23 February, 2014

Sigh. Roger Mortimer was **NOT** the father of Edward III! Please, people!

Recently I came across a blog post which names me and refers to my post demonstrating that it is as sure as sure can be that Edward II was the father of Isabella of France's children.

To quote from the blog post (which I'm not linking to): "It is possible that Edward III was in fact the son of Roger Mortimer, not Edward II.  In even saying this I am in direct conflict with Kathryn Warner who carries out a non stop campaign to defend Edward II’s reputation. Simplistic histories have Mortimer in Ireland from 1308 until 1318. However it is recorded elsewhere that Mortimer travelled continuously alternating between his estates in Ireland, his estates in the Welsh marches and attendances at court."

Ian Mortimer's The Greatest Traitor: The Life of Sir Roger Mortimer, Ruler of England 1327 to 1330 (Pimlico, 2003) gives Roger's itinerary as fully as it can be determined, and frankly I'll take Ian Mortimer and his research any day over a stranger on the internet who wants to think that Roger could possibly have fathered Edward III and Isabella's other children.  Edward III, born on 13 November 1312, must have been conceived around late February 1312.  Queen Isabella had joined her husband Edward II in York on about 20/21 February, and the king and queen remained in the city together until early April.  There is no doubt whatsoever that the royal couple were together for a few weeks at the time when Edward III must have been conceived, and as I've pointed out before, Edward and Isabella conceived their son during Lent, when intercourse was forbidden.  (Tsk!)  As for Roger Mortimer, we know that he was in Dublin 270 miles from York in April and May 1312 (Greatest Traitor, pp. 49-50, 305).  No, we can't conclusively 100% prove that he wasn't in or near York in late February that year having sex with Isabella.  But why on earth would he have been?  How could he possibly have slept with the sixteen-year-old queen while she was with her husband without either Edward or Isabella's household of 180 people noticing?  The queen had less privacy than anyone else in the country, yet we're supposed to imagine that she could have had sex with one of her husband's leading barons without anyone noticing?  Let me reiterate here the absolutely key point that no-one at all until the 1980s ever suggested that anyone but Edward II was the father of Edward III and Isabella's other children.  So why are people making up these weird fantasies?

The blog post again: "Kathryn is not simplistic she has the records which place Isabelle and Edward together in York from the 22nd February 1312 exactly full term before Edward III’s birth on 13 November."  Wow, thanks!

"These dates apparently make it impossible for Mortimer to be the father of Edward III. However the relationship between Roger and Isabelle was known in France at the time of the Tour Nestlé affair in 1313."

Firstly, it's the Tour de Nesle, not 'Nestlé', which is the name of a modern multinational food and drink company.  Secondly, the Tour de Nesle affair was the revelation in 1314 (not 1313) that two of Isabella's sisters-in-law, Marguerite and Blanche of Burgundy, were committing adultery with the d'Aulnay brothers in Paris, for which the men were executed and the women imprisoned.  Although it may have been Isabella who discovered these adulterous relationships (though this is not certain), the whole business has nothing whatsoever to do with Isabella's much later relationship with Roger Mortimer, which began in late 1325 or early 1326.  The blog writer here appears to be confusing and conflating three different things: 1) the long visit of Edward II and Isabella to France in 1313 (and see also here); 2) the revelation of the Tour de Nesle affair in 1314, while Isabella was again visiting Paris, without her husband this time; and 3) the relationship of Isabella and Roger Mortimer which began in Paris in late 1325/early 1326.

"There is also the question of what was happening in the period leading up to the 22nd of february. Isabella took the whole of this month to travel north from london and then the last four days to travel the last four days from Doncaster to York, a distance of less than thirty miles. She could have conceived on any of these days. The person who gave her safe conduct in Tynemouth was Thomas of Lancaster. His major stronghold was Pontefract Castle near Wakefield. The deviation from doncaster would have taken an extra eighteen miles. Just suppose that Isabelle made the deviation to negotiate her own safety. Just suppose that Mortimer already unhappy with aspects of Edward II’s rule attended the meeting seeking her support against Gavescon [sic]."

