27 February, 2006

Rules for historical fact and fiction on Edward II and Isabella

Thanks to Susan and Carla (and others - follow the links) for giving me a great laugh with their 'Rules for Historical Fiction'.

This gave me a few ideas for my own 'Rules For Historical Fiction (And So-Called Fact) Featuring Edward II And Queen Isabella':

1) Early on in Edward and Isabella's marriage, Edward is usually portrayed as ignoring the beauteous Isabella in favour of the appalling Gascon upstart, Gaveston. Isabella, madly in love with her handsome yet neglectful husband, must be distraught about this. As an alternative, however, you might prefer to show Edward enthusiastically consummating his marriage, in which case the fact that Isabella is only twelve will be emphasised. The main point is to depict Edward II as a pervert, either because he had sex with a twelve-year-old girl, or because he didn't.

2) In 1312, Isabella must be portrayed as the forlorn and abandoned victim of her husband's cruel neglect, as he abandons her at Tynemouth in order to take his lover Gaveston to safety. She must also be shown to be in dire peril from the pursuing Earl of Lancaster. The fact that Edward II almost certainly wanted to spare his young, pregnant wife the rigours of a 5-day sea journey, and that she was in no danger at all from Lancaster, her own uncle, must under no circumstances be mentioned. As ever, Isabella must be depicted as a victim, at all costs.

3) It must be taken as historical fact that Edward wanted to divorce Isabella in 1324, although no documents have ever been found proving this. Hugh Despenser, the arch-villain of all time, must be the instigator of this and all other 'humilations' of Isabella, to give Isabella a good reason for her hideous execution of him in 1326. Isabella is a Helpless Victim of Despenser's nefarious schemes (see also number 2)

4) Isabella must have an affair with Roger Mortimer while he is imprisoned in the Tower, 1322-23, despite the logistical improbability (impossibility?) of such an affair. If you have to change the date of birth of Isabella's youngest child Joan by a year or so in order to put Isabella in the Tower at the right time, that is perfectly acceptable. Showing that Isabella even helped Mortimer to escape is optional, but definitely preferred.

5) Edward II is abnormal for not loving Isabella simply because she is beautiful. Roger Mortimer, on the other hand, must fall madly and completely in love with her the first time he sees her in France in 1325. Mortimer's inconvenient wife is conveniently never mentioned (see also number 15)

6) Edward and Hugh Despenser's peace treaty with Scotland is a cop-out, a betrayal and proves their total incompetence. Isabella and Mortimer's peace treaty with Scotland proves Isabella's astuteness, statecraft and foreknowledge of the later existence of the United Kingdom. Not, as a cynic such as myself might think, that Isabella and Mortimer's greed had depleted the Treasury to such an extent that they couldn't afford a military campaign and had no choice but to make peace with Scotland, and were desperate to get their grubby little mitts on Bruce's 20,000 pounds.

7) Edward's (admittedly tyrannical) executions of his enemies in 1322 must be presented as the worst thing that had ever happened in England, as though nobody had ever been executed or imprisoned before. By contrast, Isabella and Mortimer's totally illegal 1326 executions of the Earl of Arundel and his friends, and Hugh Despenser's friend Simon of Reading, are ignored, or alternatively shown as fully justified, because Mortimer hated these men. (Apparently, it's acceptable to have men beheaded, simply because you hate them.) Isabella's role in the judicial murder of her cousin and brother-in-law Kent in 1330 is downplayed or denied altogether, and Mortimer blamed.

8) Edward II's 1324 establishment of separate households for his three younger children, a perfectly normal procedure for royal children in the Middle Ages, is usually portrayed as 'stealing' Isabella's children from her, as though she never saw them again (and as though a medieval queen would have raised her own children anyway). As always, your aim must be to increase Isabella's victimhood.

