ANNA BELFRAGE

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Archive for the tag “Edward II”

A gift fit for a queen

In a feudal society, the first-born son generally hit the jackpot. His was the future title, his were his father’s lands, and not very much was left for his younger brothers – unless, of course, the mother had her own lands and titles that could be settled on a younger son. Alternatively, the younger son entered holy orders. The church, you see, offered an interesting and lucrative career path to the ambitious younger son. Not that the younger son was always given a choice: your medieval ambitious daddy saw the benefits in having a son or two high up the ecclesiastic hierarchy.

Obviously, not all bishops in medieval England were younger sons of noblemen. Take, for example, today’s protagonist, Walter Stapledon, Bishop of Exeter and loyal servant of Edward II. Not as much as a drop of noble blood, but our Walter was a younger brother. Big brother Richard was to inherit some minor landholdings from their father, and little Walter was therefore destined for the church.

The Stapledon family was not without means, seeing as both Richard and Walter were educated at Oxford. Richard would go on to become a lawyer and local judge, on top of his day-to-day management of his lands. Walter, on the other hand, made his way to Exeter, where he became a cathedral canon in 1301. By then, Walter was in his mid-thirties, a well-educated man who in 1305 became a doctor of canon and civil law, which qualified him for royal employment.

EHFA medieval-bishopIn 1307, the bishop of Exeter died, and Walter was chosen as his replacement. Not a unanimous vote, and there was a lot of quibbling back and forth before Walter’s backside was firmly welded to the bishop’s chair. But once there, Walter had arrived: as a bishop, not only did he have access to substantial means, but he was also a member of Parliament. And somewhere along the line, Bishop Walter found favour with the king, Edward II.

During his first decade as bishop, Walter not only organised his diocese and founded Stapledon Hall in Oxford (present day Exeter College). He also served Edward as an envoy to Gascony on several occasions. Things weren’t all that good in Gascony, the French encroaching regularly on English land. From a French perspective, the land was French. From an English perspective, Gascony was what remained of the magnificent Angevin empire that had been built by Henry II and his wife, Eleanor of Aquitaine, and which started crumbling the moment Henry II died – albeit that his son Richard held it together for some more years. Gascony therefore had immense emotional value for the English – and Edward II was not about to let this last toe-hold on the continent slip away.

Edward had problems closer to home. Due to his blatant favouritism of the Despensers, father and son, he had alienated most of his powerful barons, who felt he was in breach of his coronation oaths, whereby he was supposed to take counsel from a larger group of barons, not only the Despensers. When Edward II repeatedly turned a blind eye on the Despensers’ rapacious appropriation of land belonging to others, the barons were further enraged. When Hugh Despenser the younger took it upon himself to hang, draw and quarter a man without a trial, the barons had had enough. In 1321, the barons, led by Roger Mortimer and Thomas of Lancaster, rebelled, and Walter Stapledon was one of ten bishops who had their work more than cut out for them as they hastened back and forth between the king and the barons in an attempt to broker a peace.

Ultimately, the king was given no choice: The Despensers were exiled and Edward retreated to lick his wounds and plan vengeance. Stapledon retired to his diocese, resigning from the role of Treasurer he’d been given by Edward a year or so earlier (this appointment was one of the issues of contention with the barons; such appointments should be discussed with the baronial council). Maybe Walter felt an element of relief at this development, hoping to expend his considerable energy on his diocese. Alternatively, he was disappointed, seeing as he’d earned the reputation of increasing his own wealth due to his position, not above applying extortion when so required.

EHFA E IIIn the event, Edward II rose like a phoenix from the ashes. Clearly, the risk of never seeing Hugh Despenser again sufficed to have the king act swiftly and resolutely, and by 1322 the tables had been turned on the barons, with Mortimer languishing in the Tower and Lancaster very dead. The Despensers were recalled, Stapledon was reinstated, and things were, in Edward’s opinion, good. Well: except for Gascony, where things had taken a turn for the worse.

Stapledon had his work cut out for him as Treasurer. The hostilities in Gascony, the skirmishes with Scotland – it all cost money. And when Mortimer escaped the Tower in August of 1323, money had to be expended on increased security for the king and his favourites. Stapledon was an efficient administrator, but money was scarce – the king was not given to parsimony, neither was dear Hugh – and in 1324 the king seized Queen Isabella’s dower lands to supplement his income. Some say this was Stapledon’s idea, but whether it was or not, the bulk of Isabella’s holdings lay in his diocese, so Stapledon was put in charge of doing the actual seizing. This did not go down well with Isabella, who was reduced to an allowance and blamed Stapledon for her humiliation.

The political situation in England became increasingly volatile. Spurred on by Hugh Despenser, Edward turned England upside down in his search for potential allies to his rebellious barons – first and foremost Mortimer. Suspects were hauled before the assizes, in some cases deprived of their lands, in others imprisoned or executed. Tensions rode high, putting it mildly. In Gascony, the French under Charles de Valois routed the English. If Edward wanted to retain his Gascon lands, he had to act – which he did, by sending his queen to negotiate with her brother, the French king Charles IV. Isabella was successful, Charles IV was willing to be magnanimous, and all that remained was the thorny issue of homage.

Charles IV wanted Edward II to do homage – in Paris – for Gascony. This would mean leaving England in Hugh Despenser’s hands, and while Edward himself had no problem with this, Despenser most certainly did, convinced that the moment the king was gone, he’d be attacked and murdered by the disgruntled barons. Probably a legitimate fear, and so in September of 1325 Edward II despatched his son, Edward of Windsor, to do homage in his stead. The young prince was accompanied by Walter Stapledon who was charged with one further task: bring Queen Isabella home.

By then, Isabella had been in France for six months or so, and she showed no inclination whatsoever to return to her husband. Seeing as Roger Mortimer was at large on the continent, this made Edward decidedly uncomfortable – he was intelligent enough to realise that his disaffected and humiliated wife might entertain the notion of supporting the traitorous (as per Edward) baron. He had repeatedly ordered Isabella to return, and at her non-compliance had cut off her funds, hoping this would bring his wife to heel. The only thing that happened was that Isabella moved in with her brother, still stubbornly refusing to return to England.

