A joint post by my friend Rachel - who gets all the credit for the brilliant idea - and myself. Here's the first meeting of the Support Group For People Unfairly Maligned In Historical Fiction! (And in case you haven't seen it, take a look at our Support Group for Tragic Queens.)
Edward II: Welcome to the group, everyone. I'm your moderator, King Edward II, though do feel free to call me King Edward for short, and I’m glad to see so many of you here. Well actually, I’m not glad at all, as you’re only here because of the nonsense written about you in historical novels. But anyway, I'll get the ball rolling. How haven't I been maligned by writers? I've been accused of physical cowardice...
George Boleyn: Damn right! I've even read that you fled the field after the battle of Bannockburn. As if!
Edward: Well, there's a teeny tiny chance I did actually do that. In a way. You know, just a little bit.
Edward: But only when I had no other choice once the battle was lost and because the earl of Pembroke forced me to leave the field before Robert Bruce could capture me for, well, a king's ransom. I soooo was not one of the first men to flee the field. That's deeply unfair. Isabella did not despise me for cowardice at Bannockburn as some novelists like to believe. And talking of whom, could someone please, for the love of God, tell the numerous writers who keep mindlessly repeating it that I did NOT abandon her weeping and pregnant to the mercy of our enemies at Tynemouth in 1312? I sent her by land to York and met up with her there a mere nine days later. Do writers honestly think I should have taken a woman in the first trimester of pregnancy on a five-day journey bobbing about in a small boat on the North Sea?
Piers Gaveston: If you had, Ned, no doubt they'd gleefully portray you as callously not caring about the health of your wife and unborn child rather than callously abandoning them. It's a lose-lose situation for you. Talking about myths, here's another one: you did NOT give Isabella's jewels and your wedding gifts to me to keep for myself. You sent them to me to store them safely, but obviously that explanation is too prosaic for some people. Aside from anything else, I might have been ostentatious, but a drag queen? I don’t think so. And by the way? I wasn’t a rent boy either. Where do people get this from? I was a member of the Gascon nobility! Do people seriously imagine that in 1300 - 1300! - the king of England would have selected a boy not of noble birth, who'd been a prostitute for years to boot, to be his son's chief companion? Apparently they do.
Hugh Despenser: On the subject of birth, why do novelists insist on depicting me as a humble knight and basically a nobody? Why can't they do a bit of research and learn that I was in fact a high-ranking nobleman, grandson and nephew of earls of Warwick and step-grandson of the earl of Norfolk? And seriously, I'm going to haunt the next writer who says that Edward II arranged my marriage to his niece Eleanor after I became his lover. Apparently, it's just too much effort to look at the numerous sources which make it clear that I married her in May 1306 and her grandfather Edward I arranged it, and that we'd had half a dozen kids by the time I, erm, you know, kind of accidentally seduced her uncle. *whistles innocently*
Isabella of France: I am somewhat baffled by the way I used to be portrayed as an evil cackling murderous unfeminine she-wolf but am now a) a long-suffering tragic neglected wife dumped on over and over from a great height by her nasty cruel gay husband, who in 1325 is b) miraculously transformed into a strong empowered proto-feminist, but then c) suddenly becomes - ta-da! - a helpless little victim of nasty men again and in no way responsible for anything she does wrong in the late 1320s because it's all Mortimer's fault. Whether I'm a helpless victim of men or a strong empowered feminist icon completely in control of all her actions depends entirely on whether I'm doing something the author approves of or something s/he doesn't like, of course. I'm also portrayed as eventually and oh-so-romantically finding Twu Wuv after years of the worst marital awfulness any woman in history has ever had to endure and discovering that the route to personal fulfilment and contentment lies in shagging a married man who has a dozen children. Isn't that just the sweetest most romantic thing you've ever heard of?
Joan Mortimer: Well, now you come to mention it, no, not really. Funny how my husband's adultery with you is romantic and entirely forgivable while Edward II's is deeply icky, isn't it, and that the same novelists who write scene after indignant scene about Isabella's neglect at the hands of her husband do their utmost to pretend that my husband isn't actually married? One novelist has me being very overweight and deeply unattractive, and the sad thing is that I'm actually grateful that she even bothered to mention me in the first place. They usually don't.
Richard III:Coming back to Isabella's point about people's reputations doing a 180, for half a millennium I was regarded as the epitome of all that is evil and deformed and hideous, but these days some writers seem to think I was some kind of saint who never did the slightest thing wrong ever while others still think that I was an evil nephew-murdering monster who never did the slightest thing right ever. Ummm, shades of grey, people?
Elizabeth I: Hello, everyone, England’s greatest queen here. There’s one idiot, I mean author, who seems to think that I – who never married, and was attended at just about every step of the way even when I was queen - managed to pop out six kids without anyone noticing. And I thought I’d scotched that stupid pregnant-by-Thomas-Seymour rumour at the time, but 460 years later people are still banging on about it.
Anne Boleyn: Where to start with my unfair vilification? I did not commit adultery. I sure as heck did not commit incest. (Sex with my brother?? There is not enough ewwww in my vocabulary.) I was not a serial killer, or a poisoner. Or convicted of witchcraft. I did not miscarry a deformed foetus. Neither was I deformed myself. Because of course Henry VIII would have spent seven years trying to get his marriage to the Holy Roman Emperor’s aunt annulled so he could marry someone hideously disfigured. Makes perfect sense.
Margaret of Anjou: I'm usually portrayed as this evil vengeful bitch without whom England would never have become embroiled in the Wars of the Roses for several decades, but what should I have done, for heaven's sake? Allowed my son to be disinherited in favour of that man York? And for all the writers who think I cackled like a mad cackling harpy at the sight of York’s head after the battle of Wakefield, I wasn’t there, all right? I was in Scotland. Yes, Scotland.
Edward II: Oh, for Piers', I mean Pete's, sake. You mean, there are writers who can’t even figure out what country the queen of England was in at any given time? That’s dreadful.