9) Hugh Despenser the Younger must be depicted as one of the worst men in history, a man who could teach Hitler and Stalin a thing or two about evil. Throw any negative character trait you can at him - a 20th century mass murderer would make a good model for Hugh. It doesn't matter if the traits are contradictory, like making him both girlish and weak but also a brutal wife-beater, or if there's no historical evidence whatsoever, like having him torture people for entertainment. The aim is to make the fact that Isabella feasted and celebrated while watching Hugh being disembowelled and emasculated seem Morally Justified.

10) Hugh Despenser's greed and land-grabbing can be made to fill an entire book, but the fact that Isabella and Mortimer's relentless and ruthless self-aggrandisement was far, far worse can conveniently be ignored. You should mention as often as possible, and in terms of the greatest outrage, that Despenser's income was 7000 pounds a year and he held lands worth 6000 pounds, but ignore at all costs Isabella's annual income of 13,333 pounds, cash grants of 32,000 pounds in 6 weeks, theft of the 20,000 given to England by Robert Bruce, and appropriation of any lands she fancied. If you do choose to mention this, make sure you present her enormous greed as an acceptable and fully justified reaction to her long and terrible 'suffering'.

11) Edward II must be depicted as a misogynist, who only rarely comes to Isabella's bed because of his hatred and contempt for women. This means you will have to ignore his natural son Adam. If you can hint that Edward was not the father of Isabella's children, all the better. The same with Despenser and Gaveston - just ignore the former's 9 children, and the 2 daughters by 2 women of the latter, and make them as effeminate as possible.

12) In 1326, Isabella The Great Victim is suddenly and miraculously transformed into Isabella The Great Avenger, come to save the people of England from their terrible suffering. She is totally in control and capable of organising and leading a full-scale military invasion, despite the presence of Mortimer, the greatest solider in England at the time.

13) It's best to just ignore the fact that most of the men who supported Isabella and Mortimer in 1326/7 rebelled against them only 2 years later, including Isabella's uncle Henry of Lancaster, Mortimer's nephew Hugh Audley and his cousin Thomas Wake. If you really have to mention it, depict the men as a bunch of selfish, whiny malcontents with no legitimate grievances against Isabella's rule, which is of course perfect. (On the other hand, any rebellions against Edward and the Despensers are legitimate.)

14) Anything said or written by Isabella, especially in the years 1325-7, is presumed to be the gospel truth. If she said her life was in danger from the Despensers (1325) or from her husband (1327), then of course her life must have been in danger. If she said that Edward was a degenerate pervert, then he must have been a degenerate pervert. The fact that Isabella was the daughter of a master propagandist (Philip IV) is assumed to be irrelevant here.

15) The relationship of Isabella and Mortimer is the greatest love affair of the Middle Ages, fully justified because of Edward's neglect of her, and not at all a political marriage of convenience. Edward II's affairs with Gaveston and Despenser are, however, perverted and immoral. Even from a 21st century viewpoint, apparently. How nice that we've come so far. Mortimer must always be depicted as a heap of testosterone who makes Isabella quiver with desire, as opposed to Edward, who shuns her bed (see also number 1 and 11)

16) Any contemporary chronicle either hostile to Edward and the Despensers and/or approving of Isabella is assumed to be 100% true. Any chronicle which dares to criticise Isabella can safely be ignored, as it's clearly only propaganda to blacken her name, written by a misogynist who couldn't cope with powerful women.

17) You are allowed to make up any silly plot devices which 'prove' the survival of Edward II after 1327. Implausibility does not matter. The main aim is to get Isabella off the hook of having her husband murdered. If you do choose to have Edward murdered in 1327, make sure that Mortimer is solely responsible and that Isabella, implausibly, suspects nothing.

18) You are probably keen to re-write Isabella as a feminist icon, a kind of 14th century Warrior Princess who embodied the qualities of every powerful female leader who has ever lived. However, you don't know what to do when Isabella does something that you find morally repugnant. No problem! Mortimer only exists in the story to act as a useful scapegoat, and your strong-willed, powerful Warrior Princess was obviously temporarily possessed by a Fembot, who meekly did whatever her man told her to do. Hint: if Mortimer is unavailable, Henry of Lancaster makes a very acceptable alternative scapegoat. Even if you've portrayed both men elsewhere as possessing no power whatsoever, it doesn't matter. Who cares about contradictions?