Just suppose that we focus on things that we actually know, rather than piling fantasy on fantasy and speculation on speculation.  We have no evidence that Roger Mortimer was in England in February 1312.  We have no evidence that he was already unhappy with Edward II's rule, or acting against the king and Piers Gaveston, and in fact his biographer Ian Mortimer makes it quite clear that Roger supported Edward and Piers, whom he knew well (his wardship had been granted to Piers by Edward I in 1304).  We have no evidence that Roger had any kind of relationship with Isabella, beyond the usual courtly one between the queen and a magnate, before the mid-1320s.  We have no evidence that Isabella met or went anywhere near her uncle Thomas of Lancaster at this time.  We have no evidence that Isabella 'deviated' anywhere on her journey north in February 1312.  Yes, it was a very slow journey.  Travel in the thirteenth/fourteenth centuries often was, especially in winter.  In August 1289, at the height of summer, it took Edward I's children, including the five-year-old Edward of Caernarfon, two weeks to travel the 100 miles from Langley to Dover to greet the king and queen on their return to England.  Travelling could be painfully slow.  Perhaps Isabella was ill and couldn't travel far each day, or a lot of her household were ill, or perhaps there was really bad weather and they were unable to go very far each day in the driving rain or howling snowstorm, or the roads were horribly muddy or icy and nearly impassable.  There are lots of possible reasons for the slowness; we don't have to invent stories about the queen secretly meeting and having sex with Roger Mortimer.

I genuinely don't understand why people do this, why they insult Edward II and Isabella by painting them as a cuckold and an adulteress willing to foist a non-royal child onto the English throne.  Do they think it's romantic and sweet?  I suppose if you really wanted to, you could construct similar elaborate and implausible fantasies about the paternity of any other king.  Edward II himself was conceived in Wales in July or August 1283, and if you tried hard enough you could probably come up with some scenario that has Eleanor of Castile travelling somewhere and secretly sleeping with, I dunno, Othon de Grandisson, who is then really the father of her youngest child.  But why would you?  It's daft.  So is this silly scenario about Isabella and Roger Mortimer.  Yes, she did have a relationship with him, many years later, long after all her children were born.  This does not in any way prove that she was already sleeping with him, or willing to do so, as early as 1312.  By late 1325, Edward II and Isabella's relationship had broken down and Isabella needed an ally to act with her against the Despensers and restore herself to her rightful position and her lands.  This cannot in any way be taken to mean that in 1312, she would have been willing to sleep with Roger Mortimer or anyone else.

"This is all supposition and then again there is the fact that in the period leading up to 1322 she had not one but four children. Could Mortimer have fathered all four children?"

No.  He couldn't.  Edward II and Isabella of France's younger three children were conceived in or around late November 1315, September 1317 and October 1320.  Roger was then in Kells (6 December 1315), Drogheda and Dublin (September 1317) and Dublin/on his way to court back in England in October 1320 (Greatest Traitor, pp. 69-70, 87, 100-01, 305-09).  I have a great deal of respect and admiration for Roger Mortimer, but I'm pretty sure that even he wasn't capable of impregnating a woman who was in another country at the time, 'unequivocally heterosexual' though he may well have been.  And again, we have the fact that Isabella was with her husband when all her children were conceived.

"after edwardii’s death isabelle plans to marry mortimer and to have a legitimate child whho could well force through a claim to the french throne and thereby limiting edward III’s own prospects"

I'd love to know how Isabella could have planned to marry a man who was already married.  Good one.

"if edward III is the son of mortimer then he is noble but undeniably illegitimate and therefore entitled to nothing"

Edward III was the son of Edward II.  I'm as certain of this as I am of anything.  If there'd been even the slightest iota of doubt in anyone's mind, why would they have been willing to make him king in 1327?  Why did the French never accuse him of illegitimacy?  It would have been an obvious thing to do, to damage his reputation and harm his chances of claiming the French throne, if he didn't even have a right to the English one.  I am so bored with people claiming that English kings were not really the sons of their fathers and only they, centuries later, have been clever enough to discover The Real Truth!!!  Bollocks.  Edward I was the son of Henry III, Edward III was the son of Edward II.  Stop fantasising and stop insulting their memory.

21 February, 2014

Queen Isabella Makes A Will, October 1312

On 20 October 1312, Edward II granted his queen Isabella of France permission to make her will.  Isabella was then about eight months pregnant with their eldest child the future Edward III, who was born on 13 November.  As a married woman, Isabella needed her husband's permission to make her will, and it was a common thing for pregnant women to do in an age when pregnancy and childbirth were so risky.  Professor Seymour Phillips suggests in his Edward II (2010, p. 204) that Isabella was having a difficult pregnancy and feared death in childbirth, and that Edward was thus probably concerned with his wife's spiritual welfare.  Phillips also points out, however, that a copy of Edward's permission and his granting her all her movable goods (see below) survives in the Archives Nationales in Paris, which suggests that the French envoys then in England to negotiate between the king and Piers Gaveston's killers had suggested that Isabella make a will to ensure that the terms of her dower continued in case of her death.

