28 October, 2015

Edward II in The Bastard Executioner

Yesterday evening, I watched part of the fourth episode of the historical drama series The Bastard Executioner (which presumably means an executioner who is illegitimate rather than one who only executes bastards).  The reason?  Edward II and Piers Gaveston appeared in it.  The series is about a Welsh knight who fought for Edward (or his father? Not sure) and takes place in a Welsh county called 'Ventrishire', and the episodes have titles in both English and Welsh.  I haven't seen the first three episodes; frankly I'm not interested enough, but just wanted to see how it portrayed Edward and Piers.  The fourth episode is called 'A Hunger/Newyn'.

Ummmm yeah.  One of the main characters, who appears to be called 'Lady Love' for some weird reason, travels from Wales to Windsor Castle as she's been summoned by Edward II.  She meets Piers Gaveston and is rudely kept waiting for many hours by Edward, hungry and forced to sit at a table groaning with food which she is not allowed to eat.  In fact, she is only summoned to the king after she's gone to bed and is asleep, when Piers waltzes into her bedchamber and sits on her bed.  Piers is young, handsome, elegant and very French (played by Tom Forbes, who also played William Stafford in Wolf Hall; see here, and here for a pic of him as Piers).  So, weirdly, is Edward II (played by Jack Greenlees, very nice!), who speaks English with a strong French accent and keeps lapsing from English into French.  At one point he called Lady Love une petite scarabée d'or, 'a little golden beetle', and on another occasion says something in French and looks to Piers to translate it for him.  This is bizarre.  Although French was almost certainly Edward's first language, he wasn't a Frenchman.  On quite a few websites I've seen, viewers are - understandably - confused about this and refer to him as 'the French ruler'.  I've also seen various people online claim that Edward II grew up in France, and that the makers of The Bastard Executioner therefore did good research.  Nope, Edward grew up entirely in England (having left his birthplace of Wales when he was only a few months old) and set foot in France for the first time in January 1308 when he was twenty-three, when he married Isabella in Boulogne.  Given that Edward was born in Wales and was the first member of the English royal family to be prince of Wales, and given that the whole show is about Wales, I'd have thought the producers could have made good use of that fact, but no.  Edward is...French.  Okey-dokey then.  I think the programme missed a trick there.

The titles are odd: Edward II keeps being called 'His Majesty', a later invention, and 'Lady Love' addresses Piers Gaveston as 'Sir Gaveston', even though she knows he's the earl of Cornwall.  'Sir' should be used with a man's first name, not his last name.  Lady Love is called 'the baroness'.  The makers of the programme seem to confuse Edward II with his father and call him 'Edward Longshanks II'.  Lady Love addresses her female attendant as 'Maiden', and I seem to recall hearing another character addressed as 'Chamberlain', presumably because that's what he is.

The best you can say really is that Piers and Edward are both young and good-looking, though Edward tends perhaps to a certain femininity.  He's also immature and faintly useless; when he meets Lady Love, he's far more interested in continuing to take part in archery (at night) than in sorting anything out for her, and hands the whole matter over to Piers.  I suppose the whole thing could have been much worse.  (It could also have been a lot better, but still.)  At least Edward isn't snivelling and throwing tantrums and generally behaving like a teenage girl in a strop, the way he's so often depicted.  Instead he's doing something active and sporty, which I rather liked.  He's tall, handsome and has long fair hair, which is accurate, and the Twitter account of the programme acknowledges his great strength.  He's useless but not malicious, and friendly, apart from rudely keeping Lady Love waiting for him all day.  It looks as though Piers Gaveston appears again in episodes five and nine, so I might have to watch those soon.  It'll be something of an ordeal for me though, I'm afraid.  I skipped through episode four searching for the Piers/Edward scenes, but still saw the grotesque torture of a man having his eye put out with a knife and both his arms cut off, which made me shudder with horror and disgust.  Absolutely, definitely not my kind of programme.  Anyway, I suppose at least the programme is increasing Edward II's name recognition among an audience who've probably barely heard of him before.  So yay for that.