Margaret of Anjou: It certainly is. And as for that nasty little rumour that my husband Henry VI was not the father of my son? Of course he bloody was. Henry was perfectly well and sane when we conceived Edward and for a few months afterwards, thank you very much. Obviously I was most grateful for the duke of Somerset's loyal support, but seriously, go to bed with him? As if! And regarding the inutterably inane suggestion that the duke of Suffolk was my son's father - dearie me, this is so painfully stupid - he'd been dead for three and a half years by the time Edward was born. I have two words, four syllables, for writers: Basic Research!
Isabella of France: And on that subject, I am sick to death of this nonsense about me shagging Roger Mortimer or some random Scottish man to conceive Edward III. It's crap. My husband was the father of my eldest son, and of all my other children. Got it?
Edward II: No-one ever thought to doubt that until the end of the twentieth century, then it suddenly became wildly popular to claim that some other man, any random man who wasn't me, had fathered my eldest son Ned, regardless of plausibility. In fact, the more implausible the candidate, the better. My favourite theory is - get this - that my father Edward I was the real father of my son. Yes, that's my father who died more than five years before my son was born.
Margaret of Anjou: Your dead father is meant to have fathered your son? Where on earth do people get this crap? I feel your pain, Edward.
Isabella: And for the last time, I never even met William bloody Wallace, okay? I was still a child when he was executed and wasn’t even in England. Neither had I been abandoned in Scotland when my eldest son was conceived, as one novelist thinks, or for that matter, when my other children were conceived either. I can confirm Margaret of Anjou’s story that there are writers who can’t even figure out what country the queen of England was in at any given time. I echo Margaret's comment: do some research, people!
Roger Mortimer: Talking of being in the wrong country, evidently some writers have also failed to notice that I was in Ireland nine months before Edward III was born, and for a good while before and afterwards too. Even I, manly, virile, audacious and unequivocally heterosexual as I undoubtedly am, would struggle to impregnate a woman who’s in another country.
Edward II: Hey, what are you doing here? This is the group for people maligned in historical fiction! The back-slapping self-congratulatory group for men lauded to the heavens in crappy romance novels as perfect wonderful manly heroes just because they like having sex with women is down the corridor. I believe my grandson John of Gaunt is chairing it.
Roger: No, actually this is the group I wanted to join. After all, novelists rarely bother to characterise me beyond 'strong and virile hetero hero who is the antithesis of horrid gay effeminate Edward II' and then later, 'nasty unscrupulous greedy villain' who is nothing more than a useful scapegoat all your wife’s misdeeds and mistakes can be dumped on. And sorry, by the way. You know, for having an affair with Izzy and holding your son hostage and invading your kingdom and all that.
Edward II: No problem. I didn’t like her that much anyway. And I’m much happier doing my own thing in Italy with everyone in England believing that you had me murdered, and besides, my son and me got all our problems resolved when I secretly met him in Germany, so it all worked out in the end.
Roger: Well, how terribly nice for you. Shame I've gone down in history as the man who - ha! - had the former king of England killed with a red-hot poker. I mean, please, a red-hot poker? Can you think of anything less plausible?
Edward: Sheesh, can you believe that old chestnut's still doing the rounds? Incredible. Never mind, Rog, the truth will out, eventually. But seriously, how come you’re always characterised as the manly virile strong manly macho man who is incredibly strong and manly while I, acknowledged by my contemporaries as one of the strongest men in England and with a serious addiction to outdoor exercise, am frequently portrayed in fiction as shrieking, flouncing around, throwing tantrums, stamping my foot, fluttering my hands and generally behaving like a twelve-year-old girl in a strop? For pity’s sake, I’m a man and I love Piers and Hugh as a man. Yes, they’re also men. What of it?
Piers Gaveston: Isn’t it profoundly irritating when novelists write tired outdated old stereotypes rather than characters? Some of them think they have to write you as the screechiest, campest, most incredibly effeminate man who ever lived, Ned, and I'm especially keen to forget that novel which makes some utterly feeble joke about you not being a king but a queen, or some rubbish like that. And as for me, I'm bisexual so therefore writers think I have to be desperate to shag anything that comes within 100 feet of me.
George Boleyn: Same with me, Piers. Modern writers have decided that I'm also bisexual - not quite sure on what grounds, but still - and therefore I’m the obnoxious amoral manslut who will shag anything with a pulse, regardless of sex, age or even species.
Hugh Despenser: And don't forget the double standards. Mortimer's sexual dominance over the queen is romantic, proof of how much they loved each other and a useful excuse for her not to be held responsible for anything she does wrong. My sexual dominance over the king on the other hand is - hold on, let me check - OK, I've got "perverted" in this book and "unnatural" and "sordid" in this one. I know I didn't exactly live in the most enlightened times and men having sex with men was taboo and forbidden, but then, so was the queen committing adultery, so I'm not quite sure why one relationship is usually written as sighingly romantic and the other as disgusting.
Isabella: The difference is that you really are icky, Despenser, and I am queen and therefore I'm right, so shut up. And I’ll tell you what else is irritating. Novelists who think that the best way to make their medieval and Tudor royal or aristocratic female characters sympathetic and even, God forbid, 'relevant' to twenty-first century readers is to have the women acting astonished and horrified when they're told that they’ll have to marry a man of their male guardian's choice in a political alliance, and whining about how unfair and unreasonable it is that they can't marry for love and choose their own husband. Makes as much sense as a woman of the early twenty-first century going "Whaaaat?? You're saying that I can marry a man of my own choice, just because I love him?? That's crazy!"
Katherine Woodville: Good evening, fellow maligned people. I've had novelists accuse me of child abuse on the grounds that my husband Henry Stafford was half my age and a mere child when he was forced by my wicked greedy family to marry me, then supposedly a grown woman. Let me say this for the last time: He. Was. Older. Than. Me. Got it? We were both children when we married. Oh, and I was not automatically a complete bitch just because I happened to be born a Woodville, mmmkay?
William Hastings: I've been accused of abuse, too. I'll never deny being a womaniser, but that's about seventeen million miles from being a child-rapist and murderer. I mean, please. The horror of seeing that vicious calumny in print!
George Boleyn: Ugh, you poor thing. Me, I've been accused of sleeping with my own sister, and it gets worse: not only was I besotted with Francis Weston in that same novel – which, if you knew Weston, well he was nice enough but really, you just wouldn’t – and an avowed homosexual but at the same time I was supposedly sexually attracted to my own sister. I’d be offended if it wasn’t so psychologically preposterous. Actually … scratch that, I’m still offended.
