26 July, 2011

My Article

So, great news - my article 'The Adherents of Edmund of Woodstock, Earl of Kent, in March 1330' has now been published in the English Historical Review, volume 126, pp. 779-805.  :-)  Here's a link to the abstract.  Needless to say, I'm very, very proud and excited to see my name in such a prestigious journal, and I really hope the article goes a long way to demolishing the often-repeated notion that the earl of Kent was stupid and that's why he believed Edward II was still alive in 1330.  He wasn't stupid, you know.  Really not.  Neither were the many dozens of men who supported him in the plot to free Edward and, as far as I can tell, shared his belief in the survival of the former king.  I do hope you'll read the article and enjoy it.  :-)

17 July, 2011

Chronicles On Edward II's Accession

Here's a look at what some fourteenth-century chroniclers said about the death of Edward I and the accession of Edward II in July 1307:

- Vita Edwardi Secundi (Latin):

"On the day of the Translation of St Thomas in the thirty-fifth year of his reign [7 July 1307], died Edward the First after the Conquest, and his son Edward II began to reign, a robust young man in about his twenty-third year*.  He did not achieve the ambition that his father had set before himself, but directed his plans to other objects.  He recalled Piers Gaveston, who had recently abjured the realm at his father's command.  This Piers had been the most intimate** and highly-favoured member, as soon became abundantly clear, of the young Edward's household when the latter was Prince of Wales and the old king still alive...
If our king Edward had borne himself as well [as Richard Lionheart] at the outset of his reign, and not accepted the counsels of wicked men, not one of his predecessors would have been more notable than he.  For God had endowed him with every gift, and had made him equal to or indeed more excellent than other kings.  If anyone cared to describe those qualities which ennoble our king, he would not find his like in the land...What hopes he raised as Prince of Wales!  How they were dashed when he became King!"

* Edward was twenty-three, born 25 April 1284.
** Doesn't imply sexual intimacy.

- The Brut (Middle English; modernised spelling):

"And after this King Edward, reigned Edward his son, that was born in Caernarfon [Carnaryvan], and went into France, and espoused Isabel, the king's daughter of France...And anon [soon] as the good King Edward was dead, Sir Edward his son, king of England, sent after Piers Gauaston into Gascony*; and so much loved him that he called him his brother; and anon after gave him the lordship of Wallingford; and it was not long after that he gave him the earldom of Cornwall, against all the lords' will of the realm."

* Piers spent his first exile in 1307 in Ponthieu, Edward's inheritance from his mother Eleanor of Castile, not his native Gascony.

- The French Chronicle of London (French):

"In this year, on the Friday after the Feast of St Luke [18 October], King Edward was nobly buried at Westminster.  At this time the Templars were destroyed.  In this year, on the Sunday after the feast of St Peter's Chair [25 February 1308], the King and the Queen, Lady Isabele, were crowned; at which coronation, Sir John Bacwelle, a knight was killed by falling from a wall.  In this year there was a great malady of the eyes, whereby many persons lost their sight*.  At this time came Sir Piers de Gaverstone into England, who had been banished by King Edward the Conqueror; and was made Earl of Cornwall, to the great detriment of all the realm. In this year there was a very great frost on the Thames, so that many persons passed over on foot, upon the ice, to Suthwerk, and back again to London. In this year, judgment was given at Westminster against the franchise, as to the rights of bastardy; to the effect that if any one should die without heir and without testament made, his lands and tenements should escheat to the King."

* Wonder what that was!?

- Chronicle of Lanercost (Latin):

"...this illustrious and excellent King, my lord Edward, son of King Henry, died at Burgh-upon-Sands...in the thirty-sixth year of his reign and the sixty-seventh of his age.*  Throughout his time he had been fearless and war-like, in all things strenuous and illustrious; he left not his like among Christian princes for sagacity and courage...Messengers were sent in haste to my lord Edward Prince of Wales, his son and heir...Thus Edward the younger succeeded Edward the elder, but in the same manner as Rehoboam succeeded Solomon, which his career and fate were to prove."

* Edward I was sixty-eight when he died, born 17 June 1239, and in the thirty-fifth year of his reign, acceded 20 November 1272.

- Scalacronica (French):

"After the death of Edward the First after the Conquest, his son, Edward the Second, reigned in great tribulation and adversity.  He was not industrious, neither was he beloved by the great men of his realm; albeit he was liberal in giving, and amiable far beyond measure towards those whom he loved and exceedingly sociable with his intimates.  Also, in body he was one of the strongest men in his realm."