19 October, 2015

19 October 1330

On 19 October 1330, 685 years ago today, Edward III arrested Roger Mortimer, earl of March, at Nottingham Castle.  The young king was not quite eighteen years old (born 13 November 1312) and ready to take over the governance of his own kingdom.  In a proclamation issued shortly afterwards, Edward showed how unimpressed he was with those who had been ruling England since the forced abdication of his father Edward II in January 1327, presumably Roger, Edward III's mother Isabella and various of their allies: "the king understands that diverse oppressions and hardships have been inflicted upon many men of his realm by certain persons who have been his ministers..." and that the affairs of the kingdom "have been directed until now to the damage and dishonour of him [Edward III] and his realm."

Incidentally, Edward arresting Roger in Isabella's bedchamber is not nearly as intimate as it might sound to modern ears; the two weren't alone in bed together but using the chamber as a venue for a meeting with their few remaining allies, including the bishop of Lincoln Henry Burghersh (who tried to escape from the king down a latrine shaft), Sir Hugh Turplington (who was killed), and Sir Simon Bereford, Sir Oliver Ingham and Roger's son Geoffrey (who were all arrested).  Roger was executed on 29 November 1330, Isabella's pleas to her son to have pity on him falling on deaf ears.

I'd like to thank Kathleen Guler for writing this fab review of my book Edward II: The Unconventional King!  There's also a thoughtful and most interesting review of it by Professor Jeff Hamilton, Piers Gaveston's biographer, here.  I was delighted to read that.

Finally, there's a great blog post by Ivan Fowler and the Auramala Project about my recent trip to Pavia to talk about Edward II, with pics!

13 October, 2015

Elizabeth de Clare, Isabella de Verdon, the Auramala Project and Mitochondrial DNA

While in Pavia recently, I had the pleasure of meeting the geneticists Enza Battaglia, Anna Olivieri and Antonio Torroni, who are an important part of the Auramala Project.  The Project is investigating the Fieschi Letter, which was addressed to Edward III and informed him how his father Edward II had escaped from Berkeley Castle in 1327 and ended up in Italy.  They're also searching through Italian archives to find possible documentation supporting Edward II's survival in Italy in the 1330s, and ultimately attempting to find descendants who share Edward's mitochondrial DNA, in case the possibility arises some day to test Edward's remains (see here for their posts about this).  I'm helping with the genealogy part, and have found a line from one of Edward's sisters in the female line down to the 1700s (so far).

I've also looked at Edward's maternal ancestry, his mother Eleanor of Castile, grandmother Joan of Ponthieu, great-grandmother Marie of Ponthieu, great-great-grandmother Alais of France, and so on.  I got the maternal line back to the mid-900s to Edward's ten greats grandmother.  Unfortunately, tracing the female descendants of Edward's female ancestors hasn't proved fruitful yet and I haven't been able to find any lines of descent past the fifteenth century, though it has thrown up some interesting people with whom Edward shared mitochondrial DNA: Henry the Young King's wife Marguerite of France (Edward's great-great-great-aunt; her husband was Edward's great-great-uncle); Richard Lionheart's queen Berengaria of Navarre (granddaughter of Edward's great-great-great-grandmother Berenguela of Barcelona) and her nephew Thibault the 'Troubadour King' of Navarre; Jeanne de Penthièvre, duchess of Brittany in her own right (c. 1319-1384), great-great-granddaughter of Agatha of Ponthieu, younger sister of Edward's grandmother Joan of Ponthieu, queen of Castile; Constance of Béarn, viscountess of Marsan (d. 1310), who married Edward I's first cousin Henry of Almain, and who was, like Edward II, descended in the female line from Gerberga of Provence, countess of Provence and Arles (d. 1115).

