24 June, 2006

Edward II Novel of the Week (kind of) (4): 'Infamous' by Virginia Henley

Thanks once again to Susan Higginbotham for sending me a copy of this. (My Edward II library would be smaller without her kindness.) Although I've decided to review it, Infamous is not really an Edward II novel; although he appears a few times, he only gets one line of dialogue, the eloquent and moving "I am now Edward the Second, King of England!" Infamous is the story of Marjory ( known as Jory) de Warenne, the (fictional) niece of the Earl of Surrey, and her relationship with Guy de Beauchamp, Earl of Warwick - a real person and abductor of Piers Gaveston. Edward II's sister Joan(na) of Acre is a major character and friend of Jory, and most of the other characters are real people.

Poor Edward II gets a pretty rough deal here. Later in the novel, he is a "poor excuse of a king". He "weeps like a girl", is an "elegantly garbed lout" and gets drunk and has a snowball fight on the day of his mother's death. Jory thinks disapprovingly "What an unseemly display when his mother has just died. Edward is no longer a child!" Well, yes, he was; he was six years old when his mother Eleanor of Castile died in 1290. Much later, Joan of Acre says that her brother will make a "piss-poor king" and, while discussing fighting and warriors, that he "hates martial arts". I can't get rid of a mental image of Edward reluctantly karate-chopping Roger Mortimer.

Historical inaccuracies

- the novel begins in 1290, at the time of Joan's marriage to Gilbert de Clare. It ends in 1308. Clearly, eighteen years have not passed in the narrative.
- Joan was twelve years older than her brother Edward II, not four.
- Roger Mortimer gets married in 1291, when he was actually four years old. (At least Henley gets his wife, Joan de Geneville, right.)
- Joan has only one child, a daughter named 'Margaret Eleanor'. Historically, she had four children by de Clare and four by her second husband Ralph de Monthermer. As it adds nothing to the plot and 'Margaret Eleanor' plays no role (though she does get the best line in the novel, the classic "My doggie pissed on the carpet") I don't see the point of changing this.
- Joan isn't sure if de Clare is the father of the mysterious 'Margaret Eleanor', as she slept with another man on the eve of her wedding. Historically, her first child Gilbert was born a little over a year after her wedding.
- Joan worries that her father Edward I will "set aside" her secret second marriage to Ralph. Apparently, she thought that he'd been elected Pope....the only man who had the authority to do this.
- Edward I was married to Eleanor of Castile for thirty-six years, not "almost fifty".
- The Earl of Warwick was eighteen in 1290, not thirty-four. His previous two wives are dead in the novel - in fact, he was divorced from his first wife Isabel de Clare and she outlived him, as did his second wife Alice de Toeni. Still, I'm not complaining about this too much, as he obviously needs to be single for the purposes of the novel.
- Warwick says that his son 'Rickard' (not Richard) is the same age as the future Edward II. In fact, Warwick's son was named Thomas, and he was born in 1313/4, thirty years later than Edward II.
- At the end of the novel, it's clear that Rickard and Roger Mortimer's 'sister' Catherine are falling in love. Warwick's son Thomas did marry Catherine Mortimer, but she was Roger's daughter, not his sister.
- the name 'Plantagenet' is used, more than two hundred years too early.
- the King is called 'Your Majesty', which wasn't used until the time of the Tudors. In the Middle Ages, kings were called 'Your Grace'. Likewise, it's anachronistic to refer to the King's daughter as 'Princess' - they were known as 'Lady'.
- Warwick is described as a Frenchman. In fact, he was no more French than any other of the English nobility of the time.
- Jory asks Warwick to teach her French, which would have been her first language.
- Roger Mortimer and others are furious that Edward II gives Roger's wardship to Piers Gaveston, 'proving' how 'unnatural' his affection for the other man is and that he will do anything to please his favourite. It was Edward I who gave Mortimer's wardship to Gaveston, in 1304.
- Edward II and Robert Bruce are the same age here; Bruce was ten years older (born 1274)
- Edward is present when Edward I dies near the Scottish border. In fact, he was in the South.
- Hugh Despenser the Elder is already Earl of Winchester in 1307, fifteen years too early.
- Lancaster is Edward II's uncle - he was his cousin.

