25 April, 2010

Thomas of Lancaster And His Relationship With Edward II (2)

I'm sure you know what today is: Edward II's 726th birthday. Yes, my favourite king was born in Caernarfon on 25 April 1284. Hearty congratulations, Sire! Today, the second part (here's the first part) of my post about Edward's relationship with his first cousin and greatest enemy, formerly his ally, Earl Thomas of Lancaster. I've figured out that there are going to have to be three parts; there's an awful lot I want to say about these two men.

Edward and Thomas's relationship hit a low point in the summer of 1316: the two men met and had a furious row in York, and although Thomas was chosen as one of the godfathers of Edward and Isabella of France's second son John of Eltham, Thomas's great-nephew, he failed to attend the boy's christening, a gross insult to the king and queen. (I can't help wondering if Edward - criticised then and now for his closeness to his male favourites - felt a tad smug that he had fathered two legitimate sons while Thomas, in his late thirties in 1316 and a man who supposedly "defouled a great multitude of women," had none?) The author of the Flores Historiarum, whom I always think of as Not Edward II's Greatest Fan, claims that Edward armed himself against his cousin and that his fear of Thomas was the reason for his cancellation of the Scottish campaign that was meant to take place that summer. [1] Whether that's true or not, Edward was concerned enough about Thomas's hostility to summon Isabella to him in York after John of Eltham's birth, fearing for her safety. The queen travelled very fast: on 22 September 1316 she was at Buntingford in Hertfordshire, 175 miles from York, and must have been reunited with Edward soon after the 27th, as on that date, the king paid her messenger William Galayn a pound for informing him of her imminent arrival. [2]

In the spring of 1317 came the abduction - or whatever it was - of Thomas of Lancaster's wife Alice de Lacy from Canford in Dorset by household knights of John de Warenne, earl of Surrey. Rightly or wrongly, Thomas blamed Edward II and the three knights then high in the king's favour, Roger Damory, Hugh Audley and William Montacute. Whatever the truth of Thomas's allegations, it seems clear that Damory, Audley and Montacute were doing their best to hinder any reconciliation between the king and the earl, and at a meeting of the king's council at Clarendon in the spring of 1317, the three openly called Thomas a traitor. [3] Thomas sent letters to Edward to say that "he fears the deadly stratagems of certain persons who thrive under the protection of the royal court…they have already carried off the earl’s wife to his disgrace and shame." [4] Thomas asked Edward to expel the earl of Surrey, Damory, Audley and Montacute from court, and demanded "such satisfaction as he can get for the wrong done to him." He wrote to Edward to complain that his companions were "not suitable to stay beside you or in your service…but you have held them dearer than they ever were before...every day you give them of your substance, so that little or nothing remains to you." [5] To be fair, he did have a point: Damory, Audley and Montacute had no intention of allowing Lancaster to reduce their vast influence over Edward and therefore counselled the king to remain hostile to his cousin and "intrigued against the earl as best they could." The Flores calls them "men who stir up discord and many problems for the kingdom daily attending the lord king, continually supporting his arrogance and lawless designs." [6] Pope John XXII tried to heal the breach between the king and his cousin in 1317 and 1318, begging Edward not to allow any "backbiter or malicious flatterer" to bring about disunity between himself and Thomas, and to send away from court those men who offended the earl. The pope also asked Thomas to "separate himself" from those who displeased Edward and to reject "suggestions of whisperers and double-tongued men." [7]

Edward asked his household and friends for advice about his cousin: "You see how the earl of Lancaster has not come to parliament. You see how he scorns to obey our commands. How does it seem to you?" Some replied "Let the king pursue and take his despiser, and when he is taken put him in prison or exile him." Others responded "It is no small matter to take the earl of Lancaster. The Scots will support him, and a great part of Wales; it is better to proceed another way, and treat beforehand of a form of agreement." [8] In the interests of trying to preserve the fragile peace, Edward summoned a council meeting to Westminster for 15 April 1317, inviting Lancaster and his confidant, Sir Robert Holland. However, the two men failed to turn up, and Edward himself arrived three days late, which hardly implies any great enthusiasm on his part to meet his cousin. He did send envoys to Thomas on 21 April and 29 May, probably at the urging of his more moderate counsellors – but to no avail. [9] Edward or his advisers made another attempt to meet and come to terms with Lancaster, and he and members of Edward’s council were summoned to a meeting to begin at Nottingham on 18 July 1317. [10] Roger Damory, Hugh Audley and William Montacute were not summoned, but attended anyway. Edward arrived at Nottingham on 16 July and stayed there for three weeks, but once again, Thomas failed to turn up. On the 21st, Edward sent him a letter, repeating the summons and remonstrating with him for holding private assemblies and for employing an unusual number of armed retainers, "whence the people are considerably frightened." Thomas in turn accused Edward of failing to obey the Ordinances of 1311, as he often did, and of keeping people at court who should have been removed and bestowing lavish gifts on them. [11] He refused to meet Edward unless Damory, Audley, Montacute and the earl of Surrey left court, and Edward refused once again to send them away. It seemed that the two men would never be reconciled. Lancaster spent most of his time at his favourite residence of Pontefract and was by now almost completely isolated politically, but far too powerful for Edward to ignore, thanks to his vast wealth and his five earldoms; "By the size of his patrimony you may assess his influence," comments the Vita Edwardi Secundi.

Edward and Isabella left Nottingham and the failed council meeting on 7 August 1317, and travelled to York. The king was forced to stay as far to the east of Pontefract, Thomas's stronghold, as possible: the most direct route would have taken him right through the town, but Thomas had blocked his way by placing armed guards on the roads and bridges south of York. [12] Edward was, understandably, furious that one of his subjects would dare to impede his progress through his own kingdom, and brought it up four and a half years later as one of the charges against Thomas at his trial. [13] Before Edward’s arrival in York, he did, however, send envoys to Pontefract to negotiate with Thomas, to try to make peace so that the latest planned Scottish campaign could proceed. The envoys included the archbishops of Canterbury and Dublin, five bishops, and the earls of Pembroke and Hereford, their aim to persuade the king and the earl to meet face-to-face and resolve their difficulties; "a love-day without the clash of arms," as the Vita puts it. Unfortunately, Thomas claimed to have heard a rumour that if he came to Edward’s presence, the king would "either have his head or consign him to prison," and, whether that was true or not, refused to meet Edward. Thomas also accused Roger Damory and William Montacute of trying to kill him, and claimed to have intercepted letters from Edward II to Scotland, inviting the Scots to help kill him. [14]

