20 December, 2015

Merry Christmas 2015!

A very merry Christmas and a happy New Year to all my readers! The blog will be on a break until 6 January 2016 or shortly afterwards.

14 December, 2015

Isabella of France: The Rebel Queen

I'm delighted to announce that my second book Isabella of France: The Rebel Queen is now available for pre-order! It will be published on 15 March 2016 in Europe, 19 May in the US.

Here are the links:

Amazon UK

Amazon US

Book Depository

If you're on Goodreads, it's listed there now too.

I'm also pleased to announce that the two winners of a signed copy of my book Edward II: The Unconventional King in paperback are: Jo Welsh and Lisa Johnson! Congratulations to both, and thank you to all of you who entered the competition!

10 December, 2015

The Fieschi Letter, Edward II's Movements in 1326, and Manuele Fieschi

Probably in the late 1330s, a papal notary named Manuele Fieschi, who was appointed bishop of Vercelli in 1343, wrote a letter to Edward III explaining how his father Edward II had escaped from Berkeley Castle in September 1327.  Edward, the letter explains, went to Corfe Castle in Dorset until he heard that his half-brother the earl of Kent had been executed (on 19 March 1330) for attempting to free him from there.  The former king subsequently went to Ireland until the execution of Roger Mortimer (on 29 November 1330), then travelled through France to Avignon to spend time with Pope John XXII and ultimately, after passing through Paris, Brabant, Cologne and Milan, ended up at the hermitage of Sant'Alberto di Butrio in Lombardy, northern Italy.  He met Manuele Fieschi and told him his story (to what purpose, and why he trusted him enough to reveal his real identity, is one of the many questions raised by the letter).  You can see the Latin original text of the letter and the English translation on the Auramala Project website; please take the time to have a look.  There are numerous other posts about the letter on their site.

Much has been written about the Fieschi Letter; see for example Ian Mortimer's Medieval Intrigue, Edward III: The Perfect King and The Greatest Traitor; Seymour Phillips' Edward II; and Roy Martin Haines' King Edward II and Death of a King.  In this post I just want to express some of my (possibly random and disjointed) thoughts on the letter.  It ended up in a French archive, where it was discovered in the late 1870s; for a plausible reason how this may have come about, see here on the Auramala Project page (they have a few other posts on this subject too).  Some people assume the letter must be a later fake, but there are really no grounds for believing this.  Edward II's academic biographer Seymour Phillips does not believe that Edward survived past 1327, but is sure of the authenticity of the Fieschi Letter and that it is a genuine fourteenth-century document.

The Fieschi Letter refers to the man Manuele met and spoke to as 'your father', i.e. Edward III's father; it doesn't say 'the man claiming to be your father' or 'the man who says he is your father'.  There is nothing in the letter to suggest that Manuele Fieschi thought the man he met was anyone other than Edward II.  And even if, as some modern writers claim, Manuele was taken in by a clever impostor - a man pretending for some nefarious reason to be the late king of England, or a man suffering from a delusion that he was Edward II and genuinely believed that he was - Manuele's acceptance of him as Edward II does at the very least imply that there was some doubt in Europe as to whether Edward had died in 1327 or not.  If Manuele Fieschi had known for absolutely certain that Edward II had died in 1327, he would never have been taken in by an impostor.  Imagine someone going round Europe claiming to be Edward I after his death, or Edward III.  This would never have worked; everyone knew these kings were dead.  And Manuele didn't just hem and haw and think 'Hmmm, that's weird and interesting' and then do nothing about it.  He wrote a letter to no less a person than the king of England.  (Just to be clear, we can't prove for absolute certain that Edward III in fact received the letter, as his copy of it has never been found.)  Imagine what an unbelievably foolish crank Manuele would have looked in the eyes of one of the most powerful men in Europe if he'd written him a letter explaining how his father had survived Berkeley Castle, but Edward III knew as a sure, certain fact that his father had indeed died there, having seen his face after death and been able to identify him beyond a shadow of a doubt.  The very existence of the Fieschi Letter implies at the very least that a) Manuele Fieschi wasn't sure whether the king of England had died in 1327 at all, and b) that he had reason to believe Edward III wasn't sure whether his father had died either.  So whether you believe Edward II was alive after 1327 or not, there's surely something to the story.

One very important thing to bear in mind about Manuele is that he wasn't a humble, ignorant, illiterate, credulous peasant who never set foot outside his small Italian village and who could have been easily duped into thinking some random man he met was the former ruler of a distant kingdom he knew nothing about.  He came from a powerful noble family, the Fieschi, which produced two thirteenth-century popes and seventy-two cardinals, and also exercised considerable secular influence in Genoa and across much of northern Italy.  Manuele was a lawyer, to Pope John XXII and his successor Benedict XII, no less.  Some English writers act as though 'papal notary' means nothing, as though Manuele was a minor clerk sitting in a dusty office with dozens or hundreds of other minor clerks, basically just a pen-pusher.  The pope only had five notaries (thanks to Ivan Fowler of the Auramala Project for this info), and Manuele was one of them.  He held benefices in England - he was a canon of York, for example - and although he may never actually have visited the country, it wasn't a place he knew nothing about.  His first cousin Percivalle Fieschi was bishop of Brescia then bishop of Tortona, he himself became bishop of Vercelli in 1343, his second cousin once removed Luca became a cardinal in 1300, and the Fieschi men who didn't enter the Church were counts of Lavagna.  Cardinal Luca and his brothers and nephews were kinsmen of Edward I and II and always acknowledged as such, and Luca and Edward II corresponded on occasion.  They met in person and spent time together in York in 1317 when John XXII sent Luca and another cardinal to England to negotiate between Edward and Robert Bruce.  Accompanying Luca on that visit, one of the members of his retinue, was his kinsman Percivalle Fieschi, who therefore saw Edward II.  Percivalle knew first-hand what Edward II looked like.  Percivalle was Manuele's first cousin.  Percivalle in Tortona was very near the hermitage of Sant'Alberto di Butrio, where Manuele told Edward III his father ended up (see map below), and in fact it lay in his diocese.  In the 1330s when Edward II would have been at Sant'Alberto, the owner of the castle of Oramala, in the same valley (the Staffora valley) as the hermitage, was Cardinal Luca Fieschi's nephew Niccolo Malaspina.  It was well within Manuele's power to check the identity of the man he met presenting himself as Edward II, by the simple expedient of asking his own first cousin just down the road.  It's also possible that Manuele himself saw Edward in England during his reign and thus would have been able to recognise him himself, but not certain.  He knew other men well who would have recognised Edward of Caernarfon, including his kinsman Cardinal Luca Fieschi, who was alive until January 1336, and there was also Luca's nephew Niccolo Malaspina at nearby Oramala.  At any rate, the idea that a man of Manuele's calibre, a highly-born and well-connected lawyer of the pope himself, would go off and tell the king of England that his father was alive if the story was nonsense, when the man's identity was so easy for him to check with his own family never mind anyone else, is absurd.

At least one modern writer has claimed that Manuele was trying to blackmail Edward III so that the English king would give him more benefices in England.  Again we run into the problem that blackmail could only possibly have worked, and Manuele knew that it could only possibly have worked, if there was some doubt in Edward III's mind as to whether his father was really dead or if he knew that he wasn't.  Blackmail only works if there is something someone wishes or needs to be kept secret.  And besides, to suggest that Manuele Fieschi of all people needed to blackmail anyone for influence or position is frankly also absurd.

The good people of the Auramala Project in Pavia, linked above, are doing great work on the Fieschi Letter and are painstakingly searching Italian archives in the hope of finding confirmation of its narrative.  This is important work, and I'm so thrilled that they're doing it.  As for what the letter says about Edward II's movements prior to his alleged escape from Berkeley Castle, which is far more in my own line of work, here it is (translation from the Auramala Project site):

"First he says that feeling England in subversion against him, afterwards on the admonition of your mother, he withdrew from his family in the castle of the Earl Marshal by the sea, which is called Chepstow. Afterwards, driven by fear, he took a barque with lords Hugh Despenser and the Earl of Arundel and several others and made his way by sea to Glamorgan, and there he was captured, together with the said Lord Hugh and Master Robert Baldock; and they were captured by Lord Henry of Lancaster, and they led him to the castle of Kenilworth, and others were kept elsewhere at various places; and there he lost the crown by the insistence of many. Afterwards you [Edward III] were subsequently crowned on the feast of Candlemas next following. Finally they sent him to the castle of Berkeley."

What's especially interesting about this is the fact that Edward and his few remaining allies sailing from Chepstow and being at sea (literally and metaphorically) for five days in October 1326 appears neither in the chancery rolls nor in any chronicle, and is known to modern historians only by the chance survival of Edward's last chamber account, which is now held at the library of the Society of Antiquaries in London.  None of Edward's chamber accounts survive at all from the beginning of his reign in 1307 until late 1322, and then only in fragments until the last one of June 1325 to October 1326, which is complete.  Without this fortuitous survival, we'd have no way of knowing that the Fieschi Letter is correct on this point.

Notice that the Fieschi Letter says that Edmund Fitzalan, earl of Arundel, was with Edward at Chepstow.  Edward's academic biographer Seymour Phillips in his magisterial work Edward II (2010), p. 591, says that Arundel was in fact not with Edward at this time and had left the king before he reached Wales, but unfortunately he doesn't cite a source for this claim, and I've never been able to find one.  I haven't seen anything which definitely places the earl elsewhere or which tells us where he was after Isabella and Roger Mortimer's invasion, only that he was executed in Hereford on 17 November 1326.  Arundel was beheaded on that day with two men named John Daniel and Robert de Micheldever.  Edward II, at Gloucester, ordered John Daniel on Friday 10 October 1326 to "levy all the fencibles in his bailiwick and have them at Gloucester by Wednesday next."  (Patent Rolls 1324-7, p. 326; Close Rolls 1323-7, p. 651)  So John Daniel was going to join the king, or at least was ordered to, a few days before Edward sailed from Chepstow.  This may mean that the earl of Arundel therefore was with Edward as well, though admittedly this is pretty thin evidence.  It's really difficult to find out where the earl of Arundel actually was in October and the first half of November 1326; the last mention I can find of him in the chancery rolls is on 2 August 1326, and he's not named in Edward's surviving chamber account (the sole piece of evidence which confirms the king's sailing from Chepstow) at this time.  That doesn't necessarily prove anything, however: other men definitely with Edward at this time are not named in the account in the autumn of 1326 either, including Hugh Despenser the Younger (his confessor Richard Bliton is mentioned, but not he himself), Simon of Reading and Robert Baldock.  The Fieschi Letter is correct that the earl of Arundel was no longer with Edward when he was captured in South Wales on 16 November 1326 (the day before Arundel was executed in Hereford).

