24 March, 2013

Mythbuster 7: Edward II cruelly removed Isabella's children from her

Myth: Edward II cruelly and deliberately punished his queen Isabella of France by taking three of her children (and they're always just 'her' children when this tale is told, never 'their' children) away from her in the the autumn of 1324 and sending them to live with other people.  The story goes that at around the same time as Edward confiscated Isabella's lands in exchange for a much smaller income and removed her French servants from her household in September 1324 when he was at war with her brother Charles IV of France, he also nastily and cruelly 'stole' their three younger children John of Eltham (b. August 1316), Eleanor of Woodstock (b. June 1318) and Joan of the Tower (b. July 1321) from Isabella's care and sent them to live with Eleanor Despenser née de Clare in John's case and Isabella Hastings née Despenser in Eleanor and Joan's case, in order to punish and hurt the queen.

Given that a great deal of what is written about Edward II nowadays as 'fact' simply melts away into nothing or turns out to be grossly exaggerated or twisted when you examine the primary sources - so much of what is written about Edward is just modern writers copying from other modern writers, mistakes, myths, misconceptions and all, without bothering to check the primary sources - I decided to look into this often-repeated story in detail.  The first things I wanted to establish were: What contemporary sources state that Edward II set up households for his children in September 1324 or thereabouts?  What source(s) state(s) that he did so punitively with the intention of hurting Queen Isabella by deliberately and cruelly removing her children from her?  And most fundamentally, how do we even know the children were living with Isabella as their sole or primary carer in the first place, given that it seems most odd for a fourteenth-century queen to have been the full-time carer of her children as the 'they were cruelly taken away from her' story seems to imply?

The notion that Edward II 'removed' Isabella's children from her as a punitive action at about the same time that he confiscated her lands in September 1324 is a discovery, or rather an invention, of the writer Paul Doherty in his 1977 Oxford doctoral thesis about Isabella, repeated in his error-strewn 2003 book Isabella and the Strange Death of Edward II.  [1]  No other writer, in non-fiction or fiction, mentioned it at all before then, but since then the story has become grist to the mill for followers of the currently trendy Victim!Isabella school of thought.  One fairly recent self-published novel includes a heart-rending and heavily foreshadowed - Isabella talks constantly throughout the book about how precious her children are to her and how it would destroy her to lose them - scene where Isabella's little daughter Joan is torn right out of her arms and her son John slapped across the face for trying to resist the nasty evil cruel men coming to remove them from her on nasty evil cruel Hugh Despenser the Younger's orders, with nasty evil cruel Edward II approving this behaviour towards his own children.  Oy vey.  This novel, in addition to having Isabella talk frequently about how much she adores their children, has Edward II so indifferent towards them he struggles even to remember their names.  As a way of portraying Isabella as a likeable character to readers and her husband as unlikeable - and oh my, is Edward meant to be unlikeable here - it's about as subtle as being bashed over the head repeatedly with a sack full of sledgehammers.

For his allegedly factual statement that Edward removed Isabella's children (as though they weren't his children as well, for pity's sake) from her in or after September 1324 in the interests of "[e]ven greater cruelty" towards her, i.e. greater than confiscating her lands and removing her French servants, Paul Doherty cites a document now held in The National Archives in Kew: E 403/201, membranes 14-15.  I've sent a request to the National Archives that these membranes be digitised and emailed to me, and I'll be most interested to see what they actually say, but even a cursory look at the document E 403/201 on the National Archives website reveals that it is part of the Issue Rolls of Roger de Waltham for the sixteenth regnal year of Edward II, that is, 8 July 1322 to 7 July 1323.  Roger de Waltham was the keeper of Edward's wardrobe from May 1322 to October 1323.  [2]  So whatever this document says about Edward and Isabella's children and their households, it cannot relate to Edward 'removing' them from Isabella's care in or about September 1324 as Doherty and other writers following him state, as 'cruelty' towards her or otherwise.

The date of the setting up of John of Eltham's household under the control of Eleanor Despenser cannot in fact be established precisely, or even vaguely.  The only evidence we have that Eleanor was in charge of the household of the king and queen's second son comes from an undated roll of expenses now also held in the National Archives, E 101/382/12, which bears the title 'Expenses in the household of Eleanor Despenser (who had the care of John of Eltham).'  As this roll is undated, clearly we cannot know when the care of John of Eltham or the control of his household was given to Eleanor, and it could have happened at any time between the boy's birth in August 1316 and near the end of his father's reign (in early October 1326, Edward II and Hugh Despenser the Younger fled London and left ten-year-old John in nominal charge of the Tower, with Eleanor really in charge).  Lisa Benz St John has recently suggested that Eleanor's custody of John might only have occurred temporarily in the summer of 1320, when Edward II and Isabella both travelled to France for a month for Edward to pay homage to her brother Philip V in Amiens for his French lands, and may have left their younger son in Eleanor's care.  [3]  Nothing on this expense roll confirms the story that John of Eltham was deliberately removed from Isabella's care in the autumn of 1324 and given to Eleanor to punish the queen.