Fortunately, however, at the instigation of two cardinals who had recently arrived in the country – they were with the king at York in September 1318 – a date was finally set for a meeting between Edward and Thomas, although it was postponed. For now, at least, Edward agreed to take no hostile action against Thomas and his adherents, and Thomas agreed to attend the next parliament, due to be held at Lincoln in January 1318. On 26 September 1317, Edward granted a safe-conduct for "our dear and faithful cousin" Thomas, and his adherents, to travel to Lincoln the following January. [15] Finally, Edward dismissed most of his soldiers, Thomas removed his guards from the roads and bridges south of York, and at the beginning of October 1317, Edward left York to return to London. The road through Pontefract was now clear, but instead of doing the sensible thing and ignoring Thomas, Edward took it into his head, despite his promise a few days earlier not to take action against his cousin, to command his men to take up arms and attack him. Apparently one of Edward’s friends – most likely Roger Damory – had persuaded him, in his own selfish interests, that the earl posed a threat to Edward and that he should attack him first. Fortunately for the stability of his kingdom, Edward, who was incapable of distinguishing between good and bad advice and who tended to believe and act on whatever the last person had told him, informed the earl of Pembroke beforehand what he was intending to do. He said "I have been told that the earl of Lancaster is lying in ambush, and is diligently preparing to catch us all by surprise." [16] Pembroke fortunately still retained some influence over the king and managed to convince Edward that this was not in fact the case, and the party returned to London with no further incidents – despite the fact that Thomas did his utmost to make matters worse by leading his men out to the top of the castle ditch and jeering at Edward as he and his retinue travelled past. [17] Edward was naturally incensed at this appalling rudeness, and he was not the kind of man to forgive and forget an insult; in March 1322, it was another of the charges he raised against Thomas at his trial.

In early October 1317, Thomas seized Knaresborough Castle in Yorkshire, which his retainer John Lilburn didn’t surrender to the king until January 1318, and by the beginning of November had also forcibly gained possession of Alton Castle in Staffordshire. Knaresborough had formerly belonged to Piers Gaveston, Alton to Theobald Verdon, but far more importantly as far Thomas was concerned, Roger Damory was the custodian of both. Edward ineffectually sent out orders to various sheriffs to retake the castles and commanded Thomas to "desist completely from these proceedings." Not only did Thomas fail to obey, he "with a multitude of armed men, besieged and captured diverse castles" in Yorkshire which belonged to the earl of Surrey: Sandal, Conisborough and Wakefield. Thomas also ejected Maud Nerford, Surrey's mistress, from her property in Wakefield, and by the beginning of 1318 had taken firm control over Surrey's Yorkshire lands. [18] In an attempt to placate his cousin and persuade him to give the castles back, Edward told him "the king is prepared to do justice in his court concerning the things that the earl has to prosecute" against Edward’s friends, and paid Alexander Bicknor, the English archbishop of Dublin, forty pounds for travelling to Pontefract to talk to Lancaster. [19] The conflict between Surrey and Thomas continued unabated in 1318: Thomas now turned his attention to Surrey’s lands in Shropshire and Wales, and Edward issued an order forbidding "his attempting anything in breach of the king’s peace." In July 1318, Edward summoned a meeting of his great council at Northampton, and he and Isabella left Woodstock to travel there on 27 June, only nine days after she had given birth to their daughter, Eleanor. Thomas of Lancaster did not attend the meeting, and the Vita says that the earl of Surrey, Roger Damory, Hugh Audley, William Montacute and both Hugh Despensers arrived at Northampton "in great strength, so that you would have thought they had not come to parliament, but to battle." The author gives this as the reason for Thomas's non-attendance, as "he counted all the aforenamed as his deadly enemies." [20]

Since April 1318, a group of barons and prelates had been negotiating with the earl of Lancaster, and trying to persuade Edward and his cousin to overcome their hostility to each other. On 8 June, they came to a preliminary agreement: Edward would uphold the hated Ordinances, govern by the counsel of his magnates, and conciliate Thomas, who was threatened with sanctions if he continued to hold armed assemblies. Thomas's violence and lawlessness were thus condoned, as he was too powerful for the king to ignore and his co-operation with Edward was essential if England was ever to find peace. Although Thomas declared that he did not trust Edward’s safe-conducts, he did eventually consent to meet the king, and on 7 August 1318 the two men exchanged the kiss of peace in a field between Loughborough and Leicester. Edward gave his cousin a fine palfrey "in recognition of his great love" of Thomas. (Hmmmm.) A formal agreement, the Treaty of Leake, was signed in the town of Leake near Loughborough two days later. [21]

So by late 1318, the relationship between Edward II and the earl of Lancaster was about as good as anyone could have hoped for, and in September 1319 Thomas actually co-operated with the king and took part in the siege of Berwick. But the actions of Edward's latest and most powerful favourite were soon to cause the relationship to deteriorate once more, and this time, it would result in execution...Coming soon!


1) Flores Historiarum, vol. III, ed H. T. Riley, pp. 176-177.
2) Calendar of Patent Rolls 1313-1317, p. 621; Thomas Stapleton, 'A Brief Summary of the Wardrobe Accounts of the tenth, eleventh, and fourteenth years of King Edward the Second', Archaeologia, 26 (1836), p. 320.
3) Flores, p. 178; J.R.S. Phillips, Aymer de Valence, earl of Pembroke 1307-1324: Baronial Politics in the Reign of Edward II, p. 119.
4) Vita Edwardi Secundi, ed. N. Denholm-Young, p. 80.
5) G.O. Sayles, The Functions of the Medieval Parliament, pp. 336-337.
6) Vita, p. 87; Flores, pp. 176-177.
7) Calendar of Papal Letters 1305-1341, pp. 415, 431, 434, 438-439, 444.
8) Vita, pp. 80-81.
9) Phillips, Valence, pp. 119-120.

10) Calendar of Close Rolls 1313-1318, p. 482; Foedera 1307-1327, p. 335.

11) Gesta Edwardi de Carnarvon Auctore Canonico Bridlingtoniensi, in W. Stubbs, ed., Chronicles of the Reigns of Edward I and Edward II, vol. 2, pp. 50-52; Adae Murimuth Continuatio Chronicarum, ed. E. M. Thompson, pp. 271-276.

12) Phillips, Valence, p. 125.

13) Foedera 1307-1327, p. 479.

14) Vita, p. 81; Phillips, Valence, p. 131; J.R. Maddicott, Thomas of Lancaster 1307-1322: A Study in the Reign of Edward II, p. 224.

15) Foedera 1307-1327, p. 343.

16) Vita, pp. 81-82.

17) Flores, pp. 180-181; Maddicott, Lancaster, p. 210.
18) Calendar of Fine Rolls 1307-1319, pp. 346-347; Foedera 1307-1327, pp. 345-346; Close Rolls 1313-1318, p. 575.
19) Close Rolls 1313-1318, p. 575; Stapleton, 'Brief Summary', p. 332.
20) Vita, p. 87.

21) Foedera 1307-1327, p. 370; Close Rolls 1318-1323, pp.112-114; Maddicott, Lancaster, pp. 213-229; Phillips, Valence, pp. 136-177; R.M. Haines, King Edward II, pp. 109-117.