Are all the above elements present in your book? Congratulations! You're ready for publication.

20 February, 2006

Thanks on behalf of Edward II!

Just to say thanks to all of you who support my efforts - either by leaving comments here or by private message - to rehabilitate the lovely Edward II. I'm glad I'm not the only one interested in him! Watch this space - lots more Edward II info to come! :)

12 February, 2006

Misinformation on Edward II

Hmm, surfing the net over the last few days has convinced me to keep writing this and correcting all the nonsense that still appears about Edward II. I've recently read that Hugh Despenser seduced Edward, then had him killed; that Edward I was the father of Edward III (astonishing, the technology they must have had 700 years ago, given that Edward I died in July 1307 and Edward III was born in November 1312!), and pages and pages of the usual crap that Edward II was gay and therefore couldn't have been the father of his children. For goodness sake, even if he preferred men, that doesn't make him sterile! He fathered children by 2 different women, as did Gaveston, and Despenser had at least 9 children.

Every time I visit a site that contains misinformation, if it's possible, I leave a message and a link to this site. It takes time, but I'm determined to correct all the crap that's out there! I'm a woman on a mission! :)

Character and Hobbies of Edward II

Now, I'm not denying that Edward II was an appalling king. He didn't have any of the qualities required in a 14th century ruler, and it was surely the best thing for England that he was deposed and replaced by his son, a much more competent ruler. However, I don't believe that Edward was a bad man, and in fact many of his character traits, though incomprehensible to his contemporaries, are very attractive to the modern mind.

For example, Edward had a general preference for the company of peasants over his nobles - a fact heavily criticised by chroniclers of the time, but to a 21st century observer, a king with the 'common touch' who could communicate with people much further down the social scale seems much more attractive. Edward loved pastimes such as building walls, digging ditches, thatching roofs and shoeing horses - considered odd back then, and even into the 20th century, when some historians assumed that these interests were indicative of low intelligence. I hope we are more enlightened than that nowadays!

Personally, I love the fact that Edward enjoyed rowing and swimming, and sailing his barge along the River Thames, buying cabbages from peasants on the banks to make soup with. Am I the only person who finds that extremely endearing behaviour in a king?!

What come down the centuries to me are Edward's strongly emotive character traits, which are really the main reason why I'm so interested in him. He comes across to me as a real person I can imagine knowing (and liking) which most of the other medieval kings of England don't (I find a lot to admire in Edward III, for example, but his personality is a closed book to me.) Edward was fiercely loyal and generous to those he loved, not perhaps the most sensible trait in a king but attractive in a man, and he had a huge capacity to love and be loved. The 'wrong' people, maybe, but who of us can choose who we love?

He loved music, dancing, romances and watching plays: signs of a cultured man, surely? As Caroline Bingham, one of his biographers, points out, other historians often sneeringly comment that Edward was followed everywhere by 'Genoese fiddlers' which sounds frivolous, but they could equally well be described as 'Italian musicians', which sounds cultured. Edward had a great sense of humour, as is proved by the many records of payment to people who had made him laugh, and he greeted the impostor John of Powderham in 1318 (John had claimed to be the righful king of England) with the words 'Welcome, my brother'. (Edward apparently wanted to make John a court jester, but Isabella and various nobles demanded his execution.)

Edward was mostly an easy-going man, although prone to violent outbursts of temper (like all his family). The last few years of his reign, from 1322 to 1326, were, however, a tyranny. It's tempting to see the hand of Hugh Despenser the Younger, who was king of England in all but name, here - this time is demonstrably different from the rest of Edward's reign. Edward was not much interested in governing, and seems to have been happy to let Despenser rule the kingdom however he saw fit - presumably because of the personal (and probably sexual) hold Despenser had over him.