11 July, 2011

Edward of Caernarfon and Rotting Animal Corpses

The chronicle of Geoffrey le Baker, written around 1350, vividly describes the torments supposedly inflicted on the former Edward II as he was taken from Kenilworth to Berkeley Castle in the spring of 1327, and during his incarceration at Berkeley, paraphrased here:

- Edward's jailers make him travel at night, riding bareheaded despite the cold, and deprive him of sleep. They taunt him by placing a crown of hay on his head, make him shave off his beard with cold, dirty ditch-water - whereupon Edward cries, thereby providing himself with warm water - feed him on rotting food to make him ill, and do their utmost to make him believe he is mad. Once this nightmare journey is over and he arrives at Berkeley, he is incarcerated in a cell with a deep hole nearby into which the rotting corpses of animals are thrown, in the hope that the putrefaction will kill Edward by asphyxiation. This failing, he is murdered by means of a red-hot poker, "the aid of enormous pillows and a weight heavier than that of fifteen substantial men."

Needless to say, this has been grist to the mill for a lot of writers over the centuries (including Christopher Marlowe), and is repeated all over the internet and in numerous published books as certain fact.  But - surprise, surprise - it isn't. Geoffrey le Baker is the only even vaguely contemporary source for the notion that the former Edward II was so cruelly mistreated and abused at Berkeley, and Baker was not writing history but hagiography, at a time when the amusingly implausible campaign to have Edward canonised was well underway. (Miracles were widely reported at his tomb in Gloucester.) Baker's intention was to portray Edward as a Christ-like figure nobly suffering the slings and arrows of outrageous fortune and the torments of lesser men, the "satraps of Satan" as Baker memorably calls them: the Passion of Edward of Caernarfon. If we accept Baker's story of the former king's fate in 1327 as historical truth, we might as well accept Shakespeare's portrayal of Richard III as the hunchbacked epitome of evil as historical truth.

Geoffrey le Baker was about the only fourteenth-century chronicler who actually liked Edward II, and blamed all his faults and mistakes on the Despensers.  As a corollary, Baker loathed Queen Isabella and portrayed her as, well, a she-wolf*, cruelly taking delight in making her husband suffer.  Although I have to admit I find it quite amusing to see Isabella called 'Jezebel' and 'the iron virago', Baker's portrayal of her is very wide of the mark. Chronicler Adam Murimuth, a royal clerk who knew Edward II and Isabella well, was in the south-west of England in 1327 and is a much more reliable source than Baker (though by no means infallible), says that she sent Edward kind letters and gifts while he was at Berkeley - hardly, one might think, the actions of a woman keen to inflict torments on her husband. After all, after Edward's deposition in January 1327, Isabella had no reason to manipulate him into thinking she still loved him, and no reason to send him letters and gifts unless she wanted to.

* Not a contemporary nickname, as many people think, but invented by Shakespeare for Margaret of Anjou and first applied to Isabella in a 1757 poem by Thomas Gray.

King Edward III was too young in 1327 to be in a position to protect his father, but he wouldn't be fourteen forever, and one day he would take over the governance of his own kingdom.  Thomas Berkeley and John Maltravers, appointed custodians of the former king in April 1327, would have been pretty stupid to mistreat the king's father, knowing that one day they would have to answer for their actions - and Edward III never accused them of mistreating Edward of Caernarfon.  Adam Murimuth claims that although Berkeley treated Edward well and humanely, Maltravers did not.  This may be correct, but is not supported by any other evidence - and most fourteenth-century chroniclers, even Murimuth, thought that Maltravers was accused of Edward II's murder, which he certainly wasn't; he was condemned to death in the November 1330 parliament for his role in entrapping the earl of Kent and bringing about his execution. At no point in Maltravers' very long life - he lived until 1364 - did Edward III accuse him of complicity in Edward II's death, or of mistreating and abusing the former king.  Murimuth's statement that Maltravers behaved harshly towards Edward II may be an assumption based on the false (albeit widespread) belief that Maltravers was one of Edward's murderers.

Paul Doherty in his 2003 book Isabella and the Strange Death of Edward II (p. 119) says that kings and princes, once deposed, have suffered from the actions of their former minions, who were "only too quick to join in the fun of cruel mockery of one who formerly lorded it over them." Well, possibly, but that's missing the point.  Edward II was no longer king in 1327, but he was still royal, the son of a king and, more to the point, the father of the present king. Edward II is unique among the deposed kings of medieval England, not just because he was the first, but because he was the only one succeeded by his son, who would not take kindly to allegations that his father had been abused by those appointed to care for him.  (Incidentally, Paul Doherty, like many other writers, repeats the myth about John Trevisa on which I wrote a post.)