Unfortunately Isabella's will itself has not survived, which is a real shame.  Edward's permission and granting to her of her goods and lands, however, appears in Rhymer's Foedera, Conventiones, Litterae, vol 2, part 1, p. 184, in the original French, and is briefly calendared on the Patent Roll (1307-1313, p. 508: "The king grants authority to queen Isabella to dispose of her goods and jewels by will.")  Here's my translation of the long Foedera version:

Edward, [by the grace of God king of England] etc, to all those who see and hear these present letters, greetings in our Lord.

Be it known to all that because we know well that nothing is as certain as death, nor less certain than the hour at which it may come, we give and grant permission to our very dear consort Isabella, by the same grace queen of England, lady of Ireland and duchess of Aquitaine, that she may make and draw up her testament or her last will regarding the temporal goods which God has given to us and to her; at the same time and by this testament or last will, accomplished and carried out by the hand of her executors, we give and grant to her now all the movables which are and will be hers; all her vessels of gold and silver; all her jewels in whatever place they are or will be found.

Further, we give and grant her all the county of Ponthieu, and the land of Montreuil, and all the other lands which she holds and will hold of our gift, whether in the realm of England or in France, or elsewhere, that it may be levied or exploited by the executors or at their command, for three years continually [I've chopped this bit talking about lands and rents, as it's really boring].

And further, by our leave and special permission, we wish that, wherever it may best please her, she may have the said executors purchase 1000 pounds sterling of land which by our present letters we will alienate for her holding, to make and establish a hospital where poor people will be rescued, lodged and laid to bed, for the safeguard of our [Edward and Isabella's] souls.

And because all the things stated above shall be valid and binding for always, without ever being opposed by us or by others, whoever they may be, we have had these open letters sealed with our great seal.

Given at Windsor on the twentieth day of the month of October, year of grace one thousand, three hundred and twelve, and the sixth of our reign.


Edward II was, to my knowledge, the only medieval king of England who died intestate.  His father  Edward I made his will when on crusade in the Holy Land on 18 June 1272, when his father Henry III was still alive, and oddly enough never updated it, despite living for another thirty-five years.  He made it in Acre, to be precise, where his daughter Joan, countess of Gloucester, was born, probably around the same time.  Edward II's father-in-law Philip IV of France made his main will in May 1311, and added a codicil to it on 28 November 1314, the day before he died (when he presumably knew that he was dying).  Philip's main will does not mention Isabella, but in the codicil he left her two rings, one of which she had previously given him, and a cup, which she had also given him.  (Seymour Phillips, Edward II, p. 223.)  Edward and Isabella's son Edward III made his will at Havering-atte-Bower on 7 October 1376, a few months before he died and several months after the death of his eldest son Edward of Woodstock, prince of Wales.

14 February, 2014

Edward II's Feuds With Bishops In The 1320s

As though Edward II didn't have enough enemies in the 1320s, having alienated most of his magnates and executed, imprisoned and/or fined over a hundred men after the Contrariant rebellion, and generally behaving like a greedy unpleasant tyrant, the king evidently decided that what he really needed to do was to alienate yet more influential people.  Accordingly, he began a series of pointless and often quite vicious feuds with a number of his bishops.  Great plan, Edward, oh yes, very sensible of you.  The feuding demonstrates that when he felt like it, Edward II could be quite astonishingly vindictive and spiteful.  Trying to see it from his point of view, he was a fiercely emotional man who tended to react to people and situations with his heart, not his head, and without thoughtful consideration, especially when he felt (correctly or not) that he'd been betrayed by someone he thought he could trust.  Still, these feuds show him in a very bad light.  Here's what happened.

Adam Orleton, bishop of Hereford (died 1345)

Appointed bishop of Hereford by Pope John XXII in 1317 and later moved to the see of Worcester (1327) and then Winchester (1333).  Adam may have come from the Herefordshire village of Orleton, a Mortimer manor, and in 1322 Edward II accused him of aiding Roger Mortimer and his uncle Roger Mortimer of Chirk during the Contrariant rebellion by sending them armed men.  It's impossible to say whether that's true or not; Adam most probably sympathised with the Mortimers and showed loyalty to the family, but that doesn't necessarily mean that he aided them in a rebellion against the king.  Edward, however, was determined to think the worst of the bishop.  When the king arrived in Hereford during his campaign against the Marchers, the Contrariants as he called them, in late January 1322, he publicly upbraided Adam for supporting the rebels and went hunting in his parks with his half-brother the earl of Kent, without Adam's permission.