Stapledon oversaw the homage ceremony, tried to corner Isabella into having a private conversation, and when that didn’t work he chose to stand up before the entire French court and tell her she had no option but to return home immediately, her husband would not tolerate any more excuses from his disobedient wife. Isabella stood and told Stapledon she would not go home – not as long as Hugh Despenser the younger was the third wheel in her marriage. Stapledon turned to the French king – a man-to-man demand that the king send his sister back to her husband. Charles, unsurprisingly, refused. Stapledon had no choice but to retire, utterly humiliated. Some days later, he chose to flee the court in disguise, convinced there was a plot afoot to assassinate him. Left behind in France was Prince Edward, now firmly under his mother’s control. The rebellion against Edward II had just acquired its figurehead – the heir to the throne.

Stapledon returned to an England in turmoil. Over the coming months, it became apparent that Isabella and Roger had joined forces, even embarked on a passionate relationship. In England, all those suffering under the double yoke of Despenser and Edward II organised themselves, while the king and his advisors concentrated on defence strategies. Stapledon was made responsible for defending his part of the country, and as the winter of 1325 became the spring of 1326, people waited. And waited. And waited.

EHFA Retour_d_Isabelle_de_France_en_AngleterreIn September of 1326, Isabella and her son, accompanied by Roger, landed in England. In a series of rousing speeches, Isabella declared that they were here only to safeguard England from the tyranny of the Despensers and the other evil counsellors of the king (I am convinced she included Stapledon in this little club), and to ensure the rule of law was restored within the land. At every opportunity, she presented her handsome fourteen-year-old son, ensuring everyone got an eyeful of the heir – the future king.

Despenser urged the king to flee. Edward II did not lack personal courage, and with the funds in his treasury he could easily have fielded an army substantially larger than that of Isabella and Roger. But in view of Hugh’s abject terror, he did as his favourite asked him to and rode west, making for the relative safety of Ireland. London was left in control of Stapledon – a dangerous task, seeing as the Londoners were major Mortimer and Isabella fans.

On October 15, 1326, London exploded. Angry citizens decided to take justice in their own hands and the mayor (who, incidentally, was one of the men who condemned Roger Mortimer to death in 1321) was forced to sign the death sentences of two men: one was a purported Despenser spy, the other was none other than the hated Treasurer, Walter Stapledon. Now, Walter was a bishop, and as such could only be tried by an ecclesiastic court, but the mob had gone beyond trials – they wanted blood, and they wanted it now. The Despenser spy was hunted down and dragged to Cheapside where he was beheaded. And then they went in search of the bishop.

Stapledon was not at home when the mob burnt down his doors, ransacked his house and carried off his precious belongings. But upon hearing that his house was being looted, the bishop donned armour and rode into the city, ignoring the advice to stay away. By the time he’d realised his error, it was too late, the mob baying for his blood as they chased Stapledon and his squires through the London streets.

Bishop beheading-650x387Desperately, Stapledon made for St Paul’s, hoping to claim sanctuary. At the north door, the crowd caught up with him, and he was pulled off his horse, screaming in fear as he was hauled towards Cheapside. Once there he was forced to his knees and his head was sawed off with a breadknife. I can only imagine just how much time that took…

The ecstatic Londoners sent Stapledon’s head as a gift to Isabella, throwing the rest of the bishop’s mauled remains in a dungheap to be eaten by dogs. It is to her credit that Isabella was horrified – mostly because one should not saw off the head of bishops. Isabella needed the church on her (and her son’s) side, and no matter what her feelings for Bishop Stapledon might have been, she had to express her disgust at the horrible way in which he’d been put to death. The Londoners who’d been dispatched to present their queen with the grisly gift were curtly thanked and on Isabella’s orders, the battered body (and head, one assumes) of Walter Stapledon were returned to Exeter. There the poor man was buried before the high altar as befitted a bishop, and a good bishop at that. Whatever his other faults, Stapledon had been a good administrator of the diocese, a man with a passion for learning so strong he founded Stapledon Hall at Oxford University to offer young men of little means the opportunity to study. These days, Stapledon Hall is known as Exeter College.

Walter Stapledon does not lie alone in Exeter Cathedral. Close by is the grave of his brother, Richard, who tried to defend Walter from the London mob and in so doing lost his life too. An older brother defending a younger, a knight defending a priest. Two men caught up in a power struggle which ended with a deposed king and a new, very young, king. I wonder if now and then they rise from their graves to chat about that distant past, two ghostly outlines gliding through the dark interior of the cathedral. Likely, they don’t. Likely they lie silent and still, have done so for close to 700 years.

The suffering of a loyal wife

medieval loveOn a September day in 1301, the fifteen-year-old Joan de Geneville wed Roger Mortimer, the future Baron Mortimer. He was one year younger, but this was apparently no hindrance as already one year later Joan was delivered of a child.

Joan brought a lot to her husband. The eldest of three daughters born to Piers de Geneville and his wife, Jeanne Lusignan, Joan born in 1286, the principal heiress to her grandfather’s substantial holdings in Wales and Ireland. Born at Ludlow Castle, her father’s residential seat, she inherited this upon the death of her father in 1292. Her attractiveness as an heiress was tripled when her family decided to concentrate all their wealth on her while dispatching her two younger sisters to convents. What the younger sisters may have thought of all this is unknown, but as a consequence Joan became quite the prize on the marital market, and I imagine Edmund Mortimer, Roger’s dear papa, was more than delighted when he reeled in this particular bridal catch for his son and heir.

Neither Roger nor Joan would have expected to have much say in who they wed. They were both born into noble houses and knew their duty was to wed as it benefited their families. A marriage was a partnership, entered into with the express intention of producing heirs and furthering the combined family interests. If said partnership developed into genuine affection and love, that was a nice little extra.

Joan and Roger seem to have been among the lucky couples who liked each other (although I imagine a fifteen-year-old girl may well have found her younger husband unbearably childish at times). Over the coming eighteen years, Joan would be brought to bed of at twelve children that we know of, suggesting she spent little time separated from her husband, no matter where he went.

After a couple of carefree years just after their marriage, things changed when Roger’s father died in 1304, thereby making him the new Baron Mortimer. He was considered too young to manage his own affairs, and initially he was made a ward of Piers Gaveston, soon to become far more famous as Edward II’s favourite than as Mortimer’s guardian. Edward I was still very much alive and kicking when all this transpired, and it was the old king himself who arranged the lavish affair at Westminster in 1306 when the future Edward II was knighted together with hundreds of other youngsters, including our Roger.