Other irritations:

- I find the premise of the novel rather silly - Jory's uncle and brother refuse to marry her to the Earl of Warwick because he was sixteen years older. That strikes me as highly unlikely in the fourteenth century, as does the notion that they would turn down such a splendid match for Jory.
- Jory goes around everywhere with her hair uncovered, all the better to make men lust after her, which is improbable in the extreme for a married woman around 1300.
- Warwick constantly calls Jory chéri. That's the male version; the female version is chérie.
- Warwick hits the young Edward, on the day of his ill-advised and callous snowball fight. I doubt he could have got away with doing such a thing!
- It's Jory who has the brilliant idea that Bruce should marry the Earl of Ulster's daughter Elizabeth, who lives in his own household, to ally himself with the Earl. Because, you know, he'd never have thought of that himself.
- Joan says that she herself would make a much better king than her brother, but "Edward would make a far better queen!" Ooh, hilarious!

The novel contains a lot of amusingly bad "As you know, Bob" dialogue [that is, when one character tells another something s/he already knows, in order to inform the reader]. Some examples:

- "Your uncle, John de Warenne, and your brother, Lynx, will soon be arranging your marriage."
- "Your shining silver-gilt hair and pale green eyes make a perfect foil for the sultry dark colouring I inherited from my mother's Castilian ancestors."
- "You had an opportunity last year when we travelled to the Bruce estates in Essex for the ceremony where Bruce passed the Earldom of Carrick to his eldest son."
- "That happened the year after your brother wed Sylvia Bigod, the queen's lady-in-waiting."
- "Gilbert de Clare, Earl of Gloucester, is England's premier noble."

And that's just from the first scene of the novel!!

Some of the names are just ludicrous. For example, Jory's father is called Lincoln, her brother is Lynx, and her daughter is named Brianna. Lynx's son is Lincoln Robert. Puh-leeze! Looking at Virginia Henley's website, she does this a lot; three of her other heroines are called Jasmine, Sabre and Summer. *Sniggers*

A lot of the language seems far too modern and/or colloquial, and often rather American. On the first page, Joanna of Acre talks about 'going all the way'. Jory is 'conflicted' several times, ponders 'sexual compatibility' and 'sexual energy', and wonders if her husband is 'sexually inadequate'. Also, some of the euphemisms are very silly. "He gloved himself in her honeyed sheath"??! *Sniggers uncontrollably*. The unfortunate phrase 'honeyed sheath' crops up a few times, in fact, as does 'her woman's center' (in the American spelling).

Near the end of the novel, I was jolted right out of the story by the references to Edward II and Piers Gaveston as 'cocksuckers'. Piers is also called a 'Gascon bum-fucker'. Nasty. I suppose you could argue that Henley is describing contemporary attitudes, but there are numerous other ways they could be expressed without using such crudely offensive language. It really doesn't belong in a romance novel, in my opinion (or any other kind of novel, come to think of it) . Warwick's son 'Rickard' is sexually assaulted (off-stage) by Piers Gaveston, and Roger Mortimer leaves court to avoid the same fate. Men who love men just have to try to seduce every young man in sight, apparently.

Virginia Henley is a hugely popular and successful romance author, and I suppose I can see why. Jory is a lot less irritating than other romance heroines I've read, and Warwick is pretty damn sexy- though he's waaaay sexier earlier in the novel, when he's rather sinister, than later on, when he evolves into a kind of modern New Man. He unhesitatingly agrees to marry Jory although she is pregnant by another man, and even helps to deliver the baby (and manages to keep a straight face when Jory names her Brianna).

However, I think that if Henley chooses to write about real people, she should make more effort to get the - incredibly basic - details correct. Her next novel, provisionally entitled Scandalous or Notorious, due for publication next summer, deals with Queen Isabella and Roger Mortimer, with the delightfully-named Brianna as the heroine. I dread to think what Henley will do with Edward in this one.

In conclusion, this is reasonably enjoyable as a romance. But it bears little resemblance to the real fourteenth century.

20 June, 2006

Almost the Anniversary of Piers Gaveston's Death

Piers was executed/murdered on 19 June 1312. Guy Beauchamp, earl of Warwick, seized him from the custody of the earl of Pembroke and imprisoned him in Warwick Castle for a few days. The earls of Lancaster, Hereford and Arundel arrived at the castle and sentenced him to death. He was led a couple of miles away to Blacklow Hill, which was on the earl of Lancaster's lands, and beheaded. This was a great favour, a nobleman's death, granted to him because he was the brother-in-law of the earl of Gloucester. His body was taken to Oxford, where the friars couldn't bury him as he had died excommunicate. Eventually, the Pope lifted the excommunication, but Edward II still refused to bury the embalmed body of his beloved favourite until January 1315.