Edward II had numerous sisters, but only five lived into adulthood: Eleanor, Joan of Acre, Margaret, Mary and Elizabeth.  Mary became a nun, so is out.  Margaret had only one son, Duke John III of Brabant, so is out.  Eleanor had one daughter, Joan of Bar, countess of Surrey, who had no children, so is out.  That leaves Joan of Acre, countess of Gloucester and Hertford (1272-1307) and Elizabeth, countess of Holland, Hereford and Essex (1282-1316).  Elizabeth had two daughters: Eleanor le Boteler or Butler née de Bohun, countess of Ormond (c. 1310-1363) and Margaret Courtenay née de Bohun, countess of Devon (1311-1391, the last survivor of Eleanor of Castile's grandchildren), both of whom had daughters.  Joan of Acre had five daughters: Eleanor de Clare who married Hugh Despenser the Younger and William la Zouche; Margaret de Clare who married Piers Gaveston and Hugh Audley; Elizabeth de Clare who married John de Burgh, Theobald de Verdon and Roger Damory; Mary de Monthermer who married Duncan MacDuff, earl of Fife; and Joan de Monthermer, who became a nun.  I can't find any female descendants for Eleanor de Clare; although she had five daughters (Isabella, Joan, Eleanor, Margaret and Elizabeth Despenser), none of them had any daughters of their own.  Isabella Despenser had one son, Edmund Fitzalan, and Elizabeth Despenser four sons including Thomas, Lord Berkeley.  The other three Despenser daughters were forcibly veiled as nuns by Edward II's queen Isabella of France a few weeks after she had their father executed on 24 November 1326, even though they were only children at the time.  Mary de Monthermer had one daughter Isabella MacDuff, who had one daughter Elizabeth Ramsay, who died childless.  So of Joan of Acre's five daughters, that leaves two, Margaret and Elizabeth de Clare, who had daughters, granddaughters, great-granddaughters and so on, as well as their cousins Eleanor and Margaret de Bohun, the two daughters of Joan of Acre's sister Elizabeth.  Thus, there are four nieces of Edward II who are relevant to this research.

I still need to do more research into the female descendants of Eleanor de Bohun, who had two daughters, Margaret de Bohun, who had seven or eight daughters, and their cousin Margaret de Clare's daughter Margaret Audley, who had four daughters.  (Margaret de Clare's other daughter Joan Gaveston died young in 1325.)  Elizabeth de Clare, Joan of Acre's third daughter, had two daughters: Isabella de Verdon (21 March 1317 - 25 July 1349) and Elizabeth Damory (shortly before 23 May 1318 - c. 1361/62).  Elizabeth Damory herself had two daughters, Agnes and Isabel Bardolf, who are named in their grandmother Elizabeth de Clare's 1355 will when she left them bequests in aid of their marriages, but they disappear from history after that.  If they did marry and have children, there's no record of it, and it seems likely that they either died before they could marry or that they became nuns.  So that's the end of that line, unfortunately (the line of Elizabeth Damory's son William Bardolf continued, but that's irrelevant for our purposes).

Isabella de Verdon, Edward II's great-niece, to my joy, turned out to be a key figure.  Here's the story of how she came to be born.  Elizabeth de Clare (16 September 1295 - 4 November 1360) was widowed from her first husband, the earl of Ulster's son and heir John de Burgh, on 18 June 1313.  She was not yet eighteen years old and had a baby son William Donn ('the Brown') de Burgh, later earl of Ulster, born on 17 September 1312 (William's daughter and heir Elizabeth de Burgh, born in 1332 and named after his mother, married Edward III's second son Lionel of Antwerp).  Elizabeth de Clare remained in Ireland for some time after John de Burgh's death.  On 24 June 1314, her elder brother Gilbert de Clare, earl of Gloucester, was killed at the battle of Bannockburn, leaving Elizabeth and their other sisters Eleanor and Margaret as his heirs.  In late 1315, Elizabeth's uncle Edward II ordered her back from Ireland, where she had (I imagine) been living under the protection of her father-in-law Richard de Burgh, earl of Ulster.  Edward presumably wished to marry Elizabeth off to a man of his choosing, as he did later when he more or less forced her to marry his current court favourite Sir Roger Damory.

Unfortunately for Edward II but more especially for Elizabeth, Theobald de Verdon had other ideas.  Theobald was the justiciar of Ireland, seventeen years older than Elizabeth (born on 8 September 1278), and the widower of Roger Mortimer of Wigmore's sister Maud, with whom he had daughters Joan, Margery and Elizabeth de Verdon.  On 4 February 1316, Theobald abducted the twenty-year-old Elizabeth de Clare from Bristol Castle where she was then staying, and married her.  As Elizabeth was an adult, a widow and a mother, this may not have been as traumatic as the later abduction of her teenaged niece Margaret Audley must have been, but still.  Theobald claimed to Elizabeth's enraged uncle Edward II shortly afterwards when he visited the Lincoln parliament that Elizabeth had come to him willingly, but then he would say that, wouldn't he?