(I have no idea why Blogger has decided to put random spaces in my notes. Stupid thing.)

19 April, 2010

Thomas Of Lancaster And His Relationship With Edward II (1)

A post about one of the most important men of Edward II's era, the king's first cousin Thomas of Lancaster, earl of Lancaster, Leicester, Derby, Lincoln and Salisbury and steward of England. Because there's just so much one could write about Thomas, this post focuses on things that I personally find interesting about him and his life, and his relationship with Edward II.

Thomas was probably born around 1278 or 1279 - so was about five or six years older than Edward II - as the eldest son of Edmund of Lancaster (1245-1296) and Blanche of Artois (c. 1245/48-1302). Edmund of Lancaster was the younger son of Henry III and Eleanor of Provence and thus the brother of Edward I; Blanche was the niece of Louis IX of France and the widow of Enrique I 'the Fat', king of Navarre and count of Champagne and Brie. By Enrique, Blanche had one surviving child, Jeanne or Juana, queen of Navarre in her own right and queen of France by marriage to Philip IV. Blanche was thus the grandmother of Louis X, Philip V, Charles IV and Edward II's queen Isabella, and was also Edward's aunt by marriage.

When they were growing up, Thomas of Lancaster and his younger brother Henry (born c. 1281, married Maud Chaworth) were nephews of the king of England and brothers-in-law of the king of France, and in adulthood were first cousins of the king of England and (half-) uncles of three kings of France and the queen of England, so were extremely high-born and well-connected. (The fact that Thomas was Isabella of France's uncle has been missed by a surprisingly large number of writers, including a PhD thesis about Isabella and a couple of novelists who have written him as being in love with her.) Thomas and Henry had another brother, John, who spent most of his life in France and died childless in 1317 - Henry inherited his lands, which included Beaufort and ultimately passed to Henry's grandson-in-law John of Gaunt - and a sister, Mary, who died in infancy. Perhaps surprisingly, Thomas of Lancaster's childhood is very obscure; his date of birth can't even be narrowed down to a year, let alone a specific date. His father Earl Edmund died in June 1296 when Thomas was probably about seventeen or eighteen, and his uncle Edward I granted him his lands and earldoms in 1298, although he was still underage. Thomas's paternal grandmother Eleanor of Provence, widow of Henry III and of course also Edward II's grandmother, made him her heir to her claim to her father's county of Provence in May 1286, to revert to his brothers Henry and John if Thomas died childless. [1] Edward II, as heir of their grandmother's sister Sanchia, queen of Germany and countess of Cornwall, tried unsuccesfully to claim a share of Provence from his kinsman Robert, king of Sicily and count of Provence, in 1323; Thomas had also put forward a claim, and was rebuked by Pope John XXII in early 1322 for failing to speak courteously enough of Robert of Sicily. [2]

Edward I arranged a marriage for his nephew in August 1290, when Thomas was about eleven or twelve: the king and Philip IV of France confirmed an agreement that Thomas would marry Beatrice, daughter of Hugh, viscount of Avallon (1260-1288), eldest son of Hugh IV, duke of Burgundy by his second wife Beatrice, sister of King Enrique I of Navarre. [3] Little Beatrice was born in 1281, and the wedding plans fell through when she died suddenly in 1291. The following year, Thomas was betrothed to Alice de Lacy, who inherited the earldom of Lincoln from her father Henry and the earldom of Salisbury from her mother Margaret Longespee, and they married in October 1294 when Alice was twelve going on thirteen and Thomas fifteen or sixteen. Marriage to Beatrice would have provided Thomas with an annual income of £4500; marriage to Alice de Lacy gave him about 10,000 marks (£6666) per annum, and he got two more English earldoms (on top of the three, Lancaster, Leicester and Derby, he inherited from his father) into the bargain. Unfortunately, it proved to be a disastrous, and childless, match, and Alice left Thomas in 1317. Thomas, however, was certainly not bereft of female company and fathered at least two illegitimate sons, Thomas and John: John is mentioned in papal letters and various other sources as a Master of Arts, a 'scholar of theology' and a canon of Lincoln and Uttoxeter, and Thomas was a knight who requested permission in 1354 to become a Friar Minor. It's interesting that Earl Thomas must have fathered John on one of his second cousins, as a papal letter of 1349 describes John as "the son of a a married man and a spinster related in the third degree of kindred." [4] I would speculate that Thomas's unknown mistress must have been illegitimate or descended from an illegitimate line, as Thomas's legitimate second cousins were too high-born to be his mistresses, at least without anyone noticing. John was still alive in 1369, forty-seven years after his father's execution.

Edward of Caernarfon and Thomas of Lancaster were apparently on very good terms before Edward's accession. In 1305, Thomas was forced to apologise to Edward for being unable to come and attend him, as he was ill. Edward wrote back to say that he hoped to visit Thomas soon, "to see and to comfort you." [5] This closeness continued after Edward became king of England in July 1307, a fact missed by many novelists, who assume that the two men were even then at loggerheads and that Thomas was always his cousin's enemy. In fact, Thomas was in almost constant attendance on Edward for the first sixteen months or so of his reign, and he was one of only a handful of men, who included the king's and Thomas's first cousin the earl of Richmond, Hugh Despenser the Elder and his retainer Sir John Haudlo, who remained loyal to Edward II in the spring of 1308 when the majority of the barons were pressing for Piers Gaveston's exile.
In November 1308, however, Thomas appears to have abruptly left court; he witnessed no more charters after this date until March 1310, and the constant flow of grants and favours to him from Edward also ceased. [6] There is no evidence of an argument between the king and his powerful cousin in any chronicle, but for some reason Thomas, who had previously been on amicable terms with Piers Gaveston, became implacably opposed to Piers' return from Ireland, and when Thomas and the earls of Pembroke, Warwick and Hereford visited Edward at Kennington in May 1309, they asked for safe-conducts, which were guaranteed by the earls of Lincoln, Richmond, Gloucester and Arundel - evidence of how little Thomas now trusted the king. [7] The cause of the rift between king and earl remains unknown - the Vita Edwardi Secundi says that "one of his [Thomas's] household had been thrown out of office at Piers' instance," and Andy King plausibly speculates that this is a reference to the Yorkshire knight Gerald Salveyn [8] - but the hostility between the two richest and most powerful men in the country was to dominate English political life until 1322. As Dr King points out, "both men seem to have been particularly stubborn" and a minor disagreement might well have been blown up out of all proportion with neither man prepared to back down and offer an olive branch. Edward II and his cousin seem to have been very similar in a number of ways, neither of them willing to set aside personal likes and dislikes in the interests of policy.