Elizabeth Woodville: That same author has me obsessively fetishising my purported ancestor Melusine. Great-Grandma Water Goddess this and Melusine that. It’s ridiculous and tedious. And don’t get me started on the witchcraft rubbish! My mother Jacquetta was cleared of all those accusations. Cleared. Understand?
Piers Gaveston: Oh don’t talk to me about goddesses and witchcraft. For some reason, I’m always portrayed as some sort of pagan Earth mother-worshipping character. Of course, the actual goddess is never specified, it’s always some strange amorphous hybrid of various pagan legends and twentieth-century Wicca. Please. My religious beliefs were as orthodox as anyone else’s at Court. Secondly, my mother was not burned as a witch, and I’m strongly tempted to haunt the living daylights out of the next person who writes that she was. Say what you like about me, but leave my poor mum out of it.
Mark Smeaton: Is this the group for the People Vilified in Historical Novels?
Edward II: Yes, you’re in the right place. And you are …?
Mark Smeaton: Well, apparently, I was Queen Anne Boleyn’s intellectually below-average socially inept fanpoodle. Or George Boleyn’s equally socially inept boytoy. I keep forgetting which.
George Boleyn: Well in this one here, it seems you’re both.
Mark Smeaton: Seriously? Let me see that. *flips pages* Wow. It even has me coming on to you in public! Because, people totally did that all the time in the 1530s, and everyone else would have been okay with it. Riiiight. That’s totally not anachronistic at all. *rolls eyes* I mean, really – somehow the fact that you gave me a gift of a book is evidence not of a patron/protégé type friendship, but that we were at it like rabbits? Good Lord. That’s definitely putting two and two together to make 567.
Katherine Howard: I’ll see your affair with George Boleyn and raise you … wait for it … Anne of Cleves and me. And no, we’re not going to act out that scene with the honey jar for you lot, so don’t even think about it.
Anne of Cleves : It was a change from the horse-faced social klutz with poor personal hygiene portrayal though. Not necessarily a good one, but still …
Katherine Howard: Well, you know, nothing like a bit of posthumous sexual orientation confusion to make things interesting. Because, obviously, if I was a sex-obsessed teenager, I would totally have jumped anyone with a pulse regardless of age or sex who stood still long enough. It naturally follows.
Richard II: Of course. Naturally. And anyone even remotely attracted to a member of the same sex is by definition so deviant that no one between the ages of six months and 100, let alone animals, is safe from their depredations. Nothing like a bit of realistic characterisation! Speaking seriously, I’m still deeply upset at being portrayed as gang raping some poor woman into insanity with Robert de Vere, who just happens also to be my lover, in some kind of weird homoerotic bonding ritual, for the purpose of … well, I don’t even know. It was extremely revolting and disturbing.
Piers: Thankfully, Edward and I were never subjected to that. That I know of, anyway. How obnoxious. Can you sue for defamation in the afterlife, Dickon? Thinking about it, though, at least three novelists do have me coming on to a teenage Roger Mortimer for absolutely no reason that I can discern except that I fancy men, which apparently means that I have to hit on every single male in sight. I mean, Roger Mortimer?? Seriously, Izzy, I know you like the guy, but as George said about Weston, I just wouldn't. Ever.
Roger Mortimer: Hey, I’m right here!
Piers: Sorry, Rog, no offence. But as, according to various writers, you're the most unequivocally heterosexual man who ever lived, there's no reason why you'd care if I don't fancy you, is there?
Roger: I totally don't care. Let me count the ways in which I do not care.
Hugh Despenser: *under his breath* Bet you do really. But Piers, at least authors actually try to write a bit of minimal characterisation for you, even if it’s not much more than 'man who loves men who can't keep it in his pants' or 'anachronistic Goddess-worshipper with a poignant, albeit completely untrue, backstory of a mum burned at the stake for witchcraft'. I'm usually only this one-dimensional epitome of all evil with character traits taken straight from twentieth-century sadistic genocidists, though one author did have me being a brutal wife-beater but also what I can only describe as all swishy and girly - apparently for no reason except that I was Edward II's lover and The Rules for Crappy Novels state that men who have sex with men are required to be camp. As well as disgusting, perverted and unnatural, of course. Still trying to get my head round that one.
Thomas Boleyn: I for one don’t blame you all for being upset. These writers seem to be obsessed with sex, and the more scandalous and unpleasant, the better. I was an accomplished diplomat and faithful servant of the king, who wished only to arrange great marriages for my children and improve our family’s standing … well, okay, I was ambitious, but really, who wasn't? ... and thanks to recent novels and a certain TV series, it seems I am now to be known in perpetuity - to put it colloquially - as Pimp Daddy Boleyn.
Richard II: Pimp Daddy?
Thomas Boleyn: Yes. It seems fashionable to portray my wife and me as essentially pimping our daughters to the king as high class escorts. Which not only couldn’t be further from the truth, but I’m sure I don’t need to explain how preposterous or offensive that is.
John of Buchan: That is absolutely outrageous, I agree. No self-respecting aristocrat would prostitute his daughters like that.
Piers: Or his sons or nephews, come to that.
Edward II: Indeed, it was all about advantageous marriage alliances. Speaking of marriages, it seems to be an increasingly tiresome habit to portray my and Isabella’s as the most abusive, neglectful and appalling you could imagine. Apparently, I was unnatural for not fancying my pubescent bride, who just happened to be twelve.
Isabella: Ummmm, hello? I was The Most Beautiful And Desirable Woman In All France. Everyone says so.
Edward II: And also, twelve.
George Boleyn: But if you had fancied her, Edward, you would have been just as unnatural, because twenty-first century romance novelists would have been all, "OMG! Paedophile!" You can't win. Fancy a twelve-year-old, you're an unnatural pervert; don't fancy a twelve-year-old, you're an abusive and neglectful husband. And also an unnatural pervert because of Piers, of course.