After less than six months of married life with his probably reluctant bride, Theobald de Verdon died on 27 July 1316, only in his late thirties.  Elizabeth's feelings on the matter are unknown, but fortunately for us, Theobald left her about a month pregnant at the time of his death.  Sometime during her pregnancy, Elizabeth retired to Amesbury Priory in Wiltshire, where her aunt Mary, Edward II's sister, was a nun (the two women evidently were extremely fond of each other).  At Amesbury on 21 March 1317, eight months after the death of Theobald, Elizabeth gave birth to their daughter Isabella de Verdon.  Edward II, staying at the nearby royal palace of Clarendon, sent a silver cup with stand and cover as a christening gift for his latest great-niece, having received news of the birth from a messenger sent by his sister Mary.  Queen Isabella was chosen as godmother and travelled from Clarendon to Amesbury to attend the christening; the baby was named after her.  Roger Martival, bishop of Salisbury, performed the ceremony.  Isabella de Verdon was one of the four co-heiresses of her father, with her three older half-sisters (nieces of Roger Mortimer); primogeniture did not apply to women, and daughters inherited equally.  Elizabeth de Clare was still recovering from the birth when Edward II came to Amesbury and put pressure on her to marry his current 'favourite', Roger Damory.  Elizabeth, who really had no choice, married Damory a few weeks later, and their only child Elizabeth Damory was born shortly before 23 May 1318, only fourteen months after her half-sister Isabella de Verdon.

Sometime in the late 1320s when she was still only a child, Isabella was married to Henry, Lord Ferrers of Groby in Leicestershire, who was much her senior. born by 1304 at the latest and perhaps in the 1290s.  Henry, unfortunately, claimed his conjugal rights early: Isabella gave birth to her eldest child probably in February 1331 (her mother sent her gifts for her purification ceremony that March, around the time of her fourteenth birthday).  The child, not surprisingly, did not survive.  Luckily. this early experience of childbirth did not damage Isabella's body, and she gave birth to four more children, two sons and two daughters including Elizabeth Ferrers, who was born probably sometime in the mid or late 1330s.  Elizabeth Ferrers married David de Strathbogie, titular earl of Atholl, who was born in the early 1330s as the son of David de Strathbogie the elder and Katherine Beaumont, one of the daughters of Henry, Lord Beaumont.  Katherine's sister Isabella Beaumont married Henry of Grosmont, first duke of Lancaster, and David the younger was thus the first cousin of Blanche of Lancaster, who married Edward III's third son John of Gaunt, and his paternal grandmother was Joan Comyn (actually both of his grandmothers were Comyns).  Elizabeth Ferrers and David de Strathbogie had a daughter Elizabeth de Strathbogie, who had a daughter Elizabeth Scrope, who had a daughter Elizabeth Clarell, and so on down the centuries until the 1700s at least.  More work is still to be done, tracing this line further.

If you've done any genealogical research and are aware of any female lines from Edward II's sisters or their maternal ancestors, please contact either me or the Auramala Project!

08 October, 2015

I Am In Italian Newspapers

Edited to add: I'd also like to thank Kathleen Guler for this fab review of my book Edward II: The Unconventional King!

It's rather exciting to be in Italian newspapers! :) The first one here is from Pavia, and is an interview kindly translated for me by Ivan Fowler of the Auramala Project, about Edward II's survival in Italy (the headline says 'Edward, the king who escaped to Oltrepo', Oltrepo being an area of the province of Pavia and where the hermitage of Sant'Alberto di Butrio is situated).  On 22 September, I spoke at the Salle Teresiano at the university of Pavia, a gorgeous old library, about Edward and his afterlife in Italy.  

The others are from Vercelli.  There are some lovely pics at the end of the article (here), including of His Excellency the archbishop of Vercelli who introduced my talk, and of me signing autographs.  My talk was called (in Italian) 'Edward II, the king who died twice, and the bishop of Vercelli Manuele Fieschi', which you can see in the headline.