Although a disastrous general whose campaigns in Scotland ended in failure, Edward was not lacking in personal bravery, and a contemporary chronicler states that Edward fought like a lion at Bannockburn in 1314 - although he is often accused of cowardice by modern writers and commentators who claim that he 'ran away'. Surely leaving the field was better, though, than being captured by the Scots (and apparently the Earl of Pembroke had to drag him unwillingly from the battlefield)? If he had been captured, no doubt modern writers would castigate him for his stupidity, as well as his cowardice.

Poor Edward II: damned if he did, damned if he didn't. I think he must be the only man in history condemned as a pervert for NOT having sex with a 12-year-old girl - Isabella was almost certainly only 12 at the time of their wedding in January 1308, and they didn't conceive their first child till they'd been married a little over 4 years. Edward apparently preferred the company of Gaveston, but who would any other 23-year-old man prefer to spend time with: a 12-year-old girl he'd never met before, or a man of his own age he'd known half his life?

Edward had 3 older brothers - John, 1266-1271; Henry, 1268-1274; and Alfonso, earl of Chester, 1273-1284. If any of them had lived, Edward would never have been king, and I get the strong impression that he would have much preferred that. He would have been in his element as a country knight, building walls and digging ditches and such like!
It's hardly his fault that he was so unsuited to the role of king - it's not as though he had any choice in the matter. He was the eldest surviving son of his father, and therefore he had to be king, whether he liked it or not. The same with his marriage: Edward and Isabella's union was arranged by their fathers when he was about 16 and Isabella about 5, and Edward had to marry her, or almost certainly face a war against her father, Philip IV.
Isabella gets a lot of sympathy these days for taking a lover after years of marital unhappiness - fine, but Edward still gets a lot of criticism for his own presumed infidelities, which hardly seems fair. The attitude often seems to be - Isabella was beautiful, therefore Edward 'should' have loved her, and if he didn't there was something wrong with him. It doesn't work like that, though! You don't automatically love someone just because she's beautiful, and in an arranged marriage, it's hardly surprising that people find love elsewhere (and Edward had clearly loved Gaveston for many years before he married Isabella). Yet even in our supposedly enlightened times, many people seem to believe that Isabella's adultery was heterosexual and therefore OK, but Edward's preference for men was perverted. Even Alison Weir trots out a similar line in her recent bio of Isabella.

So there you are. Edward II, the disastrous king, but very likeable man! He had many faults, but these have been overstated - none of us is perfect! One historian, in a thunderingly 19th century way, called Edward II the greatest failure of his father Edward I; he also claimed that Edward I's eldest 3 sons 'were worthy to have outlived him, while Edward II was worthy never to have been born at all'. Edward II's 3 elder brothers are totally obscure, boys who died at the ages of 5, 6 and 10: how can anybody possibly know what kind of kings they might have made? Maybe they would have been even worse! And secondly, which of us has the right to say that someone should never have been born? (Except for people like Hitler, possibly).
Now in the 21st century, the time is long overdue for us to treat Edward II a bit more kindly, and a bit less judgmentally.

09 February, 2006

'The Traitor's Wife' Squidoo page

If you love Susan Higginbotham's novel The Traitor's Wife (and if you haven't read it, go and buy it now), you might be interested in her new Squidoo page, with information and links to other Edward II-related sites:

05 February, 2006

Edward II's other great favourite, Hugh Despenser the Younger

This post is about a man I've always found absolutely fascinating: the man who was the de facto ruler of England for much of the 1320s, until his hideous execution at Hereford on 24 November 1326. In a recent poll, he was voted most villainous Briton of the 14th century, and got 9% of the vote for the worst Briton ever! Let's face it, a man who extorted money and lands from rich widows (including his own sister-in-law), who became a pirate when he was exiled from England, and who was almost certainly the lover of his wife's uncle, is waaay more interesting to write about than a man who helped little old ladies to cross the road (though maybe he did that too, who knows?)