The undated roll of expenses might also belong to the period 1325/26, with two other household accounts of John of Eltham which survive in the National Archives and which are dated to Edward II's nineteenth regnal year, which ran from 8 July 1325 to 7 July 1326, and his twentieth regnal year, which began on 8 July 1326 and was brought to a premature end by the invasion of the queen and Roger Mortimer and Edward's forced abdication in January 1327.  [4]  Queen Isabella was in France for almost the whole of the period covered by these two accounts, from early March 1325 until she and Roger Mortimer returned to England with their invasion force in September 1326, and thus was unable to care for her son at this time anyway.  Eleanor Despenser, born Eleanor de Clare in 1292, was Edward II's eldest niece and wife of his chamberlain and 'favourite' Hugh Despenser the Younger, whom she had married in 1306.  As the eldest granddaughter of Edward I, a great noblewoman and heiress, the daughter and sister of earls of Gloucester, and mother of at least nine or ten children of her own by the end of Edward II's reign, as well as someone to whom Edward II was extremely close and obviously trusted greatly (see this post), Eleanor seems an entirely suitable person to have the care of the king and queen's son, who was her own first cousin, albeit twenty-four years her junior.

One undated roll of expenses in which Eleanor Despenser (temporarily?) had the care of John of Eltham seems a remarkably thin basis for declaring that John was forcibly removed from Isabella as a punitive action against the queen in 1324.  The Lanercost and Flores Historiarum chronicles say that Edward II and Hugh Despenser the Younger appointed Eleanor, Hugh's wife, as a kind of guardian over Isabella in 1324, charged with spying on her, carrying her seal and monitoring her correspondence.  Whether this story is true or not is hard to say; the Westminster chronicle Flores was viciously hostile to Edward II, and the writer of Lanercost, up near the Scottish border, was far from court and writing a couple of decades later, so is hardly a reliable source for what was happening there.  Assuming they are correct, however, it has never been explained by writers who believe and repeat the story and also follow Paul Doherty's story precisely how Eleanor is meant to have guarded Isabella so that she had no privacy, yet at the same time looked after John of Eltham somewhere away from the queen so that she never saw her son, given the usual (and entirely unfounded) assumption that Edward never or rarely allowed Isabella to see her children.  It was normal for royal and noble boys to be raised in another household from the age of seven or thereabouts.  In May 1301 Edward I ordered that his eldest grandchild Gilbert de Clare, future earl of Gloucester (and Eleanor Despenser's brother), then just past his tenth birthday, be sent to live in the household of Queen Marguerite, Gilbert's step-grandmother.  [5]  Edward I's daughter Elizabeth also happily sent her daughter Eleanor, future countess of Ormond, to live with Queen Marguerite, and the girl was later raised at Amesbury Priory at Edward II's expense and in the company of her cousin Joan Gaveston and her aunt, Elizabeth and Edward's sister Mary the nun.  [6]  There are numerous other examples, and Isabella herself had young male wards living in her household, boys whose tenant-in-chief fathers had died but whose mothers were often still alive.  I don't understand why so many modern writers assume that Isabella's son must have been forcibly removed from her or why the queen would have thought there was anything wrong or unusual in John of Eltham being raised in his own household under the command of the king's (and therefore also her) eldest niece.  Perhaps even Isabella herself appointed Eleanor Despenser to look after her son John, when she went to France in 1320 with the king or when she went to France alone in March 1325, or at some other date.  Eleanor was a lady of Isabella's household in 1311/12, a year when the queen's household accounts happen to survive (most of them don't) and almost certainly in other years as well; she was with the queen at Tynemouth in October 1322 when they came close to being captured by the Scots; and the two women were still close enough in February 1323 to write a virtually identical letter to the treasurer on behalf of Roger Mortimer's wife Joan, which strongly implies that they met and discussed the matter together.

The date of the establishment of a separate household for Edward II and Isabella's daughters Eleanor of Woodstock (b. June 1318) and Joan of the Tower (b. July 1321) likewise cannot be stated with certainty.  The two girls were, by 3 March 1325, living at Marlborough Castle in the care of Hugh Despenser the Younger's sister Isabel Hastings and her third husband Ralph de Monthermer, who had previously been married to Edward II's sister Joan of Acre and thus had a good claim to being the girls' uncle.  (Oddly, Paul Doherty, in his haste to condemn Edward II's 'even greater cruelty' to Isabella, doesn't seem to realise that the woman he calls "another court favourite, Isabella Hastings" was in fact Hugh Despenser's sister, which would strengthen his argument that Edward and Hugh acted to punish the queen.)  Ralph de Monthermer died in early April 1325 and Isabel Hastings kept the custody of the king and queen's daughters until at least 19 February 1326.  [7]  Looking at the entry on the Close Roll relating to this, it is possible that custody of Eleanor and Joan was indeed given to Isabel Hastings in September 1324 as Doherty claims, though it is impossible to say for certain and it may have happened earlier - perhaps sometime during Edward II's sixteenth regnal year, July 1322 to July 1323, to which year the Issue Rolls of Roger de Waltham Doherty cites as a source for his story actually belong (see above).  By 17 August 1326, Eleanor and Joan had a mestresse or governess, as evidenced in Edward II's chamber account: Joan Jermy, or 'Jonete Germye' as the account calls her, the sister of Edward's sister-in-law Alice Hales, countess of Norfolk (who had married his half-brother Thomas of Brotherton in about 1321).  [8]  Edward II sent letters to his daughters at Marlborough on 25 July 1326, and presumably had seen them there when he attended the wedding of Isabel Hastings' daughter Margaret to his household knight Sir Robert Wateville on 19 May that year.  [9]