It was Roger Mortimer's escape from the Tower in August 1323, however, that really prompted full-out attack by Edward II on Adam Orleton.  Unable to recapture Roger, in 1324 Edward lashed out at some of Roger's family and adherents, and the unfortunate Adam was the main victim of the king's vengeance.  Edward accused him of treason, and at a special assize the bishop was found guilty of having sent armed men to the Mortimers some years earlier (which I certainly wouldn't assume means he actually was guilty).  Edward had Adam's lands and goods seized, and even allowed his goods to be thrown into the street and ransacked by passersby.  Despite the best efforts of Pope John XXII and his envoys who visited England, nothing and no-one could mitigate Edward's rage against Adam, and he lived in some poverty for the rest of the king's reign.  It is entirely unsurprising to find that he supported Roger Mortimer and Isabella in 1326/27.

John Droxford, bishop of Bath and Wells (died 1329)

Appointed bishop of Bath and Wells by Clement V in 1309, at Edward II's request.  John Droxford was for many years a loyal servant of Edward II and high in his favour, and was one of the bishops who supported the king at the time of Piers Gaveston's return from his second exile in 1309.  In 1321/22, however, he sympathised with the Contrariants, or at least the king believed that he did, and Edward sent a series of furious and highly emotional letters to John XXII about him, Adam Orleton (above) and Henry Burghersh (below), calling them 'the worst poison' and saying that they were 'descended from the race of traitors' and had brought manifold disasters to his kingdom.  He demanded that John XXII translate the three men to sees outside England, as he could no longer bear the scandal of having them in his kingdom, and asked him to replace John Droxford as bishop with his (Edward's) close personal friend William, abbot of Langdon in Kent.  The pope refused, and clearly was deeply annoyed with Edward.

Henry Burghersh, bishop of Lincoln (died 1340)

Appointed bishop of Lincoln by John XXII in 1320, with Edward II's approval, though he was still under thirty.  Henry was the nephew of Bartholomew, Lord Badlesmere, steward of Edward II's household who later joined the Contrariant rebellion and - poor man - suffered the traitor's death in April 1322.  Henry's brother Bartholomew Burghersh was imprisoned in the Tower of London after the rebellion, and remained there until the end of Edward II's reign.  The king's wrath also fell on Henry, and as early as 8 December 1321, he wrote to John XXII to tell him that he had been deceived as to Henry's ability and suitability for his post, and was now totally convinced that Henry was unsuited to be bishop.  Of course you were, Edward, of course, and that had nothing at all to do with your loathing of his uncle, did it?  Henry was one of the three men about whom Edward sent a series of highly emotional and overwrought letters to the pope, above.

John Stratford, bishop of Winchester (later archbishop of Canterbury; died 1348)

Apppointed bishop of Winchester by John XXII in April 1323, to the great annoyance of Edward II, who had wanted the see for his and Hugh Despenser the Younger's clerk Robert Baldock. The king asked the pope to revoke the appointment, and also asked three men – Archambaud IV, count of Périgord, Bernard Jordani, lord of L'Isle Jourdain, and Peter de Via, the pope's relative – to use their influence with John in the matter, but to no avail: John XXII informed him that he had already consecrated John Stratford when he received Edward's letters recommending Robert Baldock.

Edward pettishly refused to grant the petition of one Raymond de Busselers in the summer of 1323 because it was supported by Stratford, with whom he declared himself "exceedingly incensed" and described as "faithless and ungrateful."  [1]  In November 1323, Edward ordered the keepers of more than seventy ports and the sheriffs of twenty counties not to permit John to leave the country, claiming that John had refused to meet the king's counsellors and "withdrew himself by subterfuge" from him.  [2]  He forced John to acknowledge a huge debt of £10,000 to him in June 1324, and began proceedings against him before the King's Bench.  [3]  John XXII wrote to Hugh Despenser, whom he frequently addressed as "one able to influence the king," thanking him for his efforts in attempting to reconcile Stratford and Edward and asking him to continue his exertions.  Hugh responded in typical fashion by extorting £1000 from the unfortunate bishop, which he deposited with his Italian bankers, the Peruzzi.  Superficially the king and bishop were reconciled in June 1324, and Stratford worked on Edward's behalf in France in 1325, but in 1326/27 supported Isabella and Roger Mortimer, and was one of the authors of the articles of deposition.