This was the article in a Vercelli paper announcing my forthcoming presentation, also headlined 'The mystery of the king who died twice':

And another one from Vercelli!

Last but most definitely not least, in the national paper La Stampa! :)

03 October, 2015

How To Avoid Maligning Historical Persons (Guest Post)

Today, a brilliant guest post by my friend Ulrik Kristiansen! Thank you, Ulrik!
How To Avoid Maligning Historical Persons

Some thoughts for historical non-fiction authors and biographers ... and thank you very much to Kathryn for allowing me to share them!
This post is based on a discussion that grew out of a brilliant interview I did with Kathryn about what life lessons we might learn from Edward's tumultuous reign - today.
Among other things, Kathryn and I talked in the interview about the countless fiction books and - more disturbingly - the non-fiction books - that portray Edward as a 'bad gay man', or effeminate, incompetent, cruel, etc. - the whole unsavory package.
Some of these books which then describe Edward like this to show him as the total opposite of the valorous, virile, heterosexual Mortimer.
In other words: The worse you portray Edward the better Mortimer looks. And vice versa. Oldest trick in the book - you see it in Hollywood movies all the time. The villain has to do something terrible to the heroine's family, for example. Then we can 'forget' that it is equally terrible that the 'heroine' murders 200 of the villain's henchmen or whoever else gets in her way, to get at the villain.
I won't comment on the homophobia and worse that might permeate some of the abovementioned descriptions of Edward, based on more or less flimsy 'facts' from 700 years ago. (I haven't read all the books but I take Kathryn's word for it. The stuff I have read is quite enough.)
But after I had written the entire article about everything we talked about I felt could add more value to Kathryn's blog than to my own if I took the parts of the discussion that had to do with WHY we so often want to write (and read) these 'black and white' stories about historical people ... and made that into a whole new article.
I hope you will think the same, for here it is:

The power of black and white
What are the consequences of writing about people as being mostly 'good' or mostly 'bad'?
Well, nothing really - in the short term. You might even end up selling more books. But I can give at least three good reasons why you should not. They will be up in a moment but they will be there with a catch. They are not easy to deliver on. In fact, they can come off as down-right nasty challenges if you deal with historical material that is often incomplete and, more importantly, you have the urge to see people who lived long ago as a mirror image of yourself or people of today.
I would like to confess that I am not entirely innocent here. It's so deep in us, this way of telling stories about people - painting them as either heroes or villains, or other archetypes (or stereotypes if you will). If in doubt, just take a moment and listen to what you and others talk about at the kitchen table - how easily you slip into: 'He totally nails it at marketing' - 'She's a total failure as a politician' - 'Moslems are violent, it's in their religion' - 'People who believe in God are childish' - 'People who don't believe in God are materialistic and selfish' - etc. - etc.. The black and white-characterization is also a storytelling model reinforced by 90 per cent of all fiction in film, literature, etc. No wonder it is so difficult to get around when we try to write good historical non-fiction. If you are a long-time reader of Kathryn's blog, you will know, what I am talking about. Even serious academics fall into this trap. I do myself all the time.