At any rate, Thomas slowly moved into the position of the king's enemy, which he would hold until his death. In February 1311, his father-in-law Henry de Lacy, earl of Lincoln, died, and Thomas inherited his lands by right of his wife Alice. He had to perform homage to Edward II for the lands, but Edward was then on campaign in Scotland. Thomas refused to cross the Tweed to meet the king; Edward refused to return to England. According to the Lanercost chronicle, Thomas threatened to forcibly enter his lands with a hundred knights, at which Edward gave in and met Thomas at Haggerston, on the English side of the river Tweed. Whatever they felt for each other by then, the men at least managed to conceal any hostility and "saluted each other amicably and exchanged frequent kisses." [9] In the autumn of 1311, Thomas was one of the men who forced Edward II to accept the Ordinances, forty-one 'reforms' which severely limited the king's powers. The twentieth Ordinance mandated the third, and perpetual, exile of Piers Gaveston; Edward promised to abide by all the others if only the Ordainers would revoke that one, saying "Whatever has been ordained or decided upon, however much they may redound to my private disadvantage, shall be established at your request and remain in force for ever. But you shall stop persecuting my brother Piers, and allow him to have the earldom of Cornwall." [10] They refused.

Furious and bereft as Edward II certainly was, he kept his feelings under wraps in public and wrote courteously to Thomas's closest adherent Sir Robert Holland on 20 November 1311, just weeks after Piers Gaveston's departure: "We are very joyous and pleased about the good news we have heard concerning the improvement in our dear cousin and faithful subject Thomas, earl of Lancaster, and that he will soon be able to ride in comfort. And we send you word and dearly pray that, as soon as he is comfortable and able to ride without hurt to his body, you should ask him to be so good as to hasten to us at our parliament." [11] Thomas does seem to have been prone to illness, such as the occasion in 1305 when he was unable to travel to Edward, though what this was remains a mystery, and to judge by Edward's letter it sounds as though it may have been some kind of physical disability.

In June 1314, Thomas refused to accompany his cousin to Scotland for the Bannockburn campaign, and sent only four knights and four men-at-armsto fulfil his feudal obligations. Edward's defeat to Robert Bruce put him at Thomas's mercy, and for the next few years the men were joint rulers of England - or, Edward was king in name and Thomas in reality. At a time when England and Wales were suffering from famine, Robert Bruce's brother Edward was invading Ireland and Bruce himself the north of England, and Edward II's subjects were crying out for strong leadership, he and Thomas did their best to thwart each other and were incapable of working together: "Whatever pleases the lord king, the earl’s servants try to upset; and whatever pleases the earl, the king’s servants call treachery…and their lords, by whom the land ought to be defended, are not allowed to rest in harmony." [12]

The Lincoln parliament of early 1316 - at which Thomas of Lancaster finally deigned to show up more than two weeks late - requested of the king’s "dear cousin" that "he might be pleased to be chief of his council, in all the great or weighty matters concerning him [Edward] and his realm," and Thomas, "for the great love which he bears towards his said lord the king," graciously agreed. [13] In fact, Thomas thereafter took little part in government, preferring to stay at his favourite residence of Pontefract, where Edward and his council were forced to communicate and negotiate with him as though he were an independent potentate, or another king. [14] Why Thomas behaved like this is a mystery; perhaps his illness or physical disability prevented him taking a more active role. Edward and Thomas met in York in the summer of 1316 and had a furious row, apparently over Edward's ongoing reluctance to accept the Ordinances, to which Thomas - who saw himself as a second Simon de Montfort - was devoted.

As bad as Edward II and Thomas of Lancaster's relationship had become, it was set to deteriorate even further as the king's new court favourites did their best to hinder a reconciliation - second part of the post coming soon!


1) Calendar of Patent Rolls 1281-1292, p. 243.
2) Calendar of Papal Letters 1305-1341, p. 447.
3) Patent Rolls 1281-1292, p. 382.
4) Papal Letters 1342-1362, pp. 346, 357, 543, 545; Douglas Richardson, Plantagenet Ancestry.
5) Hilda Johnstone, ed., Letters of Edward, Prince of Wales 1304-5, p. 122.
6) J.R. Maddicott, Thomas of Lancaster 1307-1322: A Study in the Reign of Edward II, pp. 92-93.
7) Foedera 1307-1327, p. 75.
8) Vita Edwardi Secundi, ed. Noel Denholm-Young, p. 8; Andy King, ‘Thomas of Lancaster’s First Quarrel with Edward II’, in Fourteenth-Century England III, ed. Mark Ormrod.
9) The Chronicle of Lanercost 1272-1346, ed. Herbert Maxwell, p. 192.
10) Vita, pp. 17-20.
11) G.O. Sayles, The Functions of the Medieval Parliament, p. 302.
12) Vita, pp. 75-76.
13) Parliament Rolls of Medieval England, ed. Chris Given-Wilson et al.
14) May McKisack, The Fourteenth Century 1307-1399, p. 47.

13 April, 2010


I'm afraid I don't have a proper blog post to put up yet - the next one will probably, or possibly, be about Edward II's complex relationship with his cousin and enemy Thomas of Lancaster, whenever I get round to writing it - because I've been distracted by reading Seymour Phillips' new biography of Edward, which came out a few days ago. It's a huge, yummy door-stopper of a book, in which "a richer picture emerges, in line with the complexity of events and of the man himself. If Edward II was not a successful king, he was not fundamentally different in many ways from most English monarchs."

I find it pretty gratifying that there's very little about Edward in the book which I don't already know, though I was delighted to see that Professor Phillips has found some new information about the king's mysterious illegitimate son Adam which Professor Blackley back in the 1960s missed, and has demonstrated that Adam did indeed die during the Scottish campaign in the autumn of 1322, as has long been suspected. Adam, who was probably aged somewhere between fifteen and seventeen, was buried in the conventual church of Tynemouth Priory on 30 September 1322, and a silk cloth with gold thread was laid over his body. Professor Phillips also cites a letter sent by an unknown writer that summer which appears to refer to Adam, saying that Edward II has ordered 'the king's son' to join him in York. (Still no known references to the lad before 1322. Puzzling.) As Professor Phillips points out, this might mean Edward's elder legitimate son Edward of Windsor, but young Edward wasn't yet ten and although he was officially summoned to join the army whether he actually went is debatable, and the letter doesn't refer to 'the earl of Chester', Edward's title. The letter also says that "all good qualities and honour are increasing in him," i.e. the king's son. Such a shame that Adam's promising life was cut short, probably by the disease which swept through Edward's army; it would have been fascinating to see what became of him as he grew older. Edward wasn't at Tynemouth on 30 September, unfortunately, having moved on to Barnard Castle, but Isabella of France may have been.