[1) Foedera, p. 527.
2) Chancery Warrants 1244-1326, p. 546; Close Rolls 1323-27, pp. 147-8.
3) Foedera, p. 541; Close Rolls, p. 198.]

John Hothum (or Hotham), bishop of Ely (died 1337)

Appointed to the bishopric of Ely in 1316, and for many years high in Edward II's favour; John acted as Piers Gaveston's attorney in 1311, and Edward made him treasurer then chancellor of England in 1318 and 1320.  For some obscure reason John seems to have angered Edward, and he acknowledged a massive debt of £2000 to Hugh Despenser the Younger in November 1324 (Close Rolls 1323-27, p. 325).  I don't know what that was about, but John joined forces with Isabella after the invasion.

William Airmyn (or Ayreminne), bishop of Norwich (died 1336)

Another bishop on whom Edward II's wrath fell after William was made bishop of Norwich in July 1325, John XXII once again passing over Edward's choice, Robert Baldock.  Edward had previously favoured William, and had asked John XXII some months earlier to provide Airmyn to the bishopric of Carlisle, unsuccessfully; John Ross gained the position.  Edward, in his usual fashion when someone annoyed him, decided unfairly to blame and to scapegoat William for the unfavourable peace treaty of summer 1325 with his (Edward's) brother-in-law Charles IV of France, and summoned William twice to appear before King's Bench on a charge of maliciously and treacherously agreeing that the king of France should continue to hold some of Edward's inheritance (the Agenais).  He even ordered the arrest of William's two brothers when he failed to appear.  Thus persecuted by the vengeful vindictive king, William Airmyn fled to France and joined Isabella sometime between March and June 1326.  It has often been wrongly assumed that William was chosen as bishop of Norwich because Isabella had intervened with the pope on his behalf, but in fact it is clear from John XXII's letters to Edward II that he thought he would be pleasing the king with the appointment (given that Edward had only recently asked the pope to provide William to a bishopric), and that Isabella's letters had reached him too late to have any effect on his decision.


And so Edward II alienated yet another man who would have been a very useful ally to him.  I should point out here that the king did stay on good terms with other English bishops in the 1320s, especially William Melton, archbishop of York, Hamo Hethe of Rochester, John Ross of Carlisle, Thomas Cobham of Worcester and Stephen Gravesend of London.  Walter Stapeldon, bishop of Exeter and former treasurer of England (and founder of Exeter College at Oxford University in 1314) died for his loyalty to Edward, suffering the horrible fate of being beheaded with a bread knife in London after Isabella and Roger Mortimer's invasion in 1326, his head sent to Isabella.  Archbishop Melton and Bishop Gravesend were involved in the plot of Edward's half-brother the earl of Kent to free him in 1330.  Neither was Edward II the only king to have problems with his bishops: Robert Winchelsey, archbishop of Canterbury, was a fierce opponent of Edward I and was forced into exile from England in 1305, and Edward III and Archbishop John Stratford went through their own crisis in 1340/41.  And yet, Edward II's alienating so many influential men played an important role in the revolution of 1326/27 and in his forced abdication; Adam Orleton and John Stratford were among the prime movers of these events.  Even Edward's long-term friend Walter Reynolds, archbishop of Canterbury, hesitated to support him after the invasion in 1326 and then enthusiastically joined Isabella's side.  Edward's losing his temper with him at some point in the 1320s and screaming in his face, so that Walter pretended he had to make an urgent visitation to his cathedral in order to escape from the king's presence, can't have helped.

Most of Edward II's behaviour in the 1320s really leaves me shaking my head...

Further Reading

- Roy Martin Haines, The Church and Politics in Fourteenth-Century England: the Career of Adam Orleton, c. 1275-1345 (1978)
- Roy Martin Haines, Archbishop John Stratford: Political Revolutionary and Champion of the Liberties of the English Church, ca. 1275/80-1348 (1986)
- Kathleen Edwards, 'The Personal and Political Activities of the English Episcopate During the Reign of Edward II', Bulletin of the Institute of Historical Research, 16 (1938)
- Kathleen Edwards, 'The Political Importance of the English Bishops During the Reign of Edward II', English Historical Review, 59 (1944)
- J.L. Grassi, 'William Airmyn and the Bishopric of Norwich', English Historical Review, 70 (1955)
- Seymour Phillips, Edward II (2010)
- Roy Martin Haines, King Edward II: His Life, His Reign, and Its Aftermath, 1284-1330 (2003)

08 February, 2014

Isabella, Braveheart of France by Colin Falconer: Book Review

Isabella, Braveheart of France, novel, published by Cool Gus Publishing in September 2013, 218 pages.