Edward II: It appears to be more or less compulsory in novels to include a scene where either my wife or other people talk about how unnatural I am and how incomprehensible it is that I don't instantly prostrate myself at her feet the first time we meet and worship her perfect amazing desirable beauty, and evidently the reader is supposed to feel enormous sympathy for her and annoyance with me rather than thinking 'Why the heck would a man of twenty-three fancy a twelve-year-old anyway?' or 'Why isn't Edward laughing himself sick at the kid with no breasts and no hips who thinks she's all that?' or 'Poor Edward, forced to marry that spoilt self-absorbed little brat when he's already in love with someone else'.
Isabella: Hey! Didn't I put up with enough appalling abuse from you throughout our marriage without being insulted as well? I am queen and you can't say things like that about me. And you're one to talk about being spoilt and self-absorbed. Your kingdom went to the dogs while you messed around digging ditches and thatching roofs and stuff, and enriching your lovers!
Edward: Yeah, yeah, whatever. Talk to the hand, Izzy. Oh, and I should have mentioned the bizarre and frankly offensive attitude some writers seem to have that the presence of an attractive female should have been enough to 'cure' me of loving men. 'How could he look at someone else when he had beautiful Izzy?', they shriek. I mean, really, as though it works like that!
Piers: And I'm sure there must be some kind of checklist with points that writers can tick off to ensure that they're correctly writing Isabella as an abused neglected wife, and never mind that most of the stories are invented or at the very least exaggerated. Edward doesn't fall in love with her at their wedding - check. Gives her jewels to me - check. Kisses me with enormous enthusiasm in front of her at Dover - check. Abandons her pregnant and crying in 1312 - check. Abandons her to the Scots in 1322 - check. Cruelly 'removes' her children from her in 1324 - check. Tries to divorce her in 1325 - check. And so on and so forth, tediously and predictably.
Isabella: Pfft, I am the ultimate tragic neglected wife, and I am queen, as one novelist has me saying in pidgin English without a 'the' approximately once every three sentences, while you're just the second son of a minor Gascon noble who got his head cut off, so don't be talking to me. I am queen. Anyway, twelve is old enough to know that my favourite, erm, position is on my knees from behind, according to one particular recent novelist. I am queen, and I even told my new husband on our wedding night how much I liked it kneeling up "like the animals" and he wasn’t shocked in the slightest, because obviously the king of France's pubescent daughter who’d been betrothed to the king of England since she was three wasn’t in any way expected to be a virgin. No sirree. I am queen.
Edward II: Did you have to remind me? That's the novel where I bang on for a couple of paragraphs about how women's bodies appal and revolt me and declare that I will never ever ever ever be able to have sex with a woman because they revolt me so much while also, errrmmm, telling Piers that I've fathered an illegitimate son. Even though this is 1307 and they won't invent sperm donation for a few centuries yet. Then a few chapters after that contradictory little episode I have sex with the non-virgin twelve-year-old Isabella on her knees "like the animals" with no problems or hesitation at all, because evidently I've forgotten that women's bodies are supposed to appal and revolt me. And I’m still recovering from that voyeuristic heavily-breathing dwarf. *shudders*
Anne of Cleves: A what dwarf? Sounds interesting, if disturbing. Share?
Piers: You don’t want to know. Seriously. You really don’t. I'm disturbed just from having to hear about it.
Anne Boleyn: Well, you're French, Isabella. Don’t you know that French courts were always synonymous with high class brothels? I read that in numerous novels, so it must be true! I can’t count the number of times I’m supposed to have kept Henry hanging using sex tricks I learned in France … I’m sure Marguerite of Navarre and Queen Claude would be thrilled to know their households were glorified harems.
Isabella: Very true. What can I say - we French were obviously born obsessed with sex *rolls eyes*. Anyway, Edward, it still doesn’t excuse you preferring Piers to me. I am queen.
Edward II: He was my age, we shared similar interests, and also, well … hot. Anyway, I have two words for you. Roger and Mortimer. Enough said.
Katherine Howard: *to Piers* Why, hello there! Sorry, Izzy, but I think I’ll have to go with King Edward on this one.
Elizabeth I: Indeed, he reminds me of my sweet Robin. Oy! Back of the queue, stepmum dearest.
Edward II: Ahem. Off topic, ladies. And also, don't forget, the yummy Gascon is mine. Strictly look but don't touch for the rest of you.
Katherine Howard: Sorry, got a bit distracted there.
Piers: Don’t worry, I’m used to it.
Edward II: Hellooo? When you're quite finished, we were talking about how grotesque and abusive Isabella’s and my marriage wasn’t.
Isabella: Was so. I am queen.
Anne Boleyn: Come off it, Izzy, we discussed this the other day and your marriage was infinitely better than lots of other women's. King Edward, if it’s any consolation, authors do that to Henry and me too. I’ve had rapist Henry, violent Henry … notwithstanding the whole being executed thing, our marriage wasn’t that bad all the time. I’m not sure which characterisation I hate more; incestuous slutty serial poisoner or pathetic victim.
John of Buchan: Oh, I’ve certainly come in for the abusive husband treatment too, beating up my wife Isabel of Fife when she's pregnant and the like. It seemed to be a cheap way of drumming up sympathy for Isabel, who was turned into a completely fatuous Mary Sue into the bargain. I understand she was most unimpressed.
George Boleyn: Same here. True, Jane and I were incompatible on a number of levels, and I admit I probably wasn’t the best husband in the world, but it is offensive to be portrayed as someone who would rape his wife from the rear on his wedding night because his nose was out of joint about having to marry at all. What was even more bizarre was that particular portrayal had me marrying ten years after I really did.
Mark Smeaton: That’s because they had you and me involved in an affair before your marriage. By the way, did I mention the incredibly overwhelming evidence for this that doesn’t exist? Anyway. If they’d stuck to the proper chronology and still wanted to keep the affair, I’d have been about eight if that at the relevant time, so …
Elizabeth I: Ugh. I’m pleased to see no-one actually went there.
Mark Smeaton: Give them time. Someone will.
Isabella: If someone can write a screenplay where I produce a child by a man who was executed when I was nine, they surely will. I am queen.
Edward II: In a genre where women get pregnant by men who've been dead for years or are in another country at the time, where a dwarf watches a royal couple consummate their marriage, where jaw-droppingly lame accusations of adultery and incest thrown at the queen of England are assumed to be true and where men who don't fall instantly in lust with twelve-year-olds are deemed weird, I fear that anything is possible. Till our next meeting, ladies and gentlemen!