EHFA E IIIn 1307, Edward I died. His son was a very different kind of man. Where Edward I had experienced first-hand just how important it was for a king to be king and not let himself be swayed by favourites as Henry III was prone to, Edward II very quickly became dependent on his favourites. Initially, this did not affect the new king’s relationship with young Mortimer. In fact, Roger proved himself a capable and loyal servant of the king and was sent off to handle a number of sticky situations, mostly with Joan at his side.

But then the king began developing an affection for Hugh Despenser. This Roger did not like. At all. The Despensers and the Mortimers did not get along (putting it mildly) This probably had something to do with Roger’s grandfather killing Hugh’s granddaddy at Evesham and chopping off his head. I suppose such actions are hard to forgive.

Now, the problem with Hugh (according to the Mortimers) was not the man himself. It was the fact that he was married to Eleanor de Clare, niece to the king and one of the three de Clare heiresses, all of whom had substantial landholdings in the Mortimer stomping ground, the Welsh Marches. Hugh being Hugh, he (well, Eleanor really) came away with the lion’s share of the de Clare inheritance thereby making him quite the powerful lord in Mortimer’s ‘hood. Not good. In this, Roger and Joan were in agreement.

I am not sure as to how much in agreement they were when Roger, provoked by just how often the king turned a blind eye to Hugh’s less savoury deeds, went wild and crazy and attacked Hugh’s lands. I suspect Joan was with him all the way, even if she must have felt a niggle at unease: to go after Hugh was to go after the king, and even if most of the Marcher lords didn’t rate Edward II all that highly – they were rough and ready men who needed a firm hand on the bridle—he was still their anointed king. One did not rebel against the king.

Roger carried the day in that first encounter. A cornered king was obliged to pardon Mortimer and his companions for their rebellious actions and exile his beloved Hugh. That should be Hugh in plural, as the king was very fond of Hugh senior as well, as rapacious and greedy as his son. Well, according to Mortimer.

Some months later, Edward II turned the tables on the rebels. Intelligent and brave, the king had it in him to act decisively when so prodded. (It is a bit unfortunate he didn’t combine these attributes with consistency and impartiality. If so, none of what happened would have happened) Being deprived of Hugh was a major, major prod which is why the king mustered an army and went after Roger Mortimer who was forced to submit to the king in January of 1322.

He was stripped of his titles, his lands and carried off in chains to the Tower. Joan must have believed she’d never see her dear lord again, and somehow she was left with the responsibility of trying to salvage what could be salvaged from the resulting mess. Very little, as it turned out. The king showed his more vindictive side and had Joan and her children locked up. Unfortunately, not together. The Mortimer sons in England were taken to Windsor, the unwed Mortimer daughters were sent to various convents, with very little set aside for their board. Not exactly happy years for these little girls. Joan herself (with her youngest child) was kept under constrained circumstances.

In 1323, Mortimer escaped the Tower. Things became very bad for Joan who was taken to Skipton Castle and kept under very harsh conditions. Things didn’t get better when rumours reached England (and Joan) of Mortimer taking up with the king’s disgruntled queen, Isabella. (More about her and her “disgruntledness” here. This is, after all, a post about Joan and Isabella had a tendency to outshine most of her female contemporaries)

mortimerIn 1326, Mortimer returned to England, side by side with his queen. And yes, I am one of those who believe Mortimer and Isabella not only shared a lust for power but also a bed, which must have been very difficult for loyal Joan. Especially since she’d spent close to five years in captivity because of her husband. So I’m thinking she was anything but warm and cuddly when she finally met her husband again:

An ancient building, this hall still had a central hearth, the smoke spiralling upwards to the hole in the roof. The stone flags were bare of any rush mats, and even through the thick soles of Adam’s boots, the cold seeped through. The walls were adorned with heavy tapestries, there was a table and some chairs, and after having arranged for wine, Lady Joan retired to stand by the table, fingers tugging at the skirts of the cream kirtle that did little for her complexion.
Adam bowed deeply, grateful for this opportunity to compose his features. The lady before him bore little resemblance to the lady he conserved in his memories, her previously so womanly figure reduced to that of a stick-like waif, her narrow wrists protruding from the embroidered cuffs of her heavy sleeves.
She was wearing a silk veil, but a heavy braid of grey hair hung in plain sight, and from the way Lord Roger winced, Adam suspected Lady Joan was taking the opportunity to show him what these last few years had cost her. While he had been safe and sound in France, his loyal lady wife had suffered years of deprivation, and her suffering must have been compounded by the rumours concerning her husband and the queen.
“My lady.” Lord Roger approached her with his hands extended, as if to take hold of hers.
Lady Joan backed away. “My lord husband,” she said stiffly, emphasising the last word. “Long have I awaited your visit.”
Lord Roger looked away. “I’m sorry that I didn’t come sooner, but I—”
She waved him quiet. “So now what?” she asked.
“I…” Lord Roger wet his lips. “I brought you a gift.” He gestured, and Adam presented Lady Joan with the carefully wrapped bundle.
“A gift?” Lady Joan undid the cloth, revealing three books. Beautiful books, even Adam could see that; one of them reminiscent of Queen Jeanne’s book of hours. For what seemed like an eternity, Lady Joan just stood there, studying the books.
“Thank you,” she finally said. “And now what?” she repeated. “Will we return to Wigmore together, husband?” Yet again, she emphasised the last word. Yet again, Lord Roger looked away.
“Ah.” Lady Joan nodded, and her hand closed on the uppermost book. “For close to five years, I have been held captive. Five years in which my life has shrunk to four walls and a constant fear – for you, for our children. Five years spent mostly on my knees, praying for your safe return, for the sanity of our daughters, locked away among the nuns, for the lives of our sons, held prisoners by the king. I have prayed and prayed, and what have you done? What?” The book flew through the air, hitting Lord Roger full in the face. “You, husband, have shamed me! Before the entire court in France, before our sniggering countrymen, you have paraded that whore of a queen as your mistress, while I – I, your loyal wife, mother to your children – have suffered on your behalf. And this…” She picked up the next book and hurled it at him. “This is how you see fit to repay me? By buying me books?”

Right: let’s leave her there, shall we?