"Do you know what it is to have someone who understands your very soul?  This love your minstrels sing of, must it always be a knight and a lady?  Who made this law?  Was it God?  Then God is a trickster, for there is no one else will do for me."

The novel is narrated in the present tense in close third person, entirely from Isabella's point of view, and begins just before Isabella's wedding to Edward II in January 1308 (as novels about her invariably do).  I'm not really a fan of present tense in fiction, usually, but here it worked fine for me, more or less.  The chapters are short and the writing style somewhat terse and dispassionate, which I liked, though I've seen reviews of the novel on Amazon and Goodreads which find it choppy and distant.  I don't like the title at all, but at least the subject of the novel is made clear to the many people who've seen the film Braveheart, I suppose.

Novels about Edward II and Isabella of France generally fall into two groups.  The larger category is sympathetic to Isabella and paints Edward as a horrible abusive cruel husband, often a grotesque caricature of a gay man who 'snivels' and stamps his foot frequently and 'insults' Isabella and her femininity by being attracted to men (as though he chose his sexuality on purpose to hurt her, for pity's sake).  The smaller category is more concerned with Edward's relationships with Piers Gaveston and Hugh Despenser, and reduces Isabella to an improbably irrelevant cipher.  It's tiresome to me, the way so many writers - both of fiction and non-fiction - are so unable or unwilling to write both Edward and Isabella as rounded, sympathetic characters, and instead somehow feel that the only way to create reader sympathy for and interest in Isabella is to make Edward one-dimensionally awful.  So it was extremely refreshing to read Colin Falconer's novel, which portrays both of them as real, flawed people, likable in many ways.

Isabella throughout the novel yearns for great love, is envious of her husband for finding it with Piers Gaveston, and wishes more than anything that he loved her as much as he loves Piers.  In the hands of a lesser writer, her relationship with Roger Mortimer would of course fill this gap, and that's what I was expecting to find, as I have in pretty well every other novel ever written about Isabella.  This generally seems to require Mortimer to be written as the antithesis of Horrid Gay Edward, the anti-Edward, as it were.  Colin Falconer is a far more skilled and subtle writer than that, however.  Fans of the Isabella and Roger Twu Wuv Forever school of thought are probably not going to like this one, but Falconer's take on their relationship is much more in line with the way I see it myself.  The way he writes Edward and Isabella's own relationship is also gratifyingly different from the same old, same old I've read time and again.  Even as late as 1327, Isabella finds herself wanting to throw her glass of wine into Edward's face when he tells her that Piers was his great love and his madness, and a jealous Isabella, even after nineteen years, still can't bear to hear it - this conversation is my favourite scene in the novel.  Edward is honest with his wife about his limitations and tells her that he loves and honours her as much as he is capable of.  This rings true to me and I thoroughly enjoyed Falconer's portrayal of Edward and Isabella's complex and nuanced relationship, far more interesting and plausible than the usual rubbish that their marriage was nothing but a disaster from start to finish.  I genuinely think that Edward II (the real Edward, not the fictional character) did love Isabella in his way, not in the intense, passionate, obsessive, you-will-be-with-me-till-I-die way he loved Piers Gaveston - to the point of madness as Falconer suggests, perhaps - but as much as he was able to, and I also believe that Isabella loved Edward.  Piers loves Edward too, here.  The scene in Braveheart of France where Isabella witnesses Edward's reaction to Piers' death in 1312, where he literally keels over in the mud with grief, is genuinely moving.  So is the scene near the beginning where a twelve-year-old Isabella falls in love with Edward at first sight at their wedding, or at least believes that she does: "He is tall, and blue eyed, and smiles at her with such easy charm it makes her blush. It is love at first sight...She closes her eyes and imagines him. He is hers. Her father was right, she is fortunate. He is beautiful, he is a king and he is all hers."  Given that Isabella is shortly to find out that this perfect man is already deeply in love with another man, I find that poignant.

The novel ends shortly after Edward's death in 1327, when Isabella rejoices that after almost twenty years she has her husband's heart to herself at last, quite literally.  There's a short epilogue, which I found very satisfying: I don't want to give it away, but Colin Falconer doesn't follow the traditional line of what happened to the former king in 1327.  Shame that there's no author's note at the end to explain what happened to Roger Mortimer and Isabella and perhaps to provide further reading on the whole subject, a definite, albeit small, criticism I have of the novel.  I did find myself liking and admiring Isabella a lot in this one, and I like Edward a lot in it too.  Often in novels, I can't stand either of them.