Excellent, excellent, simply excellent!
This should be published in book form.
And I was a bit shocked to read that some really seem to think that Piers was a rent-boy or even a drag queen.
I missed John I. :)
Marvellous! And I love the idea of a "back-slapping self-congratulatory group for men lauded to the heavens in crappy romance novels". You must take the notes at a meeting of that one sometime:-)
And Henry VI wishes to point out that he is very tired of being portrayed by novelists as someone who couldn't figure out to put A into slot B and of thinking that the Holy Ghost fathered his son. Even the guy who repeated that rumor didn't say he believed it!
I think King John needs to make a visit to the group!
Thank you, all!
Brian, your kind comments really mean a lot to me (and Rachel too, I'm sure, when she sees it)
Ashmodai: I'm afraid they do! About John - well, this is only the first meeting, so maybe other people will decide to join...;)
Satima: that'd be great, wouldn't it? I have an image of Gaunt going 'this is Roger, who seduced a queen. My grandma, in fact. Rog, youda maaaan!!' :)
Susan: originally I had Margaret mentioning that Holy Ghost rumour, but unfortunately deleted it, as the thing was getting soooo long!
Clement: yes, he'd be an excellent addition! I might have to do a bit of research for John, though, as I'm not that knowledgeable about him.
ROFL. Thanks for doing this.
Excellent! I loved it - and I think that 'Pimp Daddy Boleyn' is going to stick in my mind for some time to come lol!
If Roger Mortimer, Edward, and (perhaps) Hugh Despenser were not my ancestors, I'd think they were very, very, very "manly, virile, audacious and unequivocally heterosexual," and have crushes on them.
Next blog post, could you write up the minutes of "back-slapping self-congratulatory group for men lauded to the heavens in crappy romance novels as perfect wonderful manly heroes just because they like having sex with women"? In that group, you could invite King John, Henry I and II, William Wallace, and many others who reek pheromones down the centuries. Although the wrong gender, Eleanor of Aquitaine could moderate. She's believed to have got around, too--at least in crappy novels by Alan Savage. http://shelfofshame.blogspot.com/2009/09/eleanor-of-aquitaine-by-alan-savage.html
Unfortunately John and hios brother Richard were fighting over who was the designated driver for the evening. By the time Richard made John take the keys the meeting was over. King Stephen was especially annoyed as they were picking him up on the way.
Thanks, Misfit and Lady D! The Pimp Daddy bit is Rachel's, and it's brilliant!
Christy: ohhhh, I have major crushes on Edward, Hugh and Roger, heterosexual or not (that virile and audacious bit is a direct quotation from a book, by the way).
Well, my manly back-slapping group does seem popular - I'll have to get my thinking cap on! :-)
Absolutely brilliant! Only thing is, it's made me want to read those novels for a damned good laugh! Some of them sound outrageous - Katherine Howard and Anne of Cleves - that has to be a joke, right? I'm missing out on some seriously dire novels here!
Having reflected recently on the portrayal of Piers - at least he's always handsome and his eyes are always noted - whereas Edward is often weak and feminine. I guess Piers will be happy for small mercies:>
I wondered about John as well - but then, I've a feeling John likes his portrayals:>
In all seriousness - I'm out-raged at any serious attempt tp portray Piers as some high class rent boy - the cliche of 'mother was a witch' I can cope with. And I thought any portrayals of Anne Boleyn as guilty were confined to the packed jury:>
We ought to be inspired to write our own outlandish 'historical fiction' - just how far can we go? I'm guessing no-one has seriously tried to have a king or queen change sex? unless anyone knows different......
I think another person worth considering for this blog is the Infanta Constance of Castile. She married John of Gaunt at age 18 hoping to reclaim the throne that was usurped by her Uncle- only to have her husband reject her publicly for his mistress, Katherine Swynford, whom he later married after having four children with her. In Anya Seton's novel Katherine, Constance is portrayed as a nasty, frigid, smelly religious fanatic, as opposed to Katherine, who's all tender sweetness and light.
You just made my day!
Next time you and Rachel do this, please check out Erickson's new book on Mary Queen of Scots. Heavens, she escapes from captivity and spends a couple of years plotting with the pope to crusade against Elizabeth. She and Bothwell have a *secret* daughter. Bothwell witnesses her execution. Bothwell is able to disguise himself as a peddler and they make woopee in the stillroom :P
PS, speaking of Alan Savage, don't miss his book on Margaret of Anjou. You won't believe what she *did* with the Queen of Scots and Elizabeth Woodville.
Thanks, Anerje! Yes, it's amazing what authors come up with, isn't it - though as you say, at least Piers is always attractive! I think we should write a novel where Ed is a cool surfer dude and Isa is a lesbian vampire, and use the usual shrieky 'it's FICTION!!!' argument if anyone dares to criticise it! :)
Caroline: thank you, and great to see you here! Constance is an excellent addition, and I remember shaking my head at the bit in Seton where John's nose wrinkles at her smelliness. Ick - she deserves a lot better than that.
I included Constance talking about her marriage in another recent 'support group' post - http://edwardthesecond.blogspot.com/2009/09/isabella-of-france-and-support-group.html
Mimi: thank you, and also great to see you here!
Misfit: I seem to remember reading some Amazon reviews of the Erickson novel you mention, and rolling my eyes. Calling it 'historical entertainment' indeed...And I really have to buy these Alan Savage novels - they sound like an absolute hoot.
Now I am encouraged to write a novel. ;)
I just cannot decide yet who my heroes will be.
Salvete. My name is Publius Quinctilius Varus, and I too have been treated unfairly, and not only in historical fiction. It all started with Velleius Paterculus who really ought to have known better because he was member of my staff in Syria. He wrote that I'm slow of mind and body, a coward and greedy. My dear Velleius, I have made the perfect career of a Roman patrician, accompagnied the noble Augustus as quaestor when he dealt with the Parthians, commanded a legion in Raetia, was governor of Africa and Syria - you don't get those jobs if you're slow of mind and body. And every Roman govenor gets money out of his job - Caesar was a lot worse than I and so were a few othes I could name. But those silly rumours stuck all the way from Tacitus to Cassius Dio.