Another post coming soon(ish), and in the meantime, don't forget to drop by and visit my friends Anerje and Edward II's brother-in-law Louis X. Talking of Anerje, I'm currently deep in the grip of an infatuation with the scrummy actor Ben Barnes, which is thanks to her telling me that she thinks Ben, in his role as Prince Caspian in the Chronicles of Narnia, looks just like she pictures a young Piers Gaveston. See this pic especially; I caught myself thinking the other day "Sheesh, no wonder Edward loved Piers so much when he looked like that." (Ben looks very young in that pic but is actually in his late twenties.) And check out my Edward II fan page on Facebook, which I'm pretty sure should be visible even if you're not a member there. Edward currently has 171 fans, and it's a rare day that one or two more don't join. By way of comparison, his son Edward III has two fan pages I know of, which currently have 12 and 104 fans, Henry II has 215 (but the page has been up since 2008 and I only set up Edward's a few weeks ago), Henry VI has 14 and Richard III has 746 on one page, 576 on another and 37 on a page called Richard III is Innocent. So Edward's not doing too badly at all! :-)

06 April, 2010

Saint Isabella The Avenging Angel And The Horrid Husband From Hell

By popular request, here's another snarky, a tad ranty and extremely long, oops, post on the same lines as the last one. (Thank you to Rachel and Anerje for their contributions here.) So...if you want to write a novel about Edward II and Isabella of France, or even just write an online article about them or a review of a book which features them, then please take note of the following points:

- It is an article of faith that anything even slightly negative ever written about Isabella, either in her own time or in the twentieth and twenty-first centuries, cannot be trusted or taken seriously because it was written by men. Bonus points for describing medieval chroniclers and modern male historians as 'misogynists' and Isabella as 'wronged'. According to this theory, Isabella never did the slightest thing wrong except commit adultery and find Twu Wuv 4Ever with that audacious studmuffinage* the Manly Mortimer, which by modern standards is cool and sexy and makes her a feminist heroine, and is the only reason why monkish chroniclers and male historians with their sexual prejudices were/are nasty about her. Not because she ever actually did anything wrong. Of course she didn't; only a misogynist with sexual prejudices could think otherwise. [* Rachel's expression, from the comment thread of my last post, which is so brilliant I just had to get it in here.]

- It is also an article of faith that everything negative ever written about Edward II at any point during the last 700 years is completely 100% true and accurate and must go into your novel, even when it can actually be proved not to be true. After all, Edward callously abandoning his weeping pregnant wife to the mercy of the earl of Lancaster (who of course was not in any way her uncle) and the Scots in 1312 makes a much better and more dramatic story than "Sweetheart, I don't want to take the risk that you might miscarry in this small boat that Piers and I are going to sail in on the rough North Sea for five days, so you go to York by land and I'll meet you there in a few days, and here's the money for your travel expenses." A scene where Piers Gaveston flaunts himself in front of his lover's wife wearing her own jewels is far more compelling than the reality of "Dearest Perrot, please store the enclosed jewels and wedding gifts safely in the Tower for me. All my love and can't wait to see you again soon, Ned xoxoxo."

- You should whine as often as possible about poor Isabella being a 'mere pawn' in the hands of powerful men used at a tender age to cement an alliance between countries, as though all other royal women of the Middle Ages married someone of their own choice for love when they were adults. (Edward II himself didn't have the slightest say in who he married either, of course, but it's only ever royal and noble women who are described as 'pawns' or 'chattels' when it comes to arranged marriages.) Why people think that someone like Isabella, daughter of the king of France and the queen of Navarre and a woman with a powerful sense of her own royalty, would ever have wanted to marry anyone except a man who was as royal as she herself was, I can't imagine, but this whole 'pawn' nonsense is a typical example of the unwillingness or refusal these days to see Isabella in the context of her own times and to write her as though she was a time traveller from the twenty-first century with modern notions of sexual equality, marrying for love and having the right to an awesome sex life.

- On the other hand, when Isabella arranges the marriage of her seven-year-old daughter Joan of the Tower to the future David II of Scotland in 1328, Joan is somehow not a 'mere pawn' cementing an alliance at a tender age between two countries but proof of her mother's amazing political astuteness and foresight (see also below). Joan of the Tower's marriage was, historically, a deeply unhappy one; her husband David took many mistresses, one of whom was murdered in 1360 by "certain great men of Scotland" angry at her excessive influence over the king and his infatuation with her - hmmm, does that remind you of anyone? - and eventually Joan returned to England. No-one ever beats their chests, gnashes their teeth and wails about poor little Joan's neglect and mistreatment at her husband's hands the way they do about Isabella's, however, because David's lovers were women and therefore they don't count.

- Isabella was described by various fourteenth-century chroniclers as beautiful and of course everyone knows that she was incredibly, awesomely speshul, which means that her supposed marital suffering is infinitely worse than that of women unfortunate enough to be plain and ordinary. Her daughter Queen Joan was not physically described by any fourteenth-century chroniclers, so modern writers have no idea if she was beautiful or not - though as she was the child of two very good-looking people, I'd say it's pretty likely that she was - and therefore she was considerably less speshul than her mother, another reason why her husband's philandering isn't seen as important.

- Isabella's story has to be forced to fit the popular modern narrative of The Gutsy Victim Survives Adversity And Strikes Back, wherein our brave heroine overcomes some hideous problem like extreme poverty, drug addiction, physical abuse or, in Isabella's case, the appalling suffering inflicted on her by The Most Horrid Cruel Abusive Neglectful Husband In All Recorded History Otherwise Known As King Edward II, and, with the healing power of the Twu Wuv 4Ever she has so fortuitously found with her gorgeous virile stud-muffin boyfriend, becomes a stronger, better and healthier person and/or avenges herself on her abuser. Exaggerate Isabella's 'suffering' as much as you can and ignore all her flaws and the mistakes she made after 1326 because this narrative requires a happy ending, which in this instance means Isabella destroying The Nasty Despensers and the horrid neglectful husband who so singularly failed to appreciate her amazing speshulness, and being incredibly happy and madly in lurrrve with the Manly *coughmarriedcough* Mortimer. The fact that Isabella's story does not actually fit this modern pattern at all is completely irrelevant. (See Susan Higginbotham's excellent post from a while ago, and the comments.)

- When you write the scene of Isabella first seeing her husband in 1308, you must make Edward the epitome of handsome virile manly stud-muffinly goodness. As soon as she learns, however, that he loves Piers Gaveston and that he doesn't, for some odd and completely unacccountable reason, want to jump into the nearest bed with her twelve-year-old self, he immediately becomes weak and womanish.

- You should write Isabella as rebelling against her husband in 1325/27 out of concern for her son's inheritance because Edward II is destroying it, because of course this makes a far more attractive and sympathetic motive than self-interest. This means you will have to ignore the rather inconvenient fact that Isabella herself did a great deal to diminish her son's inheritance by a) signing away most of Gascony to her brother Charles IV in 1327, b) signing away all her son's claims to Scotland in 1328, and c) bankrupting his kingdom by leaving at the time of her downfall in 1330 the not entirely enormous sum of forty-one pounds (yes, 41 pounds!) out of the £60,000 which Edward II had left in his treasury four years before, which doesn't even include the £20,000 given to England in 1328 by Robert Bruce, a few more thousand from the forfeitures of the Despensers and the earl of Arundel, and loans of many thousands more to Isabella and Roger Mortimer from Italian bankers. Also, none of Isabella's actions between 1327 and 1330 indicate that she ever put her son's needs above her own and Mortimer's, and she tolerated Mortimer's disrespectful and discourteous treatment of the young king.