The Fieschi Letter is accurate in its details up to the coronation of Edward III in early 1327.  Then it states:
"Afterwards the servant who was keeping him, after some little time, said to your father: Lord, Lord Thomas Gurney and Lord Simon Bereford, knights, have come with the purpose of killing you. If it pleases, I shall give you my clothes, that you may better be able to escape. Then with the said clothes, as night was near, he went out of the prison; and when he had reached the last door without resistance, because he was not recognised, he found the porter sleeping, whom he quickly killed; and having got the keys of the door, he opened the door and went out, with his keeper who was keeping him."

There is no way of knowing for sure, of course, whether or to what extent this account of Edward II's escape from Berkeley Castle is correct.  One could express doubt at the notion that he might simply have walked out of the castle by the simple expedient of killing a porter, though in fact Sir Robert Walkfare, a Contrariant imprisoned at Corfe Castle by Edward in the 1320s, did exactly that. (Patent Rolls 1327-30, p. 42).  Surely, though, there would be considerably more security for the former king, of all people, especially as the Dunheved group had already successfully, albeit temporarily, freed Edward from custody at Berkeley.  And who was the 'keeper' with him, and what became of him?  Was Edward perhaps allowed to escape?  So that years later, he genuinely thought he had, but in fact his 'escape' was part of a plot to present him as dead when in fact he wasn't, but being held somewhere else?  But I'm getting into the realms of fantasy here.  It is worth pointing out, however, the strong association of Edward II with Corfe Castle after his capture: his half-brother the earl of Kent thought he was being held there in 1330, several chroniclers including Adam Murimuth thought he was there at some point, and the author of the Brut even thought he'd been murdered there.  There is nothing in any official source to confirm that Edward was ever held at Corfe, but his joint custodian Sir John Maltravers was there in September 1327 on 'the service of the king's father,' i.e. Edward II.

Notice that Edward, assuming it was indeed he who met Manuele Fieschi, claimed that Sir Thomas Gurney and Sir Simon Bereford were coming to murder him.  Gurney was indeed one of the two men convicted at the parliament of November 1330 of Edward II's murder, but the other was William Ockley, not Bereford.  Then again, Simon Bereford was executed at Christmas 1330 on the grounds that he had aided Roger Mortimer, earl of March, in all of Roger's felonies.  One of the fourteen charges against Roger was that of having had Edward removed to Berkeley Castle to have him killed, so one might argue that Bereford was indirectly accused of complicity in Edward II's death, and Edward might have heard of Bereford's execution and assumed that it was in connection with his supposed murder.  Thomas Gurney and Simon Bereford were knights, and certainly Edward knew who they both were.  The name of William Ockley, however, who was merely a man-at-arms, would have meant nothing to him.  Correctly, the Fieschi Letter does not name Sir John Maltravers, Edward's joint custodian with Thomas Berkeley in 1327, as one of the men coming to murder Edward just before his escape from Berkeley Castle; several fourteenth-century chroniclers identified him as one of the murderers, even the usually well-informed royal clerk Adam Murimuth, but Edward III never once accused in Maltravers' very long life (he lived until 1364) of any involvement in his father's death.

There are some issues with the Fieschi Letter, but as a piece of evidence that Edward II survived long past after his supposed murder in September 1327, it's impossible to dismiss lightly.  When taken in conjunction with the Melton Letter of January 1330 in which the archbishop of York stated outright that Edward was then alive and in good health, the earl of Kent's 1329/30 plot to free Edward which was supported by at the very least a few dozen and probably many hundreds of men, Edward III spending time with a man claiming to be his father in 1338, and Lord Berkeley's strange words to the November 1330 parliament, we can see that there is an extremely strong case for taking the possibility of Edward II's survival past 1327 very seriously.

03 December, 2015

Ten Years of the Edward II Blog! And a Book Giveaway!

Unbelievably, the Edward II blog is now exactly ten years old! Yes, I wrote my first post here on 3 December 2005. Ten years, 627 posts and 1.3 million visitors later, Edward and I are still here.  And intending to go on and on and on for another ten years, or more.  I still have tons I want to write about; I never run out of material!

Thank you so much, all of you, whether you visit the blog regularly or just occasionally or if this is the first time you've ever been here. Without you reading, I wouldn't have the motivation to go on.  And lots of you do visit, which is great. An average of around 1000 visitors a day, in fact, with my record being just over 41,000 in a month. The countries with the highest number of visitors are, not unexpectedly, the US and the UK, with Germany in third place. I have to say this really surprises me, but there it is, I get between 3000 and 5000 visitors from Germany every month. Russia is also really high on the list, and I often see the blog linked to Russian history forums and other sites.

To celebrate the blog's tenth anniversary, I have two free, signed copies of the new paperback edition of my Edward II: The Unconventional King to give away to two lucky readers! To enter the draw, simply leave a comment here with your email address (so that I can get in touch with the winners), or if you prefer, email me directly at edwardofcaernarfon@yahoo.com. Doesn't matter where you are in the world, as long as you have a postal address to receive the book! The closing date is Saturday 12 December. Best of luck!

27 November, 2015

27 November 1358: Funeral of Isabella of France

Today is the 657th anniversary of the funeral of Edward II's widow Isabella of France, queen of England, on 27 November 1358.  Isabella died at Hertford Castle on 22 August 1358, probably aged sixty-two, having been ill for some months.  As was almost always the case when a king or queen died, there was a long delay between death and funeral, and three months was entirely usual.

Isabella was buried at the Greyfriars church in London.  Her aunt Marguerite of France, second queen of Edward I and stepmother of Isabella's husband Edward II, was buried there in 1318, and the heart of Edward I's mother Eleanor of Provence, queen of England (died 1291), rested there too.  Isabella's youngest child Joan of the Tower, queen of Scotland, would also be buried there four years later.  Isabella wasn't buried next to her husband Edward II in Gloucester, but then, she wasn't buried at Westminster Abbey either, where her husband's parents and grandfather Henry III, and later her son Edward III and daughter-in-law Philippa of Hainault, were laid to rest.  Everyone nowadays always seems to assume that burial at the Greyfriars was Isabella's decision before her death, but in fact it's not clear whether the site was in fact her own choice or her son Edward III's.  I suspect it's generally assumed to have been her own choice because of another assumption: that Isabella's 'favourite' Roger Mortimer, earl of March, was buried there after his execution on 29 November 1330.  He wasn't; he was buried a hundred or so miles away at the Greyfriars church in Coventry, and his remains may have been moved to his family's seat at Wigmore in Herefordshire following two petitions to Edward III by his widow Joan Geneville in 1331 and 1332.  It's extremely doubtful that Edward III would have allowed his royal mother to lie for eternity next to a man he'd had executed for treason, even if Isabella had asked or wished to be (and there's no evidence that she did).

Isabella did ask to be buried with the clothes she'd worn at her wedding to Edward II a little over fifty years previously on 25 January 1308.  I assume they were placed in the coffin with her, rather than her body being dressed in them (it would rather amazing if in her early sixties she could still fit into clothes she'd worn when she was twelve).  There's also a story that Edward II's heart was placed in a casket on her chest, though this is a later tradition and not contemporary, so we can't know for sure if it's true.  Some people online, determined to get the details wrong, have assumed that Isabella was buried with Roger Mortimer's heart.  Nope!  She wasn't buried next to him or with his heart, sadly for all the romanticisers.  One book of 2003 seems to think it's significant that Isabella was buried on 27 November, two days before the anniversary of Roger Mortimer's execution on 29 November 1330.  I have no idea why Isabella would ask her son 'Bury me almost but not quite on Roger's anniversary'.  Doesn't seem terribly likely, does it?  I have no idea why anyone would think she'd be able to choose the day of her own funeral anyway.

Isabella's body lay in the chapel at Hertford Castle until 23 November 1358, for three months and one day after her death, watched over day and night by fourteen 'poor people' who each received two pence a day plus food for this service.  Her funeral cortege arrived in London on 24 or 25 November and was met by her son the king; Edward III and his household stayed at a house in Mile End which belonged to a John Galeys (I don't know who he was) with her body for a little while.  On arrival at the Greyfriars church, the late queen's body was covered with two cloths of fine white silk.  Edward III visited his mother's funeral, the convention that kings did not attend funerals belonging to later centuries, not the fourteenth.

The sepulchral monuments of the Greyfriars church were sold off during the Reformation in the sixteenth century, and the church itself was destroyed during the Great Fire of London in 1666.  It was rebuilt and then destroyed again by bombs during the Second World War.  Isabella's resting-place and tomb, sadly, were lost, though perhaps she still lies somewhere beneath a busy London street.

18 November, 2015

Medieval Murder Mysteries: Edward II

Part two of this series on the Yesterday channel in the UK was King Edward II: A Mysterious Death, shown on Tuesday 17 November at 9pm.  Anerje gives her thoughts on it here.