Eduard3Edward II was deposed, his young son crowned in his stead with Mortimer and Isabella as his regents. Over the coming years, Mortimer would spend most of his time at court, with Isabella. Did he communicate with his wife? He must have, as they had all those children in common and a huge joint estate to manage. Did he and Joan resume marital relations, find their way back to the intimacy pre 1321? I have my doubts. Joan de Geneville does not strike me as a woman who would have been content with the crumbs from the royal table, so if Roger Mortimer was sleeping with the queen he was probably not sleeping with his wife. Did Joan miss him? Did she regret the loss of what they once had? I believe she must have – after all, once upon a time they went everywhere together, and now she was the third wheel in an intense and devouring relationship, her husband more interested in the wielding of power together with Isabella than in her. Very sad, IMO. Not nice, Roger.

Mortimer Munro-Essay-1200

Mortimer being taken down

In 1330, Edward III ousted Mortimer and dear mama from power. Isabella was “allowed” to retire and think things over, Mortimer was tried, convicted of treason and executed. In a repeat of 1322, all Mortimer’s lands were attainted—including Joan’s dower lands. Once again, Joan was tainted with the brush of treason and for a while she ended up in captivity. Again. Most unfair and unchivalrous of a young king who otherwise prided himself on being a good and valiant knight.

Already in 1331, some parts of Mortimer lands were returned to Edmund, Joan’s and Roger’s eldest son. In 1336, Joan received full restitution of her lands and could go back to managing her affairs – and those of her children that required managing. By then, her eldest son was long dead and the hopes of the Mortimers rested on the very young shoulders of Roger Mortimer, her husband’s namesake and their grandson. Not that Joan had much say in how the young Roger was brought up, but this little Mortimer was fortunate in his stepfather and would go on to make quite his mark on the world.

I hope Joan found some peace and contentment during the last few decades of her life. She had family to visit, grandchildren to take pride in, she had wealth and comfort. But now and then I suspect she thought of her Roger, of the very young lad she married and loved before she lost him to other ambitions, other goals.

Joan died in 1356 and was buried at Wigmore Abbey. This is where I would have liked to end this post by stating that as Joan had petitioned the king to have Roger’s remains returned to her to be reinterred at Wigmore abbey, she was laid to rest side by side with her husband – loyal to the end, one could say. Unfortunately, there is little to prove she succeeded in her petition, and so Joan de Geneville was buried to lie alone, far from the man who’d so shaped her life.  I’m thinking that by then she no longer cared.

9789198324518P.S. The excerpt above is from Days of Sun and Glory, the second in my series about Roger, Isabella and the people dragged along in their wake.

Hanged, drawn and quartered – not a death to aspire to

HDQ main-qimg-6d1cf921e99741e6559b96e99e88897bBeing a medieval king came with all sorts of challenges, chief among them how to stop people from rebelling and in general causing unnecessary upheaval in your country. Sheesh: couldn’t they just accept that the one in charge was the king? Only the king? Clearly, something had to be done to keep people on the straight and narrow, which is why – or so the story goes – late in the 13th century, Edward I decided he needed to up the death-penalty somewhat, make it even more of a deterrent. Specifically, Edward I wanted people considering treason to think again – which was why, on October of 1283, he had the last Prince of Wales, Dafydd ap Gruffydd, subjected to horrific torture before the poor man finally died. Dafydd thereby became the first recorded person to be executed by the gruesome means of being hanged, drawn and quartered. I’m guessing Dafydd would have preferred being remembered for something else…

HDQ 300px-Drawing_of_William_de_MariscoTo be thus executed involved a lot of stages. First, you were tied to a horse (or in some cases several horses) and dragged through the town. Doesn’t sound too bad, you may think, but imagine being dragged over uneven cobbles, over gravel and stones, mud and slime, while the spectators lining the road pelt you with stuff – hard stuff, mostly. By the time the victim arrived at the gallows, he was a collection of bruises and gashes, his garments torn to shreds. Chances were, the man couldn’t stand, but stand he had to, and soon enough he was hoisted upwards, to the waiting noose.

HDQ france-used-to-torture-and-execute-its-finance-ministers-for-policies-gone-badThe second stage involved the hanging as such. Now, in medieval times, hanging rarely resulted in a broken neck. The condemned man didn’t drop several feet. Instead, the victim was set to swing from his neck and slowly strangled to death. A painful and extended demise, with the further indignity that when a man dies, his bowels and bladder give. However, the unfortunate sod who’d been condemned to being hanged, drawn and quartered, never got to the bladder and bowels part. He was cut down before he died and placed before the executioner and his big, sharp knife. The horror was just about to begin.

In some cases, the executioner started by gelding the man. Loud cheers from the spectators – or not, depending on who was being executed. Executions generally drew huge crowds, people standing about and snacking on the odd fritter or two while watching the condemned die. Nice – but hey, we must remember this was before the advent of TV and stuff like Counterstrike 4. People have always enjoyed being entertained with violence – which says a lot about the human race in general.

HDQ02ef126bf225e1545b51ecb2094efd20Once the condemned man had been relieved of his manhood (not something he’d ever use again anyway), he was cut open. A skillful executioner would keep him alive throughout the process, ensuring the dying man saw his organs being pulled from his body. And then, once he’d died, they chopped him up, sent off selected parts to be displayed in various parts of the kingdom, and buried what little was left over.

Not, all in all, a nice way to die. Men condemned to die that way must have swallowed and swallowed, knowing full well that no one could bear such indignities and die well. Before he drew his last breath, he’d have cried and wept, suffered horrific pain, hoped for the release of unconsciousness, only to be brought back up to the surface so as to fully experience what they did next to him. A truly demeaning death – most definitely a deterrent!

Edward Gal_nations_edward_iEdward I was rather fond of his new method of execution (although, to be honest, it is still a matter of dispute if it was Edward I who “invented” it – there seems to have been earlier cases, like when a man tried to assassinate Henry III). Other than the unfortunate Dafydd, Edward had several Scottish “rebels and traitors” – in itself a strange label to put on men fighting for the freedom of their country – hanged, drawn and quartered, notably among them William Wallace and some of Robert Bruce’s brothers.

It is unlikely that any man subjected to such a gruesome death would be in a position to inhale and yell “FREEDOM!” as William Wallace does in Mel Gibson’s interpretation. It is far more likely that by the time the cutting began, the victim was in severe shock, incapable of uttering more than high-pitched shrieks and grunts.

