The eighth and final episode of Secrets of the Royal Palaces was shown on Channel 5 in the UK in the evening of Saturday 26 February, and featured, among much else, Kate Williams talking about Isabella of France and Edward II. Oh dear lord. Where even to start.
The programme begins with a voiceover stating that at Windsor Castle, we will discover "one of England's most ruthless queens", meaning Isabella of France, then we hear Kate Williams claiming "Legend has it that Isabella killed him herself by pushing a red-hot poker up his bottom. What a brutal way to die."
How unutterably, unbearably stupid. Nobody has ever, in the fourteenth century or at any point in the 700 years since, accused Isabella of personally torturing her husband to death by inserting a burning hot metal implement inside him. What 'legend' says she did? That's a flat-out lie; a stupid, easily disproved, sensationalist lie.
It's basically certain that on the night of 21 September 1327 Isabella was in Lincoln, where her and Edward II's son Edward III (not yet fifteen years old) was holding parliament, when her husband was supposedly murdered at Berkeley Castle. Lincoln is 160 miles from Berkeley. There is not one single shred of evidence that puts Isabella anywhere near Berkeley Castle at any point in 1327.
As I've pointed out on numerous occasions, and Ian Mortimer has pointed out on numerous occasions, and other fourteenth-century specialists have pointed out on numerous occasions, it is, again, all but certain that the story of Edward II being murdered by red-hot poker is a myth.
At thirty-three minutes into the programme, we see an image on screen that says "Isabella, the She-Wolf". Because obviously. Because that stupid hateful name, given to Isabella by the poet Thomas Gray in 1757, 399 years after her death, is never ever going to die, is it.
"Edward's love for Piers means he snubs his wife." Having stated two seconds earlier that Isabella was *twelve* years old. Because obviously it would have been far better for a man in his twenties to fawn all over a girl who was barely pubescent.
"He gives Piers half her dowry of jewels." Of course, the tedious old tale invented by Agnes Strickland in the nineteenth century, endlessly repeated by lemmings who can't be bothered to look at primary sources and check that this story is nonsense.
"Soon Edward is back on the prowl for other men" after the barons "bump Piers off". Odd way of talking about Edward's relationships with men, as though he was some kind of predator. I'm pretty sure that wasn't the dynamic.
Edward "began showering titles and money on" Hugh Despenser the Younger. This is a frequently-repeated claim, and it's also untrue. Edward didn't give Hugh a single title. Hugh was lord of Glamorgan by right of his wife Eleanor de Clare, who inherited the lordship from her brother. His father was made earl of Winchester in 1322, but Hugh wasn't.
Isabella was "admired by everyone except her husband." So we'll just merrily skip over the decade and a half when they were happily and affectionately married then.
"Isabella starts her own affair with Roger Mortimer." Ah yes, the usual modern narrative of Isabella of France's life, where she's turned into this bored, sexually frustrated housewife who seeks revenge on her philandering husband in the most simplistic tit-for-tat way possible by taking a lover. All the complexities of the situation, the war against France, the Contrariant rebellion and its aftermath, Isabella as the mediator, intercessor and powerful politician that she so undoubtedly was, all of this is entirely ignored in favour of turning her into a character from a soap opera who apparently thinks "Right, I'll bring down a king for the first time in English history because he doesn't give me enough orgasms."
After the invasion of September 1326, we're told that "the queen storms to victory" over images of a battle, which is weird. What battle is that supposed to be?
"It's time for the She-Wolf to get her payback" when Isabella has Hugh Despenser executed. Can. We. Please. Stop. Using. That. Bloody. Word.
Edward abdicates, then we get the bit I mentioned above, "Legend has it that Isabella killed him herself by pushing a red-hot poker up his bottom. And the screams could be heard for miles around. What a brutal way to die." Told with a certain amount of relish, it seems, and Kate Williams was smiling at that point. Yes, a person being agonisingly raped to death really is madly hilarious, isn't it? I wonder if Williams would have smiled if it had been Isabella who had supposedly been murdered in such a vile fashion, or is it only funny when it happens to a gay or bi man? And yet again, the red-hot poker myth is repeated as though it's a certain fact.
"And that's why she was called the She-Wolf." So now we know. Isabella somehow teleported herself 160 miles to Berkeley Castle and murdered the man who was the father of her children, the man she'd been betrothed to since she was three years old, by insertion of a heated metal implement. That wouldn't make her a 'she-wolf' though, would it? It would make her an extremely sadistic, dangerous psychopath. Which I'm pretty sure Isabella actually wasn't. What an utterly bizarre way of portraying her, even in such an overly sensationalist programme.