And to add insult to injury, with the 2000 year anniversary of that battle I unfortunately lost, there are several new novels out. Oh dear. Two try really hard to make the me bad guy. In one I flog my slaves because they spilled a few drops of wine - such an unpatrician act. *shakes head* In the other I'm gay and Arminius is my lover. Yes, I liked him, but not that way.
*Arminius enters* Greetings, Publius Quinctilius. Yes, I've read that one. Some people .....
V: Gaius Julius Arminius, what are you doing here? You have been portrayed as hero who united the German nation and defeated the evil Romans for centuries. And Tacitus gave you a really nice Freedom speech.
A: Which I never held. The whole thing is so wrong. There was no German nation nor did I forge one - keeping that alliance of tribes working even for a few years was a damn lot of trouble. And the Romans weren't really evil, only their tax collectors sucked. And the lawyers. I wanted that lot out of Germania Magna and if you had sent them packing as I told you, the whole mess wouldn't have happened.
V: You know I could not send them packing. Taxes are part of being a Roman province. But those things are past now. So you have read that book where we go all Greek on each other?
A: Yes. And since I'm a hero and thus a manly heterosexual man, I find the idea of sleeping with you disgusting, but do it nevertheless to keep you ignorant about those little talks I had with other German leaders and which you never found out about anyway. Close your eyes and think of Germania. As if.
V: Dear yes, and I mope and angst all over the place because you married that Thurisnelda girl. Oh, but there is a book where I do get a pretty nice portrayal, but you are the moustache twirling evil overlord with plans for world domination.
A: Is that the one where I like watching prisoners being tortured?
A: Publius Quinctilius, may I suggest an alliance? Both of us against those writers?
V: I love the idea, but in times of internet and globalisation you can't exile those poeple like Augustus did with Ovid. They are everywhere
A: The true world domination.
Ashmodai: I hope Ned and Piers! :)
Carla: thank you!
Gabriele: wow, thank you for the fantastic addition! Great stuff! Maybe you could post it on your blog or website? Only it seems such a shame if it gets lost here in the comments.
Thanks Alianore for such a witty whinge. I haven’t laughed so much since Sue’s equally witty ‘How to spice up historical fiction’.
Actually it not so much the fiction that has me lifting off into hyperspace so much as the ‘factual’. OOOOOh the number of times I’ve wanted to walk out of the BL reading-room and consign the books before me to the bonfire of history you wouldn’t believe.
Now there’s a thought. November
5th is only three weeks so why don’t you have Edward convene a meeting during which all our distressed gentlefolk discuss whom they would like to see consigned to the bonfire of history. How about from ‘Whinge to Singe’?
Thanks, Trish! I know exactly what you mean about so-called 'factual' books. Don't even get me started...Love your idea about Whinge to Singe!
How about a novel where nobody gets unfairly maligned? I’ve taken on what most people would call ‘mission impossible’ treating both Richard III AND Henry VII fairly and possibly because my historical subject is Elizabeth of York I don’t feel the necessity to canonise one and demonise the other.
No doubt someone will shout ‘heresy’ but I have found some common ground between the two particularly given how both lost their heirs at a critical time and the superstitious ready to declare God’s punishment for the shedding of innocent blood, in Richard’s case that of his nephews and in Henry’s that of Clarence’s half-witted son. So how did I get round the problem? By treating them both as bereaved fathers.
Of the two it is perhaps Richard’s plight that was the more poignant given his seriously ill wife could have no more children. Henry’s problem was somewhat different in that he was faced with an heir who was an Edward IV clone. Even if Henry VIII had yet to emulate his grandfather, he was already looking like him.
I think this is what gets me about so much factual and fictional – the treating of the various personages as subjects rather than people.
Anerje: I think you're right, King John likes his portrayals. He will attend the maligned group anyway just to get attention but try to convince them that not only is it true that he crushed Geoffrey of Norwich to death with a lead cope, but also he had an underwater base and a fluffy white cat.
Marie Antoinette wants to join too...
Helena: Thanks for dropping by! MA would be a great addition, and I'm sure she'd love to set that 'let them eat cake' myth to rest!
I quite agree, Trish. I'm a big fan of novels that don't take sides and malign one character and the expense of another, and I'd love to read a novel where both Edward II and Isabella are fully rounded and likeable characters. Sadly, though, writers usually make Isa sympathetic and 'tragic' at Ed's expense by repeating all the myths about him (and making a few up, too). It's just so tediously predictable...
Good luck with wiiting your novel! It sounds great, and I look forward to reading it one day.
Thank you Alianore for your kind words. I don‘t know much about publishing and publishers and even JK Rowling had a problem finding one but I’m not really in it for the money so maybe when I’ve finished I’ll publish it on the Internet in instalments – might be a good idea given the outrageous cost for hardback books these days, £20 for ‘The White Queen’ oh puh-leeeeeease and the charge for Arlene Okerlund’s forthcoming book on Elizabeth of York is £55/$100! If you like it you can download it – if you don’t you haven’t wasted your money. Or maybe I’ll try my luck with the BBC with a suggestion of a Tudors prequel.
You might care to add Elizabeth of York to your list of justifiably injured historical parties who is unfairly maligned in a number of novels as being madly in love with Uncle Ricky. Elizabeth was known as ‘Elizabeth the Good’ and a comparison between her and the late Princess Diana has thrown up not one but twelve uncanny parallels including an outpouring of national grief on her death – you should read Sir Thomas More’s eloquent elegy on her passing – Sir Elton eat your heart out – so how can one even begin to believe that she could also be a manipulating, inconsiderate, impatient, incestuous bitch?
And where has this idea come from? Only from an uncorroborated allegation made by Sir George or as I prefer to call him Sir Goebbels Buck. Boy have I dug up some dirt on Buck but what I have to say I’m reserving for my blog ‘ Richard III – Some thoughts on the Great Debate ’.