Edward I’s son and heir, Edward II, was in many ways a lesser king than his father, but it is to his credit that he was substantially less blood-thirsty. (Edward Sr would probably have called him squeamish, going on to harangue his son about the importance of keeping his barons toeing the line. Wise words, but wasted on Edward II). Anyway: there are very few recorded instances of men having been hanged, drawn and quartered during Edward II’s reign. But among these unfortunate souls one man stands out: In 1318, Llywelyn Bren was executed without having been sentenced to die – a serious violation of existing law.

Llywelyn Bren was (taa-daa) Welsh. His real name was Llywelyn ap Gryffudd ap Rhys, and his father had been one of those men loyal to Llywelyn ap Gryffudd, often referred to as the Last True Prince of Wales (He was Dafydd’s brother. Dafydd was something of a weathervane when it came to his loyalties – he had actually sworn allegiance to Edward I long before he decided to throw his lot in with his Welsh brethren, which was why Edward I was so incensed when Dafydd turned around and proclaimed himself Prince of Wales after big brother Llywelyn had been killed…Apologies for the multiple Llywelyns. Seems teh Welsh were as fond of that name as the medieval Castilians were of Alfonso) Bren is a Welsh honorific meaning something akin to “royal”, and our Llywelyn had earned the sobriquet, not only due to his lineage, but also because he acted like a king should – he defended “his” people.

The story starts in 1315. England was in something of a disarray after the Battle of Bannockburn, and this was especially true of the Welsh Marches, where the powerful Earl of Gloucester had died without a male heir. Young Gilbert de Clare did leave three sisters, but until the inheritance issues could be properly sorted, the huge de Clare lordship was administered by royal officers – with varying success. The period also coincided with famine. The second decade of the 14th century saw a sequence of failed harvests, and by 1315, the people were hungry and finding it increasingly difficult to pay the royal taxes.

The king, of course, insisted his taxes be paid, and his various sheriffs were charged with ensuring the subjects coughed up their pennies. In Wales – and especially in Glamorgan – the situation was very bad, and the newly elected sheriff, a certain de Turberville, did not make things any better when he started by dismissing all Welshmen holding office. One of the men so discourteously snubbed was Llywelyn Bren.

Bren had been a respected sub-lord under the Earl of Gloucester, held in high regard by Welsh and English alike. When de Turberville resorted to force – he sent out armed men to terrorise the Welsh into giving up what little they had, some of which he kept for himself – Llywelyn Bren protested. De Tuberville responded by accusing Bren of sedition, and Llywelyn was so outraged he penned a letter to the king, asking that he remove de Tuberville. Edward II answered by telling Llywelyn Bren to present himself before Parliament – and prepare to hang, should the court find him guilty of the charges made by de Turberville.

De Turberville continued with his persecution of the Welsh. Forced into a corner, Llywelyn Bren had no choice but to defend his people. In a well-planned action, he surrounded the detested sheriff and his closest men while they were holding court just outside Caerphilly castle. De Turberville tried to reach the safety of the castle, but the portcullis came down, the drawbridge was pulled up, and so a number of Englishmen – including de Turberville – were cut down in the outer bailey of the castle. The victorious Welsh then descended on Caerphilly town, looting and burning as they went.

Obviously, the king could not allow this to happen. He ordered the Earl of Hereford, Humphrey de Bohun, and the Lords Mortimer (Roger Mortimer and his uncle Roger Mortimer. I know, I know: more name confusion) to handle the issue, supported by further troops. Llywelyn quickly realised he was hopelessly outnumbered, and decided he had to do what a true leader had to do: set the safety of his men before that of himself. So he gave up, offered himself as a prisoner on terms that allowed his men to keep their lives. Llywelyn himself was to be taken to London, and I dare say he held little hope of ever seeing his homeland again.

Llywelyn’s bravery made a huge impression on both de Bohun and Roger Mortimer. Both of them pleaded with the king that he be lenient – Llywelyn had served the king loyally for many years. Besides, there was ample proof that de Turberville had exceeded his authorities. This time, the king listened, and Llywelyn Bren had the threat of being hanged, drawn and quartered commuted into imprisonment in the Tower. Phew, Llywelyn probably thought.

Time passed. Roger Mortimer was sent to Ireland to handle that Scottish would-be-Irish-king upstart Edward Bruce, and in England a certain Hugh Despenser nestled himself closer and closer to the royal bosom. Hugh was wed to Eleanor de Clare, one of the heiresses to the Earl of Gloucester, and as a consequence of his new position as the king’s favourite, in November of 1317 he (well, formally his wife) was awarded the plum pieces of the huge inheritance – the lordship of Glamorgan, where Llywelyn Bren held his hereditary lands. Neither Roger Mortimer nor de Bohun were too thrilled by the news that Despenser had acquired the lordship of Glamorgan. In one fell swoop, the royal favourite had become a power to be reckoned with on the Welsh Marches, thereby threatening Mortimer’s traditional power base.

HDQ harclay-man-drawnTo celebrate his new lands, Despenser had Llywelyn Bren removed from the Tower. Despite the lack of a formal royal approval, the Welshman was handed over into the less than loving hands of Despenser and carried back to Wales sometime in early 1318. In Cardiff, the poor man was attached to two horses, dragged through the town to the waiting gallows where he was subsequently hanged before being cut down and resuscitated enough to see (and feel) his heart being cut out. Once dead, he was quartered and Hugh Despenser appropriated Llywelyn’s lands, imprisoned his widow and as many of his sons as he could lay his hands on.

The English nobility was appalled. More particularly, Roger Mortimer and Humphrey de Bohun were enraged. With what right had Despenser deprived Llywelyn Bren of his life? After all, Llywelyn Bren had been sentenced to imprisonment in London, not execution in Cardiff. Even worse, the man had died the death of a traitor, an awful extended death that a man like Llywelyn Bren did not deserve – this was a man both de Bohun and Mortimer held in high regard, an educated man with whom the Mortimers even shared (distant) kin. The king was expected to act, punish his favourite for this blatant disregard of the law. Except, of course, that Edward II didn’t, proving yet again to his disgruntled barons that he was not much of a king – or a man of his word. Or a defender of law and justice. All in all, a lesser king than his father.

