23 May, 2010

Robin Hood And Edward II The Nasty Piece Of Work

This will be my last post till 6 June or thereabouts, as I'm off on holiday. Yay!

Edward II good news: he now has 237 fans on Facebook, a number which creeps up by at least one or two people daily. Edward II bad news: I was deeply irritated by a very silly recent review of Seymour Phillips' new biography of the king, which calls Edward "a nasty piece of work" and makes more factual errors about him and his reign than I can shake a stick at. Writing about Edward's "grisly murder," saying that he "was also thought to have been a homosexual, who...was killed by a red-hot poker thrust into his anus" as though these are certain facts and claiming that Edward inherited a rich, peaceful country on the verge of 'annexing' Scotland in 1307 and left it impoverished twenty years later make it painfully, embarrassingly apparent that the reviewer has not read any recent, or even semi-recent, scholarship on the subject and is a long, long way from being even remotely knowledgeable about Edward II and his reign. (In fact, Edward I left his son £200,000 of debt in July 1307; Edward II left £60,000 in his treasury in November 1326.) No, I'm not linking to the review. Bleugh. Bad, horrid review.

But anyway, here's some more good news: Ian Mortimer's Medieval Intrigue is due out in early September, a collection of essays including several on Edward II. Woot! For more info, see Ian's website.

The new Robin Hood film with Russell Crowe has led to much online speculation about Robin's real identity, with many people expressing their belief that he lived during Edward II's reign rather than Richard I's. See here and here for more about this debate.
This forum thread - scroll down past all the arguing - puts forward the theory that Robin Hood "was contemporary with Edward II (and perhaps had to rebuff that monarch's homosexual advances)". This theory is developed at greater length here:

"We have seen that Edward was undoubtedly "gay" as it is called these days, and that in 1324 he was behaving very badly with the Despensers, pillaging the land and terrorising the population and more than likely sharing his bed with Hugh the Younger. We also know that he had a taste for the lower elements of the population, which had probably begun as a simple enjoyment of the Great Outdoors but by 1322 he is recorded as entertaining the likes of Wat Cowherd and other roughnecks, and paying them for their company! Could it be that, perish the thought, the king was casting a roving eye in Robin’s direction? Was Robin both afraid for his life from the jealous Hugh, and afraid too, for his honour! Was this the reason he asked the king if he could go back north on a pilgrimage to the church of St Mary Magdalene, and that once away from court, he refused to return to London? Or did he know, or suspect, that terrible events were just round the corner ? Whatever the cause of his defection, it must have incurred Edward’s wrath so much that Robin was re-outlawed as a result..."

OK, this theory is tongue in cheek and I don't want to be accused of lacking a sense of humour, but as Edward II's (self-appointed) Official Defender, I feel that this is putting 2 and 2 together to make 67. As I've pointed out before, Wat Cowherd and the other supposed 'roughnecks' like Simon and Robin Hod who have been named in print as Edward II's probable lovers (Edward quote was being promiscuous with low-born men unquote and paying them lots of money for their 'company', allegedly) were in fact members of his chamber staff who often appear in the king's accounts and were in close attendance on him for the last few years of his reign. There is nothing at all to suggest, absolutely no reason whatsoever to think, that Edward took these men as his lovers or that he ever hit on them, to use a modern idiom. I don't know why Robin Hood, a porter of the king's chamber, was sent away from court; some kind of misbehaviour, perhaps. The Household Ordinance of 1318 sets out misdemeanours for which the king's servants could be punished, which included taking bread, wine or food out of the household without permission, eating outside the hall without permission and riding a horse if below the rank of vallet de mestier. Wat Cowherd, far from being some roughneck paid for providing sexual services to the king for a couple of weeks in 1322, remained loyal to Edward to the very end: he was one of the men ('Walter Couhierd') pardoned in March 1327 for holding out at the late Hugh Despenser the Younger's stronghold of Caerphilly against the new regime. Other former members of Edward's chamber staff, such as Peter Bernard and Giles of Spain, joined the earl of Kent's conspiracy to rescue Edward from Corfe Castle in 1330, which demonstrates their loyalty to and affection for him, even two and a half years after his supposed death. There's nothing at all anywhere to suggest that Edward came on to his servants and ordered them away from court in a rage if they rejected him.

I feel that it's also worth stating here, for all the countless statements online and in books that Edward II was 'undoubtedly gay', for all the portrayals of him in fiction as a swishy, mincing, horrible stereotype of a gay man, what we actually know about Edward's sex life amounts to this:

- He had intercourse with Isabella of France four times, in or about February 1312, November 1315, September 1317 and October 1320, which resulted in their children.