Edward II and Isabella's eldest child Edward of Windsor, the future Edward III, had been set up with his own household almost from birth in November 1312, and both parents visited him on occasion.  In January and again in October 1319, the six-year-old heir to the throne was granted the Derbyshire manor of High Peak and other lands by his father to cover the expenses of his brother John of Eltham and sister Eleanor of Woodstock, aged two and a half and seven months respectively in early 1319, "the king wishing that the said John and Eleanor stay in the company of the said Edward and at his expenses, as they have now done for some time."  [10]  Evidently Isabella was perfectly satisfied with the living arrangements of her children, as the grant of October 1319 to Edward of Windsor includes the words "by the king and order of the queen."  On 1 May 1320, Edward II granted Isabella the manor of High Peak, Derbyshire, previously held by their son Edward of Windsor to cover the expenses of his brother and sister, as noted above: "Grant, during pleasure, to queen Isabella of the castle and honour of High Peak...to hold in aid of the expenses of John, the king's son, and Eleanor his sister, the king's daughter."  [11]

This is actually the only direct evidence we have that Edward and Isabella's children were ever part of Isabella's household and that she was financially responsible for them.  Although it is likely that she did at some point, there is no direct evidence that Isabella ever had the care of her younger daughter Joan, whatever mawkishly melodramatic scenes of the little girl being torn from her protesting mother's arms modern novelists might like to imagine.  The three children were looked after by nurses, who were each granted an income of thirty pounds a year for life in September 1327, presumably by Isabella herself: Matilda de Perie in the case of John of Eltham and Joan of the Tower, Joan du Bois in the case of Eleanor of Woodstock.  [12]  Again, the basis for accusing Edward II of deliberately ripping the three children from Isabella's care in 1324, more than four years after the grant of High Peak to the queen for the expenses of two of them, is astonishingly thin.  To quote Mark Ormrod in his article about the household of Edward III's young children, "The general assumption is that...the domestic needs of the younger siblings of the royal heir were financed out of the households of the king, the queen and/or their older brother...It is also reasonably evident that the younger royal children were formally under the custody of the queen, and that, whatever financial arrangements may have been made for them, they often moved around with their mother's itinerant household or were placed temporarily in the care of an individual appointed by the queen at some favoured royal residence...". [13]  This, the younger children being formally under the queen's custody, is of course not at all the same thing as the queen having primary full-time care of her children, and does not mean that Isabella would have expected to raise her children alone for many years.  As noted, royal and noble boys left their mother's custody at a very young age, and girls often when they married.  Isabella sent her daughter Joan to marry David Bruce, future king of Scotland, in 1328, when the girl was only seven.

The people to whom Edward II, or perhaps even Isabella, gave custody of their children sometime in the 1320s were: Edward's niece Eleanor Despenser; Eleanor's sister-in-law Isabel Hastings; Edward's former brother-in-law Ralph de Monthermer, whose four children Mary, Joan, Thomas and Edward were the king's nieces and nephews and his children's first cousins; his sister-in-law Alice Hales' sister Joan Jermy.  All of these people, therefore, were members of Edward II's extended family, and he had known Ralph de Monthermer since the latter married Edward's widowed sister Joan of Acre in early 1297 when the future king was only twelve.  Edward may have known the Despenser siblings Hugh and Isabel, who were some years his junior, since childhood (they were grandchildren of William Beauchamp, earl of Warwick).  Many modern writers seem to think that Hugh Despenser the Younger was a cross between the Antichrist and a genocidal psychopath, but to her contemporaries his sister Isabel Hastings was not tainted by this association: Edward II's niece Elizabeth de Burgh, Eleanor Despenser's sister, left her two daughters Isabella Verdon (aged ten) and Elizabeth Damory (aged nine) in Isabel's care when she attended Edward's funeral in December 1327, despite the hatred and anger she may have had for the late Hugh Despenser, who had treated her appallingly.  [14]  This strongly suggests to me that Isabel Hastings was known to be a maternal, trustworthy type, and therefore an entirely suitable person to look after the king and queen's daughters.  Queen Isabella did not act in any way while she was in power between 1327 and 1330 to suggest that she thought Isabel Hastings had injured her in any way or failed in her duty towards the queen's daughters.  I'm completely failing to see here how Edward can be deemed to have acted inappropriately; he gave the care of his and Isabella's children to people he knew well and trusted, and who were of sufficiently noble birth and position.