I'm guilty, too
Just recently I worked on an illustration for a website about the Incas my girlfriend and I have wanted to make for a long time. I drew Cura Occlo, an Inca coya - or queen/empress, as she would be in Europa. She was one of the last Inca 'queens' and she suffered a grim fate, being captured and killed by the Spanish conquistadors while her husband led a rebellion against them.
When I drew the picture I could only think of drawing her as some sympathetic victim-like figure, robbed unfairly of her life and youth by what we would see as a criminal act today, and that's also what I felt compelled to use as an angle for the article that was to accompany the picture. Horrible as Cura Occlo's death was 500 years ago, I got ... second thoughts about my first angle in writing about her fate - after having put the drawing aside for awhile.
For example, she wasn't necessarily as innocent as I felt compelled to portray her as, on the first hunch. Her husband, Manco Inca, brutally killed and executed his enemies just like the Spaniards did. It was war. It was a different time. Did I really believe this Inca queen went along in her own little world, not knowing about or condoning at least some of all this brutality around her?
I doubt it, but I can never know for sure, of course ... The sources we have about this particular woman are scarce and to a large extent contradictory and biased, just like most other material from the Conquest of the Americas (written by Spaniards to justify it or by indigenous people later on to decry it).
Anyway, I'm sure you can see some similarities here ...
... if not, how about writing about a very spe-shul beautiful queen of 14th century England as if she is an innocent pure-hearted and largely passive victim of a cruel fop-gay husband and his chamberlain-lover?
Hypothetical example, of course ... :-)
The point is that all of the aforementioned are stories based on stereotype humans who are mostly either good or bad, victims or victimizers. No real humans. Story-humans.
And I find myself being drawn to these archetypical stories, too - all the time! Even if I know they are not really true.
I don't believe you can entirely escape this attraction to storytelling. Everyone certainly has an agenda. (Kathryn's agenda, fortunately, is primarily about destroying myths in order to give a more balanced picture of Edward.)
But I'm not even talking agenda here - I'm talking more about this deep, deep structure in our minds that's almost magnetic. The grooves in our minds that affect how we see the world.
We want so often to fit people into little boxes in certain shapes, don't we? It's how we make sense of the world, I will argue. A natural thing.
There's a lot of fancy psychology terms behind these observations, but suffice to say you will just have to follow me in this or go read a tabloid instead (or something equally substantial). If you are here, you are probably a fan of Kathryn's work, as I am, and so I think you will stay. I hope so.

3 suggestions for telling stories about real people
So ... are you planning on doing a historical bio yourself?
Do you have some past history person - Medieval or otherwise - you really fancy? (Or love to hate?).
Maybe you are already an accomplished author and follow Kathryn's blog just out of interest for the period or because you dig it when Kathryn slams some less-fortunate-author's work about Edward II (and well-deserved, too - I've seen no examples to the contrary)?
In that case, I'd like to give you a recipe on how you might avoid the worst story-traps in your bio about King X or Queen Y.
And the best of it all is, you don't even need to be afraid that this is going to cost you. You are going to be able to write an exciting non-fiction bio - even if you hold yourself to  standard that doesn't allow for black villainous kings or white-hearted queens.
In fact, I don't think you will have anything but benefits from this approach. But with each benefit also comes a challenge - some hard work. Sorry - but nothing is for free, especially not integrity.
And with that said, here are my suggestions for a good approach to writing historical bios:

1) Do it to make peace - not to pick a fight
Yes, this may sound a little new age psycho-babble-ish, but my assertion here is that you will realize it gives more peace inside to try to diminish how many 'enemies' or 'failures' you see amongst other people. In other words, the less you look for things that can piss you off about others and the more you try to understand why people act 'like idiots', the less frustrated you will be. It is easier to forgive, ignore or bear with someone you understand, although you don't agree with him or her.
You must then strive to push your biographical storytelling - in fiction and non-fiction - in the same direction of understanding, otherwise there will be a disconnect between the way you treat people you write about and the way you treat people in the real world. It's a bit like being a troll on Facebook - it's hard to maintain that attitude and rant against some people and then go out and have a harmonic relation with your family or your spouse.
Sooner or later that urge to kick whoever annoys you will shine through into the real world. You might as well deal with it and try to cultivate a harmonic view of everyone - past or present. You can't really separate these people. I know it's another cliché but if you, say, really have a problem with Edward being a homo (or whatever he was) then you're not going to do well in the real world when you meet people who are just that and who you might need to relate to more peacefully: A boss, a family member, a friend who comes out, whatever.

Okay, enough psycho-babble - but I hope you get my drift: Your choice of biographical subject and how you treat it to a large extent a reflection of how you feel about yourself and other people - who you love and who you loathe. You might as well try to iron these feelings out, both in your bio, and in real life - instead of choosing to magnify them through writing a book about someone you paint as a real idiot/villain/schlock/etc. Trust me, when you get as old as I sometimes feel, you don't want to waste too much time delving in negativity. Not even in what you write.