In memoriam: Piers Gaveston, c. 1283 - 19 June 1312.

18 June, 2006

Two New Adaptations of Marlowe's 'Edward II'

Spotted on Lulu, a modern reworking of Christopher Marlowe's c. 1592 play Edward II, by Tal Lostracco. It "boldly portrays the sexual and political subtexts" of the play, and it has a pair of hotties on the front cover. What more could you want?? I'm definitely going to order this.

I'm rather ashamed to admit that I still haven't read Marlowe's play from beginning to end. I'm going to have to rectify that very soon, as I'm lucky enough to have tickets for a new production, on 30 July. It's directed by Malachi Bogdanov, performed by the Wales Theatre Company, in the German city of Neuss (on the other side of the Rhine from where I live) at the city's annual Shakespeare Festival. Here's a description of the production:

Edward II tells the tragic tale of a king who chooses to openly live his homoerotic passion for Gaveston, a Frenchman and alien element at the English court, setting his passion for this young man above the well-being of both his kingdom and his family. His queen, wounded and humiliated, falls under the control of the ambitious Mortimer, who, knowing he has both church and parliament behind him, hunts the king down like a wounded animal, his end a truly horrific one. Malachi Bogdanov directs the cast of the renowned Wales Theatre Company in this explosive mix of sex, crime and politics.

Sounds wonderful, doesn't it? I can hardly wait.

11 June, 2006

Roger Mortimer Speaks

Somewhat belatedly, here's Roger Mortimer's take on the 'Me Too' meme. And to redress the balance of posting a photo of sexy Andy Gillet as Hugh Despenser in Les Rois Maudits, here's a photo of the less pretty but very hunky Bruno Todeschini, who played Roger in the same series. (Which Blogger won't let me post here, for some reason.)

I am: the de facto king of England. The earl of March. The man who saved England from that pathetic king and his catamite.
I want: to go and look at Despenser's head on London Bridge again. Just one more time - this week....
I wish: Despenser's death could have been drawn out a little longer.
I hate: Henry, the earl of Lancaster. Now, if I could only devise some way of getting rid of him...
I miss: my uncle Roger Mortimer of Chirk. That bastard Despenser had him killed in the Tower. Still, at least I got the opportunity to disinherit his son and grandson, and take over his lands myself.
I fear: that the young king will find out what really happened to his father...
I hear: rumours that Lancaster, Kent and Norfolk are planning a rebellion against me. Ha!
I wonder: if that fool Kent will dare to try to rescue his brother, the pathetic ex-king?
I regret: that peace treaty with Scotland. Now everyone will think I'm militarily incompetent.
I am not: going to take any criticism. Whatsoever.
I dance: at my daughters' weddings. I'm marrying them off to all the important earls and peers of the realm, you know. Two of them are getting married today - now, which ones is it again? Catherine? No, she got married last month. Beatrice? Blanche? I'm almost sure Agnes is one of them. Joan! Who's getting married today?
I sing: lovely duets with Queen Isabella, my mistress.
I cry: with laughter every time I think of the younger Despenser dancing on the gallows. And the elder one, come to think of it.
I am not always: going to be merely earl of March.
I made: love with the queen of England all over Paris.
I confuse: my eight daughters. See above.
I need: more lands. What do you mean, I'm worse than the Despensers?
I should: really not stand every time that boy comes into the room. Yes, I know he's the king of England, but he's only fifteen! And ask yourself, who's the real king of England round here?
I start: to imagine the crown of England on my head.
I finish: as king of England? Maybe...who knows? The lives of fifteen-year-olds can be very precarious...

03 June, 2006

Comments on some historical novels

I've been lucky enough to get two new Edward II novels lately, thanks to Susan Higginbotham who kindly sent me photocopies of them. One is The Queen and Mortimer by Brenda Honeyman, which I enjoyed very much and will write about in the near future. The other was The Lord of Misrule by Eve Trevaskis, which both Susan and Sarah Johnson have reviewed recently. It's a refreshingly different look at Piers Gaveston, extremely difficult to find these days and thus hugely expensive. There's one copy available on Amazon UK for 399.81 pounds, and one on Amazon US for 1,009.61 dollars. What a bargain!!