Further thoughts that occur to me: if Isabella thought that Edward and his 'favourite' Hugh Despenser had cruelly taken her children away from her in 1324, why didn't she accuse Despenser of it at his trial in November 1326?  She accused him of everything else: persuading the king to reduce her income, sending her to France 'against the dignity of her estate', coming between herself and her husband, leaving her in danger of her life at Tynemouth, and so on.  Her children were not mentioned at all.  Neither did Isabella claim at any other time that her husband and his favourite had deprived her of her children.  If they were taken from her and she suffered as much as modern writers claim she did, why did she never mention it?  Why did the pope never mention it?  Why did her brother Charles IV of France, who complained vociferously to Edward II about the removal of Isabella's French servants, never mention it?  Why did no single fourteenth-century chronicler, several of whom wrote indignantly about the reduction of Isabella's income, mention that Edward 'stole' or 'cruelly removed' her children from her?  Why is there absolutely no source to suggest that anyone believed that Edward, in setting up separate households for his younger children, had done anything out of the ordinary at all?  The story doesn't appear even in sources hostile to Edward II, such as the Flores Historiarum, or continental writers such as Jean Froissart who (decades later) thought that Isabella secretly fled from England in 1325 because Edward was persecuting her.  Funny that, isn't it?  If Edward II had really done something so outrageous, hurtful and harmful to his queen, why does not one single fourteenth-century source say so?

There's an obvious answer as to why no source says that Edward II did anything wrong or unusual in setting up households for his children, of course.  It's because absolutely no-one at the time or for a very, very long time afterwards thought he had done anything wrong or unusual.  The notion that he did is an invention of the late twentieth century, based mostly or entirely on, rather mysteriously, a document now in the National Archives which dates to at least fourteen months before September 1324, the date Paul Doherty and others claim Edward maliciously and cruelly removed Isabella's children from her.  If Isabella had been unhappy with her husband and Hugh Despenser because she thought they had done any such thing, we would surely know about it.  The establishment of separate households for her three younger children, whenever this happened, does not mean that Isabella never or only rarely saw her children again or was not allowed contact with them.  Why on earth would anyone assume that it did, or that she was somehow being punished?  It baffles me.  It was Isabella herself who refused to return to England and Edward II in late 1325 and decided to remain in France with her eldest son; her separation from her three younger children from then until she saw them again in October 1326 was therefore entirely her own choice.  Although it does seem that Edward was being unnecessarily spiteful when he confiscated Isabella's lands in September 1324 and that this was indeed intended as a punitive act against her (as Isabella herself realised and pointed out at Hugh Despenser the Younger's trial in November 1326), there is no reason, none, to assume that Edward had deprived her of her children at any point prior to her departure or ever intended to do so.  It was Isabella who used their son Edward of Windsor as a weapon against his father in 1326, not Edward who used their other children as a weapon against his wife.

In the summer of 1340, Edward III set up a household for his and Queen Philippa's children Isabella, Joan, Lionel and John, then aged eight, six, twenty months and a mere four months, under the care of one Isabel de la Mote.  Joan (who was fated to die of plague in 1348 on her way to marry Pedro the Cruel of Castile) had previously been in the care of the dowager countess of Pembroke, Marie de St Pol.  [15]  Funnily enough, I've never seen anyone claim that Edward III was cruelly depriving his queen of her children or punishing her by doing this.  After Isabella and Roger Mortimer's downfall in October 1330 and perhaps even before (it's generally very difficult to ascertain the whereabouts of children), Isabella's daughter Eleanor of Woodstock lived in the household of her sister-in-law Queen Philippa, not in her mother's.  [16]  Isabella in 1331 was under temporary house arrest after the execution of her 'favourite' Roger Mortimer and was being attended by a physician, yet no-one reproaches Edward III for 'cruelly removing' Isabella's daughter from her at a time when she was ill and grieving.  The young king did not allow his mother to accompany Eleanor to the Low Countries when she married the count of Guelders in 1332; does anyone ever accuse him of cruelty towards Isabella for this reason?  Do they heck.

When writing this post, the words 'The Isabella Exception' kept popping into my head; it seems to me that things which were entirely normal for pretty well every other royal and noble woman of the Middle Ages are far too often nowadays assumed to have been cruel and unusual when they happened to Isabella of France.  For all the many things which Edward II did wrongly or badly, there were still plenty of ways in which he acted entirely in accordance with what was expected of him as a medieval king, man, husband and father and with the conventions of his world, and it is most unfair to condemn him for these things when others are not.  Whatever some modern writers may like to think, Isabella wasn't parachuted into the Middle Ages from the twentieth or twenty-first century with modern attitudes towards motherhood and sexual equality and the like.  She understood perfectly well the norms of the early fourteenth-century royal society in which she was born and raised and lived her entire life.  Is it too much hope that writers might remember that her cultural and familial norms were vastly different to ours? 


