"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.
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.
The statue in the York Minster looks like that as well. I'm not sure if all the kings standing in row indeed had the same size - if so, our dear Richard III must have been had impressive physique as well.
Since descriptions of Ed's looks are easily to be found, I really wonder why he's depicted as effeminate whimp in so many novels. It doesn't go along with his love for digging, either. :)
What's worse, nonfiction portrays him in that manner as well! Alianore quoted that bit a while back from Sex With the Queen (right title?) that referred to his "soft girlish hands." Yuk. Too lazy to do a little extra fact-checking, I guess.
Oh dear, that would be nonsense even if he didn't try to beat the Romans at digging ditches - riding and sword fighting doesn't give you soft girlish hands. Look at mine. :)
Aww, Gabriele, I'm sure they're not that bad! ;) I think it's just laziness (and blatant stereotyping) that's to blame for all the endless 'Ed II the effeminate shrieking wimp' you so often see. Grrrr.
Oh God, yeah, all that "soft girlish hands" rubbish from Sex with the Queen. Aaagghhh!!
No wonder Gaveston was so enamoured with him! (although I suspect for Despenser power, not passion, was the primary, and possibly, the only, motivation)
Thanks for the reply to my email, Alianore.
Lol, I actually have quite beautiful hands, and I keep care of my manicure, but they're definitely not soft.
I daresay it helped their looks and physique that royal children would have had the best of everything - no danger of malnutrition to stunt their growth! But the Plantagenets seem, on the whole, to have been a good-looking dynasty (unless contemporary chroniclers were easily impressed). Weren't Henry II, Richard I and II and Edward IV also described as physically handsome? I can only think of Richard III and King John offhand who weren't. Lucky genes, I guess. Maybe Henry VIII also got them from Elizabeth of York (Henry VII was certainly no great looker judging by his portraits).
I think there is some truth to the descriptions. In Mediaeval thinking, beauty in looks equalled beauty in morals, so if they describe a king with dubious morals - and Ed surely was that to most chroniclers - as handsome, there may have been some foundation in his real looks.
Sometimes chroniclers tried to find ugly details for someone they're biased against and stress on those. I suppose that's how Richie III came to his hunchback. :)
But there is surely an argument to be made in favour of better living conditions for the nobles. Several of the German Emperors must have been on the better looking side as well. If that famous gold image of Frederick Barbarossa is lifelike, he was a handsome man, and Henry the Lion is said to have been a tall, strong man.
Gabriele: wow, I'm impressed that you manicure your hands - I can never be bothered. ;)
Carole: you're welcome - I'm just about to write to you again now! Agree with you about Despenser, by the way, and yes, I'm not surprised that Gaveston was so enamoured of Ed - I'm pretty smitten myself. ;)
Carla and Gabriele: interesting points. Isabella is also frequently described as 'beautiful', and although that was a very typical way of describing any and (almost) every royal lady, there's so much consensus regarding her good looks, she probably was genuinely extremely attractive. She and Edward must have made a very handsome couple!
Is that a ship on the table? Did they still use ship-shaped recipients for wine?
Elflady: yes, they were called 'nefs' and they were used for alms (that is, food that wasn't eaten, and was collected and given to the poor). Quoting from The Great Household in late Medieval England: "in 1324, Edward II possessed a great nef of silver, with a gold castle at each end and four wheels".
Hmmm, I still think that if Despenser was Edward's lover,(and I know it's not proven but it's very likely) he must have found Edward attractive. There again, I *am* biased ;-). But yes, I agree that the money and power thing was also a great aphrodisiac.
Carole: I think you are right about the nutrition stuff, certainly as regards the height and build: the rest was probably good leck :-). However, I also agree with Gabrielle about how chroniclers of the time (or usually just after) tended to give people they didn't like (such as John and Richard III) a less fair and often completely erroneous description. Edward seems to have escaped such comments - lucky for us :-)
Alianore: In the book Food and Feast in Medieval England (Peter Hammond), Nefs are described as elaborate salt cellars (p.108) - and Edward's is mentioned as being one such. Has this book got it wrong?
