bed. The chronicler Robert of Reading, who hated Edward, wrote scathingly about "the mad folly of the king of England, who was so overcome with his own wickedness and desire for sinful, forbidden sex, that he banished his royal wife from his side and rejected her sweet embraces." And Adam Murimuth wrote that Edward "loved an evil male sorcerer [!!] more than he did his wife, a most handsome lady and a very beautiful woman." But Isabella was not a 'woman', and I for one find it impossible to condemn Edward for 'rejecting the sweet embraces' and shunning the bed of a girl not long past her twelfth birthday! I really doubt that Edward intended any offence or insult to Isabella personally, but he could hardly have been less interested in a girl too young to be his wife in anything but name, or of any political use to him. Parliament met shortly afterwards. Edward's antics at the coronation had strengthened the already pretty strong opposition to Piers Gaveston; most of the earls, barons and bishops abandoned Edward, and many threatened to make war on him if he didn't banish Gaveston. Within eight months of his accession, Edward II had brought his country to the brink of civil war over his obsessive love for his Gascon favourite. What happened next, I'll save for another blog post. :)

21 February, 2008

Appearance of Edward II

A post on what the man himself looked like! Here's what some of Edward's contemporaries said about him:

"tall and strong, a fine figure of a handsome man"

"fair of body and great of strength"

"of a well-formed and a handsome person"
"one of the strongest men of his realm"

"God had endowed him with every gift"

Even men who hated Edward found nothing to criticise in his appearance. On the outside, at least, he was every inch a king, a magnificent physical specimen.

When the future Edward III was born in 1312, the author of the Vita Edwardi Secundi expressed a wish that as the boy grew up, he would "remind us of the physical strength and comeliness of his father." And let me point out here that there is not, of course, the slightest hint that the very well-informed author thought that Edward III was not the son of Edward II (regular readers will know that's a particular bugbear of mine!)

Edward was probably as tall as his father, who was known as 'Longshanks' and stood a whopping six feet two inches (his tomb was opened in 1774 and his embalmed body measured). Edward II's grandson Edmund of Langley, duke of York (1341-1402) was five feet eleven, and his great-grandson Richard II (1367-1400) was just a shade under six feet. Pretty tall, even by today's standards.

Edward had long, fair, wavy or curly hair, which he wore parted in the middle and falling either side of his face to his jawline or shoulders - the prevailing fashion for men at the time. Later in life, he grew a moustache and beard. What colour his eyes were, or his complexion, is not known. Edward I inherited a drooping eyelid from his father Henry III (and also had a lisp!) but if Edward II inherited it too, nobody mentioned it.

Here's Edward's effigy, from Gloucester cathedral (the end of the nose has broken off)

There's also a contemporary representation of his face on a tomb canopy at Winchelsea church, which stupid Blogger won't let me upload. His facial features are different than on his effigy, but it's clearly intended to depict the same physical type of man, with long hair, beard, wide forehead, and long straight nose.

And finally, this picture of a king dining alone, from Walter Milemete's De Secretis Secretorum of 1326 or 1327, is probably meant to represent Edward:

19 February, 2008

Remains of the Younger Despenser?

Many of you have probably seen the news that bones discovered at Hulton Abbey in Staffordshire have been tentatively identified as those of Edward II's favourite Hugh Despenser the younger, executed in 1326. Despenser's probably never been so popular - there are loads of blog posts about this, his Wikipedia page has already been updated, and I've seen a huge increase in the number of people visiting this blog searching for him. The article describing the find can be read here. Love the sensationalist headline, which has inspired me to write a blog post sometime soon called something like 'events of Edward II's reign written in the style of the British newspapers'.