So I knew it was going to be bad when the historian they got to argue for Edward's possible survival was not Ian Mortimer (or even me, for that matter), but Paul Doherty.  The man who wrote his doctoral thesis on Isabella of France but doesn't even know which of her brothers was king of France in 1320 or which year her mother died, and who appears to think he has some kind of telepathic connection with Isabella by making dogmatic statements such as '"Isabella had murder in her heart" towards her husband Edward in 1326/27.  There were no historians to argue the other side, i.e. that Edward II did indeed die at Berkeley in 1327, such as Seymour Phillips, Michael Prestwich or Jeff Hamilton.  Instead we got this baffling line-up: Richard Felix, who's a paranormal investigator (let me repeat that: he's not a fourteenth-century historian, he's a paranormal investigator) who's always dragged out for TV programmes about torture; Ciaran O'Keeffe, billed on the programme as a criminal psychologist, otherwise known as a parapsychologist and also a paranormal investigator who used to appear on a TV programme called Most Haunted with Richard Felix; Andrew Rose, a 'barrister and historian'; Professor Mike Green, a forensic pathologist (OK, hearing about the plausibility or not of murder by red-hot poker was pretty interesting); and the current owner of Berkeley Castle, Charles Berkeley, and a castle guide, Linda McLaren, who argued that at the castle, they believe that Edward II was suffocated on his bed there. Not an unreasonable statement, though perhaps not exactly an unbiased one either, given that the presumed murder of a king at Berkeley must bring a lot of visitors to the castle.  "The king was well-treated here and probably died many years later in Italy" doesn't make nearly such an appealing story to get the paying punters in, kind of like the way Castle Rising in Norfolk makes a big deal about Isabella being imprisoned there after 1330 and going mad, and doesn't admit that "Isabella lived a purely conventional life as a dowager queen and just happened to spend quite a lot of time here because she liked it."  Next week on Medieval Murder Mysteries, for the episode about the death in 1203 of Arthur, duke of Brittany, they've got Derek Acorah.  Derek freaking Acorah.  For those of you who are lucky enough not to know who Acorah is, he's a 'spirit medium', also a member of the Most Haunted team - you might be spotting a certain pattern emerging here - and someone who claims to be psychic and in touch with the dead.  God help us.

Richard Felix stated that the story of the red-hot poker is too ridiculous to have been invented, so therefore must be true.  Huh.  Now there's a strong argument.  I once read this story about a boy who thinks he's normal but then finds out he's a wizard, and he plays a game called Quidditch on a broomstick and has an enemy called Voldemort and goes to a school where he learns to do all kinds of magic things.  Clearly that's too crazy to be made up, and therefore it must be true.  A voiceover assured us that "Richard Felix has researched the red-hot poker story and believes it to be true."  Oh well then, if a paranormal investigator and torture expert thinks that a torture story is true, it must indeed be true.  We mere fourteenth-century experts who delve into the contemporary documents, weigh up the facts and try to come to a measured conclusion might as well just give up and go home.  Felix also repeats the story that Edward's jailers tried to suffocate him with the stench of animal carcasses, which was invented decades later by Geoffrey le Baker and is nonsense, and is disproved anyway by Berkeley Castle records.  Felix claims that the king's screams could be heard outside the castle without noticing the contradiction with his previous claim that the men killed Edward in this manner so as not to leave a mark on his body and so that no-one would realise he'd been murdered.  He also claims "it took him well over quarter of an hour to die in dreadful agony," which is something not recorded in any source.  He also says that with Edward dead, "the road was now clear for Mortimer and Isabella" without clarifying what that means, and that Isabella, who he says was known as the 'She-Wolf' (a nickname in fact only given to her in 1757), wanted to punish her husband for being "openly gay."  Ciaran O'Keeffe continued this theme by talking about Isabella's "public humiliation."

Paul Doherty argued - yay! - that Edward escaped from Berkeley Castle in 1327, but the only evidence he cited for this was Thomas, Lord Berkeley's curious words to parliament in November 1330, the lack of royal officials present at Berkeley Castle after the death, and the fact that Edward wasn't buried at Westminster Abbey.  The Fieschi Letter of c. the late 1330s was only briefly mentioned, and the Melton Letter of 1330 (both letters state that Edward survived past 1327) and the plot of William Melton, archbishop of York and Edward's half-brother the earl of Kent to free him in 1330 were not mentioned at all.  The narrative of Edward's survival as described in the Fieschi Letter was dismissed as 'unlikely' without further explanation, and it's stated that there's 'precious little evidence' that he didn't die at Berkeley and an 'absence of hard proof' for this notion.  I suppose a letter written by an archbishop over two years later stating that Edward was then still alive and in good health somehow doesn't count.

Weird/horrid bits: at one point they were talking about the execution of Edward's cousin Thomas of Lancaster in 1322 (he was beheaded), and we were shown a man tied to a stake, screaming as he's burned to death.  Heh?  Naturally we had to get a long-ish reconstruction of the red-hot poker murder with lots of screams and close shots of Edward's face as he's tied up and bent over a table, though thankfully we didn't see what's going on below (and this scene was repeated what felt to me like about forty-seven times).  As if that's not enough, there was then a discussion of how fast, or otherwise, a poker inserted inside the bowels would have killed Edward and how far up you'd have to insert it (yuck), and a computer generation of a skeleton having this done to it.

Stuff that's fine: the documentary was quite good on Edward and Isabella's relationship, saying that 'by 1325 it had started to crumble' rather than depicting as a disaster from start to finish.  Isabella went to France and began an association with Roger Mortimer, rather than beginning a passionate affair with him.  The shots of Berkeley Castle were terrific, and it was nice to see Charles Berkeley looking at the fourteenth-century manuscripts held there.  The guide at the castle, Linda McLaren, stated that Edward was well-treated at Berkeley with his own chef, servants and even a marshal to look after his horses, which is correct and contradicts Richard Felix's taking Geoffrey le Baker's tales as gospel truth.  The discussion about suffocation being far more plausible than a poker is interesting, the pathologist also made a good point about the lack of independent witnesses at Berkeley Castle to verify the cause of Edward's death or even his identity, and the barrister points out the improbability of a red-hot poker when there would have been much easier methods to hand.

Conclusion: some not so bad bits, but for the most part, sensationalist and superficial, and a wasted opportunity.  I've been hoping for a long time that we might get a TV programme featuring Edward II's death and survival, done properly and seriously with people who actually know what they're talking about.  Instead, we get paranormal investigators.  Frankly, I find it weird to see people discussing Edward II when I don't even know who they are, besides Paul Doherty and Charles Berkeley.  (Paranormal investigators!?!)

16 November, 2015

Edward II: The Unconventional King in Paperback, and Medieval Murder Mysteries

First of all, I'd like to make a polite request that actually isn't a request and frankly isn't that polite either.  Damn well stop plagiarising my blog!!!  You know who you are, people!  I keep seeing my posts reproduced on Facebook and Tumblr and Ancestry.co.uk and other sites, without citation and without a link.  Just copied and pasted from here, as though the copier wrote the text him/herself.  Look, if you'd like to quote one or several of my articles, you're most welcome, but acknowledge that it's mine and not yours, name me (I'm Kathryn Warner and my name appears at the end of every post and all over the blog, so don't pretend you don't know who I am), and put in a link to this site.  I'm getting really sick of it.  I put a hell of a lot of work into this site, it takes a lot of my time, it takes a lot of reading and research and writing, and it angers me to see my hard work plagiarised elsewhere without my permission and without even the sodding courtesy to name me as the author.  JUST STOP IT!!!!  I will take the matter further if you keep doing it.

Calming down and moving onto much better news, I'm delighted to announce that my book Edward II: The Unconventional King is now available in paperback in Europe and Canada.  Yay!  I'm afraid that in the US, though, you'll have to wait till 19 January 2016.  Links below if you'd like to purchase a copy:

Amazon UK

Amazon Canada

Amazon Germany

Amazon France

Amazon Italy

Book Depository (in the UK but free delivery worldwide)

Guardian Bookshop

More news: tomorrow, Tuesday 17 November at 9pm, on the Yesterday TV channel in the UK, there's a programme which is the second part of a series called Medieval Murder Mysteries and which is entitled King Edward II: A Mysterious Death.  I'm not sure what to expect, really; I had nothing to do with the programme and don't know anyone who did (at least not anyone who's told me), and I hope it's not too awful.  If we get the silly old stories about red-hot pokers and Edward being held in a cell near rotting animal corpses being presented as though they're fact, I might just scream.  (Not true.  Definitely not true.)  Though maybe I'm being unfair to the makers and it'll be fab, and it's Edward II getting more exposure so yay for that.  Though then again, the programme website does say 'Discover the grisly truth about this royal scandal', which doesn't sound like a particularly measured account of Edward's possible survival in Italy.  'Grisly truth' sounds very much like a damned red-hot poker to me.  Anyway, report to follow, assuming I can watch the programme soon, and Anerje's intending to write one too.  The next in the series, to be shown on 24 November, looks like it could be really interesting as well: it's about Arthur, duke of Brittany, who disappeared in 1203 and is assumed to have been murdered by or on the orders of his uncle King John.

12 November, 2015

October/November 1325: Isabella Refuses to Return to Edward (2)

Second part of a post; the first part is here, or directly below this one.

Isabella and Edward II's son Edward of Windsor sailed from Dover on 12 September 1325 and paid homage to his uncle Charles IV for Gascony and Ponthieu at Vincennes twelve days later. The boy turned thirteen on 13 November 1325. Edward of Windsor's presence in France was a key factor in Isabella's decision not to return to her husband: with their son the king's heir, the future king of England, under her control, she held a vitally important bargaining chip, and used her adolescent son as a weapon against her husband. As I've pointed out before, although Edward II's decision to send his heir to France in September 1325 appears with hindsight to have been an incredibly foolish decision, it wasn't really; Edward had painted himself into a corner where all possible options available to him were fraught with risk, and after weeks of agonising sending his son away must have seemed, and in fact probably was, the least dangerous course of action.