Another novel I picked up lately - and wish I hadn't - is The Wounded Hawk by Sara Douglass. It's a fantasy novel, which is not my genre, but it's set in 14th century England - or a version of it. Richard II and Henry of Bolingbroke - both great-grandsons of Edward II and Isabella - are major characters, although the timeline is historically 'incorrect'. Richard II is murdered in 1380, as an adult - in reality, he was born in 1367 and murdered in 1400 - his friend Robert de Vere is married to 'Philippa Percy' not Philippa de Coucy, the king of France is 'John' and Joan of Arc is active, about half a century before she really was. There are many other differences, which presumably Douglass changed for a reason. Unfortunately, I didn't read enough of the novel to learn why.

I suppose I can't quibble about historical inaccuracies in a novel where Bolingbroke is a shapeshifter, but there was a lot about Wounded Hawk that really disturbed me. There's a particularly nasty scene where Richard and de Vere rape a woman almost to the point of insanity. This vile act is described over a number of pages. De Vere later murders a young prostitute, which is also very graphically described. The violence in the novel is really quite horrific, but perhaps the worst part is the murder of Richard II himself, which is achieved by the 'red-hot poker' method - traditionally associated with his great-grandfather Edward II. [I'm going to write a post on Edward II's 'death' soon....I've just been too lazy to do it yet].

The murder is described in the most excruciating detail, with organs bursting and rupturing and sizzling all over the place, and Richard's suffering lovingly dwelt on. It is absolutely vile - makes me want to throw up just thinking about it. There was a thread on another blog – Carla’s, I think – where we discussed things that would put you off reading any more of an author’s works. That was it for me. No more Sara Douglass, Ever.

Anyway, the main point of this post was to talk about a new novel of Queen Isabella which is due out in November 2006. It's entitled Queen of Shadows: a Novel of Isabella, Wife of Edward II, and the author is a well-known romance writer called Edith Layton. This is her first novel under her real name of Edith Felber. Here's the blurb:

In fourteenth century England, beautiful Queen Isabella – humiliated by her weak, unfaithful husband – is emerging from the shadows to take her revenge. But her newly-arrived, twenty-one-year old Welsh handmaiden, Gwenith de Percy, also seeks vengeance – against the English invaders who crushed her beloved Wales. Isabella’s once-golden marriage is now her penance. Due to his rumoured relations with men, Parliament forced Edward to share his throne – a demeaning arrangement that torments Isabella. With the help of her secret, noble lover, Roger Mortimer – an enemy of her husband, imprisoned in the Tower – the queen plots to take control. Thrilled by this turn of events, Gwenith realises that a king cannot afford to be weak – especially when his formidable, discontented queen seeks his power as her due.

Unfortunately, this sounds as though it's going to be the usual 'same old same old' story of a weak, feeble Edward, but I’m trying not to have too many preconceptions. A novel of Edward and Isabella is always welcome, though I'd love to see one where they're both sympathetic characters. It's difficult to be sure if this blurb is an accurate depiction of the novel, or merely a bad attempt at conveying the events. Some book blurbs are really awful, such as this one from Alison Weir's biography of Isabella: Had it not been for her unfaithfulness, history may have immortalised her as a liberator - the saviour who unshackled England from a weak and vicious monarch and helped put a strong king - her Lover Mortimer - on the throne.
This sounds as though Roger Mortimer became the king of England, which of course he didn't (though he acted like it sometimes!). And why the heck is 'lover' spelt with a capital L?

It’s difficult to know what to make of Queen of Shadows from this. The details chosen are odd – when the blurb writer presumably had only a limited number of words to play with, why choose the detail that the fictitious Gwenith is twenty-one? The idea that Parliament forced Edward to share his throne is odd – I presume that means the earl of Lancaster, but that’s very inaccurate. And it had little to do with Edward’s ‘rumoured relations with men’.

Is Isabella the main character, or this fictitious Gwenith? How does the Welsh lovely get her revenge on the nasty old English? Is this Braveheart set in Wales? Only time will tell. There was another discussion in blogland a while ago, where some of us discussed how much we dislike it when a main character is fictitious, but interacts with real people.

Anyway, roll on November, so I can find out! And roll on 20 July, when this book is finally published. I'm particularly looking forward to numbers 2, 3 and 11!