The man, who was over 34 - Despenser was in his late thirties in November 1326 - was stabbed in the stomach, beheaded, and chopped into pieces, which would (partly, at least) fit the details of Despenser's execution. But...the odd thing is that Hugh Audley, Despenser's brother-in-law (Audley married Margaret de Clare, widow of Piers Gaveston, sister of Despenser's wife Eleanor, and niece of Edward II), owned the land where Hulton Abbey stood. I struggle with the concept that Despenser would have been buried on Audley's lands. There had been bad blood between the two men since early 1320, when Despenser coerced Audley into exchanging some of his Welsh lands for some of Despenser's English manors, of lesser value. And Audley spent four and a half years in prison from 1322 to 1326, basically because of Despenser (see below).

On 15 December 1330, shortly after Roger Mortimer's execution, Edward III granted permission to Despenser's widow Eleanor and friends (he had friends??) to take down Despenser's remains from London Bridge, Carlisle, York, Bristol and Dover, and bury them - four years after his execution. Eleanor had a magnificent tomb built for Despenser at Tewkesbury Abbey, which still exists. So I really don't see why he would have been buried on the lands of a man who hated him when he had a perfectly good tomb at Tewkesbury, where many of his wife's illustrious ancestors were buried, and later, a good number of his descendants. On the other hand, when Despenser's tomb was opened fairly recently, only a handful of bones were seen - but after four years exposed to the elements, maybe there wasn't much left of him. (I can't find the reference now to the opening of Despenser's tomb, when it occurred and what was seen).

The bones have been dated to somewhere between 1050 and 1385. We can pretty well discount the first two centuries or so of that period when trying to identify this man. Execution by hanging, drawing and quartering was extremely rare before the early 1300s, the end of Edward I's reign. Only a handful of men suffered this death before that: possibly, a pirate named William Maurice in 1241, and possibly a man who tried to assassinate Henry III (I can't remember offhand when that happened - sometime between the 1230s and 1250s). However, the first man who was certainly hanged, drawn and quartered was Dafydd ap Gruffydd, brother of the last native-born Prince of Wales, at Shrewsbury in October 1283.

Afterwards, Edward I used this punishment on Scottish rebels (or rather, the men he believed were Scottish rebels) from 1305 to 1307 - William Wallace of Braveheart fame, and several of Robert Bruce's relatives. None of these men are likely to have been buried in Staffordshire.

Before the 1320s, only two English noblemen/knights had been hanged, drawn and quartered: Thomas Turberville in 1295 for selling state secrets to the French, and Gilbert Middleton in 1318, for attacking and robbing two cardinals and rebelling against Edward II. Unfortunately, I don't know where either man was buried.

Coming back to Despenser and the turmoil of Edward II's reign: in 1321/22, a large group of Marcher lords rebelled against Despenser's empire-building and influence over the king. This culminated in the battle of Boroughbridge on 16 March 1322, after which the earl of Lancaster and a couple of dozen other men were executed. Hugh Audley himself was spared execution because his wife Margaret pleaded with the king, but spent the period from March 1322 to September/October 1326 in prison, when Roger Mortimer and Queen Isabella freed him. He became earl of Gloucester in 1337 and lived until 1347, the only one of Edward II's favourites to survive the reign. So he was very much alive at the time of Despenser's burial in late 1330 or early 1331, and it's unlikely in the extreme that he would have permitted the detested Despenser's remains to be buried anywhere on his lands.

I'm not an expert on Edward III (in fact, I'm a million miles away from being an expert) but I can't think of any men executed in this manner during his reign. (If anyone knows any, please let me know.) It's far more likely to date from Edward II's time. But who was it? A couple of dozen men were executed in March to May 1322, after the Marcher rebellion:

- Roger Clifford, John Mowbray, Jocelyn d'Eyville, Warin de Lisle, William Cheney, and up to seven others in York
- William Fleming and (possibly) Stephen Baret in Cardiff
- Bartholomew Badlesmere in Canterbury
- John Giffard, Roger Elmbridge and Henry Tyes in Gloucester (or maybe in London, in Tyes' case)
- Henry de Montfort and Henry Wilington in Bristol
- Francis Aldham in Windsor and Bartholomew Ashburnham in Cambridge
- Thomas Culpepper in Winchelsea

There's some debate about the numbers of men executed, and some of the men named as executed in some sources actually survived, or were killed at the Battle of Boroughbridge. Two points: none of these men were executed anywhere particularly near Staffordshire, and there's no actual evidence that any of them, bar one, was given the traitor's death which might identify him as the man at Hulton Abbey.