Hugh Despenser the Younger was born sometime between 1286 and 1290 (by way of comparison, Edward II was born in 1284 and Roger Mortimer, Despenser's greatest enemy, was born in 1287). His mother Isabel Beauchamp (died 1306) was the daughter and sister of Earls of Warwick, and his father Hugh Despenser the Elder was a great landowner in the Midlands and SE England. The elder Despenser's father - called, inevitably, Hugh Despenser - was Justiciar of England and was killed at the Battle of Evesham in 1265, fighting for the baronial opposition to Henry III and the future Edward I (Edward II's father and grandfather). Fortunately for the Elder Despenser - aged only 3 or 4 at the time of his father's death - his maternal grandfather Philip Basset was a royalist baron and close friend of Henry III's brother Richard of Cornwall, and this saved him from ruin. After the death of his mother Alina, Countess of Norfolk, in 1281, the Elder Despenser inherited all the Despenser estates of his father and the Basset estates of his grandfather. Despite - or because of - his father's opposition to the king, the Elder Despenser was a loyal royal servant all his life, the only man who remained loyal to Edward II for the entire length of his reign, and managed the incredibly difficult task of retaining the favour and friendship of both Edward I and the future Edward II during the last years of Edward I's life, when he and his son had conflicts and fall-outs a-plenty. Edward I often sent Despenser on delicate missions abroad, to the Pope or the king of France - he was clearly a talented and able diplomat and adminstrator, skills shared in equal measure by his notorious son.

That the Elder Despenser stood high in Edward I's favour is proved by the marriage of his son in May or June 1306, when Edward I married the younger Despenser to his eldest granddaughter, Eleanor de Clare. It's important to realise that it was Edward I who arranged this marriage, NOT Edward II. Because Edward II arranged the marriage of Eleanor's sister Margaret to his favourite Piers Gaveston in November 1307, it's often assumed that he arranged Hugh and Eleanor's marriage too, but Despenser didn't become Edward's favourite until 1318, when he and Eleanor had been married 12 years and had a brood of children. (I've even read a novel where the author had Hugh and Eleanor marrying as late as 1321, thereby precipitating the Despenser war. Amazing that someone could do so much research, then get a date wrong by a full 15 years!) This marriage brought the younger Despenser into the royal family and gave him a great deal of prestige, though little if any land or money at this point. For the first few years of Edward II's reign, Hugh played practically no role at all, though his father was a close ally and counsellor of the king. Hugh simply wasn't influential or rich enough to play a political role.

All that changed in 1314, when Eleanor's brother Gilbert de Clare, Earl of Gloucester, was killed at Bannockburn at the age of 23. He was childless (although bizarrely his widow claimed to be pregnant for 3 years!!) so his heirs were his 3 sisters. As husband of the eldest sister, Hugh claimed the best lands - Glamorgan, mostly - and this unexpected windfall set him on the path which would ultimately lead to his own execution and the deposition of the king.

A few months after the Clare lands were finally partitioned in November 1317, Hugh was elected as Edward's Chamberlain, the man who controlled access, physical and written, to the king - an enormously powerful position. He used this proximity to Edward to turn the king's former indifference, or even dislike, of him into infatuation. This is what I find most fascinating about Hugh. He and Edward must have known each other all their lives, as Hugh's father was a courtier and Hugh even lived in Edward's household when Edward was Prince of Wales, along with about 10 other young men, including Piers Gaveston. Hugh's wife was Edward's eldest niece, whom he was very fond of, and his father a close friend and ally of the king. Despite all that, there's not a shred of evidence that Edward ever liked Hugh or did anything for him, except for awarding him one manor in 1309. How did Hugh do it - turn Edward's dislike into infatuation? I'd love to be a fly on the wall to observe this, especially as Edward had other favourites between Gaveston and Despenser - Roger Damory, Hugh Audley and William Montacute, who Hugh ousted from Edward's affections. The first two were married to Eleanor de Clare's sisters to share in the Clare inheritance, as a sign of Edward's great favour.