Edward of Windsor was accompanied to France by, among others, Walter Stapeldon, bishop of Exeter and treasurer of England (who had founded Exeter College at Oxford in 1314). Isabella loathed Stapeldon, believing that along with Hugh Despenser the Younger he had been instrumental in persuading her husband to confiscate her lands in September 1324. Stapeldon came to believe, whether correctly or not, that there were people at the French court who intended to harm him, and fled back to England disguised as a common traveller. He was back by late October 1325.  Historian F. D. Blackley suggested a few decades ago that Walter Stapeldon was the immediate cause of Isabella's decision; he had been authorised to pay the queen's expenses, but only for her return journey to England. As he fled from Paris before he gave her the money, this may have forced her into making the decision whether to return to England and the dominance of the hated Despensers, or remain in France. A furious Isabella sent Stapeldon a sharply-worded letter on 8 December accusing him of being of Hugh Despenser’s 'accord' and more obedient to him than to her. She also accused him of dishonouring Edward II, Charles IV and herself.

According to the Vita Edwardi Secundi, Charles IV, "not wishing to seem to detain her said 'The queen has come of her will, and may freely return if she so wishes. But if she prefers to remain in these parts, she is my sister, and I will not detain her.'" (Vita, ed. Denholm-Young, p. 143.)  One modern writer has claimed "There is no incontrovertible evidence to prove that Isabella and her brother King Charles had worked behind the scenes to secure her son's presence in France and simultaneously prevent her own return to England, but it is by far the most likely conclusion in the light of their wholly compatible interests and the immediate support Charles gave her once she had made her feelings known."  The French king's speech above is then cited as evidence of this support. Charles IV's role in the events of 1325/26 is intriguing and often ignored, but quite how anyone gets from his seemingly rather grudging remark 'I won't expel my sister from my kingdom, but she's also free to go back to England if she wants to' to 'Charles had been supporting Isabella behind the scenes for years to help her bring down her husband' frankly is beyond me. In the same way, I really don't get how Isabella's speech 'an intruder has come between my husband and myself, and I won't return to my husband until he is removed' has come to be interpreted as 'I hate my husband and am defying and rebelling against him with my beloved Roger at my side'. This is all too typical of much modern writing about Isabella; frankly it's little more than fiction with her name attached to it. There's a tendency to see secret plots and cunning conspiracies and long-term, Europe-wide strategies  against Edward II everywhere, which makes a good story; a better story than people just muddling through and making short-term decisions rather than following a series of complicated, high-risk steps over a period of years with the aim of bringing Edward II down. A good story is a good story, but that doesn't necessarily make it true. It's so tempting to look at where Isabella ended up in 1326/27 and assume that she'd been planning her husband's downfall since August 1323 when she supposedly helped Roger Mortimer escape from the Tower, or since 1322 when Hugh Despenser returned to England and became her enemy, or even since November 1312 when her son was born and it occurred to her that she could wield more power as the mother of the king than as the wife of the king. In reality, however, it's even possible that Edward II's deposition wasn't intended or mooted until as late as Christmas 1326, after the executions of the Despensers and when it was clear that his position as king had become untenable.

Edward II, having heard of Isabella's refusal return to him, cut off her expenses in mid-November 1325, and, short of funds, the queen was forced to borrow 1000 Paris livres from Charles IV on 31 December. This was the equivalent of only £200 sterling, less than a month's income for Isabella even on the reduced amount imposed on her in September 1324 when Edward confiscated her lands and gave her an income from the Exchequer, and was a loan, not a gift – hardly a sign of her brother’s great favour towards her, as it has sometimes been interpreted. Many of Isabella's servants, whom she could no longer afford to pay, went back to England, from late November 1325 to January 1326: they're mentioned in Edward II's chamber account when they received money for their travel and other expenses from the king on their return.

Edward II wrote his last-ever letter to Isabella on 1 December 1325, ordering her home and claiming that he was suffering badly from her 'so very long absence'. Unfortunately, he also went into endlessly long and tedious justifications for Hugh Despenser the Younger's behaviour, which must have irritated Isabella immensely. He did the same thing in letters to his son Edward of Windsor, Charles IV and numerous French magnates and bishops, and before the parliament which began at Westminster - the last one he ever held - on 18 November 1325. Faced with the painful realisation of her husband's priorities and his utter refusal to take her seriously and to send Hugh away from him, Isabella was left with no other choice but to remain in France in November 1325 and, not long afterwards, to ally herself with the English Contrariants on the Continent, led by Roger Mortimer, the men who could help her gain the revenge she had sworn on Hugh Despenser for destroying her marriage.

07 November, 2015

October/November 1325: Isabella Refuses to Return to Edward (1)

On 9 March 1325, Isabella of France, queen of England, left her husband's kingdom and travelled to her homeland of France, in order to negotiate a peace settlement between her brother Charles IV and her husband Edward II.  The two kings had gone to war the previous year, the little known War of St-Sardos.  The much later chronicler Jean Froissart, who is often cited as a source for Edward II's reign though he wasn't even born until about 1337 and first set foot in England in about 1361/2, claims that Isabella and her twelve-year-old son Edward of Windsor (the future Edward III), persecuted victims of the king and his malevolence, pretended to make a pilgrimage to Canterbury then fled in secret from Winchelsea to the safety of France. Needless to say, this is absolute nonsense. Isabella departed from Dover with Edward II's full consent and knowledge, with a large amount of money for her expenses and a retinue. Her son remained in England for another six months, departing for France - in order to pay homage to his uncle Charles IV for Gascony and Ponthieu - on 12 September 1325.

Isabella remained in France for eighteen months, and when she finally returned to England in September 1326, it was at the head of an invasion force, with her husband's greatest enemy - Roger Mortimer, lord of Wigmore - at her side.  Isabella and Roger's relationship has been excessively romanticised in much modern writing, and we don't actually know for sure that they were in love or even that they were necessarily sleeping together. (I'm not saying they certainly weren't, just that we should bear in mind how little we know or can possibly ever know about people's state of mind, personal feelings and personal  relationships.) They had begun some kind of association by 8 February 1326, when Edward II complained that his queen was 'adopting the counsel' of Roger Mortimer and his allies on the Continent, meaning other English noblemen and knights who had joined the 1321/22 Contrariant rebellion against the king and the Despensers and who fled the country after the Contrariant defeat at the battle of Boroughbridge on 16 March 1322.

At some point before her association with Mortimer began, probably in late October 1325 or thereabouts, Queen Isabella announced in public at the French court that she was refusing to return to her husband. The Vita Edwardi Secundi, which was written by one of Edward II's clerks and which abruptly ends shortly after this, records Isabella's speech:

"I feel that marriage is a joining together of man and woman, maintaining the undivided habit of life, and that someone has come between my husband and myself trying to break this bond; I protest that I will not return until this intruder is removed, but discarding my marriage garment, shall assume the robes of widowhood and mourning until I am avenged of this Pharisee."  (Vita, ed. N. Denholm-Young, pp. 142-3)

The 'Pharisee' of course meant Hugh Despenser the Younger, Edward II's chamberlain and 'favourite' who dominated his life - politically or emotionally or more likely both - in the 1320s. Isabella's speech has often been interpreted, weirdly, to mean that she was defying Edward and openly declaring her rebellion against him. But of course that is not even close to what her words say. What her words actually say is that she believed a third party, Hugh, had come between herself and her husband to such an extent that she felt like a widow (and the French Chronicle of London confirms that the queen took to wearing clothes "as a lady in mourning who had lost her lord"). She felt that Hugh was intruding into her marriage. She spoke of what marriage meant to her. She stated that she would not return to Edward unless he removed Hugh from his side, and swore that she would avenge herself on Hugh for destroying her marriage. What she did not say was that she was rebelling against Edward. She stated that she would return to him when 'this intruder is removed'. Now, we could debate and discuss what was really going on in Isabella's mind, whether she meant this or not, but we cannot know for sure. And perhaps for a change we should do her the courtesy of actually listening to her instead of blithely reinterpreting her speech as 'Well actually, what she really meant was that she loathed and despised and was repelled by her husband and had no intention of ever going back to him, that she was in love with Roger Mortimer and was planning Edward's downfall with him, and that she was openly declaring her rebellion against Edward'. Hmmmmm.

The often-repeated assumption that Isabella was in love with Roger Mortimer in 1325, that she had helped him escape from the Tower of London on 1 August 1323 and that she had been secretly conspiring with him and others for years to bring down her husband makes a nice story, but there is not a shred of evidence for any of it. As I've written before, and also here, it is incredibly unlikely that Edward II stupidly fell into her and Roger Mortimer's and Charles IV's cunning 'trap', or that there was ever a 'trap' in the first place, by sending his son to France in September 1325. I think it's quite likely that when Isabella left England in March 1325, she had some notion of asking Edward to send the hated Hugh Despenser away from him as a condition of her return. I think it's incredibly unlikely that Isabella had an inkling that she would eventually return to England at the head of an invasion force eighteen months later. To me, Isabella's behaviour in late 1325 and 1326 indicate a woman deeply distressed at the breakdown of her marriage and furious at the man she held responsible for it, not a woman who loathed her husband and was deeply in love with someone else. She set Edward an ultimatum, and must have been deeply hurt by his utter refusal to consider her feelings; in long rambling letters to herself, her brother Charles IV and French bishops and noblemen, and in a speech to parliament in London in November 1325, Edward II showed that his greatest priority was to defend Hugh Despenser against all accusations. And of course he completely refused to send Hugh away from him. Left with no other choice but to act on her threat, Isabella duly did so, and began a political alliance with Roger Mortimer and the other Contrariants on the Continent such as John Maltravers, Thomas Roscelyn and William Trussell which resulted, whether she and they had originally intended it or not, in Edward II's forced deposition.

More on this in another post, coming soon.

01 November, 2015

Some Of The New Knights Of 22 May 1306 (2)

Part two of a series which began here, looking at some of the men who were knighted with Edward of Caernarfon at Westminster on 22 May 1306.  As well as Piers Gaveston, Roger Mortimer and Hugh Despenser the Younger, they also included Edward II's good friend William Montacute (d. 1319), Edward's fifteen-year-old nephew Gilbert de Clare, future earl of Gloucester, and Gilbert's first cousin Gilbert de Clare, lord of Thomond, born in 1281 (Gilbertus de Clare filius domini Thomae de Clare).