The earl of Lancaster was sentenced to be hanged, drawn and quartered, but Edward II commuted it to beheading because of his royal blood. Almost all the other men were hanged - we can be sure of this, because a group of clerics petitioned Edward II in the 1324 parliament to have the men's bodies cut down and given decent burial, two years after their executions. The most gracious and merciful Edward II agreed (yes, I am being sarcastic).

It's possible that John Giffard at least was beheaded, as a decapitated skeleton of about the right era has been found in the church where his family was buried, but it's not certain. The only man who certainly suffered the full traitor's death was Bartholomew Badlesmere, who had been the steward of Edward II's household until the summer of 1321, when he went over to the Marchers. Edward loathed him with a fiery loathing for this betrayal, and his fury at Badlesmere is evident in his ordering such a hideous death for the man. But Badlesmere would not have been buried in Staffordshire, around 200 miles from his lands in Kent, and didn't have the strong links to Hugh Audley indicated by burial on Audley's lands.

Thomas Culpepper, William Cheney and Francis Aldham were adherents of Hugh Audley - they were pardoned in August 1321 for their actions against the Despensers, on Audley's testimony. So, in my humble opinion, they're the likeliest candidates for the Hulton Abbey remains. On the other hand, Badlesmere's grotesque death was described in detail by contemporaries - such a method of execution, especially practised on English noblemen, was fairly new and horrifying, not common as it later became - and it seems a little odd that if any other of these men died the same way, nobody mentioned it. And besides, Badlesmere's death was ordered because of Edward II's personal hatred and anger at him. Edward II's policy was usually dictated by his fierce loves and hatreds, and he had no particular reason to hate any of these three men and order such a horrible (and unusual) death for them.

In conclusion, I'm not at all convinced that the bones belong to the oh-so-delightful Hugh Despenser, given the location of the burial. I'm tempted to think that we can identify the bones with either Aldham, Cheney or Culpepper, but I'd be pretty surprised if they suffered such a dreadful death, and that nobody mentioned it. Not to mention, Edward II's granting of the petition to allow the men decent burial in 1324 specified that they had to be buried in the nearest churchyard, not taken back to their own lands or their lord's lands - though someone could have defied him, of course. (It happened a lot.)

I'll be really interested to see what, if anything, comes out of this discovery!

17 February, 2008

Edward II Novel: The King's Minions

"I love you. I love you as I shall never love another human being in my life. You are my life!"

The King's Minions by Brenda Honeyman, published by Robert Hale in 1974, is the prequel to The Queen and Mortimer. Unfortunately this novel is long out of print and almost impossible to find these days (thanks to Susan Higginbotham for sending me a copy!) which possibly renders this review somewhat pointless, but I'm hoping it'll be reissued one of these days.

King's Minions comes very near the top of my favourite Edward II novels ever, a delightful little book which focuses on Edward II's passionate and all-consuming love affair with Piers Gaveston. Right from the first paragraph, we learn that Edward loves men, and "loved Piers Gaveston with the same kind of passionate intensity that his father had for his mother, the same soul-shaking devotion." It's a beautiful, touching depiction of an obsessive and doomed relationship between two men, a relationship that's emphatically sexual as well as romantic. It's not explicit - the novel was published in 1974, after all - but there are a few references to their "passionate lovemaking" and the strong physical need both men have for each other. The relationship is not one-sided, either. Piers holds Edward in his arms at one point, "adoring him more hopelessly than ever...it was neither greed nor lust for power which kept the life of Piers Gaveston intertwined with that of his King; it was love."