Lady D: hmmm, good question. ;) The Great Household book seems pretty clear that the nefs of the medieval English nobles and royals were used for alms. There's a site here about it: http://www.history.ac.uk/richardII/vessels.html
And this site seems to suggest that the nef's function as a saltcellar evolved later: http://www.gilbert-collection.org.uk/thecollections/gold_treasury/gold_col05.html
But I really don't know, so I'll cop out and say maybe they were used for both alms and salt. :-)
The last part of that second website is gold_col05.html, by the way (unfortunately, I'm rubbish at inserting hyperlinks! ;)
Lady D: at least they ate "ecological" stuff, LOL! We would probably look like degeneratate creatures with all these unnatural add-ons into our food. I've recently read in a newspaper that bodies don't even naturally decompose in their tombs because of it. No need for embalming, hehe!
Alianore and Lady D: I thought nefs were used for wine, a tradition inherited form the vikings...
Lady D: I've just always felt that Despenser thought that being Edward's lover was the most expedient way of getting power and my gut instinct is that he was a basically heterosexual man using the King's bisexuality to make himself richer and more powerful. However, it's only my personal opinion.
I think it was a bit like that:
Ed: Piers, I love you. Have some more land.
Piers: I love you too, Ed, and I really don't need more land.
Ed: Aw, come, I'd rather give it to you than to (insert one of his enemies) who also claims it.
Piers: Well, if you see it that way, you have a point, love.
Hugh: Ed, do you love me?
Ed: Sure I do.
Hugh: Can I have that land poor widow (insert suitable name) will never be able to administer herself? Pwetty please?
Ed: Don't you have more land than you can deal with already?
Hugh: No Ed, I can take some more responsibilities off your back, lovey.
Ed: OK then, take it.
Good point, Gabriele, LOL!
LOL, Gabriele, that sounds about right!
*Falls off chair laughing*
Carole: interesting point! There's an article called 'It's not easy being a queen, even when you're a king' (link on my sidebar) which says the same thing. It says Despenser may have been a 'cunning heterosexual', which I think is just a great phrase!
Gabriele, that moved me to tears. So touching of Hugh to realize the dreadful burden that land was placing on other people . . .
Yes Susan, poor Hugh is so misunderstood. He had the best of motives, really.
Oh Gabrielle, that gave me such a laugh! I'm sure he was pretty clever at getting Ed to let him have anything he wanted, but, like I said, I am biased :-) He may have been unscrupulous and greedy and sometimes a little bit - er - nasty, but I just like to think he also had some feelings of affection for Edward too - after all, he did stay with him at the end when he could just have scarpered off on his own. Go on.... just humour me!
As for Nefs - a multi-purpose kitchen utensil perhaps. Handy for alms, salt, wine or for hiding the castle keys in an emergency ('cause no-one would ever think of looking in *such* an expensive looking object!LOL
"there's so much consensus regarding her good looks, she probably was genuinely extremely attractive. She and Edward must have made a very handsome couple!"
You would've thought Edward III would have been quite the looker coming from the 14th Century version of 'Brangelina'. Now would they be 'Edwarella' or 'Isabeard'? 'Isabeard' is perfect, especially given Ed's sexual tastes.
LOL, this comment thread is turning into a lot of fun! I prefer Edwarella, myself. It has a nice ring. ;)
Since the question of Richard III's and Henry the Lion's appearance has been raised here, let me, please, state two things:
1. There exists a description of what Richard III looked like, which seems to be little known -- or much disregarded -- by English historians. The German knight Nikolaus von Poppelau left it, together with a report of a voyage to England he made in 1484. Poppelau's original -- Latin-- text is lost, but there is a German rendition contained in a compilation from the 18th century. My Richard biography treats Poppelau as a swashbuckler, and whether he really conversed as much with Richard as he claimed, or even spoke with him at all, may indeed be doubtful. It's however more than just probable that he really saw him. By Poppelau's description, then, Richard was very tall -- "three fingers" taller than Poppelau, who claimed to be an exceptionally strong male --, but slender, not "thick-set", with "quite subtle" arms and legs; whatever that last expression means, to me it spells "longshanks".