1) P[aul] C. Doherty, 'Isabella, Queen of England 1296-1330', unpublished D.Phil. diss., University of Oxford, 1977, p. 103; id., Isabella and the Strange Death of Edward II (London, 2003), p. 80.
2) T.F. Tout, The Place of the Reign of Edward II in English History (Manchester, 1914), pp. 159-160, 355.
3) Lisa Benz St John, Three Medieval Queens: Queenship and the Crown in Fourteenth-Century England (New York, 2012), p. 111.
4) The National Archives, E 101/381/12 and E 101/382/3.
5) Calendar of Patent Rolls 1292-1301, pp. 592, 606.
6) Benz St John, Three Medieval Queens, pp. 109-110; J.S. Hamilton, Piers Gaveston, Earl of Cornwall 1307-1312: Politics and Patronage in the Reign of Edward II (Detroit, 1988), p. 101.
7) Calendar of Close Rolls 1323-1327, p. 260; Patent Rolls 1324-1327, pp. 88, 157, 243.
8) Society of Antiquaries of London MS 122.
9) Ibid.
10) Calendar of Fine Rolls 1307-1319, p. 389; Fine Rolls 1319-1327, p. 6; Patent Rolls 1317-1321, p. 336.
11) Patent Rolls 1317-1321, p. 453.
12) Patent Rolls 1327-1330, p. 163.
13) W. M[ark] Ormrod, 'The Royal Nursery: A Household for the Younger Children of Edward III', English Historical Review, 120 (2005) pp. 400-401.
14) Frances Underhill, For Her Good Estate: The Life of Elizabeth de Burgh (New York, 1999), pp.40-41.
15) Ormrod, 'Royal Nursery', pp. 400, 410.
16) Mark Ormrod, Edward III (2011), p. 125; Patent Rolls 1330-1334, p. 78.

19 March, 2013

19 March 1330: Execution of Edmund of Woodstock, Earl of Kent

Just a quick post, but I couldn't let today pass without a mention of Edward II's courageous and principled half-brother Edmund of Woodstock, earl of Kent, who was beheaded in Winchester on 19 March 1330 for the 'crime' of trying to free the former king from Corfe Castle, two and a half years after Edward's supposed death at Berkeley Castle.  Edmund was the son of Marguerite of France and the youngest son of Edward I, who was sixty-two when Edmund was born on 5 August 1301.  Edmund was twenty-eight at the time of his death, and left his heavily pregnant widow, Margaret Wake, who gave birth to their son John on 7 April 1330, and their children Edmund, Margaret and Joan, the latter to become Richard II's mother in 1367.  I've written about Edmund's plot to free Edward of Caernarfon and the men who helped him here, and far more extensively in my 14,000-word article published in the English Historical Review in 2011.  See also Ian Mortimer's article about Edmund's plot in his Medieval Intrigue: Decoding Royal Conspiracies (2010), and his 'Death of Edward II in Berkeley Castle' in the same volume, which also discusses it.  Dr Mortimer focuses on the timeline of the conspiracy, I on the many dozens of men who joined and aided the earl, to demonstrate that the usual modern explanation for his plot - that Edmund was a stupid gullible fool tricked into trying to free a dead man to provide an excuse for (Edmund's first cousin) Isabella of France and (his wife Margaret Wake's first cousin) Roger Mortimer to execute him - are untenable.  That Edmund was 'stupid' is an invention of the twentieth century, by commentators unable otherwise to explain why he was so utterly convinced that his half-brother was alive in 1330 despite having attended his funeral in December 1327, and is based on no contemporary evidence. Furthermore, it uses a circular logic: Edmund only believed that Edward II was alive because he was stupid and gullible; and how do we know he was stupid and gullible - because he believed that Edward II was still alive.  Ian Mortimer explains in his two articles cited above how Edmund's actions have been twisted to provide 'evidence' for his alleged stupidity and demonstrates that Edmund began trying to free Edward of Caernarfon shortly after he and his brother the earl of Norfolk had been reconciled to Isabella and Roger Mortimer following their brief participation in the earl of Lancaster's rebellion against them.  This gives the lie to the frequent modern explanation that the plot should be seen in the light of the participants' dissatisfaction with the Mortimer and Isabella regime rather than in any belief that Edward II was alive.  I provide detailed backgrounds and allegiances for Edmund's many dozens of co-conspirators and show how many of them had been loyal to Edward II before, during and in many cases even after the revolution of 1326/27.  The many men who joined Kent are usually either ignored altogether or dismissed as a handful of disaffected clerics.  Furthermore, I point out the contradictions in the usual modern explanation for Edmund's actions in 1329/30 by writers convinced that Edward II did indeed die at Berkeley Castle in September 1327 who interpret the plot in that light: at one and the same time, Edmund is said to have been stupid, gullible, unstable and politically insignificant, yet to have represented such a danger to Roger Mortimer and Queen Isabella's position and political survival that they were forced to manufacture a reason to execute him in order to protect themselves.  And therefore, they decided to spread rumours all around the country that Edward of Caernarfon was alive, intending that Kent would hear the rumours, try to free his brother and thus commit treason against his young nephew Edward III.

RIP, Edmund of Woodstock, a brave man who tried to do the right thing and help his brother and suffered the ultimate penalty for it, and has seen his posthumous reputation unfairly trashed in the last few decades.

14 March, 2013

Liebster Blog Award

Many thanks to my lovely friend Sarah at Sarah's History for giving me a Liebster (German for 'favourite') Blog Award!