Early in the novel, the two men plight each other their troth, and neither breaks faith. Piers goes to his death with the name Edward reverberating around his head, focusing on the "beloved features" of his lover, the great love of his life. Edward here is intelligent and capable of self-insight, aware of his own limitations as a ruler and a military leader. His terrible childhood has starved him of love and affection, and he needs Piers to fill that void, which Piers does, admirably. "Piers was a part of him; of his body, his soul, the very marrow of his bones."

What I particularly love about King's Minions is that Edward and Piers are portrayed emphatically as men, who behave like men and love each other like men. There's nothing here of the tired old caricatures of 'gay men acting like twelve-year-old girls', with the mincing, shrieking, foot-stamping, tantrum-throwing Edward II so often found in novels. Edward makes a lot of mistakes and alienates most of his supporters because of his great passion for Piers, but it's easy to feel sympathy and liking for a man who adores so hopelessly and so loyally, however politically foolish it might be.

Both Edward and Piers come to full acceptance of themselves as men who love men. They see no reason to hide that fact or pretend to be otherwise. The "contempt" and "revulsion" most of the other characters feel for Edward wound him profoundly, forcing him to withdraw deep within himself. Even his stepmother Margaret, more sympathetic to him than most, can't help feeling that "such a depth of homosexual passion was obscene." Queen Isabella thinks of his sexuality as a "perversion", but admits that it "gave him an added piquancy in her eyes." She also thinks that whatever drives her away from Edward, if anything does, it won't be his love of men. Her father Philip IV, who has a cruel and malevolent sense of humour, finds it deliciously ironic that his beautiful daughter, desired by half the men of Europe, should be married to a sodomite (the character's word, not mine).

Several years into his marriage, Edward steels himself to go to his wife's bed for the first time, gulping down wine and trying to still his nervously fluttering stomach. He almost flees, but doesn't, and a little later in the novel realises "with an almost traumatic sense of shock" that heterosexual intercourse isn't quite as bad as he feared; he decides that even Piers' return from exile won't stop him going to Isabella's bed. After Piers' death, he does his best to please Isabella sexually and emotionally, and to the surprise of them both, manages it, to a certain extent. There are hints of Isabella's physical need for men and her desire to be loved and cherished, needs which she realises (and accepts) Edward can't completely fulfil; a foreshadowing of her relationship with Roger Mortimer in the sequel. Edward adores their children, and is an excellent father to them.

After Piers' murder, Edward turns to Hugh Despenser the younger for comfort, but refuses to make love with him. Partly this is because the terrible thoughts of Piers' death get in the way, but mostly it's because "it would be sacrilege for Edward to offer his body to any other man than Gaveston." Despenser is sexually frustrated and becomes intensely jealous of Isabella, who Edward does sleep with. It's a very interesting take on Edward and Despenser's relationship, one I haven't seen before (except in the sequel The Queen and Mortimer). Edward's appalling grief over Piers' death is very moving.

In a few deft strokes, Brenda Honeyman paints the people who surround Edward, the earls, lords and bishops, their politics and side-switching, their mixed feelings towards their king. Honeyman has the great skill of keeping the characters sympathetic without simplifying them, skating over or exaggerating their faults. Everyone here appears in shades of grey, not black and white.

In conclusion, The King's Minions is the most beautiful, erotic, and touching portrayal of Edward II and Piers Gaveston I've ever read. As with the sequel, my only criticism is that it's much too short, at only 189 pages. Such compassionate and insightful writing deserves and demands a much broader canvas. Brenda Honeyman is well known these days as Kate Sedley, author of the 'Roger the Chapman' series of medieval mysteries. I can only hope that her publishers decide to reissue this novel and give it the wider audience it so richly deserves.

10 February, 2008

Bad Edward II Novel Covers

Recent searches which brought visitors to the blog:

which king won wars against scotland and whales and his brother: I know Edward II enjoyed aquatic hobbies, but I'd never heard that he fought a war against whales. Maybe they were easier to beat than sharks.

hanged b*tches, only without the asterisk. I worry about some people. I really do.

facts on queen isabella beginning with a: how about 'facts on Queen Isabella without using the letter 'e'? (No, I don't feel taking up either challenge.)