One of the charges against Roger Mortimer at his trial during the November 1330 parliament was that he had had Edward removed to Berkeley in order to have him killed, when "the father of our lord the king was at Kenilworth by the ordinance and assent of the peers of the realm, to remain there at their pleasure in order to be looked after as was appropriate for such a lord." According to the chronicler Jean le Bel, it was decided in early 1327 that Edward "would be well guarded and honestly kept for the rest of his life, according to his estate."  'According to his estate' and 'looked after as was appropriate for such a lord' does not mean 'OK, lads, we can abuse him as much as we want because he no longer wears the crown', it means 'he must be treated with all the respect, deference and courtesy due to a man of royal birth who is the father of the king'.

Paul Doherty (p. 120) also claims that "no real evidence exists that Edward was not mistreated."  OK, here's one: Lord Berkeley bought wax for him, presumably for candles. Wax was expensive, and Berkeley might easily have bought the much cheaper tallow (made from animal fat) instead. But then, if Berkeley and his allies were mistreating Edward, why did they bother to buy him wax (or tallow) at all?  Do people usually buy candles for a man they're keeping incarcerated in a dungeon or pit and trying to asphyxiate with animal corpses?  The Berkeley Castle muniments roll records the purchase of wine, cheese, eggs, beef, capons and spices for Edward (Seymour Phillips, Edward II, p. 541 n. 118, citing rolls 39, 41, 42). Paul Doherty suggests (pp. 119-120) that Edward didn't get this food, but that "the supplies, the delicacies may well have gone to others" and furthermore that the produce purchased for him and Isabella's gifts are "perhaps not evidence enough to reject the allegations of ill-treatment."  This is pure speculation.  I don't see why there's any reason to assume that Edward didn't receive them. These purchases of food were recorded in Lord Berkeley's own household accounts; they were not intended to be presented to the Exchequer as proof that he was feeding Edward of Caernarfon properly. I don't see why Lord Berkeley would lie in his own accounts and record the purchase of food for Edward if the former king wasn't going to receive it.

And here's another piece of evidence: there are several entries on the Close Roll which record payments made to Thomas Berkeley and John Maltravers for Edward's upkeep, and refer to the expenses of Edward and 'his household'. There are also references in the Berkeley Castle records to liveries, i.e. clothes, provided for "the household of the king's father," as he was almost always referred to. Yes, Edward had servants at Berkeley.  How many is not clear - a very small fraction of the 400 or 500-strong household he'd had as king, of course - but he wasn't locked up alone with no-one to attend him. Men imprisoned in pits do not, generally, have servants attending them. This evidence is ignored by writers who want to believe the notion that Edward was mistreated, among them Paul Doherty, who - following le Baker - is pushing the notion of Isabella as an evil nasty murderous b*tch and says several times that she desperately wanted Edward dead and to suffer as much as possible first. (If you have the book, notice that Doherty doesn't provide a note for his claim (p. 109) that Isabella publicly called for Edward's execution in early 1327, even before his deposition; that's because he can't back it up with any primary source.  And "Isabella had murder in her heart" regarding her husband in late 1326/early 1327 (p. 108)?  How can Doherty possibly know that?).  An anonymous chronicle which Doherty makes much of claims that workmen at Berkeley Castle heard Edward sighing and groaning when he was incarcerated there in 1327. Maybe that's significant, maybe not. Edward of Caernarfon was a highly emotional man at the best of times, and 1327 was definitely not the best of times for him.  He must have been suffering a great deal emotionally from losing his throne, his wife, his children and Hugh Despenser.

The guides at Berkeley Castle and numerous websites spread the stories of Edward of Caernarfon's mistreatment and supposed horrific red-hot poker murder.  Lurid stories of murdered kings and agonised screams and vile torture and asphyxiation by animal corpse and men getting their just desserts for allowing themselves to be anally penetrated by other men (a theory of the supposed red-hot poker murder frequently repeated as though it's 'truth') bring in the tourists, don't they.  Websites and books about Castle Rising in Norfolk do much the same thing, claiming that Isabella of France was imprisoned there by her son as punishment for her role in the murder of Edward II and subsequently went mad; the story of an imprisoned queen going insane and wailing for her dead lover Mortimer is apparently far more interesting than the truth, which is that Isabella lived a perfectly conventional life after 1330 as queen dowager.  Geoffrey le Baker's tales of the vile abuse inflicted on Edward at Berkeley Castle are contradicted by contemporary evidence, and were concocted with a specific purpose which had little to do with actual historical events as experienced in 1327.  It's a shame that they're still so often repeated as though they're certain truth.