I would, however, like to make a further suggestion as to how we can assist our distressed gentlefolk in the light of one of the comments, a course for authors of historical fact and fiction entitled ‘How to do your basic research – some do’s and don’ts, particularly the don’ts’. Heading the agenda will be the following ‘It is recommended that all participants untwist their nether garments before attending sessions. Head-boiling is optional but advisable. The course tutor reserves the right to administer verbal warnings, whipping, pillorying and as a last resort hdq and to remove those suffering from ill-conceived pre-conceived notions, misplaced tribal loyalty and snarkiness in extremis’
And the venue? Where else but the London Dungeon!
I live in the vain hope that I may one day find a diffinitive link to Robert Baldock, Edward's Chancellor, and/or later to Sir Robert Baldock, serjeant-at-law to James II.
Have so far got back to late 1500's.
(How) Was Baldock maligned?
Anyone have any more info or pedigree on Baldock?
Steve: Lady D has a post about Robert Baldock: http://despenser.blogspot.com/2009/02/robert-baldock-chancellor-1323-1326.html He was deeply unpopular because of his alliance with the Despensers and suffered a miserable death - poor man.
Thanks to everyone for the comments from me too, and some great additions to the group! I can't claim total credit for the Pimp Daddy thing; it came about when I was looking at the IMDb forum for either TOBG (ick) or The Tudors, probably the former (yes, I have a Tudor bias, particularly for AB). One of the posters had accepted the fictional portrayal as fact and was talking about how awful Anne was to her poor long suffering saintly sister, the extremely virtuous Stepford Wife who was not at all a good time girl Mary Boleyn, who is now the epitome of a feminist icon, and as for the way "Pimp Daddy Boleyn" pushed them into the king's bed ... Anyway, I decided to co-opt "Pimp Daddy Boleyn." I feel a bit sorry for Thomas, you'd think authors would at least give him a pimp cane if they're going down the Pimp Daddy track but NO.
After reading Leanda de Lisle's bio of the three Grey sisters, "Sisters who would be Queen" I think Lady Jane Grey's mother Frances might want to join the group - she must be well and truly sick of being cast as Evil Mummy Dearest (de Lisle argues quite convincingly that the Greys weren't as horrible and abusive as they're portrayed).
You've got to love historical fiction - deformed incest babies, pansexual nymphomaniacs and dwarf porn ... the genre has it all!
Thank you for the post!
I laughed a lot and I found the jalousy (?) of Edward with Piers extremely adorable and just "raaaaaaaaaaw" *o*
So romantic!!!! *o* (yes! Men loving men is the good! -to change of stereotypes from "historical" novels Lol)
Thanks so much, Florence! :-) Really glad you liked it - and yes, I couldn't agree more that Edward and Piers are really rrrrroohhhhrrrrrr. :-))
Very late to the party via Brian's blog, but...
Is the writer giving poor old Elizabeth I 6 children Paul F. Streitz?
I'm a founding member of the "Paul F. Streitz is an Imbecile" society. Just curious.
Hi John! I didn't write that part, but yes, I'm sure that was who was I meant. :)
Amongst his other accomplishments he was thrown out of the Sarah Palin fan club for being too stupid...
That takes some doing.
I do hope there will be another meeting . . .
Thank you! :):)
I loved it! Thank you for including William Hastings! And for the comments about "certain authors"- made my day!
May I suggest another person for whom recent history has gone back and forth? It's true to my form, of course, but I have to put him in here: Sir Roland de Veleville. Spends the better part of 400 years as the illegitimate son of Henry VII, then a paper is published in 1967 and suddenly his parentage comes into question! And even though that paper has now been widely discredited, it still has left this whole thing into question, and the ability to say that "if in his lifetime it was accepted, who are we to say it was wrong" is now not a valid option, instead requiring hours of arguments and document debating to even be brought up!
Looking for information about Alice de Toeni (was she born c.1254 or c.1284; was she married to William de Beauchamp, 9th Earl of Warwick, or Guy de Beauchamp, 10th Earl of Warwick...), I discovered your wonderful blog.
I am not a trained historian (my degree is in Classics), but I know enough about it to be deeply offended by the kinds of things you so justly deride. I especially liked the commandments for writing historical fiction, and this support group! I wasn't rolling on the floor, at my age, but I did laugh and laugh... I like stories set in historical periods, if they are reasonably accurate, but I avoid "historical" fiction with real people as main characters, so several of the allegations were new to me.
Three things occurred to me while reading:
I was reminded of something Margery Allingham had a character say: "Things aren't necessarily true because they've been written down for two hundred years." If she were writing today, it might be "on the internet".
Much of what people think they know about history, especially Medieval England, comes from the Shakespeare plays. Perhaps Will thought they were historically accurate, but I doubt if he cared much. He was a playwright who needed to sell tickets, and audiences like stuff that agrees with their ideas. I can forgive him because he wrote plays that are brilliant onstage and on the page, but they would have been just as brilliant with fictional rather than historical characters.
Apropos the "Anachronistic ..." list in one of Trish Wilson's comments on the "Commandments": "don't assume that the people you are writing about saw the world the same way you and your contemporaries do". Dynastic marriage is a good example: nobody nobody nobody expected them to be love matches--they were about consolidating power, property, and prestige, and handing them on to your children.