Now that I'm the proud owner of a scanner, here are some Bad Edward II Novel Covers. (Click on the pics to see a larger image, if you feel like inflicting them on yourself.)

Alice by Sandra Wilson (1976). You'd never guess it from the title or cover, but it's about a woman called, umm, Alice, who becomes Piers Gaveston's mistress. Yup, Piers is decidedly hetero in this one, as well as a Goddess worshipper, who resolutely refuses to put out for Edward II no matter how much the king begs him. Poor Edward manages to be both "a giant, strong and muscular" and have a "strange womanish air". Yeah, because there are just so many giant, muscular women, you can see how the confusion might arise. But having said that, the portrayal of him in the novel is pretty sympathetic overall.

Love the cover, with Piers' chest hair and the topless executioner ("Maybe if I adopt a really macho stance with my legs wide apart, no-one will notice my man-boobs!")

The She-Wolf by Pamela Bennetts (1975), featuring Queen Isabella and three cans of hairspray.

Unusually for an Edward II novel, it opens in 1325, and features Roger Mortimer and Isabella as practically insane with hatred and the need for revenge, and definitely Not Very Nice.

A Banner Red and Gold by Annelise Kamada (1980), wherein "Jehan de Mauley loved Roger Mortimer with a fever that all his cruelty could not diminish...Roger took women recklessly and abandoned them, impelled by a stronger passion - love of power."

The dirty rotter. It's the sequel to A Love So Bold, both of them pretty good romances that star Edward II, Isabella and the usual suspects, including that cad Roger Mortimer and - unusually - the earl of Arundel as a fairly major character.

Where Nobles Tread by Janet Kilbourne (1975), in which Our Heroine Nell becomes the mistress of Piers Gaveston (Piers the womaniser! Who knew?), though Piers shares Edward II's bed with as much enthusiasm as he does Nell's. Edward is much given to "drunken, rutting orgies" and Isabella calls him a 'pig' to his face, though she's not much better herself, taking lovers with wild abandon. No-one seems to notice or care. Isabella tries to seduce Our Hero William, who of course turns her down because he has far too much integrity to take advantage of the seductive little minx, while I'm shrieking 'Just shag her, for goodness' sake! She's the queen, and she's throwing herself at you! How often does anyone get a chance like that??'

It's not the cover of this one that's bad (the dress is accurate for the period, at least), more that the novel itself is splendidly awful, full of stuff like "The Gascon eyes of Piers Gaveston blazed in a drunken wrath as he swayed slightly. 'Nell,' he gritted, 'are you coming?'..."

In fact, Piers 'grits' with alarming frequency. It can't be healthy. The author has a strange allergy to the word 'said', so that the characters grit, pout, croak, hiss, huff, bawl suddenly, retort bitterly, and ooze words, but rarely 'say' anything. (To be fair, the author was only seventeen when she wrote it.)

Harlot Queen, by Hilda Lewis (1970). I assume that's meant to be the very manly Roger Mortimer there, as opposed to the very unmanly (here) Edward II. Isn't there a rule like 'thou shalt remove thy armour before thou suckest a woman's nipples'? Presumably she's kicking her leg out as an unavoidable bodily reaction to the feel of the armour, and isn't opening her mouth out of passion but to screech "Eeeek, that's freezing, you fool!" And is just me, or is Mortimer's sword sticking out of his cloak in an extremely phallic way?

Harlot Queen has been reissued recently. Personally I much prefer the crappy 1970s cover. Despite some historical inaccuracies, it's a pretty good novel, and has a lovely ending.

08 February, 2008

Edward's Eccentric Aquatic Activities

Edward II, that most unconventional of kings, enjoyed swimming and rowing, widely considered totally incompatible with his royal dignity. He probably got a taste for the water, as it were, while growing up at Langley near St Albans, rowing on the Gade. Before he became king, he had to pay compensation to his Fool, Robert Buffard, for accidentally injuring him in the water. Wonder what he did - dived on top of him? Pretended to drown him a little too sucessfully?