The rules of the Liebster Award are as follows :

1. Thank your Liebster Blog Award presenter on your blog and link back to the blogger who presented this award to you.
2. Answer the 11 questions from the nominator, list 11 random facts about yourself and create 11 questions for your nominees.
3. Present the Liebster Blog Award to 11 blogs of 200 followers or less who you feel deserve to be noticed and leave a comment on their blog letting them know they have been chosen.
4. Copy and Paste the blog award on your blog.

My answers to Sarah's questions:

What is your favourite book of all time?  I'll say Marion Zimmer Bradley's The Mists of Avalon, which I read when I was seventeen then went right back to the beginning and read again, and then again, and then again.  Although I doubt I'd love it anywhere near as much now that I'm an adult as I did as a teenager, there's never been another book that I so completely lost myself in.

Which five historical figures would you invite to your fantasy dinner party? Predictably enough, Edward II, Isabella of France, Piers Gaveston, Hugh Despenser the Younger and Roger Mortimer. 

Do you have any bad habits?  How long have you got? :)

Facebook or Twitter?  I vastly prefer Facebook because I can join history groups, and I find it much easier to interact with people there.  I am on Twitter, but rarely if ever go there (my page is just an automatic feed from my Edward II page on FB).  Cannot stand, or see the point of, the 140-character tweet limit, as I tend to be very wordy.  ;)

Do you have a pet hate?  Rude people, patronising people.

Has there been a book, song or movie that changed your life? How?  Robert Goddard's novel Days Without Number, which I read in 2004.  Although set in modern times, it's a partly historical mystery that frequently mentions Henry III's brother Richard of Cornwall (and the narrator is a descendant of the Paleologus emperors of Byzantium).  This got me really interested in medieval history again, which I hadn't thought much about since getting my degrees in it some years before, and I started doing lots of reading on Richard of Cornwall and his family and bought the biography of him by Noel Denholm-Young, who also edited and translated the Vita Edwardi Secundi.  This reading led me after a few weeks to Richard's great-nephew Edward II, and...the rest is history.  :-)  I had written an essay about Edward in my second year at university, but always felt that he was the medieval English king I knew least about, oddly enough.  Goddard's novel led me to discover the great passion of my life.

Are there any historical fiction ‘crimes’ that really get on your nerves?  Changing Edward III's paternity.  Changing the paternity of other kings.  Writing Edward II as a foot-stamping, shrieking, tantrum-throwing weakling.  Turning real historical characters who the writer wants to be unsympathetic to readers into rapists and wife-beaters when there is no historical evidence for this whatsoever.  Royal and noble women whining about how unfair it is that they're not allowed to marry for love and lamenting their status as 'pawns' of their scheming ambitious fathers. 

What is your greatest achievement to date? Having an article published in the very prestigious English Historical Review in 2011.  I still get a daft grin on my face whenever I think about it. ;) 

Can you tell us about one of your goals for the future? If I could get another article accepted for publication, that would be a dream come true, or finish a novel.  I wish I had more time to devote to writing, but am really busy teaching these days.

What is your favourite thing about blogging?  I've met so many great people via the blog, a lot of whom have become good friends.  I hardly know anyone in my 'real' life who's interested in medieval history, so finding a history 'community' has been wonderful.

And finally, have I annoyed you by nominating you for the Liebster? Haha, no, though I might struggle to think of eleven nominees when you've already nominated a lot of the blogs I would have as well, and think of eleven more questions. ;)

11 random facts about me

- I'm left-handed, very strongly left-handed, and left-footed.  If I try to kick with my right foot when playing sport, I basically just miss the ball completely and fall over!

- I wrote my MA dissertation about a fifteenth-century manuscript of a poem called 'The Siege of Troy' by John Lydgate, and got to spend hours every day sitting with the manuscript in the John Rylands library in Manchester.  Bliss.  An article based on the dissertation was published in the Bulletin of the John Rylands library.

- Poring over Edward II's extant chamber journals is probably my favourite thing to do in the whole world.

- I'm an only child.  And a spoilt brat. :)

- I live right in the middle of a city and love it.  It's a perfect combination of a quiet residential street that's mere minutes' walk away from absolutely everything.

- My great-great-great-great-great-great-great-grandfather John Winks drowned in the river Trent on 23 December 1760, in a ferry-boat accident.

- My favourite colour is pink.  It's a rare day that I don't wear something in this colour.  I have two thick winter coats that are different shades of bright pink and brighten up those dull cold winter days for me.

- I was lucky enough to grow up in the Lake District, which was indescribably wonderful.

- My favourite period of history after the early fourteenth century is the eleventh century.  There are few periods of history I wouldn't gladly read about, though, and I love exploring eras and countries I'm not familiar with in historical fiction and non-fiction.

- I love listening to 80s pop and indie music.

- My five favourite words in the English language are: swashbuckling; sabre-rattling; flabbergasted; gobsmacked; serendipity.

11 questions to be answered by my awardees:

What's your favourite novel and what do you love about it?

Do you have any pet peeves in historical fiction?

What are you most proud of?

Your favourite and least favourite people in history?  (As few or as many as you like!)

The country, city or other place you'd most like to visit?