2) Do it to get new insights
High quality non-fiction is about discussing the complexity of reality in an exciting way (with notes so people can see how you put your argument together). It is NOT about reducing complexity of reality in the mistaken belief that that will always be more exciting.
You are never finished with upping your writing quality in this department. You can always go back and do more. Yes, of course there is a deadline now and then, but it's an ideal, okay? What it means in practice is that you treat biographical writing as a science, so you are open to someone down the line proving you wrong about something - with arguments. You don't struggle forever to maintain a viewpoint you spend so many hours arguing into a text 3 years ago, if it is no longer tenable.
Yes, I know there isn't an absolute yardstick for when something is true or not. But there is a warning light: When you find yourself continually defending the status quo of your view points. That means you are probably not doing a good enough job trying to unveil the reality about a person. You are becoming stuck in your own reality.

3) Do it to educate people for real
- and not just trying to force your viewpoint on them. If you are in doubt about whether or not you have given people a choice in deciding what to believe in your biography ... you probably haven't.

And that's my advice really. Short and sweet.
Then inevitably comes the question ... "how"?
What should you do then if you are writing a book about your favorite historical period and its participants, and there are just long periods when you don't know what happened in people's lives for sure, or why they did something for sure? Well, in the case of Edward it is seems tempting to tell a  very particular story, although you don't have the evidence to back it up. So what do you do to fill in the blanks? For that will inevitably veer your story in a certain direction. You will have to decide what your character did and why and if you want your audience to like him or not.
Alternatively, do you hold back and instead write a lot of times: "we don't really know" - ?
In other words: How do you avoid that your narrative becomes ... dull?
How about ...

Treating your bio-story as a mystery
If you treat the possible options of what has happened and why as a mystery - and as regards interpreting actions of your characters especially - then that can, I will argue, be just as gratifying as anything else. It can be just as exciting as choosing a straight-forward narrative.
Like choosing:
Option 1: "Why did Edward really neglect Isabella - if at all?"
Option 2: "Edward neglected Isabella because he was an egoistic, gay man."
Your reader is with option 1 presented with different possibilities and can make her own narrative - but no attempt from your side is made to force your own story on the material! You argue your case - you don't shove it down someone's throat!
Yes, make an argument into the story in your non-fiction book. That's what he wrote.
Don't make a badly disguised fiction story that you wish for - or hope will be more entertaining, because you can't think of alternatives.
There are always alternatives.
Why should the 'mystery story' be less exciting to your audience - unless you don't care about them but only about feeding them your own truth?
So try to tell the captivating story effectively - and maintain high degree of honesty - by discussing multiple options for what the protagonists and antagonists may have thought. Or what they may have felt. Or how they may have related to each other.

If you can't really back your speculations up - discuss them!
Then you can make an argument for your case but allow the reader to choose his or her favored conclusion based on the options you have lead forth.
Note: The basic neutrality of this kind of (very challenging) storytelling is not the same as giving equal treatment to all facts, trying to balance them out so to speak.
If, for example, Edward dabbled in modern pastimes such as rowing and sports and outdoor life, mingled with commoners, took a genuine interest in furthering knowledge and had a more or less open bisexuality that doesn't mean it was just as important as him going to war (and losing it). It also makes for a stiff and boring narrative, should you try to give equal room in pages to both, or anything in line with that model.  (Luckily, Kathryn hasn't done that and hers is an example to be emulated!)
But each case is different. Each topic is different. Your knowledge is different. The available data. You will have to weigh how much space to give each aspect of a story. As you do so you inevitably call attention to what can be interpreted as moral qualities (or lack thereof) in your main characters. As we have already discussed, modern audiences are hungry to fit people into certain preconceived frames - stories with clear cut heroes and villains. Most people like those better than ambiguity.