When Roger Mortimer and Humphrey de Bohun – together with the royal cousin Thomas of Lancaster – rose in rebellion in 1321, one of the reasons they put forward was the despicable treatment of Llywelyn Bren. The royal chancellor Hugh Despenser had violated the law and effectively murdered a loyal servant of the king, with not so much as a slap on the wrist as retribution. England, the rebel barons claimed, deserved to be ruled by better men, men who respected law and order.

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Hugh dying

And so, indirectly, the awful death of Llywelyn Bren set in motion events that would subsequently lead to the deposition of a king – and the equally harrowing death of Hugh Despenser, who died just like Llewlyn Bren did, in November of 1326. Maybe Llewlyn smiled down from the skies as he saw Hugh suffer. One who definitely smiled was Roger Mortimer, now permanently rid of that personal burr up his backside, the equally ambitious – and capable – Hugh Despenser.

(The original version of this post was written for English Historical Fiction Authors – but it has been somewhat modified) 

The king’s sister – the life of a medieval princess

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Medieval boys playing

In a previous post I have discussed the challenges facing Eleanor of Castile – specifically that of presenting her husband, Edward I, with a male heir. It took some time for that eagerly awaited heir to make his appearance. Not until 1284, after almost thirty years of marriage, did the boy who would one day inherit the throne after his father see the light of the day. Little Edward was a much-desired child, but at the time they already had an heir, Prince Alphonso, and so the new baby was mostly perceived as a good-to-have spare. Things changed when Alphonso died some months after Baby Edward’s birth. Yet another loss, yet more months of grief, of crushed hopes, reinforcing just how fragile life was.

I dare say the fact that they had five thriving daughters was little comfort: a medieval king needed a son to which entrust his kingdom, as God alone knew what would happen with a weak female in charge. (I hasten to add that this opinion was not necessarily shared by Eleanor, who, after all, had some pretty impressive kick-ass female rulers up her family tree. Like Urraca.)

In line with the parenting models of the day, the baby prince did not see all that much of his parents. Edward and Eleanor were joined at the hip, so where Edward I went, there went his wife, and all that travelling was not considered good for a child, which was why Edward grew up in his own household—and with his youngest sisters.

One of those sisters is today’s protagonist (Ha! Fooled you there, didn’t I? You were thinking it would be Edward II) Question is, which sister? Mary of Woodstock or Elizabeth of Ruddlan? Well, Mary is an interesting character in her own right, who spent most of her time with her grandmother. At her grandmother’s behest, Mary was placed in a nunnery at the tender age of seven, was veiled at the age of twelve, went on to become a rather wordly nun in that she travelled a lot, accumulated gambling debts, visited the court as often as she could, and was even dragged into a rather sordid legal case when John de Warenne claimed to have had carnal knowledge of her, thereby making his marriage to his despised wife null and void. All in all, an interesting lady, although I must hasten to add that John’s accusations were made after Mary was dead and therefore incapable of defending herself.

But despite all that potential juiciness, I’m skipping Mary in favour of Elizabeth. Born in 1282 in Wales, Elizabeth seems to have been something of a daddy’s girl—at least to judge from how Edward indulged her. She was also very close to her brother, something that must have caused her considerable anguish later on in her life. More of that later.

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The literate Castilians, represented by Alfonso X, Eleanor’s brother

Now, Eleanor of Castile was a very well-educated lady. She’d grown up in a court that lived and breathed culture, where clerks toiled day and night to translate the literary treasures discovered in the libraries of the Moor kingdoms re-conquered by Eleanor’s father, the very impressive Fernando. Where it is doubtful if Edward I could write with ease, Eleanor most definitely could—in various languages. One would assume such a learned lady would ensure her children were equally well-educated, but we don’t really know just how much of mama’s learning was passed on to her offspring. Maybe the English didn’t put quite as high a value on education as the Castilians did. Maybe Edward considered it sufficient if his children could read—after all, scribing was something one could have clerks do for you.

I still think we should assume Elizabeth was a relatively well-educated girl, if nothing else because she would have benefited from being in the proximity of her brother and his Dominican tutor. She was also a girl that saw little of her parents—Edward and Eleanor spent several years on the Continent during Elizabeth’s early childhood. So when Eleanor died in 1290, I suspect Elizabeth was stricken but that the actual void her mother left behind was relatively shallow.

Elizabeth’s father, however, was devastated by the death of his wife. Maybe this is when a special closeness began to develop between him and his youngest daughter. Children are good at offering undemanding solace, small warm presences that offer shy cuddles.

No matter how grief-struck, Edward was back to running his country three days after the death of his wife. Among the things he had to handle were marriages for his daughters—and for himself (He needed that spare heir, you know). When it came to his daughters, things were mostly sorted, two of them already wed, one betrothed, one promised to the Church, and one with ongoing negotiations now that her intended groom had died.

Elizabeth had been betrothed already in 1285 to John, Count of Holland. Of an age with his bride, the boy was raised in England, so Elizabeth had ample opportunity to get to know her future husband. Whether she liked him all that much is a tad doubtful: the marriage was celebrated in 1297 when Elizabeth was not quite fifteen, and the idea was for the young couple to take ship for Holland. Elizabeth refused to go with him, and somehow wheedled Edward into allowing her to stay in England, with him.

Of course, over time Elizabeth had no choice: as a married woman, her duty lay with her husband. To make things easier (and because it coincided with other matters he had to handle) Edward accompanied her to the Low Countries and even stayed with her for some months before going on to sort out his infected relationship with Philippe IV of France. The outcome of all this sorting was that Edward married Philippe’s much younger sister, which did little to resolve the infected relationship between France and England in the long term, but which had the upside of Marguerite, this rather enchanting young woman whom Edward soon grew to love and cherish. Lucky man: two marriages, both of them notably happy. I guess he did something right 😊

deathElizabeth’s marriage to John never got the opportunity to develop into something long-lasting. The young man died of dysentery in 1299, and Elizabeth was sent back home to England. There, in 1302, she married Humphrey de Bohun, Earl of Hereford. A good marriage as per dear Papa, having the benefit of tying one of England’s most powerful magnates to the English king. As part of the contract, Humphrey was obliged to relinquish his titles and lands to his king, who then graciously restored them to Humphrey and his wife, together. What Humphrey thought of all this is unknown, but to judge from the number of children Elizabeth gave him, the happily married couple was, if nothing else, compatible in bed.