By 1320, Hugh was as high in Edward's favour as Gaveston had been, but far more dangerous. Far, far more dangerous. Gaveston had never been interested in political power, only in the money and prestige being the favourite of the king gave him. Hugh, on the other hand, was a highly intelligent and capable man who knew exactly what he wanted. And that was land, more land, more money, and power. Lots of power. He was ruthless, greedy and totally without scruple. The barons who'd killed Gaveston and banished the king's other favourites Damory, Audley and Montacute from court must have been kicking themselves, that they'd opened the door for someone who was so much worse. I don't have the time to go into a full explanation of his many misdeeds, but by 1321 he'd provoked the Marchers (the barons in Wales and along the border) into what is known as the Despenser War, when thousands of people attacked the lands of Hugh and his father in Wales and England, destroying and stealing whatever they could. Hugh and his father were exiled from England for a few months, during which Hugh became a pirate in the English channel - a successful one, as Edward III had to pay compensation to Genoese merchants many years later.

After some complicated machinations and a military operation in 1321-22, the Despensers were recalled from exile, and all Hugh's and Edward's enemies were either dead, imprisoned or had fled abroad. It's interesting to note that almost all of the men Edward II treated his enemies in this period - with the notable exception of his cousin, the Earl of Lancaster - were in fact Hugh's enemies and rivals, many of whom had always been loyal to the king until Hugh's rise and rise to power. Men like Roger Mortimer, whose family had a long-standing feud with the Despensers, Damory and Audley, Hugh's rivals for the Clare inheritance, Mowbray and the Earl of Hereford, rivals for land and influence in Wales.

By the end of March 1322, Hugh Despenser the younger was all powerful in England and Wales. His father, a friend of Edward II but never at the centre of government, joined him in his triumph. They didn't allow anyone access to Edward unless at least one of them was present - including, amazingly enough, Queen Isabella, who was not allowed to see her husband alone. To cut a very long story short, the Despensers didn't dominate the government in the period 1322-26 - they were the government. This might not have been so bad, as they were both able, intelligent men with a talent for administration. But - they were overwhelmingly avaricious, extorted anyone they could - imprisoning people if they had to, till they handed over their lands - and in a short time made themselves absolutely detested by absolutely everyone. Roger Mortimer escaped from the Tower in 1323 and fled to France, where 2 years later he became the lover of Queen Isabella. In September 1326 they invaded England, just about anyone who was anyone joined them, and the Despensers were horribly executed: the elder at Bristol in October, hanged in his armour and his body fed to the dogs, and the younger at Hereford 4 weeks later, hanged 50 feet high, castrated, disembowelled and beheaded. Edward II was deposed and (almost certainly) murdered. He was so closely associated with them that it was impossible to bring down the Despensers without bringing down the king.

This begs the question: how exactly did Hugh the younger exert such overwhelming control over Edward? Why did he let them behave like that? As stated at the beginning of the post, I believe that Edward and the younger Hugh were lovers - it's difficult to account for Hugh's hold over him any other way. In 1321, the Earl of Pembroke, an ally of Edward's who died in 1324, told him (quoting the Bible): 'he perishes on the rocks who loves another more than himself'. This certainly seems to indicate that Edward and Hugh were more than just friends and allies. Edward II's most recent biographer, Roy Martin Haines, has also stated his belief in the sexual nature of the relationship. A contemporary chronicler of the Low Countries believed that Edward was involved in a menage a trois with Hugh the younger and his wife - Edward's own niece Eleanor. While it's impossible to prove or disprove the story, I believe the sexual politics of Edward's reign are fascinating. Edward and Isabella's unhappy marriage, and the lovers they both took, are vital to an understanding of Edward's downfall.

So there you are - the man who became the lover of a king, and destroyed both of them. Did Hugh genuinely love Edward, or did he just use him for power, the way his great enemy Mortimer (probably) did with Queen Isabella? I just wish someone would write a biography of this important and fascinating man... :)

Random musings on Isabella and Mortimer....