- The fact that Isabella granted herself in early 1327 the largest income that anyone (except kings) received in England during the entire Middle Ages, nearly three times higher than her previous income, over twenty percent more than her enormously, fantastically wealthy uncle Thomas of Lancaster received from his five earldoms, and a third of the entire annual royal revenue, has nothing at all to do with greed but is an entirely justifiable reaction by an amazingly beautiful and speshul royal lady to the terrible, dreadful, unprecedentedly awful and appalling suffering which The Most Horrid Cruel Abusive Neglectful Husband In All Recorded History subjected her to.

- Edward's confiscation of Isabella's lands in September 1324 when he was at war with her brother Charles IV of France is a brilliant opportunity in your novel for lots of pathos and making sure that your reader is 1000% convinced that Isabella is indeed a Tragic Suffering (But Gutsy) Victim. Ignore the fact that Edward granted her an income of over seven pounds a day* for herself and her household - in 1314, the earl of Lancaster reduced Edward's own income to ten pounds a day for a household more than twice the size of Isabella's, and Edward's father in 1305 had reduced his income to a mere five pounds a day - and that he had for the last sixteen years of their marriage paid all her expenses and allowed her to overspend by £10,000 a year. Make out instead that Isabella has to dress in rags and is so impoverished that she might as well go out begging on the street to feed herself and her servants. Also ignore the fact that Our Tragic Suffering Victim was perfectly happy to keep her son Edward III humiliatingly short of money between 1327 and 1330 while she and Mortimer gorged themselves with it. [* Not a pound a day, as some chroniclers thought and some commentators continue to claim.]

- A scene or several where Edward and Hugh Despenser stupidly underestimate Isabella in 1325 and fall into her and Roger Mortimer's oh-so-cunning and clever trap by sending Edward of Windsor to France are compulsory. (Never mind that they didn't.)

- Double standards must abound in your Edward II and Isabella novel, especially relating to sexuality, and here's another exciting opportunity to use them: attitudes to peace treaties with Scotland. Edward II signed a thirteen-year treaty with Robert Bruce in 1323, though continued to refuse to acknowledge Bruce as king or to give up his claims to be overlord of Scotland, which in your novel must make him an incompetent snivelling coward and a betrayer of his brave warrior father's legacy. Isabella and Roger Mortimer signed a permanent peace treaty with Bruce in 1328 in exchange for £20,000, acknowledged him as king and arranged the marriage of her daughter Joan to Bruce's son, which gives you a chance to write Isabella as enlightened, psychically aware of the later existence of the United Kingdom, and a holder of 'War Is Teh Evil!' attitudes 600 years before anyone else.

- Isabella and Mortimer's treaty with Scotland as related in your novel has, of course, nothing at all to do with the fact that Bruce's army invaded the north of England in 1327 and the Mortimer-led campaign against them was a complete disaster which nearly got Edward III captured, and that it thereafter dawned on Mortimer and Isabella that by signing a peace treaty they could a) avoid the expense of future campaigns, b) avoid the humiliation of Mortimer being no more able to defeat Robert Bruce and his allies than That Useless Edward II had been, and c) get pot-loads of money from Bruce which they could keep for themselves rather than pay into her son's treasury. Noooo, of course not. Only a complete cynic not overwhelmed, as any right-thinking person should be, by the amazing romantic wonderful speshulness of Isabella and Mortimer's relationship could think such a thing. And accusing Edward II at his deposition in January 1327 of 'losing Scotland' and then giving up all English claims to the country less than two years later? Not in the least bit hypocritical at all.

- Always judge Edward II by fourteenth-century standards, but Isabella by modern ones. So, for example, the fact that Edward loves men should be written as revolting, perverted, unnatural and sinful, but Isabella's adultery is romantic, sweet, wonderful and entirely forgivable because of her husband's cruel heartless neglect of her and his failure to appreciate her beauty and amazing speshulness.

- Edward II being dominated by his lovers makes him weak, feeble and unmanly, and you should call Piers Gaveston and Hugh Despenser his "puppetmasters" or similar. For Isabella to be dominated by the Manly Mortimer, however, is sweet and romantic, and yes, you are saying here that it's OK for a woman but not for a man to be dominated by a lover. Accuse male historians and medieval chroniclers of 'misogyny' and sexual double standards while being totally oblivious to your own blatant sexual double standards, then declare that Isabella couldn't help making mistakes and doing things wrong, the poor lamb, because she was so terribly in love with and so infatuated with Mortimer - an attitude which is at least as paternalistic and patronising as the attitudes you're criticising. (In point of fact, it's remarkable how few fourteenth-century chroniclers condemned Isabella for adultery, and most of them weren't even sure what kind of relationship she had with Mortimer anyway, one saying that he was her "chief adviser" and another merely that he was "of her faction." They criticised her, perfectly reasonably, for her and Mortimer's incredible greed during their regency and for running her son's kingdom into the ground. But don't let that stand in the way of a good rant about misogyny and the horrid unfairness of men presuming to judge women's sexuality.)

-Further to the rule in my previous post that Isabella abhors her husband's imprisonment of women and children and that you therefore must not mention her own imprisonment of eighteen children at Chester Castle in 1327, you must not mention her forced veiling of three of Hugh Despenser the Younger's daughters five weeks after their father's execution either. Just say that the girls "became nuns," thus implying that it was their own or their family's choice. Remember that Saint Isabella The Avenging Angel is a strong empowered righteous feminist heroine setting her own and the English people's wrongs to rights, and cannot be seen to take any actions which a reader might consider morally dubious or less than 100% nice and pleasant. (Same applies to the judicial murder of the earl of Kent in 1330, the murder of Edward II, if you choose to go down the route of having him murdered in your novel, and anything else you might deem less than perfect, such as spending every penny in the treasury and then some; these are entirely the fault of the ever-useful scapegoat Roger Mortimer. On the other hand, Isabella is solely responsible for any action the author approves of.)

- From an online review of a book about Edward II and Isabella: "Brought to England at the tender age of 12 to be the bride of Edward II, as a mere pawn in cementing the political alliance between France and England, Isabella was certainly neglected horribly and ill treated by Edward II and his homosexual lovers."