Walking the talk
I will end this guest post by giving a personal example of how I try to do exactly what I have been describing above, when I tell stories about historical persons. I'm not saying I am doing it perfectly, only that I am trying to be very much aware of what I am doing and of living up to this ideal.
So ... I recently finalized my latest live-talk about fascinating historical persons and this time I chose to talk about Christopher Columbus. It is a 1.5 hour talk for a broad audience. I gave it recently for school children. Next month I will be giving a slightly adjusted version for seniors.
In my last two talks - about Joan of Arc and Eleanor of Aquitaine respectively - I've struggled to find a compromise between the short time, keeping an exciting straightforward narrative free of too much ambiguity and still giving a balanced picture of who these persons really were (as far as we can ever know - both ladies lived a very long time ago!).
Anyway, did I give myself a challenge with Christopher Columbus! Up until about World War II that man was a hero to many, regular folks and scholars - but as we closed in on the end of the last millennium he has become quite the opposite to many: Accused of everything from starting slavery, to genocide to being a religious nut to just being a plain idiot for not being able to find India. Bottom line: It's very easy to fall into either the 'no, he was really a hero-story or the 'he was definitely a villain'-story.
I don't want to see Columbus as a 'villain', but he was hardly a 'hero' either - in modern terms. He was a man of his time who thought slavery and subjugation of 'lesser (non-Christian) peoples' was all right - at least to a degree.
Oh, Columbus tried to fiddle a little bit with the criteria, such as at one point entertaining the notion that only cannibals should be enslaved. In the end, though, Columbus' inner urge to become rich and famous - a 'someone' - coupled with his need to placate the local colonists and deliver on the promises made to the Spanish crown for bringing SOME value home from the new islands ... all of that made it extremely difficult to maintain any ideals, he may have had about treating at least some Indians with benevolence. And heads rolled. In the end, it was almost Columbus' own when he was 'fired' as administrator of Hispaniola and sent home in chains.
I thought I could try to draw attention away from Columbus' violent actions by :
- talking about how much worse every other colonist had been
- talking down the extent of the violence
- or trying to divert the discussion to his religiousness and avowed goal to get gold enough to finance a new crusade (a motivation both dubious in its 'purity' and not particularly sympathetic in our part of the world today anyway)
But then I thought ... why not just admit it?
Like: Columbus wasn't as bad as they came in 1492, but compared to 2015 he wasn't particularly likable either.
I hesitated, though - for how could I then make an audience of children with their parents - and later seniors - see something likable about Columbus? So they would want to listen to a story about him for 2 hours?
Yup, first task for any storyteller: Create a person people can like, even if just a little bit. Or the audience won't care what happens to him or her. And that goes for biographers, too, no matter how 'objective' they say they strive to be.
So (deep breath) ... I did it by connecting Columbus' quest to get rich and famous and the gradual slipping of ideals to the modern quest to become ... rich and famous.
Sure, the means were different and perhaps also the definition of 'rich and famous'. But isn't there something here we can recognize today - something very human that we can see in our own lives ... say, in our interest in 'the stars' (especially when their fall 'from grace' in the tabloids)?
Isn't there something here that we may not particularly like but we can at least recognize enough from our own lives? Something that can help us to understand Columbus a little bit for being a seeker of fame and fortune himself - in his own time?
So far - and judging from the response of my audiences - the answer is 'yes'.
And by approaching it this way, we are over the idiotic discussion about whether or not Columbus deserves to be a called a 'hero' still for his admittedly courageous exploration expeditions, or if he was somehow singlehandedly responsible for the genocide on the American Indians. It's not longer about black or white but about people - in all their colors and shades.
The people of the past may be distant mirrors of ourselves, like historian Barbara Tuchman wrote, also the title of her book about - guess what - the 14th century. The mirror image may be distorted because of the distance in time and living conditions and social values - but we can still recognize a part of ourselves in it.
Perhaps one day someone will write a history book about a certain failed English king called Edward of Caernarfon in which he is not just shown as an effeminate wife-hating politically tone-deaf ruler, but as a man with both vices and virtues that perhaps aren't so foreign to us today.
Wait ... someone already did! :-)

The article that came out of it for my Life Story Lessons site - StoryMover.Academy:
My own ultra-short kind of bio: My name is Ulrik Kristiansen and I am a blogger, speaker and coach who is very much in love with all things Medieval - including anything as regards 14th century England. If you are in Denmark you might want to invite me to tell you about Joan of Arc, Eleanor of Aquitaine or Christopher Columbus all of whom I have made some pretty nifty live-talks about - see astrea.dk.  And if you just want to read some of all my other stuff, there's always the personal blog: TheStorm Lamp
That's it - thanks for reading and thanks for having me, Kathryn. Drop a comment below and tell us what you think!