- He once had intercourse with an unknown woman, sometime between about 1305 to 1308, which resulted in his illegitimate son Adam.

And that is it. Everything else is speculation. Whether Edward had sex with Piers Gaveston, Hugh Despenser or other men or women, whether his sexual preference was for men or women or both, whether he had an incestuous relationship with his niece Eleanor, how regularly or irregularly he had sex with his queen and how much he enjoyed it or didn't, I have no idea, and neither does anyone else, whatever they might claim to be 'fact' or 'undoubted truth'. (Yes, person on Facebook who stated as 'fact' that Edward "begat children on her [Isabella] - note not with her - as a painful duty," this means you too. You cannot know that.) Certainly Edward II loved Piers Gaveston, and most probably Hugh Despenser the Younger too. How he loved them...well, I'm sure everyone reading this will have their own opinion.

Lots more Edward II posts (and, according to this terrific post which I love every word of, an equal amount of 'excitable squee' about Edward loving Piers Gaveston 4eva!) to come in June. See you then, and take care.


Gabriele Campbell said...

Have fun.

And Robin Hood having been outlawed by Edward II? Why not go all the way and make him the daddy of Ed III as well. ;)

Elizabeth said...

Maybe I am guilty of stating the obvious or re-stating something that has already been pointed out, but I can't help but feel that much like the Victorians put their "prudish" bent on historical events, some are continuously portraying history through their somewhat homophobic view and making too much of the fact that Edward was rumored (no way to stress that, but I do) to have had inclinations towards his favorites. What might have been simple brotherly affection could have been used by his detractors as something sinister and our (Americans very much so, sad to say) society absolutely loves to take any tidbit of gossip and make it into some salacious personality defect.

It is somewhat frustrating but laughable what people will choose to ignore versus what they expose and then what conclusions they will then come to when dealing with historical events. So thank you for being a defender of Edward II, though it is a self-appointed task ;)

Enjoy your holiday and can't wait to take up reading more about Edward when you get back!

Carla said...

Have a good holiday!


Anerje said...

Thank goodness your holiday coincides with a busy time in work and my own short holiday - otherwise don't know how I'd cope without your blog! Keep up the good work defending Edward! It's amazing how the cliches still prevail about him. Can hardly believe the Seymour Phillips review - sounds like he reviewer hasn't even read that!

I think I'm right in saying that Henry VII was the first king of England not to die in debt - shame his son squandered the lot and all the wealth from the monastries. And Henry VII has been stuck with his miser tag - you just can't win whether you die in debt of leave a healthy inheritance.

Anerje said...

nd Gabriele - loved your comment! yes, why not? hehehe!

Louis X said...

Bon voyage ma chère Kathryn! I hope you have a fine journey.

Poor Edward. Shall this nonsense never stop? If he left £60,000 and no large debts, he was doing quite well! Better than me. Though, to be fair, I did not have time to even try to fix any of our money troubles. :/

Robin Hood! Pff! ;)

Anonymous said...

*cringingly admits to the excitable squee comment* :)

I've been lurking about, reading your blogspot all through my undergraduate course, and just want to assure that I do love it for more than just the Ed/Piers bits. Nothing managed to enthuse me about my initial medieval paper quite like this place!

Brian Wainwright said...

I don't think it can be said too many times that 'gayness' as we understand it is a relatively modern construct, and was not interpreted in the same way by medieval folk. If I recall correctly men who had sex with other men were thought to be oversexed, because women could not satisfy them. Anyway, it was certainly not an understanding in line with modern interpretation.

AndyM said...

Robin hood... I would urge you to read Steve Wilson's "Robin Hood, Spirit of the Forest" which Argues that Although there were many Historical Candidates through the ages for a Historical Figure for the legends to be based on, the legends have a root deeper than the middle ages, being similar to the tales that were later written down in texts like the Mabigoin, Norse mythology and even parralells in eastern myths.
So, there could easily have been a Robin Hood type chracter in Edward II's time, as well as one in Richard's Time, what we have now is an Amalgamation of local legends. Kind of Like looking for a Historical Arthur and Merlin.

Anonymous said...

We have said this for years https://www.facebook.com/groups/1221147701292394/

Unknown said...


Unknown said...

See Spirit of the Greenwood and www.robinhoodyorkshire.co.uk