Hmmm, let's change that to feature their daughter Joan, queen of Scotland, shall we, in a statement which would be equally factually correct? "Brought to Scotland at the tender age of 7 to be the bride of David II, as a mere pawn in cementing the political alliance between Scotland and England, Joan was certainly neglected horribly and ill treated by David II and his heterosexual lovers." When we get to a day when someone would actually write something like that, then maybe I'll believe there are no double standards regarding sexuality. In fact, when people ever bewail Queen Joan's unhappy marriage in books and online articles even a fraction as often as they do her mother's, then maybe I'll believe there are no double standards regarding sexuality.

- From another online book review: "Certainly, the story of Isabella and Edward has to be seen as one of the most tragic relationships in English history. Think of the twelve year old girl making her way from France to England. What does she expect? A great and loving husband who would prove himself to be a great king. What did she get? A man who was very much in love with his male favorites, hostile to women, and an idoit [sic] of a king. Tough break from [sic] Isabella. And take the revenge of Edward's favorites against her. First Gaveston, and then Despenser. It is no wonder that she got rid of her husband."

Quite why any royal person of the Middle Ages would have expected a loving husband or wife - they may well have hoped for one, but that's not at all the same thing - I can't imagine, and this statement betrays a lack of understanding of the nature of medieval royal marriage. This lack of awareness that societal and familial norms were different 700 years ago is so all-encompassing when it comes to Edward II and Isabella that it almost seems wilful. The bit about Edward being "hostile to women" is completely untrue and ridiculous; Edward's household accounts demonstrate that he enjoyed the company of women, if perhaps not as much as he enjoyed the company of men. (And so? Does that automatically make him 'hostile' to the female half of the population, or is this just some lame notion that gay men must hate women?) What Piers Gaveston's 'revenge against' Isabella is meant to have been, I have absolutely no idea. And seriously, their marriage was "one of the most tragic relationships in English history"? The mind boggles.

Anyway, let's change the above quote to feature Joan of the Tower and David II: "Certainly, the story of Joan and David has to be seen as one of the most tragic relationships in Scottish history. Think of the seven year old girl making her way from England to Scotland. What does she expect? A great and loving husband who would prove himself to be a great king. What did she get? A man who was very much in love with his female favorites, and an idiot of a king. Tough break for Joan." David II was no more competent than Edward II, and ended up being captured in battle in 1346 and held in custody for eleven years by his brother-in-law Edward III. The amount of hostility aimed at Edward II seems to me to be completely excessive; he's been described in print as "a coward and a trifler," "a weakling and a fool," "a scatter-brained wastrel," "brutal and brainless...incompetent, idle, frivolous and incurious," "a greater ninny never sat on the English throne," and worst of all, "worthy never to have been born." (I think frankly that's an evil thing to say.) Yes, Edward was incompetent and he was deposed for it, but so were other kings, who don't get even a fraction of the abuse thrown at them that Edward does.

I laughed out loud to see that the person who wrote the above review, wailing and gnashing his teeth over Poor Neglected Isabella and her deeply tragic relationship with her horrid neglectful cruel gay husband, has also written a review of a book about Katherine Swynford, long-term mistress and later the third wife of Edward and Isabella's grandson, in which he writes that Swynford "is a very unknown figure of fourteenth century England. But her career is famous. She was the wife of a knight of John of Gaunt, then Gaunt's mistress, and then, amazingly, John's wife and the Duchess of Lancaster. A really fantastic life if you ask me...Katherine's story was a great triumph for a woman of that time. First a wife of a middle class knight, to hated mistress of the Duke of Lancaster, and then to become his wife as well as his Duchess. Incredible story of love, passion, desire, and heroines in medieval England. A compelling read I assure you."

I can't help but notice the lack of any sympathy for or even a passing mention of Constanza, duchess of Lancaster and rightful queen of Castile in her own right, who just happened to be John of Gaunt's wife for almost the entire period that this "incredible story of love, passion, desire, and heroines" was going on. And a woman who has a long-term affair with a married man is a 'heroine' now, is she? In the Support Group for Tragic Queens, Rachel wrote about Katherine Swynford, Isabella of France and Mary Boleyn holding a workshop called Female Empowerment Through Shagging Married Men, and now it seems that the notion is actually being taken seriously. Interestingly, the review doesn't contain the comment "Certainly, the story of Constanza and John has to be seen as one of the most tragic relationships in English history. Think of the seventeen year old girl making her way from Castile to England. What does she expect? A great and loving husband who would prove himself to be a great king. What did she get? A man who was very much in love with his female favourite, hostile to Castilian women, and an idiot of a king." (Seeing as Gaunt called himself king of Castile for many years but never actually managed to make himself king of Castile, that's a reasonable enough comment, no?)

Equally we never get, regarding Roger Mortimer and his wife Joan de Geneville: "Certainly, the story of Joan and Roger has to be seen as one of the most tragic relationships in English history. Think of the woman who supported her husband faithfully for many years and bore him a dozen children. What was her reward? She and three of her sons were imprisoned for more than four years after he rebelled against the king, and three of her daughters were also imprisoned after he fled to the Continent and left his family at the king's mercy. She was then shunted aside and ignored for years on end while he flaunted his relationship with his female favourite."

Is it just me and Rachel who find these double standards absolutely incredible? Isabella of France and Constanza of Castile were very similar: daughters of kings, married at a young age to a powerful man, the king of England or his son, who arrived in England to find that their husband was in love with someone else. This 'someone else' is if female a great romantic figure, but if male, well, not a great romantic figure at all. Let's change the above quote: "Piers Gaveston is an unknown figure of fourteenth-century England. But his career is famous. He was the husband of the king of England's niece, and, amazingly, the king's lover and the earl of Cornwall. A really fantastic life if you ask me...Piers' story was a great triumph for a man of that time...Incredible story of love, passion, desire, and heroes in medieval England." Well, Piers, hot sexy Piers, is my hero anyway, and maybe I really should start calling his relationship with Edward an "incredible story of love, passion, desire, and heroes in medieval England."

- From another online review: "The author quotes from documents such as those at the time which justly condemn Edward II such as the observation by Adam Murimuth that "Edward loved and [sic] evil male sorcerer more than he did his wife, a most handsome lady and a very beautiful woman". Maybe Edward was not judged harshly enough for that!"

Yes, let's harshly judge and condemn Edward II for the heinous crimes of loving a man (the "evil male sorcerer" means Piers Gaveston) and not madly adoring the woman he had to marry for political reasons just because she was beautiful. Oddly enough, nowhere does the reviewer say that we should harshly condemn Roger Mortimer for loving Isabella, assuming he did, while he was married to someone else. A simple oversight, I'm sure.

- And from another review: "...considering the grotesque travesty that Queen Isabella, from the age of 12 onward, had to endure from her "husband"..." How about we change that one to "...considering the grotesque travesty that Joan de Geneville, from 1326 onward, had to endure from her "husband"..."