2. Now, for Henry the Lion. During that glorious time between 1933 and 1945, Henry the Lion was rediscovered as the great 'colonisator' of the East, the stalwart warrior who stood guard against yon sinister slavonic hordes; and therefore, a zealous band of nazis proceeded to open his grave at the cathedral of Brunswick, in 1935. Nobody had the courage to even discuss what they discovered, during the next ten years. But the sting hurt deeply, and the spirit of sacred germanhood was not so easily overcome, after 1945. So, in 1952, German historians profited from their new-found freedom, by beginning to passionately dispute the identity of the corpse from the Brunswick vault. Just imagine the horror -- the Lion's coffin was occupied by a heavy-set black-haired dwarf of 1.62 m (= 5.3 ft), whose one leg was 4 inches shorter than the other! To make matters still more ridiculous, alongside the coffin was found a skeleton -- which was, in 1935, thought to be a female, e.g. Henry's second wife --, measuring legendary 2 meters (= 6.5 ft). Now this second skeleton had apparently been been pressed flat and elongated by whatever weighed upon it; however, its owner, in life, must still have been towering to the impressive height of 6.2 ft. So, in 1974, someone whose name I've not been able to discover, had the ingenious idea, just from looking at the photos, to swap the skeletons' sexes. The tall one must have been Henry, the dwarfish one his wife. I suppose everyone felt better, after that, and the city of Brunswick, above all, embraced this explanation wholeheartedly.
However, it's rather obviously nothing but an instance of wishful thinking. Henry's accident in 1194, where he is reported to have broken his hip, fits very well with the black-haired dwarf's injured and badly healed hip, and Henry's wife was ... -- Maud, daughter of Henry II of England and Eleonore d'Aquitaine, sister of Richard the Lionheart, and great aunt of Edward Longshanks. The feature of giant statures was running in her family, wasn't it? So, I think, in Henry's case we may suppose that even good feeding in childhood didn't make a nobleman grow taller than the average human, and that this case of nature vs. nurture should be decided in favor of the genes.
Hi, GeorgeD - I was wondering where you were! Nice to see you again!
I've heard that Poppelau description of Rich III - it is odd, the way it's so often ignored. Mary Clive (I think that's her name) mentions it in her biog of Edward IV, but discounts it.
thank you very much for welcoming me back in the flock! I'm ever so sorry for being such an unreliable customer, and have to confess that my own blog is nothing more than a -- up till now, completely failed -- attempt to cure an apparently chronic condition of writer's block. However, whenever I'm around, I never fail to read, or catch up, on your blog. It's absolutely admirable, and you've fully convinced me of Edward's long surviving his alleged (hot poker, lol) death. What a stunning chain of evidence that was ... wow!
As to Poppelau, to me, he sounds perfectly convincing, above all, since he is describing what are clearly the typical Plantagenet 'long and lank' features -- and how should Poppelau (or his redactor) have known about those? Indeed, how anyone can believe in that little-hunchback-withered-arm-Gollum caricature that is depicted by the chronicles, is beyond me.
I'm much interested in history from 900 up to 1500, but not especially English history, and not especially Edward II. There are lots of riddles I'd like to see discussed, and it's a matter of deep regret to me that the net doesn't contain more blogs like yours, dealing with other topics (Isabeau de Bavière, for instance, or the Borgias, or the German emperor Henry IV). For the time being, to me, your blog is by far the best around, and I'm as grateful as ever for all of the priceless information and insight you're providing. However, since most of what I know about Edward II has been learned from you, I can hardly contribute something of real merit to your comment section. Most of what I know is, unfortunately, off-topic.
Hi GeorgeD! Really is good to see you back. Glad you enjoyed the debate about Ed's alleged death - unfortunately, I still have a ways to go - I picked up no fewer than 3 recently published non-fiction books over Xmas which stated the red-hot poker death as certain fact!
I wonder why the Popppelau description is sometimes not taken seriously - after all, what motive would he have for lying about Rich's appearance?
And thank you very much for your kind comments! I'll even forgive you for not being especially interested in Ed II... (/joke ;) I wish too that there were more history blogs around. It would still be great to read your comments, even if it's totally off-topic - it would be really interesting to hear about parallels between events in Ed's life and other people, for example.
Three more hot poker death books! Ick!
History writing, it seems, is very rarely about what really happened, but mostly about what people want to have happened. It's a tough thing to tell truths that people aren't prepared to acknowledge. You're up against sensationalism ("how delightfully gruesome!" ... drool ...) on the one side, and traditionalism ("you're not going to tell me the chronicles have it wrong!" ... snarl ...) on the other. Please don't let them discourage you too soon. Selfishly I hope that you will keep up the good fight for a long time to come -- and win it in the end, of course!