.....from someone too lazy to write a proper structured post! :)
I've been musing the last few days on the nature of Queen Isabella's relationship with Roger Mortimer - described as 'one of the great romances of the Middle Ages' by Ian Mortimer, an excellent scholar who was evidently possessed by the spirit of Barbara Cartland when he wrote that! Paul Doherty too believes their relationship was a great love affair, and I've already posted how Doherty perpetuates myths relating to Mortimer and Isabella by claiming that she helped him escape from the Tower in 1323, and chose to be buried next to him in 1358. Wrong, wrong, wrong! (By the way, Dr Doherty, if you're reading this, I'd love you to respond to my email and my comments on your work. Don't be shy!)

Well, hmmm. A great love affair, indeed? Maybe I'm terminally cynical, but it's always seemed a little bit too convenient to me, at least from Mortimer's point of view. He escaped from the Tower in August 1323, and had nothing much to do between then and 1326 except plan the downfall of his nemeses Hugh Despenser and Edward II. Mortimer had always been loyal to Edward II until Edward took up with Despenser, and Mortimer must have been furious to be imprisoned and sentenced to death by the man he'd loyally supported. It's known that he sent assassins into England, who unfortunately for him failed to kill Edward and Despenser. I think Mortimer, a capable and energetic man and a great soldier, spent years planning an invasion of England, gathering money, men, allies and making alliances with all the English exiles in France. But, the great problem: who would follow him in invasion? What could he do? He could hardly overthrow Edward II and proclaim himself King of England, as Edward had 2 sons and 2 brothers who were next in line. He could hardly overthrow Edward II in favour of his son without the son in his custody. Possibly Mortimer was hoping to have Edward II killed when he came to France to pay homage to Charles IV for Gascony, and Despenser, left behind in England, killed also. Still, even that drastic action wouldn't benefit him too much, except as revenge, because even if Edward II and Despenser were dead, what would that really have meant for Mortimer, except that he could have returned to England?

And then, the miracle. Edward refused to leave Despenser alone in England, and sent Isabella to negotiate instead - and then, in an act which ultimately destroyed him, his elder son the Duke of Aquitaine too. (Edward gets a lot of flack from historians for this admittedly stupid action, but I'm not sure what else he could have done, really) Isabella and her young son were a godsend for Mortimer. Suddenly, he held all the cards - the future King of England, and the beauteous Isabella, trailing sorrowfully round Paris in her widow's weeds. What a wonderful figurehead for an invasion! A beautiful young woman, badly treated and ignored by her vicious husband and his evil lover, deprived of her children and her income and her friends. Mortimer and Isabella really were masters of propaganda and public relations. Many, many men in England were prepared to fight for the cause of a young woman come to 'liberate' them, where they wouldn't have followed Mortimer alone.The real nature of Mortimer's and Isabella's relationship can of course never been known, as they never wrote down their feelings for each other. I find it quite easy to believe that Isabella genuinely fell in lust with Mortimer - having been ignored by Edward II for quite a while, she was probably susceptible to male attention, and her actions 1327-30 seem to suggest that Mortimer had a powerful influence over her. On the other hand, I think Mortimer set out to seduce her, systematically and ruthlessly, to use her for his own ends. Of course he stayed with her after the invasion - without her, he would have had no influence at all on the young Edward III. Isabella was his route to power, besides which, he probably had a lot of fun cuckolding the man who'd sentenced him to death. Ian Mortimer comments on the episode prior to the invasion of England (witnessed by the future Edward III and one of Despenser's spies) when Isabella suggested that she should go back to her husband, and Mortimer threatened to kill her with a knife if she did so. Ian Mortimer thinks this proves Mortimer's great love and passion for Isabella, and that he couldn't stand the thought of Isabella taking up again with her husband, whereas I would argue that being threatened with murder is the least romantic thing I can imagine, and that it's far more likely that Mortimer was furious with Isabella for jeopardising his long-term plans to invade England - he really couldn't do it without her. Despite what some of Isabella's fans seem to think, it seems blindingly obvious that it was Mortimer who planned the invasion of England. I mean - you've got the greatest soldier in England on one hand, and a woman with no military experience on the other. Who do we think was more likely to plan a military invasion? Please.

More to follow shortly! :)