Today, I'm looking at Edmund of Cornwall, Giles Astley, Ralph Camoys, William Trussell and Robert Wateville.

- Edmund of Cornwall (Edmundus de Cornubia)

Edmund was a second cousin of Edward of Caernarfon, being the grandson of Henry III's younger brother Richard, earl of Cornwall and king of Germany (1209-1272), and was frequently acknowledged as kinsman by Edward I and Edward II in the chancery rolls.  His father Richard (d. 1296) was one of Earl Richard's illegitimate children and the half-brother of Richard's legitimate son and heir Edmund, earl of Cornwall (d. 1300).  Earl Edmund was a first cousin of Edward I on both sides: their fathers were brothers, and their mothers Eleanor and Sanchia of Provence were sisters.  Sir Edmund of Cornwall had a younger brother, Geoffrey of Cornwall, and married a woman called Elizabeth, one of the two daughters and co-heirs of Brian de Brompton.  Brian died sometime before 28 November 1308, and Elizabeth proved her age, fourteen, in November 1309.  (Cal Inq Post Mortem 1307-27, pp. 57-8, 128).  She inherited lands in Shropshire and Herefordshire.  Sir Edmund of Cornwall lived a long life, and died on 22 March 1354, leaving his widow Elizabeth and a son and heir Edmund of Cornwall, who in 1354 was either aged 'thirty years and more' or 'forty years and more'. (Thanks, Inquisitions Post Mortem!)  (Cal Inq Post Mortem 1352-60, pp. 138-9).  Richard, earl of Cornwall, Henry III's brother, had no legitimate grandchildren - his sons Henry of Almain and Edmund, earl of Cornwall died childless, and his other legitimate children with Isabella Marshal and Sanchia of Provence all died in infancy - but did have descendants via his illegitimate children.

- Giles Astley (Egidius de Asteley)

Giles was a younger son of Sir Andrew Astley and a woman named Sibyl, and the younger brother of Nicholas Astley, who was twenty-four in 1300 when their father died.  Both brothers were taken prisoner by the Scots while fighting for Edward II at the battle of Bannockburn in June 1314, and Nicholas died later that year, apparently of natural causes.  Giles married a woman named Alice de Wolvey and died in or before 1316, leaving a young son Thomas Astley, who was heir to his childless uncle Nicholas.  Thomas Astley married Elizabeth Beauchamp, one of the daughters of Guy Beauchamp, earl of Warwick (d. 1315) and Alice de Toeni, and they had four children, including William, Lord Astley.

- Ralph Camoys (Radulphus de Kamoys)

Ralph was a long-term adherent of the Despensers, from at least the beginning of the 1300s, and often accompanied Hugh Despenser the Elder abroad in the company of such well-known Despenser retainers as Ingelram Berenger, John Ratinden, Ralph Gorges, John Haudlo and Malcolm Musard.  He was the son and heir of Sir John Camoys, who died in 1298, and Margaret Gatesden (d. 1311), the heiress of her father John Gatesden in Sussex.  An entry on the Fine Roll of November 1294 relates to Ralph receiving one of his father John's manors for which he had done homage, so he must have been at least twenty-one then, and must have been born in 1273 or earlier.

Ralph married firstly Margaret de Braose, daughter of William de Braose, lord of Gower in South Wales (d. 1291) and half-sister of the William de Braose (d. 1326) who inadvertently kicked off the Despenser War of 1321 when he allowed his son-in-law John, Lord Mowbray to take possession of the Gower peninsula in the autumn of 1320.  With Margaret, Ralph had his son and heir Thomas.  He married secondly the much younger Elizabeth Despenser, youngest (as far as I can tell) child of Hugh Despenser the Elder and Isabel Beauchamp, probably born in the mid to late 1290s, and one of the four full sisters of Hugh the Younger (two of the others were Aline Burnell and Isabel Hastings).  With Elizabeth, Ralph had several more children, including sons Hugh, John and Ralph.  Sir Ralph Camoys survived the downfall of his father-in-law and brother-in-law the two Hugh Despensers in 1326 and was pardoned for his long-term adherence to them in early 1327 (Patent Rolls 1327-30, p. 20), and died in 1336.  It was believed for many years that his second wife was one Elizabeth Rogate, but Douglas Richardson convincingly demonstrated that this is not the case.  Ralph was the great-great-grandfather of Edward IV's close friend William, Lord Hastings, executed in 1483, whose mother was Alice Camoys.

- William Trussell (Willelmus Trussel)

There were several men named Sir William Trussell active in the early fourteenth century.  The one knighted with Edward of Caernarfon in May 1306 may be the man of this name who pronounced the death sentence on both Hugh Despensers in October/November 1326.  A father/son pair both named William Trussell were active during the Contrariant rebellion of 1321/22, against Edward II; I'm assuming, I hope correctly, that the son was the man knighted in 1306, and also the man present at the trials of both Despensers.  He or his father, or both, fled overseas after the Contrariant defeat at the battle of Boroughbridge on 16 March 1322, and spent years in exile on the Continent.  With him were John Maltravers, one of the former Edward II's custodians in 1327 who was also knighted on 22 May 1306, and, after his dramatic escape from the Tower of London on 1 August 1323, Roger Mortimer.  William Trussell was associated with Mortimer in exile on the Continent for the next few years and with him took part in the invasion of England in September 1326.  William Trussell, presumably the son, was appointed as the royal escheator this side Trent after Edward II's downfall, and later as the royal escheator beyond Trent.  There's also another William Trussell mentioned in the chancery rolls in Edward II's reign, the son of an Edmund Trussell, and it's really hard to work out who was who.  Edward II's squire Oliver de Bordeaux married Maud Trussell in 1317, with Edward himself attending the wedding.  Maud was the mother of a William Trussell by her first marriage, and had another son, Warin Trussell.  (Patent Rolls 1324-7, p. 214).

- Robert Wateville (Robertus de Watervill)

As with William Trussell, there were two men of this name active in Edward II's reign, and distinguishing them is not easy.  One was pardoned in 1313 for involvement in Piers Gaveston's death (as were more than 350 men) and was captured fighting for the Contrariants at Boroughbridge.  The Robert Wateville knighted in May 1306 was probably the man of this name who was a household knight of Hugh Despenser the Younger and married Hugh's niece Margaret Hastings in Marlborough in Edward II's presence on 19 May 1326.  (An occasion on which Edward gave a pound to a servant of Margaret's mother Isabel, Lady Hastings for "making him laugh very greatly.")  Edward showed huge generosity to Wateville in 1326: he gave him gifts of forty marks on two separate occasions and forty pounds another time, visited him at his house in London, and paid his expenses when he was ill for thirteen days.  All this generosity availed him nothing, as Wateville went over to Isabella's side soon after she arrived in England with the invasion force in September 1326, and was with her at Bristol in October 1326.  (Close Rolls 1323-7, p. 655)  One of the Sir Robert Wate(r)villes was the godfather of Giles Badlesmere, born in 1313/14, son and heir of Bartholomew, Lord Badlesmere and Margaret de Clare.  (Cal Inq Post Mortem 1327-36, p. 480)

28 October, 2015

Edward II in The Bastard Executioner

Yesterday evening, I watched part of the fourth episode of the historical drama series The Bastard Executioner (which presumably means an executioner who is illegitimate rather than one who only executes bastards).  The reason?  Edward II and Piers Gaveston appeared in it.  The series is about a Welsh knight who fought for Edward (or his father? Not sure) and takes place in a Welsh county called 'Ventrishire', and the episodes have titles in both English and Welsh.  I haven't seen the first three episodes; frankly I'm not interested enough, but just wanted to see how it portrayed Edward and Piers.  The fourth episode is called 'A Hunger/Newyn'.

Ummmm yeah.  One of the main characters, who appears to be called 'Lady Love' for some weird reason, travels from Wales to Windsor Castle as she's been summoned by Edward II.  She meets Piers Gaveston and is rudely kept waiting for many hours by Edward, hungry and forced to sit at a table groaning with food which she is not allowed to eat.  In fact, she is only summoned to the king after she's gone to bed and is asleep, when Piers waltzes into her bedchamber and sits on her bed.  Piers is young, handsome, elegant and very French (played by Tom Forbes, who also played William Stafford in Wolf Hall; see here, and here for a pic of him as Piers).  So, weirdly, is Edward II (played by Jack Greenlees, very nice!), who speaks English with a strong French accent and keeps lapsing from English into French.  At one point he called Lady Love une petite scarabée d'or, 'a little golden beetle', and on another occasion says something in French and looks to Piers to translate it for him.  This is bizarre.  Although French was almost certainly Edward's first language, he wasn't a Frenchman.  On quite a few websites I've seen, viewers are - understandably - confused about this and refer to him as 'the French ruler'.  I've also seen various people online claim that Edward II grew up in France, and that the makers of The Bastard Executioner therefore did good research.  Nope, Edward grew up entirely in England (having left his birthplace of Wales when he was only a few months old) and set foot in France for the first time in January 1308 when he was twenty-three, when he married Isabella in Boulogne.  Given that Edward was born in Wales and was the first member of the English royal family to be prince of Wales, and given that the whole show is about Wales, I'd have thought the producers could have made good use of that fact, but no.  Edward is...French.  Okey-dokey then.  I think the programme missed a trick there.

The titles are odd: Edward II keeps being called 'His Majesty', a later invention, and 'Lady Love' addresses Piers Gaveston as 'Sir Gaveston', even though she knows he's the earl of Cornwall.  'Sir' should be used with a man's first name, not his last name.  Lady Love is called 'the baroness'.  The makers of the programme seem to confuse Edward II with his father and call him 'Edward Longshanks II'.  Lady Love addresses her female attendant as 'Maiden', and I seem to recall hearing another character addressed as 'Chamberlain', presumably because that's what he is.