While I'm at it, here are my impressions of Edward II so far. In general, what keeps me interested in medieval history is that it's so exotic. Those people are so far away, so strange, so unapproachable ... you can look at their outside as much as you please, but there's just no way to get beyond their skin. And by and by, I've got the impression that most of those whose names have come upon us, share one flaw between them. They were driven by greed. Edward is different, and quite singular. Maybe it's your way of introducing and explaining him, but to me he's the only medieval human being I can try to understand by today's standards. He was neither greedy nor cunning. He set out as a spoiled and headstrong kid, expecting to have his every wish fulfilled, for sure, but knowing very little about any other way to reach that end, apart from issuing commands. That his position as a king had its limitations, that it was a part, defined by rules, to which others expected him to conform, no matter what his own inclinations might be, and that his transgressions could backfire, must have come as a cruel shock to him. At first, he didn't know his place, and when he knew it, he didn't like it.
This is just my opinion. I don't think that Despenser affair had anything to do with love or sex. I think Edward had mentally resigned, long before he was deposed. He didn't feel up to the whole kingship thing any more, so he left the kinging to those who enjoyed it -- the greedy ones --, and expected that they assured his peace and pleasure in return. Unfortunately, he overestimated their talent to ride the tiger.
Leaving the last word to you, I promise that I shall try to exert myself a bit more, and come up with a comment now and then, in the future!
GeorgeD: so true, what you say about history. I'm convinced that portrayals of Isabella say far more about how the historian views women than Isabella herself - so for centuries Isa was condemned as an adulteress and 'unfeminine' by people who couldn't believe that a woman could act the way she did, whereas nowadays she's seen more and more as some kind of empowered feminist icon, not to mention the long-suffering victim who 'lost her children'. None of that says anything about what Isa was really like; it merely forces the events of her life into a narrative she couldn't possibly have recognised.
I've seen a lot of resistance to my certainty that the red-hot poker story was nonsense, most often along the lines of 'but it has to be right, that's what I learned at school!!' And sensationalism plays a BIG part too, of course.
That's some great insights into Edward there - thanks very much! Lots for me to think about, especially the Despenser bit.
Looking forward to hearing from you again soon...;)
I might be able to assist you with the uploading of Edward's corbel in Winchelsea. I've had the same problem with certain file extensions, Blogger can be quite stubborn! If you'd care to send them to me, I'll save them in a different format, or if you could direct me to the original URL, I'll use my SnagIt software to latch onto a copy for you.
Thanks, Kevin - that's really kind of you! Unfortunately, I haven't found a pic of the corbel online, but scanned it from one of my books - the file was huge, over 20 MB, which may be why Blogger wouldn't upload it. And for some reason I couldn't compress it (I'm not very good with that anyway). I've deleted the image from the PC now, but I'll have another go at scanning it, and see how it works - if not, I'd be delighted to ask for your help. ;)
Quite a different appearance from the way he is portrayed in Braveheart. Though that is probably one of the least glaringly inaccurate points of that movie.
Steven: *grins*. I can quite enjoy that film, but only if I pretend that I know nothing at all about any of the characters, none of whom really existed, of course, and that it takes place in some parallel universe which bears an *extremely* vague resemblance to England and Scotland in the 13th and 14th centuries. ;)
The Battle of Stirling Bridge. Really, there's supposed to be a bridge in that battle? The bridge wasn't that important of a factor was it? :)
It's still one of my favorite movies.
Hey, who needs a bridge in the battle of Stirling Bridge, anyway?! ;) It's Isabella's 7 year plus pregnancy that makes me sporfle the most. :-)
7 year pregnancy. I think that was pretty common back then.
Yes, I think so, and don't forget their amazing ability to store sperm, too. ;)
do we know about appearance of Piers Gaveston? or Hugh Despenser?
Unfortunately not :/ It was rare for anyone's appearance to be described (we don't know what Isabella looked like, even). One later chronicler said Piers was 'graceful in body', and that's all we have.
Don't think Richard III was unhandsome. Facial reconstruct was botched I think giving him that unnatural jaw. They also made him. Cross eyed. Not the handsomest man in Europe but the portraits have been altered. I do think he had a hard visage he was outdoors a lot, riding and doing Edwards bidding.
Thanks for this. I've been wondering what he looked like as he is painted as such a weak king. As for height, the average Highlander in that era stood 6 feet and Angus Og Macdonald, friend of Robert the Bruce, who fought with the King of Scots at Bannockburn was 6 ft. 2 inches, determined by his grave slab.
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