Which five people would you invite to your fantasy dinner party?

Facebook or Twitter or neither?

What's one of your goals for the future?

What's your favourite season?

Dogs or cats or neither?

What's your favourite hobby?

I give the following blogs a Liebster Blog Award, in alphabetical order:

Carla Nayland Historical Fiction
Henry the Young King
Lady Despenser's Scribery
Lost Fort
Piers Gaveston
Plantagenet Dynasty: Genealogy & History
Robert M. Chapple, Archaeologist 
Satima Flavell
Tanzanite's Castle Full of Books
Trifolium Books

10 March, 2013

Godefroy of Paris and Edward II and Isabella's relationship

Several years ago, I wrote a post about Edward II and Queen Isabella's long and eventful trip to France in the summer of 1313.  A major source for this visit, written by a man who was closely associated with the French court at the time, is the rhyming chronicle of Godefroy or Geoffrey de Paris, who was almost certainly an eyewitness to the events he describes which occurred during Edward and Isabella's visit, or at least some of them.  Godefroy's Chronique Métrique, edited by J.-A. Buchon, is available on Google Books and Archive.org, in the original early fourteenth-century Parisian French; I'm not aware of a translation into English or modern French.  It deals with events in France between 1300 and 1316 and contains much information about the visit of Edward II and Isabella in 1313, which this post is, kind of, about.

Godefroy spells Edward II's name 'Oudouart' or 'Odouard'* and the queen's as 'Ysabiau' or 'Ysabelot', both of which I totally love as they sound like affectionate nicknames for her.  He calls her "the noble and wise lady, Isabella" and "the fairest of the fair" (des belles la plus belle).  Her father Philip IV, who is known to history as Philippe le Bel or Philip the Fair, in the sense of handsome, he describes in the same way (des biax le plus biau), and says that Isabella inherited her good looks from her father.  Godefroy is in fact pretty keen to talk about Isabella's beauty as often as possible; we also get, for instance, "In her time, no more beautiful woman in the kingdom or the empire could be found", "Splendid of body, fine of heart", and that she was "of the fairest, the rose, the lily, the flower and the exemplar."  Being, evidently, attracted to women but not men, Godefroy does not wax lyrical about Edward II's good looks and strength.  Shame.

* By way of comparison, Edward's name was spelt by other French writers of the time as Edouart, Edouwart, Edduvart, Edouars, etc.

Godefroy describes an occasion when Edward and Isabella were at Pontoise, where they stayed from about 10 to 30 June 1313 - it was on the 19th, the first anniversary of Piers Gaveston's death, that Edward paid Bernard the Fool and fifty-four naked dancers forty shillings for performing for him, heh - when tragedy almost occurred.  A fire broke out one night in the king and queen's wardrobe and they lost many possessions, but luckily Edward had the presence of mind to get himself and Isabella to safety outside, although they were toute nue (entirely naked).  Godefroy says that Edward was "brave against the fire" and "well proved himself bold" by his actions, and in another line comments "The king saved her by bravery," something he seems keen to emphasise.  Apparently, the king saved other people from the fire as well as the queen, members of his household.  The poet says that Edward was, however, keen to save Isabella above all else, Car cele amoit-il d'amor fine, "Because he loved her with fine love" (fin amour, with a few variant spellings, is also sometimes translated as 'courtly love').  Hmmm, this doesn't sound like the callously neglectful husband Edward is so often said to be in modern times, does it?  Here we have a man who saw Edward and Isabella in person saying that Edward loved his wife and was deeply concerned about her safety, and even if it was only in a conventional, expected way, it was still love.  Godefroy does not in any way say that Edward didn't love Isabella, or that he had ever considered her second best to (the now dead) Piers Gaveston or to have neglected her in Piers' favour, or that he treated her badly, or that anyone in her family or anyone else thought he treated her badly or indeed in any way other than with the respect, courtesy and love due to his wife and queen.

Godefroy de Paris died around 1320, well before Edward and Isabella's marriage went spectacularly wrong, and thus unlike most other fourteenth-century commentators did not have the benefit of hindsight and knowledge of what was ultimately to happen to the king and Isabella's pivotal role in this.  Another commentator whose work finishes before the end of Edward II's reign is the anonymous and very well-informed Vita Edwardi Secundi, which ends abruptly in late 1325 with Isabella in France refusing to return to her husband.  In neither of these works do we get any hint of marital discord between Edward and Isabella such as appears in chronicles written some time later which Isabella's modern biographers and novelists eagerly seize on, with the obvious exception of the Vita's narrative that the queen insisted on remaining in France with her son and brother and declared that she would henceforth dress as a widow until Hugh Despenser the Younger was removed from her husband's side. The Vita says that Isabella did not like Hugh and resented his presence so close to Edward.  It does not say anything about the queen being angry with her husband or disliking him, or suggest that anything had gone badly wrong between the royal couple before this, or suggest that they were unhappy or that there was anything unusual about their marriage or about Edward's treatment of his queen.  It's in the chronicles written with knowledge of Isabella's much later rebellion against her husband (after he had confiscated her lands and reduced her income in September 1324) that we find, for instance, statements that Edward 'abandoned' her when she was pregnant in May 1312 and that she wrote to her father in 1308 to complain about his neglect of her in favour of Piers Gaveston and called herself "the most wretched of wives".  Both of these are inventions of a St Albans chronicler decades later.

