25 February, 2021

The Relationship of Queen Isabella and Roger Mortimer (4)

Part one; part two; part three.

Here are some examples of the accounts of Isabella of France and Roger Mortimer's relationship that appear even in books published as non-fiction. And yes, all the following extracts are from non-fiction, not novels, published in the twenty-first century.

Firstly, in works of non-fiction, it's usually assumed that sources will be cited to back up an author's statements. I'd love to see a source for the allegations that Edward II fantasised about Piers Gaveston when making love with his wife, and that Roger "took Isabella roughly then tenderly'". Secondly, I loathe the sexism inherent in the idea that men "take" women, as though women are passive recipients and not active agents in their own sex lives. The Middle Ages used gendered intimate language that described women as being "taken" by men, sure; but we live in the twenty-first century. Thirdly, why is not possible that Edward might have enjoyed making love with Piers and with Isabella? Does bisexuality not exist? Edward fathered an illegitimate child, after all, as did Piers, and I found evidence that Edward made love with a woman in London in 1324 (see blog post).

Fourthly, what the actual freaking heck is a "heated warrior"? A warrior who's been standing in front of a radiator? Or who appears in a recipe for Warrior Stroganoff or something? "Pre-heat the oven to 200C. Cook the warrior for 120 minutes or until thoroughly heated." Fifthly, like so much of the nonsense written about Isabella of France and Roger Mortimer, this paragraph comes off as the writer's fantasy. "Eeeeewwww, it'd be so disgusting to have to sleep with a man who has sex with men, but imagine getting to have awesome rough sex then tender lovemaking with a hawt hyper-masculine warrior instead! Phwoooarrrrr!" Sixthly, the absurdity of Edward II of all people, the man described by chroniclers as "one of the strongest men in his realm" and "of enormous strength", who famously dug ditches, thatched roofs, worked with metal and went rowing, having "smooth, girlish hands". What on earth is that based on except stereotypes and prejudices about gay men? Sexism and homophobia in one ghastly paragraph.

"Physical attraction there clearly was". Excuse me, but where is this clear? Because of the "emotional logic" that a beautiful woman and a man claimed without a source to be "athletic" simply must have fallen in lust and in love? The author assumes that Isabella and Roger's relationship was "an all-consuming bond" and "a passionate affair" even though, as is correctly pointed out, there's little evidence for any of these claims. If I wrote such exaggerated stuff about Edward II and Piers Gaveston or Hugh Despenser the Younger, about the all-consuming bond the men formed and the combustible combination of their temperaments and the depth of their shared political interests and the sheer obviousness of their physical attraction and the way they absolutely must have had a passionately sexual affair, people would express cynicism and demand to see some references, and they'd be absolutely right to do so. Somehow, though, when it comes to Isabella of France and Roger Mortimer, sources are not deemed necessary, and any objectivity goes out of the window. The alleged "emotional logic" of their association is all that matters. As I said in a previous post, the idea that Isabella of France rejected Edward II because she'd fallen in love and lust with Roger Mortimer is a narrative that's been created. Despite numerous writers' efforts to claim otherwise, it is not a fact, though it's usually treated like one, and as such an undeniable fact that sources are not required. This extract is at least better written and less obviously a fantasy than the first extract, above, but it's equally unsourced and equally over-romanticised.

Nobody knows what happened between Isabella and Roger in private, and we have no way of knowing. We have no idea, none at all, that their relationship was "passionate" or even that they had a mutual physical attraction. Sure, they might well have done. But it's not certain, as claimed. It also strikes me as rather superficial to claim that simply because Isabella was a "famous beauty" that Roger Mortimer must necessarily have wanted to have sex with her, or that because Roger was allegedly "athletic", Isabella must necessarily have wanted to have sex with him. Edward II himself was described as handsome and physically impressive by chroniclers, but I've never seen anyone assuming that any man or woman he encountered must have wanted to have sex with him for that reason. He and Piers Gaveston, and Hugh Despenser, were "of an age", and Edward and Hugh had "shared political interests" and were involved in a "power play" in the 1320s, and Piers was also an "athletic figure" (unlike Roger, we do at least have a fourteenth-century chronicle that calls Piers that). None of that is evidence that Edward II had passionate sex and an all-consuming bond with Piers and Hugh. It's not evidence that Queen Isabella had passionate sex and an all-consuming bond with Roger Mortimer either.