I'm always delighted to find a book (fiction or non-fiction) about Edward II and Isabella that doesn't use Edward's non-heterosexuality as a cheap way of creating sympathy for the queen.  It would of course be weird and anachronistic to portray everyone in the early fourteenth century as accepting of Edward's sexuality, that's not my issue, it's that some authors seem to share fourteenth-century prejudices and expect their readers to do so as well, by constantly describing Edward as unnatural and perverted because he loves men.  Some books about Edward II, fiction and non-fiction, make me deeply uncomfortable.  (I'm not going to mention them here and give them any publicity, so if you'd like to know which ones I mean, drop me an email.)  There's absolutely none of that here, and Edward's love of men is handled sympathetically.  And let's face it, an author only has to make Edward II's children really his children rather than some other random bloke's to make me want to weep with gratitude.

Colin Falconer clearly did his homework for the novel, which included reading my blog and taking my research and ideas on board (he kindly emailed me a few months ago to let me know).  I appreciate his fairness to Edward.  Some small errors remain, such as Roger Mortimer saying that he has a daughter of Isabella's own age - in fact he was only about eight years older than the queen - and Hugh Despenser the Younger being older than Edward, but nothing major and nothing which ruined my enjoyment or jolted me out of the story.  There are some nice flashes of humour: I loved the bit about Hugh Despenser the Younger and his wife Eleanor where Isabella imagines that Hugh keeps a ledger of every time they have intercourse and holds Eleanor to account for all the occasions that don't result in pregnancy.

In short, I really enjoyed Isabella, Braveheart of France, and would definitely recommend it.  It's not a novel that's going to appeal to fans of the highly romanticised modern take on Isabella and Roger Mortimer, however, or to people who want to believe all the silly myths about Edward II which are currently popular, but I find it far more accurate and plausible than all but a handful of other Edward II and Isabella of France novels, and in its rather dry way it's a touching take on the complex and difficult relationships between these complex and fascinating people.  It's a thousand times better than the caricatured nonsense full of thinly-veiled prejudice masquerading as fiction I've so often read about Edward II, and my beloved king emerges as his deeply flawed, unconventional, capricious self without any tedious author moralising or ill-disguised contempt.

02 February, 2014

February Anniversaries

1 February 1327: Coronation of fourteen-year-old Edward III at Westminster, while his father the former King Edward II was held in captivity at Kenilworth Castle.  Must have been strange for the former king to see his son being crowned in his stead, in his own lifetime.  I'd give a great deal to know what both of them were thinking and feeling.

2 February 1282: Birth of Maud Chaworth, who in or before 1297 married Edward II's first cousin Henry of Lancaster and had seven children with him, including the marvellous Henry of Grosmont, first duke of Lancaster.  Maud was the elder half-sister of Hugh Despenser the Younger and Aline Burnell.

2 February 1286: Birth of Joan Geneville, first countess of March, heiress to lands in England, Wales, Ireland and France, wife of Roger Mortimer (25 April 1287 - 29 November 1330) and mother of twelve children (her daughter Blanche Grandisson and her magnificent tomb in the village of Much Marcle has been much in the news recently).  Joan lived to be seventy and to see her many grandchildren, and is to my mind a far more interesting and worthy person than she's generally made out to be in historical fiction and even non-fiction, where she's far too often painted as a dull, sexless nobody understandably thrown over by her husband for the gorgeous queen.  Yuck.

3 February 1267: Birth of Richard Fitzalan, earl of Arundel, who was Roger Mortimer's first cousin and whose son Earl Edmund was executed by Roger in November 1326.

3 February 1281: Birth of Gilbert de Clare, lord of Thomond, nephew of the earl of Gloucester, a companion of Edward of Caernarfon before he became king, and first husband of Hugh Despenser the Younger's sister Isabel.  More coming on Gilbert very soon, when I write a post about Isabel.

4 February 1316: Wedding at or near Bristol Castle of Edward II's widowed niece Elizabeth de Burgh née de Clare and Theobald de Verdon, whose first wife Maud was Roger Mortimer's sister.  Whether Elizabeth consented to the marriage, I don't know.

5 February 1311: Death of Henry de Lacy, earl of Lincoln, aged around sixty, sometimes a close ally of Edward II and sometimes not, father of Alice.

5 February 1345: Wedding of Eleanor of Lancaster, fifth daughter of Henry of Lancaster and Maud Chaworth, and her second husband Richard Fitzalan, earl of Arundel, son of Edmund executed in 1326.  Richard was probably the richest man in England in the entire fourteenth century, and I can't help but dislike him because of his shabby treatment of his and Isabel Despenser's son Edmund.