The best you can say really is that Piers and Edward are both young and good-looking, though Edward tends perhaps to a certain femininity.  He's also immature and faintly useless; when he meets Lady Love, he's far more interested in continuing to take part in archery (at night) than in sorting anything out for her, and hands the whole matter over to Piers.  I suppose the whole thing could have been much worse.  (It could also have been a lot better, but still.)  At least Edward isn't snivelling and throwing tantrums and generally behaving like a teenage girl in a strop, the way he's so often depicted.  Instead he's doing something active and sporty, which I rather liked.  He's tall, handsome and has long fair hair, which is accurate, and the Twitter account of the programme acknowledges his great strength.  He's useless but not malicious, and friendly, apart from rudely keeping Lady Love waiting for him all day.  It looks as though Piers Gaveston appears again in episodes five and nine, so I might have to watch those soon.  It'll be something of an ordeal for me though, I'm afraid.  I skipped through episode four searching for the Piers/Edward scenes, but still saw the grotesque torture of a man having his eye put out with a knife and both his arms cut off, which made me shudder with horror and disgust.  Absolutely, definitely not my kind of programme.  Anyway, I suppose at least the programme is increasing Edward II's name recognition among an audience who've probably barely heard of him before.  So yay for that.

19 October, 2015

19 October 1330

On 19 October 1330, 685 years ago today, Edward III arrested Roger Mortimer, earl of March, at Nottingham Castle.  The young king was not quite eighteen years old (born 13 November 1312) and ready to take over the governance of his own kingdom.  In a proclamation issued shortly afterwards, Edward showed how unimpressed he was with those who had been ruling England since the forced abdication of his father Edward II in January 1327, presumably Roger, Edward III's mother Isabella and various of their allies: "the king understands that diverse oppressions and hardships have been inflicted upon many men of his realm by certain persons who have been his ministers..." and that the affairs of the kingdom "have been directed until now to the damage and dishonour of him [Edward III] and his realm."

Incidentally, Edward arresting Roger in Isabella's bedchamber is not nearly as intimate as it might sound to modern ears; the two weren't alone in bed together but using the chamber as a venue for a meeting with their few remaining allies, including the bishop of Lincoln Henry Burghersh (who tried to escape from the king down a latrine shaft), Sir Hugh Turplington (who was killed), and Sir Simon Bereford, Sir Oliver Ingham and Roger's son Geoffrey (who were all arrested).  Roger was executed on 29 November 1330, Isabella's pleas to her son to have pity on him falling on deaf ears.

I'd like to thank Kathleen Guler for writing this fab review of my book Edward II: The Unconventional King!  There's also a thoughtful and most interesting review of it by Professor Jeff Hamilton, Piers Gaveston's biographer, here.  I was delighted to read that.

Finally, there's a great blog post by Ivan Fowler and the Auramala Project about my recent trip to Pavia to talk about Edward II, with pics!

13 October, 2015

Elizabeth de Clare, Isabella de Verdon, the Auramala Project and Mitochondrial DNA

While in Pavia recently, I had the pleasure of meeting the geneticists Enza Battaglia, Anna Olivieri and Antonio Torroni, who are an important part of the Auramala Project.  The Project is investigating the Fieschi Letter, which was addressed to Edward III and informed him how his father Edward II had escaped from Berkeley Castle in 1327 and ended up in Italy.  They're also searching through Italian archives to find possible documentation supporting Edward II's survival in Italy in the 1330s, and ultimately attempting to find descendants who share Edward's mitochondrial DNA, in case the possibility arises some day to test Edward's remains (see here for their posts about this).  I'm helping with the genealogy part, and have found a line from one of Edward's sisters in the female line down to the 1700s (so far).

I've also looked at Edward's maternal ancestry, his mother Eleanor of Castile, grandmother Joan of Ponthieu, great-grandmother Marie of Ponthieu, great-great-grandmother Alais of France, and so on.  I got the maternal line back to the mid-900s to Edward's ten greats grandmother.  Unfortunately, tracing the female descendants of Edward's female ancestors hasn't proved fruitful yet and I haven't been able to find any lines of descent past the fifteenth century, though it has thrown up some interesting people with whom Edward shared mitochondrial DNA: Henry the Young King's wife Marguerite of France (Edward's great-great-great-aunt; her husband was Edward's great-great-uncle); Richard Lionheart's queen Berengaria of Navarre (granddaughter of Edward's great-great-great-grandmother Berenguela of Barcelona) and her nephew Thibault the 'Troubadour King' of Navarre; Jeanne de Penthièvre, duchess of Brittany in her own right (c. 1319-1384), great-great-granddaughter of Agatha of Ponthieu, younger sister of Edward's grandmother Joan of Ponthieu, queen of Castile; Constance of Béarn, viscountess of Marsan (d. 1310), who married Edward I's first cousin Henry of Almain, and who was, like Edward II, descended in the female line from Gerberga of Provence, countess of Provence and Arles (d. 1115).

Edward II had numerous sisters, but only five lived into adulthood: Eleanor, Joan of Acre, Margaret, Mary and Elizabeth.  Mary became a nun, so is out.  Margaret had only one son, Duke John III of Brabant, so is out.  Eleanor had one daughter, Joan of Bar, countess of Surrey, who had no children, so is out.  That leaves Joan of Acre, countess of Gloucester and Hertford (1272-1307) and Elizabeth, countess of Holland, Hereford and Essex (1282-1316).  Elizabeth had two daughters: Eleanor le Boteler or Butler née de Bohun, countess of Ormond (c. 1310-1363) and Margaret Courtenay née de Bohun, countess of Devon (1311-1391, the last survivor of Eleanor of Castile's grandchildren), both of whom had daughters.  Joan of Acre had five daughters: Eleanor de Clare who married Hugh Despenser the Younger and William la Zouche; Margaret de Clare who married Piers Gaveston and Hugh Audley; Elizabeth de Clare who married John de Burgh, Theobald de Verdon and Roger Damory; Mary de Monthermer who married Duncan MacDuff, earl of Fife; and Joan de Monthermer, who became a nun.  I can't find any female descendants for Eleanor de Clare; although she had five daughters (Isabella, Joan, Eleanor, Margaret and Elizabeth Despenser), none of them had any daughters of their own.  Isabella Despenser had one son, Edmund Fitzalan, and Elizabeth Despenser four sons including Thomas, Lord Berkeley.  The other three Despenser daughters were forcibly veiled as nuns by Edward II's queen Isabella of France a few weeks after she had their father executed on 24 November 1326, even though they were only children at the time.  Mary de Monthermer had one daughter Isabella MacDuff, who had one daughter Elizabeth Ramsay, who died childless.  So of Joan of Acre's five daughters, that leaves two, Margaret and Elizabeth de Clare, who had daughters, granddaughters, great-granddaughters and so on, as well as their cousins Eleanor and Margaret de Bohun, the two daughters of Joan of Acre's sister Elizabeth.  Thus, there are four nieces of Edward II who are relevant to this research.

I still need to do more research into the female descendants of Eleanor de Bohun, who had two daughters, Margaret de Bohun, who had seven or eight daughters, and their cousin Margaret de Clare's daughter Margaret Audley, who had four daughters.  (Margaret de Clare's other daughter Joan Gaveston died young in 1325.)  Elizabeth de Clare, Joan of Acre's third daughter, had two daughters: Isabella de Verdon (21 March 1317 - 25 July 1349) and Elizabeth Damory (shortly before 23 May 1318 - c. 1361/62).  Elizabeth Damory herself had two daughters, Agnes and Isabel Bardolf, who are named in their grandmother Elizabeth de Clare's 1355 will when she left them bequests in aid of their marriages, but they disappear from history after that.  If they did marry and have children, there's no record of it, and it seems likely that they either died before they could marry or that they became nuns.  So that's the end of that line, unfortunately (the line of Elizabeth Damory's son William Bardolf continued, but that's irrelevant for our purposes).

Isabella de Verdon, Edward II's great-niece, to my joy, turned out to be a key figure.  Here's the story of how she came to be born.  Elizabeth de Clare (16 September 1295 - 4 November 1360) was widowed from her first husband, the earl of Ulster's son and heir John de Burgh, on 18 June 1313.  She was not yet eighteen years old and had a baby son William Donn ('the Brown') de Burgh, later earl of Ulster, born on 17 September 1312 (William's daughter and heir Elizabeth de Burgh, born in 1332 and named after his mother, married Edward III's second son Lionel of Antwerp).  Elizabeth de Clare remained in Ireland for some time after John de Burgh's death.  On 24 June 1314, her elder brother Gilbert de Clare, earl of Gloucester, was killed at the battle of Bannockburn, leaving Elizabeth and their other sisters Eleanor and Margaret as his heirs.  In late 1315, Elizabeth's uncle Edward II ordered her back from Ireland, where she had (I imagine) been living under the protection of her father-in-law Richard de Burgh, earl of Ulster.  Edward presumably wished to marry Elizabeth off to a man of his choosing, as he did later when he more or less forced her to marry his current court favourite Sir Roger Damory.

Unfortunately for Edward II but more especially for Elizabeth, Theobald de Verdon had other ideas.  Theobald was the justiciar of Ireland, seventeen years older than Elizabeth (born on 8 September 1278), and the widower of Roger Mortimer of Wigmore's sister Maud, with whom he had daughters Joan, Margery and Elizabeth de Verdon.  On 4 February 1316, Theobald abducted the twenty-year-old Elizabeth de Clare from Bristol Castle where she was then staying, and married her.  As Elizabeth was an adult, a widow and a mother, this may not have been as traumatic as the later abduction of her teenaged niece Margaret Audley must have been, but still.  Theobald claimed to Elizabeth's enraged uncle Edward II shortly afterwards when he visited the Lincoln parliament that Elizabeth had come to him willingly, but then he would say that, wouldn't he?