Humphrey was some six years older than Elizabeth, and now that Prince Edward was well on his way to becoming an adult, Humphrey was probably one of the prince’s closer companions. When Edward was knighted, Humphrey had the honour of buckling on his spurs, and in general they seemed to get along quite well with each other.

In 1307, Edward I died and Edward II ascended the throne. By then, Elizabeth had already given birth four times to five children of which two remained alive: one little son and one little daughter. As the sister of the new king, Elizabeth would probably have been a frequent guest at court together with her husband—and the new king’s favourite, Piers Gaveston.

Initially, it seems Humphrey de Bohun and Piers got on well. Humphrey witnessed the grant of the earldom of Cornwall to Piers, something that would not have gone down well with Elizabeth, as her step-mother (to whom she was very close) had expected this honour to come to her eldest son—as intended by Edward I.

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Edward and Piers in happier days

Edward II waved away the angry protests of Queen Marguerite and went on showering Piers with gifts and offices. To be fair to Piers, he doesn’t seem to have been as avaricious as Edward was generous, but for the remaining barons, he soon became a burr up their backsides. Who did he think he was, this Gascon parvenu who had the king’s ear in all matters? By 1308, Humphrey had joined the baronial opposition, something which must have put Elizabeth in a difficult position. After all, she was close to her brother—and to her husband.

For some years, thing sort of trundled along anyway. Elizabeth gave birth to one more son, Piers rose to more and more prominence, and Humphrey ground his teeth. In 1310-11, he refused to join the king’s Scottish campaign because of his dislike of Piers. Did not go down well, one could say, and in retribution, Edward II stripped Humphrey of the constableship. A lot of hot air, a distraught Elizabeth caught in the middle, one more baby to take care of, but by the end of 1311 things calmed down, with Humphrey being restored to his hereditary office and Piers forced into exile.

Early in 1312, Piers returned to England. The king was delighted, but his barons had had enough. War broke out, Piers was captured and in June of 1312, Piers Gaveston was summarily executed on the orders of the earls of Warwick and Lancaster. Humphrey was present at the deliberations that resulted in the decision to have Piers killed—murdered might be a better term for what happened, with Gaveston run through by the swords of two Welsh men-at-arms before they beheaded him.

What Elizabeth thought of all this is unknown. She was yet again with child (twins this time)—as was Edward II’s young wife, Queen Isabella. But having grown up with Edward, she probably knew him well enough to realise that no matter how easy-going and affable he could appear to the world, some things he never forgot or forgave. The murder of Piers was one of those things.

Battle_of_BannockburnIn 1313, Edward formally forgave Humphrey. But he didn’t really, which was why when the English army marched north in 1314 to defeat the Scots once and for all, he gave command to his very young nephew, Gilbert de Clare, bypassing Humphrey, who, as Constable of England, should have been in charge. Humphrey was not happy. He and Gilbert had words and supposedly this heated argument indirectly caused some of the confusion that led to the English being trounced. Whatever the case, Gilbert ended up very dead, Humphrey was taken prisoner, and Edward escaped by the skin of his teeth, having to ride so fast he and his men did not even dare to stop to pass water in case the pursuing Scots should catch them.

Elizabeth was distraught. Her husband a prisoner of those barbaric Scots, and here she was, recently delivered of child number ten. I imagine Edward was not exactly inclined to bend over backwards to ransom Humphrey, but de Bohun was an English magnate, family, even. Elizabeth probably agreed. She wanted her husband home, and so Humphrey was exchanged for Robert Bruce’s wife and daughter.

There seems to have been some sort of rapprochement between Humphrey and Edward after this. A potential happily ever after hovered in the air. In 1315 Elizabeth yet again became pregnant. I’m not entirely sure she was delighted by the news – essentially she’d been with child for seven years of the last 13 years. All those births had so far resulted in seven living children, and in difference to her mother Elizabeth had more than delivered when it came to male heirs, with five of her brood being boys. She and Humphrey didn’t need more children, but they must have enjoyed making them…

childbirthHaving so many children comes with risks. In May of 1316, Elizabeth went into labour. Neither she nor her daughter survived and were buried together at Waltham Abbey. She was thirty-four years old – a very short life as per us. But like any life it contained glimmers of absolute joy, moments when the sheer joy of being alive had her blood singing. Well, at least I hope it did. The alternative would have been very depressing.

As to Humphrey, the loss of his countess sank him into a deep depression. Without his wife’s moderating influence, his relationship with the king was destined to deteriorate to the point where Humphrey joined Lancaster and Mortimer in rebellion. In March of 1322, Humphrey met his death at the Battle of Boroughbridge, reputedly having been impaled on a pike. A painful and gory death, leaving his many orphaned children at the mercy of their uncle, the king.

Sunny days and summer reads – a new book & a giveaway!

The other day, I published my tenth book. I’m starting to feel like one of those ladies back in medieval times who popped out a baby a year and probably worried how on earth she was to feed and clothe them, let alone love them all. Except, of course, that one always loves one’s babies, right?

9789198324518Days of Sun and Glory is the second in my series The King’s Greatest Enemy. Once again, I get to muck about in the delightfully complicated political environment of 14th century England, rubbing shoulders with Edward II and Despenser (although I keep my distance from dear Hugh – don’t like him much) and, of course, Roger Mortimer. Him I like – or rather, I see him through the eyes of my protagonist, Adam de Guirande, who loves Roger, has loved him since that day when Roger saved twelve-year-old Adam from his abusive father.

“Complicated,” Kit de Guirande says when I ask her what she thinks of Roger. She frowns. “To love Roger Mortimer in this the year of our Lord 1323 is to ask for trouble.”
Tell me about it. Mortimer has just managed to escape from the Tower and has fled to France. In England, Edward II is cursing himself to hell and back for not having executed Mortimer while he had the chance. Despenser totally agrees, but wisely holds his tongue. Queen Isabella, Edward IIs wife, detests Despenser – and even more she detests being marginalised by the king’s favourite, which is why she’s rooting for Mortimer, albeit extremely discreetly. And then there’s Edward of Windsor, the young prince, since some months Adam’s new lord and master.