A few years later, the archbishop of Canterbury sent a member of his household to Edward with a belt he'd lost in the Thames - which implies that he'd gone swimming fully dressed, and also that some poor unfortunate had to plunge in and retrieve the belt!

Edward's most famous aquatic activity came in the autumn of 1315, when he spent an entire month on holiday at Fen Ditton near Cambridge, with the company he liked best, "a great concourse of simple people". He spent the time swimming and rowing, and apparently having a whale of a time - except for the time he fell in and nearly drowned. Edward does seem to have been rather unlucky in water, which in fact is fortunate for us, as otherwise his pursuits might not have been recorded.

However, this particular holiday - which sounds very healthy and relaxing to me, at least - was mentioned in the contemporary Flores Historiarum (Flowers of History) chronicle, written by a monk named Robert of Reading. Robert never passed up a chance to bash Edward, and he's in full force here. He states sarcastically that Edward went to the Fens so that "he might refresh his soul with many waters", and refers to his bracing activities as "childish frivolities".

Then he comments, brilliantly, that when the holiday was over, Edward "set off with all speed, he and his silly company of swimmers, for the parliament which he had ridiculously caused to be summoned to Lincoln."

That makes me giggle every time I think about it. I think it's the 'ridiculously' that tickles my funny bone. What a shame for Edward, though, that he was born in the fourteenth century, an era that didn't understand him and his love of swimming, digging, hedging, thatching, and so on. Just think how much of a role model he'd be nowadays, with his love of the outdoors and physical exercise. I can just see him on TV, doing public infomercials, imploring a nation of overweight couch potatoes to give up their sedentary lifestyles and their junk food and to get outside in the fresh air.

Robert of Reading also slammed Edward for spending time at Burgundy, the hut he'd built himself in the precincts of Westminster. It sounds rather pleasant, actually; it had a large garden.

Criticising Edward's eccentric pursuits was a common theme of the age. In July 1314, a member of Edward's own household, Robert le Messager, was arrested for saying that "it was no wonder the king couldn't win a battle [Bannockburn], because he spent the time when he should have been hearing Mass in idling, ditching, digging and other improper occupations". Queen Isabella, no doubt as bemused (and humiliated) by her husband's weird hobbies as anyone else, interceded for the man.

On the day Edward agreed to Parliament's decision to depose him, 20 January 1327, a delegation sent to him at Kenilworth Castle read out the reasons why his subjects had rejected his rule. Included in the second one, which began "he has not been willing to listen to good counsel", was "he has always given himself up to unseemly works and occupations". Some of these unseemly things were: that Edward had bought cabbages from gardeners to make soup, and had held a meeting on a barge. (The HORROR!!!)

If ever a man was born in the wrong century, it was Edward II...

02 February, 2008

Agreement of the Earl of Gloucester, 1290

Edward I's second daughter, Joan of Acre, married Gilbert de Clare, earl of Gloucester, on 30 April 1290. Thirteen days before the wedding, Edward met Gloucester at Amesbury in Wiltshire, and made him swear on the saints that he would uphold the rights of the succession to the throne.

In 1290, only one of Edward I's four sons was still living - Edward of Caernarfon, not quite six when the document was signed. Edward's queen, Eleanor of Castile, was in her late forties and past childbearing. Child mortality being what it was, Edward must have been concerned that his youngest son might also die. It's interesting to see that, in this event, Edward I wanted his kingdom to pass to his daughters, rather than, say, Thomas or Henry of Lancaster, his brother's sons. The agreement probably also represents Edward I's concerns over the ambitions of the earl of Gloucester.

Eleanor was the eldest surviving daughter of Edward I and Eleanor of Castile, almost twenty-one in April 1290 (she was born in June 1269, not 1264 as often stated, as this entry from the Patent Rolls proves). At the time, she was betrothed to Alfonso III, king of Aragon.

Here's my translation of the document - the French original can be seen here.

To all those who hear or see these letters, Gilbert de Clare, earl of Gloucester and Hertford, greetings.