After less than six months of married life with his probably reluctant bride, Theobald de Verdon died on 27 July 1316, only in his late thirties.  Elizabeth's feelings on the matter are unknown, but fortunately for us, Theobald left her about a month pregnant at the time of his death.  Sometime during her pregnancy, Elizabeth retired to Amesbury Priory in Wiltshire, where her aunt Mary, Edward II's sister, was a nun (the two women evidently were extremely fond of each other).  At Amesbury on 21 March 1317, eight months after the death of Theobald, Elizabeth gave birth to their daughter Isabella de Verdon.  Edward II, staying at the nearby royal palace of Clarendon, sent a silver cup with stand and cover as a christening gift for his latest great-niece, having received news of the birth from a messenger sent by his sister Mary.  Queen Isabella was chosen as godmother and travelled from Clarendon to Amesbury to attend the christening; the baby was named after her.  Roger Martival, bishop of Salisbury, performed the ceremony.  Isabella de Verdon was one of the four co-heiresses of her father, with her three older half-sisters (nieces of Roger Mortimer); primogeniture did not apply to women, and daughters inherited equally.  Elizabeth de Clare was still recovering from the birth when Edward II came to Amesbury and put pressure on her to marry his current 'favourite', Roger Damory.  Elizabeth, who really had no choice, married Damory a few weeks later, and their only child Elizabeth Damory was born shortly before 23 May 1318, only fourteen months after her half-sister Isabella de Verdon.

Sometime in the late 1320s when she was still only a child, Isabella was married to Henry, Lord Ferrers of Groby in Leicestershire, who was much her senior. born by 1304 at the latest and perhaps in the 1290s.  Henry, unfortunately, claimed his conjugal rights early: Isabella gave birth to her eldest child probably in February 1331 (her mother sent her gifts for her purification ceremony that March, around the time of her fourteenth birthday).  The child, not surprisingly, did not survive.  Luckily. this early experience of childbirth did not damage Isabella's body, and she gave birth to four more children, two sons and two daughters including Elizabeth Ferrers, who was born probably sometime in the mid or late 1330s.  Elizabeth Ferrers married David de Strathbogie, titular earl of Atholl, who was born in the early 1330s as the son of David de Strathbogie the elder and Katherine Beaumont, one of the daughters of Henry, Lord Beaumont.  Katherine's sister Isabella Beaumont married Henry of Grosmont, first duke of Lancaster, and David the younger was thus the first cousin of Blanche of Lancaster, who married Edward III's third son John of Gaunt, and his paternal grandmother was Joan Comyn (actually both of his grandmothers were Comyns).  Elizabeth Ferrers and David de Strathbogie had a daughter Elizabeth de Strathbogie, who had a daughter Elizabeth Scrope, who had a daughter Elizabeth Clarell, and so on down the centuries until the 1700s at least.  More work is still to be done, tracing this line further.

If you've done any genealogical research and are aware of any female lines from Edward II's sisters or their maternal ancestors, please contact either me or the Auramala Project!

08 October, 2015

I Am In Italian Newspapers

Edited to add: I'd also like to thank Kathleen Guler for this fab review of my book Edward II: The Unconventional King!

It's rather exciting to be in Italian newspapers! :) The first one here is from Pavia, and is an interview kindly translated for me by Ivan Fowler of the Auramala Project, about Edward II's survival in Italy (the headline says 'Edward, the king who escaped to Oltrepo', Oltrepo being an area of the province of Pavia and where the hermitage of Sant'Alberto di Butrio is situated).  On 22 September, I spoke at the Salle Teresiano at the university of Pavia, a gorgeous old library, about Edward and his afterlife in Italy.  

The others are from Vercelli.  There are some lovely pics at the end of the article (here), including of His Excellency the archbishop of Vercelli who introduced my talk, and of me signing autographs.  My talk was called (in Italian) 'Edward II, the king who died twice, and the bishop of Vercelli Manuele Fieschi', which you can see in the headline.

This was the article in a Vercelli paper announcing my forthcoming presentation, also headlined 'The mystery of the king who died twice':

And another one from Vercelli!

Last but most definitely not least, in the national paper La Stampa! :)

03 October, 2015

How To Avoid Maligning Historical Persons (Guest Post)

Today, a brilliant guest post by my friend Ulrik Kristiansen! Thank you, Ulrik!
How To Avoid Maligning Historical Persons

Some thoughts for historical non-fiction authors and biographers ... and thank you very much to Kathryn for allowing me to share them!
This post is based on a discussion that grew out of a brilliant interview I did with Kathryn about what life lessons we might learn from Edward's tumultuous reign - today.
Among other things, Kathryn and I talked in the interview about the countless fiction books and - more disturbingly - the non-fiction books - that portray Edward as a 'bad gay man', or effeminate, incompetent, cruel, etc. - the whole unsavory package.
Some of these books which then describe Edward like this to show him as the total opposite of the valorous, virile, heterosexual Mortimer.
In other words: The worse you portray Edward the better Mortimer looks. And vice versa. Oldest trick in the book - you see it in Hollywood movies all the time. The villain has to do something terrible to the heroine's family, for example. Then we can 'forget' that it is equally terrible that the 'heroine' murders 200 of the villain's henchmen or whoever else gets in her way, to get at the villain.
I won't comment on the homophobia and worse that might permeate some of the abovementioned descriptions of Edward, based on more or less flimsy 'facts' from 700 years ago. (I haven't read all the books but I take Kathryn's word for it. The stuff I have read is quite enough.)
But after I had written the entire article about everything we talked about I felt could add more value to Kathryn's blog than to my own if I took the parts of the discussion that had to do with WHY we so often want to write (and read) these 'black and white' stories about historical people ... and made that into a whole new article.
I hope you will think the same, for here it is:

The power of black and white
What are the consequences of writing about people as being mostly 'good' or mostly 'bad'?
Well, nothing really - in the short term. You might even end up selling more books. But I can give at least three good reasons why you should not. They will be up in a moment but they will be there with a catch. They are not easy to deliver on. In fact, they can come off as down-right nasty challenges if you deal with historical material that is often incomplete and, more importantly, you have the urge to see people who lived long ago as a mirror image of yourself or people of today.
I would like to confess that I am not entirely innocent here. It's so deep in us, this way of telling stories about people - painting them as either heroes or villains, or other archetypes (or stereotypes if you will). If in doubt, just take a moment and listen to what you and others talk about at the kitchen table - how easily you slip into: 'He totally nails it at marketing' - 'She's a total failure as a politician' - 'Moslems are violent, it's in their religion' - 'People who believe in God are childish' - 'People who don't believe in God are materialistic and selfish' - etc. - etc.. The black and white-characterization is also a storytelling model reinforced by 90 per cent of all fiction in film, literature, etc. No wonder it is so difficult to get around when we try to write good historical non-fiction. If you are a long-time reader of Kathryn's blog, you will know, what I am talking about. Even serious academics fall into this trap. I do myself all the time.

I'm guilty, too
Just recently I worked on an illustration for a website about the Incas my girlfriend and I have wanted to make for a long time. I drew Cura Occlo, an Inca coya - or queen/empress, as she would be in Europa. She was one of the last Inca 'queens' and she suffered a grim fate, being captured and killed by the Spanish conquistadors while her husband led a rebellion against them.
When I drew the picture I could only think of drawing her as some sympathetic victim-like figure, robbed unfairly of her life and youth by what we would see as a criminal act today, and that's also what I felt compelled to use as an angle for the article that was to accompany the picture. Horrible as Cura Occlo's death was 500 years ago, I got ... second thoughts about my first angle in writing about her fate - after having put the drawing aside for awhile.
For example, she wasn't necessarily as innocent as I felt compelled to portray her as, on the first hunch. Her husband, Manco Inca, brutally killed and executed his enemies just like the Spaniards did. It was war. It was a different time. Did I really believe this Inca queen went along in her own little world, not knowing about or condoning at least some of all this brutality around her?
I doubt it, but I can never know for sure, of course ... The sources we have about this particular woman are scarce and to a large extent contradictory and biased, just like most other material from the Conquest of the Americas (written by Spaniards to justify it or by indigenous people later on to decry it).
Anyway, I'm sure you can see some similarities here ...
... if not, how about writing about a very spe-shul beautiful queen of 14th century England as if she is an innocent pure-hearted and largely passive victim of a cruel fop-gay husband and his chamberlain-lover?
Hypothetical example, of course ... :-)
The point is that all of the aforementioned are stories based on stereotype humans who are mostly either good or bad, victims or victimizers. No real humans. Story-humans.
And I find myself being drawn to these archetypical stories, too - all the time! Even if I know they are not really true.
I don't believe you can entirely escape this attraction to storytelling. Everyone certainly has an agenda. (Kathryn's agenda, fortunately, is primarily about destroying myths in order to give a more balanced picture of Edward.)
But I'm not even talking agenda here - I'm talking more about this deep, deep structure in our minds that's almost magnetic. The grooves in our minds that affect how we see the world.
We want so often to fit people into little boxes in certain shapes, don't we? It's how we make sense of the world, I will argue. A natural thing.
There's a lot of fancy psychology terms behind these observations, but suffice to say you will just have to follow me in this or go read a tabloid instead (or something equally substantial). If you are here, you are probably a fan of Kathryn's work, as I am, and so I think you will stay. I hope so.