It wasn't until 1322 at the earliest, perhaps 1324, that Edward and Isabella's marriage started to go badly wrong.  In 1313 when they were in France, no-one could have known or predicted Isabella's later actions, and those writers who had no later knowledge of what she did do not seem to have believed that her and Edward's marriage was anything out of the ordinary.  Quite the contrary; there is evidence in Godefroy of Paris's metrical chronicle of marital affection between the couple.  Far from suggesting or saying that Isabella was some poor little victim of a neglectful husband, Godefroy - who, remember, knew the queen's family and their court very well - seemed to think that Edward and Isabella's marriage was a perfectly happy, successful and conventional one when he saw them in France in 1313.  On another occasion, he says that Edward missed a meeting with his father-in-law Philip IV one morning because he and Isabella had overslept (my translation following, somewhat paraphrased):

"But this morning, the English king
Could not see the Frenchman
Because he had slept the morning away
With the queen, his wife.
And so one could see
That it pleased him to ruser? her
Which cannot be wondered at
Because she is the fairest of the fair."

I'm not sure how to translate ruser here - in modern French, it means to use cunning, as in the English word 'ruse', but that's clearly not the sense Godefroy was using 700 years ago, and he meant something positive, that it pleased Edward to stay in bed with Isabella because she was so beautiful.  Again, not exactly the the neglectful husband who could hardly bear to touch his wife we see so often, then.

There is of course much, much else in Godefroy's chronicle, including his fantastic description of something he evidently saw with his own eyes: Edward II's banquet at Saint-Germain-des-Prés on Tuesday 5 June 1313, where attendants on horses served guests in richly draped tents which were extravagantly lit with torches even in the middle of the day.  But I'll have to save that for another post sometime.  I wrote in a guest post on my friend Sarah's blog lately that I believe Edward II and Isabella of France's relationship was far more complex and interesting than the dull and one-dimensional 'it was a disaster from start to finish, he neglected her constantly, she hated him always' portrayals we find nowadays, and Godefroy confirms it.  As well as the evidence of mutual support and affection between the couple I cited in my post on Sarah's blog, Claire Valente has pointed out* that the Anglo-Norman poem of c. 1327 known as the 'Lament of Edward II' and formerly, almost certainly falsely, attributed to the king himself, includes lines which portray Edward as "a grieving courtly lover, who has lost his joy with his love" after his deposition.  The poem is written from Edward's perspective and talks about La Bise, 'the Doe', an anagram of 'Isabel' (as noted in the Valente article), and, to quote again from the article, "the poet also clearly expected his audience to accept that she [Isabella] and Edward had once loved each other as courtly lovers."  Valente notes the existence of Edward's illegitimate son Adam (who died as a teenager in 1322) and that "at least one contemporary poet did not find "true love" for women and in particular his queen an implausible emotion for Edward II."  Edward II's sexuality was more complex than it is usually assumed to have been nowadays; his relationship with his queen was likewise far more complex than most modern commentators seem to think.  This should come as no surprise to anyone who realises that human beings are complicated, and that human relationships are also complicated.  I'd just like to end by saying that we really have very little idea how Edward and Isabella felt about each other at any given time - it's not as though we have any written evidence that says something like "I hate my lord husband and that horrid Piers Gaveston, by Isabella" - and no doubt their feelings changed and developed and evolved over their nearly twenty-year marriage, as people's feelings for their partners generally do.  Simplistic declarations about their marriage and how Isabella 'must have' felt about Edward, such as "she could feel nothing but profound revulsion for her husband", made with 700 years of hindsight are, frankly, pretty meaningless, especially when they ignore so much evidence which doesn't fit this particular view.  Thank goodness for Godefroy de Paris, an eyewitness, and the contemporary 'Lament' poet for helping to show us Edward and Isabella's relationship in a different light, and to tell us that yes, as far as some people who knew them were aware, Edward II did indeed love his wife.

* Claire Valente, 'The "Lament of Edward II": Religious Lyric, Political Propaganda', Speculum, 77 (2002), pp. 432-3.

06 March, 2013

Isabella Guest Post

While I'm preparing my next blog post, which is probably going to take quite a while as I'm not very well at the moment, please do visit my friend Sarah's blog to read my guest post there about Edward II's queen Isabella of France.  Sarah and other blog guests are doing a post every day in March in honour of Women's History Month, a fantastic idea, so there'll be (and already is) loads of great stuff to read.  See also Sarah's post about the non-adulterous Eleanor of Provence - I found an entry on the Close Roll recently which demonstrates as conclusively as possible what I already knew, that Kenilworth Castle was still in the possession of Henry III in September 1238 around the time that he and Eleanor conceived Edward I, and that therefore there is *not the slightest reason* to think that Simon de Montfort was anywhere near the queen at the time and of course was not Edward's real father.  Not that anyone with any sense ever believed otherwise...