As our lord the king, by his grace, has consented to give me the lady Joan, his daughter, to wife, I, to prevent all doubts and suspicions, have sworn on the saints,

in the presence of:

John [Pecham], by the grace of God, archbishop of Canterbury
Robert [Burnell], bishop of Bath and Wells [Bath is spelt 'Baa' in the original!]
John [of Pontoise], bishop of Winchester
Anthony [Bek], bishop of Durham
Peter [Quinel], bishop of Exeter
Godfrey [Giffard], bishop of Worcester
Sir William de Valence, uncle of the king
Sir Edmund [of Lancaster], brother of the king
Sir Henry de Lacy, earl of Lincoln
Sir Otto de Grandisson
Sir William de Brecuse
Sir John de Saint John
Master William de Lue
John de Berwick

That, should it happen (which GOD forbid) that GOD make his commandment to our lord the king [that is, if the king dies], and I remain alive, I will bear good faith [jo bone fey porteray] to my Lord Edward, his son, owing to my liege lord, and uphold the rights of his kingdom.

Or, if GOD make his commandment to this same Lord Edward, without begotten heirs of his body, but another son of my lord the king above-mentioned is living; I, to this same son, and to the begotten heirs of his body, should he have them, will bear the good faith owing to my lord.

And, if by misfortune it should happen that GOD make his commandment to our lord the king, and to his sons, and they have no heirs of their bodies: if the Lady Eleanor, eldest daughter of my lord the king above-mentioned, is alive, I will bear good faith to this same Eleanor, and the begotten heirs of her body, and in no manner, not by force, nor by deceit, disturb her rights, nor her, nor the heirs of her body, should she have them, nor the kingdom of England nor the land of Ireland, according to the ordinance of our lord the king above-mentioned; which ordinance is such, that is to say:

That our lord the king wishes and ordains that should the Lord Edward, his son, or another son, should he have one, remain without heirs of his body; that therefore, after the death of our lord the king above-mentioned, the kingdom of England, and the land of Ireland, remain to Lady Eleanor, his eldest daughter, and the begotten heirs of her body.

And if this same Lady Eleanor remain without heirs of her body, then the kingdom, and the land above-mentioned, remain to Lady Joan, daughter of the king above-mentioned, and to the heirs of her body.

And if this same Lady Joan remain without heirs of her body, the kingdom and the above-mentioned land of Ireland remain to the next sister, and thence from daughter to daughter, and from heir to heir, from the Lady Eleanor to the Lady Joan.

And, to loyally hold and keep these things, I submit myself to the jurisdiction and the constraint of the apostle of Rome, and the church of Rome; and the jurisdiction and constraint of the archbishops of Canterbury and York; and of all the prelates of England who are at this time; and to the constraint and jurisdiction of each of them alone.

And in testimony of these things, I have put my seal to this letter, and at my request, the honourable Father John, by the grace of God archbishop of Canterbury, Robert, bishop of Bath and Wells, John, bishop of Winchester, Anthony, bishop of Durham, Peter, bishop of Exeter, and Godfrey, bishop of Worcester, have put their seals to these letters.

Given at Amesbury [Aumbresbyrie] the Monday next before the feast of St Alphege, the nineteenth year of the reign of King Edward above-mentioned [17 April 1290]

Of course, Edward II did live, and did beget heirs of his body, so to speak, and Edward I had two younger sons by his second marriage, so the issue of Eleanor inheriting never arose. It's an interesting 'what if', though.
Eleanor remained next in line to the throne until her death at the age of twenty-nine in August 1298. Then, the next heir to England was her young son, the future Count Edouard I of Bar, until he was deplaced in June 1300 by the birth of Edward I's son by Marguerite of France, Thomas of Brotherton, and pushed further down the line when Edward I's youngest son Edmund of Woodstock was born in August 1301. Thomas of Brotherton was heir to the throne behind Edward of Caernarfon/Edward II until the birth of the future Edward III in November 1312.