We have "fiery passion", stated as a fact, their sexual relationship beginning while they were in France in 1325/26 stated as a fact, Isabella's "devotion" to Roger for the remaining thirty-two years of her life after 1326 stated as a fact. How can we possibly know that? Telepathy? The relationship with Roger "gave Isabella personal satisfaction", apparently. Where's that from, the recently-discovered "Secret Diary of Queen Isabella Aged 30¾"? And the bit about Isabella thinking that Roger's threat to stab her being proof of the depth of his feelings for her makes me cringe. Yet again, this is the typical modern narrative that's been created and is entirely unsourced, that Isabella's marriage had always been loveless and unsatisfactory, then she finds this awesome passionate lover who feels so strongly about her and is so possessive, jealous and domineering that he threatens to stab her if she leaves him. The bit about threatening to kill Isabella with a knife at least has a footnote or endnote and a reference, because it was one of the charges against Roger at his trial in November 1330; notice that's the only endnote in the entire section. This is entirely typical of modern narratives about the alleged relationship between Isabella and Roger; either no sources at all are cited, or on the rare occasions when they are, as I pointed out in the first part of this post, they don't at all say what modern writers claim they say.

Isabella and Edward's marriage certainly went badly wrong in and after 1322, thanks mostly to Edward allowing Hugh Despenser to come between them, but how do we know it was "loveless"? How do we know it lacked passion? Isabella repeatedly called Edward "my very sweet heart" (mon tresdouz coer) in a letter to him in 1325, and in another letter of 1326 called him "our very dear and very sweet lord and friend". In late 1325, distressed at the state of her marriage and Hugh Despenser the Younger's intrusion into it, she forced Edward to choose between herself and Hugh by offering him an ultimatum; but, alas, he chose Hugh. But somehow, modern writers just know that she was lying about her fear of Hugh and her desire to return to her husband, and when she said, twice that we know of, that she wanted Edward to send Hugh away so that she felt safe enough to go back to him and resume their marriage, what she really meant was "I'm in love with Roger Mortimer and having awesome sex with him, and Edward repulses me". It seems that in 1325/26, it was Edward rejecting Isabella, spurning her attempts to heal their marriage and demonstrating his preference for Hugh, reinforcing Isabella's loathing for Hugh and her determination to destroy him, and leaving her with little choice but to remain in France and press on with her attempts to do so. So maybe we should write lots of fevered prose about Edward II and Hugh Despenser the Younger's awesome sex life and amazing all-consuming bond and how the sex Edward had with Hugh was obviously superior to the sex he had with Isabella, and pretend this is some kind of fact.

The pics below are from a book published in 2005, in which we learn that Edward II and Piers Gaveston fathering children proves that they were capable of "normal sexual relations", with the obvious implication that their own relationship was abnormal, that Edward's relationship with Hugh Despenser was "perverted", and that Edward consummating his marriage means he "had at last played the man". So that's nice. We also learn that a man having a relationship with another man is an insult to "femininity", whatever that means, and that the awesome and powerful Queen Isabella was a helpless heroine in a pirate romance that the 1950s would have rejected as outdated and regressive, who "succumbs to a strong and lusty adventurer" and "surrenders herself to his embraces". Notice that Isabella's alleged "profound revulsion" for her husband is stated as though it's a fact, and the way a man who lived 700 years ago is described as "unequivocally heterosexual" as though anyone could possibly know that. Like the first example, above, this comes across as a classic case of projection; wow, this hyper-masculine manly virile heterosexual audacious strong lusty adventurer is so darn hawt and sexy, and I'd find it so icky and horrible to have a husband who liked men, and I just know Isabella must have felt the same!

Below: hey, look what I stumbled on in the archives! An actual photo from 1326 of Queen Isabella succumbing to her Strong And Lusty Adventurer! (Or, as one of my Facebook friends said, possibly recoiling from his halitosis.)


Anonymous said...

Great post! Who else (besides Weir and Doherty) are writing this stuff? Seriously, the chroniclers note Edward's strength and good looks, but somehow Isabella is repulsed by Edward (despite these qualities) in favor of Roger Mortimer -- allegedly, because of these same qualities ... even though there is no evidence he had either of them? Maybe, Isabella learned of the mystery woman in Southwark, and wanted an affair of her own in revenge (could that woman have been Mortimer's wife? I know there is no evidence ... but that doesn't seem to matter much ...)


Kathryn Warner said...