6 February 1322: Surrender of Maurice, Lord Berkeley and Hugh Audley the Elder to Edward II during the failed Contrariant rebellion.

7 February 1308: Arrival of Edward II and his new wife Isabella of France in England.

9 February 1250: Death at Mansoura (Egypt) of Robert, count of Artois, brother of Louis IX of France.  Robert's daughter Blanche, queen of Navarre by her first marriage, married Edward II's uncle Edmund of Lancaster and was the mother of Thomas of Lancaster and the maternal grandmother of Isabella of France.

9 February 1321: Wedding of seven-year-old Richard Fitzalan, son and heir of the earl of Arundel, and Hugh Despenser the Younger's eight-year-old daughter Isabel.  The marriage ended disastrously; see link under the entry for 5 February 1345.

10 February 1306: Robert Bruce stabbed his rival John the Red Comyn, lord of Badenoch, to death in the Greyfriars church in Dumfries, and soon afterwards had himself crowned king of Scots.

11 February 1310: Wedding of Edward II's nephew Edouard I, count of Bar, and Marie of Burgundy, two of whose sisters were queens of France. Edouard was then around fifteen.

13 February 1322: Imprisonment of Roger Mortimer and his uncle Roger Mortimer of Chirk in the Tower of London during the Contrariant rebellion.

14 February 1318: Death of Edward II's stepmother Marguerite of France, queen of England, not yet forty years old.  She left two sons Thomas, earl of Norfolk and Edmund, later earl of Kent, then aged seventeen and sixteen.  On 8 March, Edward II sent two pieces of Lucca cloth to Marlborough to lie over her body, and sent six more pieces after it was moved to London shortly afterwards. The king visited his stepmother's remains at St Mary's Church in Southwark on 14 March, and attended her funeral at the Greyfriars Church the following day, purchasing six pieces of Lucca cloth for himself and two pieces each for two other people, his sister Mary the nun and Sir Roger Damory, his current court favourite, to wear.

16 February 1364: Death of Sir John Maltravers, one of Edward of Caernarfon's custodians in 1327.  He must have been at least in his mid-seventies.

19 February 1322: Edward II captured Kenilworth Castle, the great Warwickshire stronghold of his cousin and enemy Thomas, earl of Lancaster, during the Contrariant rebellion.

19 February 1325: Edward II made arrangements for his youngest child Joan of the Tower, aged three (born July 1321), to marry the future King Pedro IV of Aragon, then five (born September 1319).  Joan was to marry David II of Scotland in 1328 instead.

20 February 1312: Churching and purification of Edward II's niece Margaret de Clarecelebration of the birth of her and Piers' daughter Joan Gaveston, paid for by the king.

22 February 1316: First indication that Edward II probably knew that Isabella of France was pregnant with their second child John of Eltham, born on 15 August: he asked the dean and chapter of the church of St Mary in Lincoln to "celebrate divine service daily for the good estate of the king and queen Isabella and Edward of Windsor their first-born son."

22 February 1316: Attack by Hugh Despenser the Younger on Sir John Ros at the parliament of Lincoln.  Hugh repeatedly punched John in the face until he drew blood, and "inflicted other outrages on him in contempt of the lord king," forcing John to draw his sword in self-defence. Hugh claimed after his arrest, with amusing implausibility, that he had merely stretched out his hand to defend himself and accidentally hit John in the face with his fist, after John "heap[ed] outrageous insults on the same Hugh [and] taunted him with insolent words," and rushed at him with a knife.

25 February 1303: Eighteen-year-old Edward of Caernarfon paid four shillings' compensation to his fool Robert Buffard or Bussard, because the two men went swimming together that day at Windsor and Robert was injured in some way by "the trick the Prince [of Wales] played on him in the water."  :-)

25 February 1308: Coronation of Edward II and Isabella of France as king and queen of England.

26 February 1275: Death of Edward's aunt Margaret of England, queen of Scotland, at the age of only thirty-four.  Margaret was the second child of Henry III and Eleanor of Provence, and married Alexander III of Scotland.

26 February 1307: The aging Edward I, who had only four and a half months left to live, ordered Piers Gaveston to leave England.

27 February 1313: Thomas, earl of Lancaster finally returned to Edward II the goods and horses belonging to the king which he had seized at Newcastle the previous May.

28 February 1261: Birth of Edward II's first cousin Margaret of Scotland, queen of Norway, eldest child of Alexander III and Margaret of England.