03 July, 2011

Edward II In Fiction: A Spoof

Apologies for the long delay in posting - a combination of work, checking article proofs, celebrating my birthday and suffering from a health problem.  Many thanks to my dear friend Ashmodiel/Rowan at the Seelenlicht blog for giving me a lovely 'Your Blog is Super' award!  xx  She has a new blog now too, Anam Cara, in English.

Here's Edward II in Fiction, a Spoof, an idea nicked from the hilarious Anne Boleyn spoof on The Anne Boleyn Files. Thanks to some of my friends on Facebook, especially Rachel, Kate and Andy, for their contributions!  (See also this post on how Edward II and Isabella are portrayed in fiction for some background, and Ragged Staff's great post about John Nevill, which lists with painful accuracy a few of the archetypes often seen in histfict.)

King Edward II and his lover Sir Hugh Despenser sat in the king's private chamber, listening to music and discussing ways in which they could make the life of Edward's perfectly beautiful desirable queen, Victim!Isabella, even worse than it was already.
Edward stamped his foot.  "It's not good enough!  We have to make my queen suffer even more!" he shrieked, his voice high and shrill and perverted.  "After all, you're completely evil, so that's the kind of thing you do."
"Why on earth are you talking like that, Ned?" EvilHugh asked.
Edward shrugged and pouted.  "I love you, EvilHugh, and we're both men, and I used to love Piers Gaveston and Roger Damory who were also men, and apparently this means I have to behave like a twelve-year-old girl in a snit at all times."  He flung himself face first on his bed and snivelled for a while, then stood up and stamped his foot a few times for absolutely no reason.
"Ah, I see, and that's why I'm usually portrayed as an amalgamation of Hitler, Stalin, Pol Pot, Idi Amin and sundry other genocidal dictators," said EvilHugh in sudden understanding.  "Novelists of your reign don't really do subtlety, do they?  Do stop pouting, Ned."
Edward fluttered his hands pervertedly a few times and shrieked again.  "Not so much.  Everything has to be so black and white.  My wife's either a helpless passive victim adored and pitied by everyone or a psycho bitch-queen from hell loathed by everyone, because apparently those are the only two possibilities and authors can't possibly give her a combination of good and bad character traits and make her, you know, an actual human being.  And me, I'm not a real person either, just a walking stereotype of the way authors think gay men should behave."
He sighed in a very girlish and pervertedly unnatural fashion.  "And how many novelists have Gaveston's mother burned alive for witchcraft, although that won't happen in Europe for, oooooh, ages yet?  And even though he was a nobleman and a warrior, hand-picked by my father as a suitable companion and role model for me, the future king of England, yet in fiction he also somehow manages to be a low-born prostitute with a tavern-owning uncle.  Weird, the way that works."
EvilHugh nodded.  "Mind you, it's also pretty weird the way novelists almost invariably miss the fact that I'm a high-born nobleman too and have been married to your niece since long before I became your favourite."
"Isn't it just."  Edward stood up and minced around the room for a few moments.  "Not to forget the way they so often use modern ideals of motherhood as a way of drumming up mawkish sympathy for Isabella because I supposedly stole our children from her when I set up their own households.  They also use the modern belief in equality of the sexes as a stick to beat me with, because I expect my wife to obey me as her lord.  Just like every other man of our era and most others, but of course it's entirely bad and wrong when I do it.  Hel-lo, we live in the fourteenth century, people, not the twenty-first!  If you're going to drag your own society's attitudes into it, why not show a little bit more tolerance for my sexuality while you're at it?"  Edward threw a girly and unnatural tantrum in the corner, flounced out of the room and slammed the door, then came back in again, looking girly and perverted.
EvilHugh rolled his eyes. "Funny how characters in histfict who are intended to be likeable to readers are usually portrayed as holding opinions that would fit seamlessly into the early twenty-first century, while the unsympathetic ones have views which are actually accurate for the society and era they live in.  Talking of which, I'm almost always written as an unsympathetic figure in fiction, so here goes: women are inferior to men!  Anyone who isn't white and Christian is a heretic who deserves to die horribly!  Slavery is awesome and the peasants are revolting!  Watching animals die for our entertainment is fun!"
Edward screamed and tore at his hair.  "Stop it, EvilHugh!" he shrieked.  "The readers will take against you, and who knows what might happen then?"
"It doesn't matter how unpopular I am, dear Ned.  I am your beloved, and no-one will ever be able to touch me, least of all your wife, the victim-queen!"  EvilHugh laughed heartily as the words 'Dramatic Irony' flashed repeatedly above his head.