Esther, Weir is in this post, though Doherty isn't (he could have been, but by then I'd had enough of wading through this endless syrupy nonsense). I'd better not say who the others are, though I suppose if you google some of the wording in the screenshots, you could find the books. Haha, yeah, Isabella might well have done that. :-) I'm not saying for sure that Isabella and Roger didn't have an affair, only that it's far less certain than you'd ever think from reading this stuff.

Antoine said...

Wonderful analysis! It's quite refreshing to see that an historian underlines the possibility that neither Isabella, nor Edward betrayed their wedding vows. People often tend to forget that 1) Edward, whatever his failures, discharged his duties as a christian (although he should have been wiser when dealing with some of his bishops) and was never villified as disrespectful towards religion; so in my opinion he wouldn't never have dared to engage openly in an affair, especially with men (though he shouldn't have showered his favourites with such gifts) at a time where homosexuality was considered one of the worst crimes 2) Isabella had a deep sense of royalty and might never have begun an affair while still married (for the events of 1325/6, we should at least listen to her arguments; that is a 'third party' had come within her marriage and prevented her from playing her role of queen alongside her husband). Hence, if there was indeed an affair between Isabella and Mortimer, I believe it would have begun after Edward's 'death' in September 1327 (she still sent presents to her husband when he was in captivity) and would have been ended by March 1330, when, after Kent's execution, she would have understood the threat Mortimer posed to her son's kingship (personnally, I adhere to the theory that Isabella actively helped her son get rid of Mortimer in October 1330; what was her interest - she who had revealed the Tour de Nesle' affair because the threat it posed to the succession to the throne of France - in letting her son being humiliated?). But as always, it's only my opinion and not the true story!

Kathryn Warner said...

Thank you, Antoine! Great comment.

sami parkkonen said...

Great stuff!

I find it extremely funny how all these romancers think that Roger was looking like a modern day male model with chiseled looks and gym sculpted body. This is somehow related to the old gladiator image: ripped muscles and stern jaw line etc. Reality was just a bit different.

The knights, as well as the gladiators, were first and foremost fighters. They had to be physically strong and durable. They had to be heavy so they could use their own bodies as weapons too, crashing the enemy at close quarters with their armor and shield using their own body weight in that process. Yes, there were exceptions, such as Richard III or Viking chief Ivar the Boneless, but most of these men did not look like that suave dude in the extremely hilarious picture at the end of this blog.

Most knights were taller than the average people due to their better food. They had more muscle mass due to their training and diet. BUT they were not body builders. Their muscle had to be practical, useful. You do not need huge biceps to wield weapons. You need muscles which can swing your weapons for hours if need be. Thus you need tight elastic hardy muscle fiber which gives you the power you need but also does not choke up after few minutes.

They were carrying armor and weapons which all weighted tens of kilos. Even a simple mail armor the type the Vikings wore was around 12-15 kilos. A good plate armor could be as much as 45 kilos, 100 pounds. Put your shield on that which could weight 10 kilos, a spear of 5 to 10 kilos depending on the use, a sword, a mace, anything, and you were going around carrying weight of 30 to 60 kilos easy on you. Now what does this mean for Roger Mortimer?

Being a fully trained knight and experienced warrior he had no narrow waistline. He could not. He had to have a very strong middle section on his torso in order to be able to carry all the weight listed above. He had to have very strong back muscles and belly in order to keep himself up and be able to swing around. He had to have strong legs in order to stay up, keep on walking, be able to mount a horse fully armored (Yes, that was one thing all the knights had to be able to do. Forget the myth they could not do it. It was one of the basic requirements for knights and their armor).

So instead of looking streamlined model Mortimer was more than likely a barrel like man with various scars and old wounds, with more or less weather beaten face and hands due to the time he had to spent outdoors training and patrolling and living on the field. His hair was more than likely thinning on the top, thanks to the helmet and wearing it extensively, just like the motorists who ride their bikes all the time in our times have a thinning hair on their heads. He more than likely had scars all over the body, had marks of chafes all around due to the armor and other gear in such places as groin, arm pits etc.

If he had been eating a lot of field rations he would have been missing at least a tooth or two due to the small grind stone bits in his bread, that bread also being hard deck, and very chewy and dry meat etc. His lips were more than likely chapped as he had no lip moisturizers and was out side all the time. He had sores and rash, all kinds of skin conditions because sweat and dirt etc.

Not the kind of a romantic guy the romancers wish him to be. Naturally he took baths and washed etc. but even then he did not look like a Hollywood hero. He looked much more dangerous and threating.