A friend of mine on Facebook, where we were talking about this, made the point that there is no Hollywood film featuring the unhappy marriage of, say, Joan of the Tower and David II, whereas Braveheart has gone a very long way to popularising the (incorrect) notion that Edward II and Isabella had a disastrous marriage from beginning to end, not to mention the spectacularly silly notion that Edward didn't father Edward III. Likewise, a romance novel of the 1950s which is still extremely popular today, where John of Gaunt and Katherine Swynford are the gorgeous and oh-so-in-love hero and heroine and poor Constanza of Castile a background figure who is - poor maligned lady! - smelly because she never washes, has gone a long way to popularising a very romanticised view of Gaunt and Swynford. It's interesting to see how popular culture affects the way we see historical people, such as the bestselling novel and film which have had a major impact on the way many people view Anne Boleyn and her family, and I could write an entire blog post about that. (Also about the way people's reputations swing from one extreme to another over time, Richard III being a prime example, or Isabella, all the way from She-Wolf Of France to Saint Isabella Of Feminism.) There are two biographies of Katherine Swynford, two of Mary Boleyn and countless biographies of other royal mistresses in history - and my goodness, royal mistresses are amazingly popular these days, aren't they - but Edward II's relationships with men are not viewed in this same forgiving romantic light, not even close, and instead we get this endless whining about Poor Neglected Isabella. When I see numerous books, articles and reviews written from the perspective of the queens or noblewomen whose husbands cheated on them with women, condemning the ladies' 'horrible neglect' and describing their marriages as a 'grotesque travesty' rather than making mistresses out to be glamorous, fascinating and sexy, then maybe I'll believe there are no double standards regarding sexuality.

I have to quote part of Rachel's awesome response to the 'tragic relationship' review above: "As for the wailing and gnashing of teeth over poor Isabella being married to Nasty Geigh Edward, let's reverse the situation, shall we? Think of the twenty-four-year-old man, very much in love with someone whom he can't live with because society condemns such relationships (to the extent that people who acted on their attraction for a member of their own sex risked death), forced to marry a pre-pubescent whom he's never met before, for political and dynastic reasons, and then centuries later he's STILL mocked for not immediately falling head over heels for and wanting to leap into the nearest bed with a *twelve* year old."

And regarding the statement that Edward and Isabella's marriage was one of the most tragic relationships in English history, Rachel says "I suspect Katharine of Aragon (discarded after 20 years of marriage and her beloved daughter declared illegitimate), Anne Boleyn (executed on spurious grounds, with HER beloved daughter also declared illegitimate), Arbella Stuart (locked in the Tower by her cousin James I for having the gall to want to marry someone she loved), Berengaria of Navarre (hardly ever SAW her husband - how's that for neglect!), or if we head to the Continent, Catherine de' Medici (humiliated by her new husband, Henri II, who flaunted Diane de Poitiers in front of her and treated her as though she was the real Queen of France), Juana of Castile (shafted by her husband AND father when she tried to claim her birthright), and many other princesses, queens and noblewomen throughout history who were forced to marry men who were violent, abusive, repeatedly unfaithful or just plain hideous, and put up with it, might have something to say about that."

Great examples, and here are some more. Let's think for a moment about Edward II's mother Eleanor of Castile, who married the future Edward I in November 1254 around the time of her thirteenth birthday (he was fifteen). Assuming that she was ready to consummate her marriage a year or two later, so in 1256 or thereabouts, it's odd that her first child wasn't born until about 1262 or perhaps even later. Eleanor was thus at least twenty when she first gave birth, a pretty advanced age by contemporary standards, and given the large number of children she eventually bore, it seems unlikely that her fertility was the issue. So why did it take her so long to become pregnant? Could it be because her husband wasn't sleeping with her and spending much time with her? Seems possible. But have you ever seen Edward I criticised for being a neglectful husband in the early years of his marriage, or Eleanor pitied for being ignored and 'horribly neglected', or described as a 'mere pawn' used at a tender age to cement an alliance between Castile and England? I never have. Edward II's sister Margaret married the future Duke Jan II of Brabant in July 1290 when she was fifteen and he nearly fifteen, but their only child wasn't born until late 1300, ten years later - although Jan didn't deprive himself of female company and fathered four illegitimate sons (brilliantly all called Jan) and an illegitimate daughter. Ever seen Duchess Margaret pitied for her cheating and neglectful husband? Nope, me neither. I still see people commenting on the 'very long' gap between Edward II and Isabella's marriage and the birth of their first child. Given that Isabella was only twelve at marriage, it wasn't a long gap, and as Edward had already fathered an illegitimate son, his relationship with Piers Gaveston is most unlikely to have been the issue.

Let's take a look at some other royal women of the late thirteenth and fourteenth centuries and their marriages. Edward II and Isabella's elder daughter Eleanor of Woodstock, married at the beginning of her teens to a widower twenty-five or thirty years her senior who grew tired of her and tried to repudiate her on the grounds that she had leprosy. Violante of Aragon, married to Edward II's uncle Alfonso X of Castile and so badly treated by her husband that she fled back to Aragon and the protection of her brother Pedro III. Maria of Portugal, married in 1328 to Alfonso XI of Castile who flaunted his passion for his mistress Leonor de Guzman, had ten children with her and allowed her far more power and influence at court than he allowed his abandoned wife. (Maria's father Afonso IV of Portugal invaded Castile to avenge the insult to his daughter; her sixteen-year-old son Pedro the Cruel had Guzman murdered soon after his father's death.) Isabella of France's first cousin Marie of Evreux, whose husband Duke Jan III of Brabant, Edward II's nephew, had something like twenty illegitimate children. Henry of Grosmont's daughter Maud, married to the insane William of Wittelsbach. Henry of Grosmont's wife Isabella Beaumont, forced to tolerate her husband's numerous infidelities with lowborn women, and his cheerfully publicising them in the religious treatise in which he failed to mention her even once. Edward II's niece Alice of Norfolk, beaten up so badly by her husband Edward Montacute that she died of her injuries. Alice's sister Margaret, whose unhappy marriage to John Segrave ended in formal separation in 1344. Isabel Despenser, Edward II's great-niece, whose marriage to the earl of Arundel was annulled and her son bastardised. Margaret Audley, another of Edward's great-nieces, and Alice de Lacy, both abducted from their homes, raped and forced into marriage. Possibly the worst of all, fourteen-year-old Blanche of Bourbon, who married King Pedro the Cruel in 1353, was imprisoned within days of the wedding while Pedro went off with his mistress Maria de Padilla (Constanza of Castile's mother), was held in solitary confinement for eight years then mysteriously died, almost certainly murdered, still only twenty-two and the queen of Castile her subjects never even saw. I'm sure you can think of other examples, and these are all just women more or less contemporary with Edward and Isabella that I thought of off the top of my head. But in Edward II And Isabella Of France Bizarro Fantasy World, none of what I've mentioned here comes even close to the cruelty, neglect and appalling suffering that numerous novelists and commentators claim Edward piled on his poor little tragic queen.