3 suggestions for telling stories about real people
So ... are you planning on doing a historical bio yourself?
Do you have some past history person - Medieval or otherwise - you really fancy? (Or love to hate?).
Maybe you are already an accomplished author and follow Kathryn's blog just out of interest for the period or because you dig it when Kathryn slams some less-fortunate-author's work about Edward II (and well-deserved, too - I've seen no examples to the contrary)?
In that case, I'd like to give you a recipe on how you might avoid the worst story-traps in your bio about King X or Queen Y.
And the best of it all is, you don't even need to be afraid that this is going to cost you. You are going to be able to write an exciting non-fiction bio - even if you hold yourself to  standard that doesn't allow for black villainous kings or white-hearted queens.
In fact, I don't think you will have anything but benefits from this approach. But with each benefit also comes a challenge - some hard work. Sorry - but nothing is for free, especially not integrity.
And with that said, here are my suggestions for a good approach to writing historical bios:

1) Do it to make peace - not to pick a fight
Yes, this may sound a little new age psycho-babble-ish, but my assertion here is that you will realize it gives more peace inside to try to diminish how many 'enemies' or 'failures' you see amongst other people. In other words, the less you look for things that can piss you off about others and the more you try to understand why people act 'like idiots', the less frustrated you will be. It is easier to forgive, ignore or bear with someone you understand, although you don't agree with him or her.
You must then strive to push your biographical storytelling - in fiction and non-fiction - in the same direction of understanding, otherwise there will be a disconnect between the way you treat people you write about and the way you treat people in the real world. It's a bit like being a troll on Facebook - it's hard to maintain that attitude and rant against some people and then go out and have a harmonic relation with your family or your spouse.
Sooner or later that urge to kick whoever annoys you will shine through into the real world. You might as well deal with it and try to cultivate a harmonic view of everyone - past or present. You can't really separate these people. I know it's another cliché but if you, say, really have a problem with Edward being a homo (or whatever he was) then you're not going to do well in the real world when you meet people who are just that and who you might need to relate to more peacefully: A boss, a family member, a friend who comes out, whatever.

Okay, enough psycho-babble - but I hope you get my drift: Your choice of biographical subject and how you treat it to a large extent a reflection of how you feel about yourself and other people - who you love and who you loathe. You might as well try to iron these feelings out, both in your bio, and in real life - instead of choosing to magnify them through writing a book about someone you paint as a real idiot/villain/schlock/etc. Trust me, when you get as old as I sometimes feel, you don't want to waste too much time delving in negativity. Not even in what you write.

2) Do it to get new insights
High quality non-fiction is about discussing the complexity of reality in an exciting way (with notes so people can see how you put your argument together). It is NOT about reducing complexity of reality in the mistaken belief that that will always be more exciting.
You are never finished with upping your writing quality in this department. You can always go back and do more. Yes, of course there is a deadline now and then, but it's an ideal, okay? What it means in practice is that you treat biographical writing as a science, so you are open to someone down the line proving you wrong about something - with arguments. You don't struggle forever to maintain a viewpoint you spend so many hours arguing into a text 3 years ago, if it is no longer tenable.
Yes, I know there isn't an absolute yardstick for when something is true or not. But there is a warning light: When you find yourself continually defending the status quo of your view points. That means you are probably not doing a good enough job trying to unveil the reality about a person. You are becoming stuck in your own reality.

3) Do it to educate people for real
- and not just trying to force your viewpoint on them. If you are in doubt about whether or not you have given people a choice in deciding what to believe in your biography ... you probably haven't.

And that's my advice really. Short and sweet.
Then inevitably comes the question ... "how"?
What should you do then if you are writing a book about your favorite historical period and its participants, and there are just long periods when you don't know what happened in people's lives for sure, or why they did something for sure? Well, in the case of Edward it is seems tempting to tell a  very particular story, although you don't have the evidence to back it up. So what do you do to fill in the blanks? For that will inevitably veer your story in a certain direction. You will have to decide what your character did and why and if you want your audience to like him or not.
Alternatively, do you hold back and instead write a lot of times: "we don't really know" - ?
In other words: How do you avoid that your narrative becomes ... dull?
How about ...

Treating your bio-story as a mystery
If you treat the possible options of what has happened and why as a mystery - and as regards interpreting actions of your characters especially - then that can, I will argue, be just as gratifying as anything else. It can be just as exciting as choosing a straight-forward narrative.
Like choosing:
Option 1: "Why did Edward really neglect Isabella - if at all?"
Option 2: "Edward neglected Isabella because he was an egoistic, gay man."
Your reader is with option 1 presented with different possibilities and can make her own narrative - but no attempt from your side is made to force your own story on the material! You argue your case - you don't shove it down someone's throat!
Yes, make an argument into the story in your non-fiction book. That's what he wrote.
Don't make a badly disguised fiction story that you wish for - or hope will be more entertaining, because you can't think of alternatives.
There are always alternatives.
Why should the 'mystery story' be less exciting to your audience - unless you don't care about them but only about feeding them your own truth?
So try to tell the captivating story effectively - and maintain high degree of honesty - by discussing multiple options for what the protagonists and antagonists may have thought. Or what they may have felt. Or how they may have related to each other.

If you can't really back your speculations up - discuss them!
Then you can make an argument for your case but allow the reader to choose his or her favored conclusion based on the options you have lead forth.
Note: The basic neutrality of this kind of (very challenging) storytelling is not the same as giving equal treatment to all facts, trying to balance them out so to speak.
If, for example, Edward dabbled in modern pastimes such as rowing and sports and outdoor life, mingled with commoners, took a genuine interest in furthering knowledge and had a more or less open bisexuality that doesn't mean it was just as important as him going to war (and losing it). It also makes for a stiff and boring narrative, should you try to give equal room in pages to both, or anything in line with that model.  (Luckily, Kathryn hasn't done that and hers is an example to be emulated!)
But each case is different. Each topic is different. Your knowledge is different. The available data. You will have to weigh how much space to give each aspect of a story. As you do so you inevitably call attention to what can be interpreted as moral qualities (or lack thereof) in your main characters. As we have already discussed, modern audiences are hungry to fit people into certain preconceived frames - stories with clear cut heroes and villains. Most people like those better than ambiguity.

Walking the talk
I will end this guest post by giving a personal example of how I try to do exactly what I have been describing above, when I tell stories about historical persons. I'm not saying I am doing it perfectly, only that I am trying to be very much aware of what I am doing and of living up to this ideal.
So ... I recently finalized my latest live-talk about fascinating historical persons and this time I chose to talk about Christopher Columbus. It is a 1.5 hour talk for a broad audience. I gave it recently for school children. Next month I will be giving a slightly adjusted version for seniors.
In my last two talks - about Joan of Arc and Eleanor of Aquitaine respectively - I've struggled to find a compromise between the short time, keeping an exciting straightforward narrative free of too much ambiguity and still giving a balanced picture of who these persons really were (as far as we can ever know - both ladies lived a very long time ago!).
Anyway, did I give myself a challenge with Christopher Columbus! Up until about World War II that man was a hero to many, regular folks and scholars - but as we closed in on the end of the last millennium he has become quite the opposite to many: Accused of everything from starting slavery, to genocide to being a religious nut to just being a plain idiot for not being able to find India. Bottom line: It's very easy to fall into either the 'no, he was really a hero-story or the 'he was definitely a villain'-story.
I don't want to see Columbus as a 'villain', but he was hardly a 'hero' either - in modern terms. He was a man of his time who thought slavery and subjugation of 'lesser (non-Christian) peoples' was all right - at least to a degree.
Oh, Columbus tried to fiddle a little bit with the criteria, such as at one point entertaining the notion that only cannibals should be enslaved. In the end, though, Columbus' inner urge to become rich and famous - a 'someone' - coupled with his need to placate the local colonists and deliver on the promises made to the Spanish crown for bringing SOME value home from the new islands ... all of that made it extremely difficult to maintain any ideals, he may have had about treating at least some Indians with benevolence. And heads rolled. In the end, it was almost Columbus' own when he was 'fired' as administrator of Hispaniola and sent home in chains.
I thought I could try to draw attention away from Columbus' violent actions by :
- talking about how much worse every other colonist had been
- talking down the extent of the violence
- or trying to divert the discussion to his religiousness and avowed goal to get gold enough to finance a new crusade (a motivation both dubious in its 'purity' and not particularly sympathetic in our part of the world today anyway)
But then I thought ... why not just admit it?
Like: Columbus wasn't as bad as they came in 1492, but compared to 2015 he wasn't particularly likable either.
I hesitated, though - for how could I then make an audience of children with their parents - and later seniors - see something likable about Columbus? So they would want to listen to a story about him for 2 hours?
Yup, first task for any storyteller: Create a person people can like, even if just a little bit. Or the audience won't care what happens to him or her. And that goes for biographers, too, no matter how 'objective' they say they strive to be.
So (deep breath) ... I did it by connecting Columbus' quest to get rich and famous and the gradual slipping of ideals to the modern quest to become ... rich and famous.
Sure, the means were different and perhaps also the definition of 'rich and famous'. But isn't there something here we can recognize today - something very human that we can see in our own lives ... say, in our interest in 'the stars' (especially when their fall 'from grace' in the tabloids)?
Isn't there something here that we may not particularly like but we can at least recognize enough from our own lives? Something that can help us to understand Columbus a little bit for being a seeker of fame and fortune himself - in his own time?
So far - and judging from the response of my audiences - the answer is 'yes'.
And by approaching it this way, we are over the idiotic discussion about whether or not Columbus deserves to be a called a 'hero' still for his admittedly courageous exploration expeditions, or if he was somehow singlehandedly responsible for the genocide on the American Indians. It's not longer about black or white but about people - in all their colors and shades.
The people of the past may be distant mirrors of ourselves, like historian Barbara Tuchman wrote, also the title of her book about - guess what - the 14th century. The mirror image may be distorted because of the distance in time and living conditions and social values - but we can still recognize a part of ourselves in it.
Perhaps one day someone will write a history book about a certain failed English king called Edward of Caernarfon in which he is not just shown as an effeminate wife-hating politically tone-deaf ruler, but as a man with both vices and virtues that perhaps aren't so foreign to us today.
Wait ... someone already did! :-)

The article that came out of it for my Life Story Lessons site - StoryMover.Academy:
My own ultra-short kind of bio: My name is Ulrik Kristiansen and I am a blogger, speaker and coach who is very much in love with all things Medieval - including anything as regards 14th century England. If you are in Denmark you might want to invite me to tell you about Joan of Arc, Eleanor of Aquitaine or Christopher Columbus all of whom I have made some pretty nifty live-talks about - see astrea.dk.  And if you just want to read some of all my other stuff, there's always the personal blog: TheStorm Lamp
That's it - thanks for reading and thanks for having me, Kathryn. Drop a comment below and tell us what you think!