Meanwhile in her own chamber, Queen Victim!Isabella cried hard, her perfectly beautiful desirable face all red and screwed up but still incredibly beautiful and desirable.  She was officially the most beautiful woman in all Europe, but still, life was just so unfair and Edward such a cruel nasty husband.  She was the richest woman in the country with lands in half the counties of England, the anointed queen, influential and connected to half the royals in Europe, incredibly beautiful and desirable, yet she suffered so terribly.  Why, her own husband had not fallen at her feet with helpless lust the first time he saw her!  And she had been promised, promised, that he would, and would madly adore her for the rest of her life, just like every other man who had ever seen her did.  And he had talked to that horrible Piers more than to her at their coronation banquet!  Anyone would think he actually preferred the company of a close friend of his own age than a pre-pubescent girl, the most beautiful pre-pubescent girl in all Europe!  Whoever heard of such a thing?

"I'm so worried about my son's position, with my useless husband on the throne," Victim!Isabella sobbed to her damsels.  Her rosy desirable lips were incredibly rosy and desirable and her body was astonishingly perfect and also desirable.  She was incredibly beautiful, the most incredibly beautiful woman in all Europe.  "I think I should rule the country in place of my husband, because I plan to give away almost all of Gascony to France, sign away my son's claims to Scotland, and bankrupt England.  That'll show everyone how much more politically astute I am than my husband and how much I care about my son's inheritance."  She sobbed beautifully and desirably.

ManlyRoger Mortimer strode into the room unannounced and in an audaciously studmuffinly and heterosexually virile way.  "Never fear, ma belle reine.  I'm the bold manly hero who saves the day," he declared, with a deep virile bow towards the incredibly beautiful and desirable yet desperately suffering and victimised queen.  ManlyRoger caught sight of one of the queen's squires sitting in a window seat, vigorously polishing his sword, and stood and stared for a moment, admiring the young man's broad shoulders, sensual mouth and the pleasing bulge in his hose.  Then he remembered that he was 100% certified unequivocally heterosexual, and hastily desisted.  
Victim!Isabella clapped a hand to her perfectly shaped and incredibly beautiful and desirable mouth.  "Oh my!" she gasped.  "Don't tell me that the brave, audaciously virile and studmuffinly hetero hero with whom I am destined to have Twu Multi-Orgasmic Wuv 4ever and ever is you?"
"For sure it is, ma reine.  Do you know how much I love having sex with girls?  Well, let me tell you: a lot," ManlyRoger boasted.  "And anything you might have heard about me sleeping with my sexy and lusful squires on occasion?  Soooo not true.  You wouldn't believe how many of my squires I haven't had sex with."
Victim!Isabella clapped her beautiful, perfectly-shaped and desirable hands in joy.  "Oh, ManlyRoger.  I have dreamed so long of having real Twu Wuv with an audaciously virile man who, unlike my husband who prefers men, is actually available to me.  Well, apart from the fact that you're married, of course."  Victim!Isabella shrugged beautifully and smiled desirably at her manly new lover.  "I have long wanted to find Twu Wuv of the kind my husband has with Despenser and used to have with Gaveston and Damory, but you know, the proper permitted heterosexual kind, not the kind between two men that's really eeewwwww, icky."
"Yes," agreed ManlyRoger. "Us manly men who are incredibly heterosexual have fantastic sex with girls that's not icky at all, and we absolutely don't think about our sexy squires while we're doing it.  I mean, have you seen how many kids my wife and I have?  There's unequivocal heterosexuality, right there."
Victim!Isabella threw herself into her virile studmuffinly lover's arms.  She looked really, really beautiful and desirable.  "Oh, ManlyRoger!" she cried.  "Take me, take me, and we'll take my husband's kingdom!"
"I will, ma reine," ManlyRoger smirked. "I really fancy you, and not in any way your squire who's sitting over there.  And me fancying you has nothing at all to do with wanting lots of power and wealth thanks to you being the queen of England.  Queen of England?  I barely even noticed. Come to bed, ma reine, and afterwards I'll tell you exactly how I'm going to rule England in your husband's place. Oops, did I say I?  I meant you, of course."
Beautiful, desirable Victim!Isabella sighed with happiness.  No longer would she suffer terribly and beautifully; her super-hetero virile lover would make everything all right, forever.