Monday 1 January 2018

Statistics - and Edward ll by Mary Hoffman

Happy 2018 to all our Followers and readers!

At the beginning of a new year we thought you'd like to know some statistics. There are 1,183 official Followers on this site - who are eligible to enter our competitions if they live in the UK. But there are many more of you who read the blog without being Followers.

In July 2018 we will have been History Girls for eight years!

We've had over three million hits, a third of them from the United States of America. But we've also had nearly 36K from Ukraine and over 21K from China.

Our most popular post ever was Leslie Wilson's on Maria von Maltzan, 23rd July 2012. It has had nearly 96K hits!

The third most visited post was written only last month. Michelle Lovric's Suicide by Greed about the way Venice is succumbing to the effects of huge tourist cruise liners, was published on December 10th 2017. It has had over 17.5K hits already in three weeks.

I hope you find all this as fascinating as I do.

In case you are new to the site, this is our pattern:

1st - 28th of every month: a daily post by on of our 29 members (we have a job share on 15th).
29th: a guest post from a writer of history or historical fiction.
30th of months with 31 days: Cabinet of Curiosities by Charlotte Wigtwick, about an object or objects from history.
Last day of month: competition to win the latest book by the guest on 29th.

But the daily work of the site is to provide a different post every day of the year on a historical topic. So I must get on and give you a review of Edward ll the Man: a Doomed Inheritance by Stephen Spinks.

For many people, all that they know about England's second king of that name (after his father, Edward Longshanks), is that he died from a red hot poker up his backside. And this was a punishment for being a homosexual. He was deposed for his unnatural instincts and then cruelly murdered.


Well, for that you have to thank Christopher Marlowe, whose play, published posthumously in 1594, was first given the title The Troublesome Reign and Lamentable Death of Edward the Second, King of England, with the Tragical Fall of Proud Mortimer.

It portrays  Edward's fascination with his "favourite" Piers Gaveston, who is executed not far into the play and then his successor "Spenser" (Hugh Despenser the Younger historically). At the end of the drama, the regicide referred to above is carried out by the villainous Lightborn, whom many have identified with Lucifer (though surely he'd be called Lightbearer in that case?)

Stephen Spinks quickly deals with Marlowe's version at the beginning of his new biography and then proceeds to demolish what the play tells us. He makes it clear that his subject suffered terribly from being the middle Edward of a three generation kingship of that name. His father was known as The Hammer of the Scots, while this king suffered the ignominious defeat by Robert Bruce at Bannockburn.

His son, Edward lll, reigned for fifty years, produced thirteen children in his long marriage to Philippa of Hainault, was immensely popular with his subjects and, through his oldest son Edward the Black Prince, won victories in France, even taking the French king prisoner.

So the second King Edward is an early example of the "squeezed middle," and his reputation has consequently suffered. That he did have homosexual relationships is indisputable but he also had four children with his wife, Isabella of France. He was cultured, educated, refined and took pleasure in all sorts of athletic and aesthetic activities.

But his relationship with his father was stormy and the old king was increasingly irascible at the end of his reign. At his death Edward l left his son a burden of debts and of administrative chaos. The young Edward had a cohort of young knights with whom he had grown up and who formed a tight loyal band. Men like Roger Mortimer the Younger, who would eventually become Queen Isabella's companion in arms and lover.

Roger Mortimer, who would depose his friend and be executed by that friend's son after three years when he had effectively become the ruler of England.

Stephen Spinks has been fascinated and obsessed by Edward ll from boyhood, writing his PhD thesis on him and now this book, the culmination of many years of study.

So what does he think about Edward's end? Well, he adopts the thesis of historian Ian Mortimer in his book The Greatest Traitor: the Life of Roger Mortimer, 1st Earl of March. Both Spinks and Mortimer believe that Edward the Second was not in fact killed at Berkeley Castle in 1327 at all  and that his funeral was faked. They rely on a letter written by Manuele de Fieschi, a Papal notary in 1336.

According to the Fieschi letter, Edward survived, escaping first to Ireland and then to the continent where, after many travels, he became a monk in Lombardy and made his confession to Fieschi in 1335.

So, no red hot poker. No murder in fact and the king left to die of natural causes in a religious house in Italy. It's a quite different story. By contrast his former friend, then traitor Roger Mortimer was executed after three years of tyranny and his former queen, Isabella, was imprisoned by their son. Edward's half brother, the Earl of Kent was executed for plotting to restore Edward to the throne - something possible only if the deposed king had still been alive.

The author's enthusiasm for his subject ensures that this book is extremely readable and that Edward's reputation is at least partly rehabilitated. A good read for anyone who, like me, is fascinated by the Plantagenets.

(I'm afraid that Blogger absolutely refuses to upload any of my images, which has been a problem for a while now.)


Sue Purkiss said...

Well - I much prefer the new version of Edward's life! I don't know - these dramatists...

Ann Turnbull said...

Me too. I'm relieved not to have to imagine the red hot poker.
Mary, I hadn't even noticed the absence of images until you mentioned it. One advantage of having text only is that the blog looks shorter - and therefore less daunting.