Gotta love this though it's a parody that IMO succeeds in being humorous and making me laugh -- well-researched, accurate, and you're definitely not making up stories that the many mistreatments of these fascinating, complex, and very human historical figures in the popular genre of historical fiction that has had the misfortune to be trashed with so many 'crappy' novels in recent times that it is now practically indistinguishable from other genres of fiction, with bad writing, flat and two-dimensional characterizations, poorly-written plotlines, and numerous anachronisms and inaccuracies. *winces*
I guess you can include Philippa Gregory's other flop portrayals of people like Henry VII, whom she characterized as an unkingly, cowardly, ruthless, insecure, and arrogant man with the mindset of 'women are chattel' and is easily manipulated by his cold and ambitious mother Margaret Beaufort whom he totally allows to run the court and overshadow his wife Elizabeth of York at every turn. Margaret also has Henry repeatedly rape her both before and during their marriage, with the former being that he will test her fertility (but the logic [which is that he should impregnate her before marrying her and crowning her so he will know that she is the perfect 'broodmare' that will secure the future of his lineage and dynasty with many children] is so eyebrow-raising because plenty of royal and noble women were married for years before going on to have a slew of children, like Empress Matilda, Adeliza of Louvain, Eleanor of Aquitaine, and Catherine de' Medici, and Henry was surely smart and pragmatic enough to know that even if he repeatedly had sex with Elizabeth before their marriage to get her with child, her body wouldn't necessarily react in the way he wanted, or heck even with Elizabeth's younger sister Cecily). It's like Gregory expects us to believe that Margaret, who vehemently pleaded for her granddaughter also named Margaret and agreed with Elizabeth that Henry shouldn't send the younger Margaret so soon while she was still in her early teens to her betrothed the King of Scotland for fear that she would suffer the same thing as Margaret the elder did in her marriage to Edmund Tudor -- rape/pregnancy and childbirth at such an early age that her body would never possibly heal from the damage with more than a good possibility that Margaret the younger would die in childbirth, would condone the rape and abuse of her daughter-in-law with whom she had spent some time with prior to Henry becoming king and might have developed a cordial and respectful relationship with her! >_<
Elizabeth is also sapped of her strength of character and in the first many chapters or so, she spends a lot of time mooning over her dead lover Richard III who was buried in an unmarked grave and recalling all her memories with him, which includes sex scenes. She is also definitely not genuinely likable, and has little to no trace of her historical self in which she appears to be noble, kind, gentle, pious, a good diplomat, and devoted, caring wife. I try my best not to judge medieval marriages and 'romances' by the standards of modern 21st century ideas and perceptions of love, but I just couldn't help myself when Elizabeth realized she 'loved' Henry even after all the times he raped and abused her in the book! *headdesks* Are we supposed to buy into this or is it supposed to mean that Elizabeth now has Stockholm's Syndrome?
Anyway, I overall liked your post and hope you'll keep writing more of this in the future! :D
Hello, and thank you for the great comment! Really glad you liked the post. As it's several years now since we wrote it, I'm sure there are quite a lot of updates that could made on behalf of disgruntled historical people who've been maligned! Henry VII would be a great one. I have to admit I've more or less given up on histfict these days, with a handful of exceptions. Can barely stand it any more. :/
Best of luck with your excellent site! I'll link to it here.
You're welcome, and no problem! :) Maybe you could write a 'Part 2' sometime in the distant future? Also, the "back-slapping self-congratulatory group for men lauded to the heavens in crappy romance novels" seems like a good idea to me, as the other commenters think as well.
Same as you -- at first I really enjoyed and was eager to read historical fiction, since I really loved history with a dash of entertainment and some liberties taken, but as time went on and I looked into more of the atrocities committed by historical fiction writers, I'm a bit warier these days and I can be rather picky about what I choose to read and like now, though I still retain my obsession with history. In contrast with many people's beliefs, I think of historical fiction as mostly semi-fiction as they are dramatizing real-life events and occasionally take liberties when it suits them, so I believe the authors have a duty to be more or less historically accurate and balance it with humanly fleshed-out characters, a well-written plot, a good eye for details, and giving the readers a good 'feel' of how the times were like back then.
Ooh, thank you! :) I see my blog now in your blogroll, I really appreciate it!
That is too funny and, as my British colleagues say, 'spot on'. I loved the 'Basic Research' comment - LOL!
Robert the Bruce would like to convene a meeting for all those maligned in the movie, "Braveheart'...especially as we seem to have a whole generation of kids whose idea of 'Basic Research' is Wikipedia and Netflix...yikes...
Funny and well written. I'm glad I stick to reading fantasy/Sci-fi where authors have carte blanche to write whatever they want.
This is so funny and interesting. Kathryn, thank you very much on this, and also you, Rachel! And Kathryn, thanks on your marvelous book!
Soooooo funny and true:) Read some of those novels......Well, the less shocking ones...
Anne Beauchamp and John Neville her brother-in-law (and according to one novel, lover) have told me they want to be invited to the party.
I love this website!!!
I laughed out loud in the office! (Blush.) I'm not too familiar with medieval Europe, but I did just read Desmond Seward's Demon's Brood, so at least I had a clue (I would love to hear your take on Seward, by the way).
Think what you could do if you expanded this support group to include people from ancient history (my field). Cleopatra VII would offer a few pithy comments, I'm sure! And Queen Hatshepsut, who even in supposedly serious non-fiction gets accused of being vain, greedy and incompetent (she built and renovated a lot of temples--which Egyptian rulers were supposed to do). Oddly enough, the very same writers approve of such activity when it was carried on by her nephew, Thutmose III. In one non-fiction effort, she is supposed to be the mother of a young man called Maiherpri, who died at least a couple of generations later. So that would mean she a) had the baby when no one was looking and b) had a child long after menopause--actually, some time after her death! Certainly, however, this feat does not rank with that attributed to Queen Elizabeth I above.
You and Rachel are a fine human beings for having written this. All be to the glory of Kathryn and Rachel!
I like Margaret of Anjou's perspective in this. She's a Lady I have a lot of sympathy for, and a fair degree of admiratation. What's your view of the oft repeated 'proof' of her son's illegitimacy which is that passage in a Chronicle in which Henny is meant to have said he was 'concieved of the Holy Spirit'.
Its nonsense in my opinion. From what I've read, it comes from a Pro-Yorkist Chronicle (was it Croyland?), written years after his birth, but a person who was not there. Its just gossip, nothing more. In fact, such a statement would be quite shockingly blasphemous to Medieval sensibilities, especially coming from a famously pious King like Henry VI.
Other, more believable contemporary sources from those close to the royal household suggest Henry knew about Margaret's pregnancy before his descent into madness, and was happy about it. No indication that he thought the child was not his at all, which makes sense, as there is no evidence he was not capable of fathering a child or had not consummated his marriage.
I could suggest a few additions to this list: including Margaret Beaufort and Ethelred, Lord of the Mercians, son in law of Alfred the Great.
I personally find it amusing that historians and non-fiction authors who suggest Richard III might have harboured any ambitions to marry his neice, or had any romantic attraction to her are attacked. Yet its perfectly OK for novelists to depict him having incestuoous sexual relationships with one or more of said nieces, who are inevitably depicted as madly in love with him, and even getting preganant my him. As long as its love, it fine apparently.
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