Adam loves his young lord. He agonises with Prince Edward as the boy is torn apart betwen his father and his mother – after all, Adam knows just how that feels, as torn between Mortimer and the prince. And then there’s Kit, whom he adores and desperately wants to keep safe, but how is he to do that in this political quagmire?
“All he has to do to keep me safe is to keep himself safe.” Kit fingers her veil. “If he dies…” She shudders. “If Despenser gets hold of him…”
Yeah. That would be bad. Very bad.

Well: in conclusion, Days of Sun and Glory is something of a medieval roller-coaster. People fight.People die. And in all this mess, all this upheaval, I just have to trust that Adam’s innate honour and loyalty will help him choose the right way forward. Sheesh! I keep my fingers crossed so hard they hurt…

Slide1So, what are you waiting for? Go and grab a copy of Days and Sun and Glory and leave the very complicated here and now for an equally complicated, if distant, 14th century.

And should you want to start at the beginning, why not pick up In the Shadow of the Storm as well!

And seeing as a new book is always cause for celebration, I am giving away two e-book copies of Days of Sun and Glory. Just leave a comment and let me know where you prefer to do your #summerreading 🙂 Giveaway closes July 21st.

UPDATE! The winners are Denise and Sharon! Congratulations!

Never a pawn, ever a queen

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Millais – “Isabella” (question is, which Isabella)

Okay, I can’t resist her any longer. She’s played bit-parts in some recent posts, but today’s protagonist is of the firm conviction she deserves her moment in the limelight – by birth, if nothing else, seeing as the lady in question is rather fond of her bloodlines. So, having been browbeaten into submission, I give you Isabella of France.

Some call her a she-wolf. Towards the end of his reign, her husband probably called her a treacherous, adulterous whore. And as to Isabella, she’d restrict herself to a Gallic shrug and say “I did what I had to do. For my son.” Hmm. Not only for her son…

We shall breeze through Isabella’s early years – no matter that she pouts in protest.
“But my Papa, mes frères?” she demands when it seems I intend to skip her precious Capet family. Sorry, honey: this is not about them, remember? It is about you.(And if you want to read up about her beloved frères, why not stop by here?)
“Ah, oui,” she agrees, shining up like a beacon. So, in summary, Isabella was considered the most beautiful of women, and yes she was splendidly attired when she married Edward II in 1308 at the tender age of twelve, and yes, she was upstaged by Piers Gaveston, Edward’s current male favourite.
“Upstaged?” Isabella sniffs. “Mais non. Piers was fond of me.” As was the king, to some extent. But the king loved Piers, this upstart baron who had the rest of the English nobles gnashing their teeth.

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Edward II

Very briefly, Piers Gaveston was the second son of a Gascon minor lord. Piers entered Edward’s life when Edward was a young man not yet twenty, and an immediate – and some say unwholesome – affection sprang up between the two men. When Edward became king, he showered Piers with honours and offices, thereby alienating the other barons.
As this post is not about Piers, we will leave him to his fate for now but can conclude that ultimately the royal favourite was executed in June of 1312 – murdered, some would say – at the behest of the the barons led by Thomas of Lancaster.

Edward without Piers was an unhappy man. It was some consolation when Isabella presented him with a son and heir in November of 1312 and the next few years seem to have been good years for Isabella and Edward – she grew into her role as royal consort, and whether or not theirs was a passionate affair, there were more children. Things trundled along, the king never entirely happy with his barons, the barons never entirely taken with their king.

Enter Hugh Despenser, and the relative stability of the realm was a thing of the past. The barons cast but one look at Hugh Despenser – and his father – and shuddered. The Despensers were greedy for wealth, for land, for power, and once Hugh the younger had established himself as the king’s beloved favourite, all he had to do was snap his fingers to have his wishes come true.

At this time – around 1318 – Isabella was no longer a child. She was a mother, a queen, and was seriously disinclined to be shoved into the background by a new male favourite.
Hell hath no fury like a woman scorned,” William Congreve wrote some four centuries after these events, but yes, Isabella felt scorned – and she blamed Hugh Despenser. The barons wholeheartedly agreed, and when the king turned a blind eye to Despenser’s unlawful execution of one of Roger Mortimer’s Welsh clients, a Llewellyn Bren, things came to a head.

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That fickle wheel of fortune…

In 1321, the barons, led by Thomas of Lancaster, Humphrey de Bohun and Roger Mortimer, rebelled. The king was forced to exile his beloved Despenser – both of them. Enraged by this humiliation, the king plotted revenge. Some months later, he had managed to turn the tables on the barons. Mortimer ended up in the Tower, de Bohun and Lancaster ended up dead.

The Despensers were reinstated. The king was overjoyed. Isabella was not. Mortimer managed to escape to France, promising to return and claim what was his. Edward and Hugh shivered in dread at this threat, and England became a dark place where it sufficed with a whispered accusation of being a Mortimer supporter for a man to lose his liberty, if not his life. Isabella became increasingly isolated, living on the fringes of a court dominated by the royal chamberlain, Hugh Despenser.

It is doubtful whether Isabella and Mortimer were in cahoots already at this point in time. In my books, I have taken the liberty of suggesting they were – it makes for a better story – but nothing indicates Isabella had ever been anything but a dutiful wife. It is therefore quite incomprehensible why Edward, on Despenser’s advice, chose to deprive Isabella of her dower lands and the related income. In one move, he had angered and humiliated his wife.

Things took a turn for the worse when the brewing conflict between England and France over Gascony exploded into outright war. It was to a large extent Hugh Despenser’s advocated policies that led to the Gascony situation. It was assuredly because of the Gascony situation that Edward II exiled Isabella’s French retainers, many of whom had been with her since 1308. In doing so, he definitely pushed Isabella into the enemy camp.

There was nothing Isabella could do but bear it. No matter that she was a queen, she had little real power, and even less so when deprived of her income. But she did have her brains – and her looks – and somehow she lulled her husband into believing she had forgiven him – or at least accepted her reduced situation.

In 1325, England decided to treat for peace with France. Edward chose Isabella as his negotiator – as sister to the French king, she was an excellent choice. She was sent over to France with a household handpicked by the king and Despenser and negotiated a peace treaty which called for the English king to do homage for his Gascony lands. “I did my job,” she whispers in my head (yes, she spends a lot of time in my head). “But I vowed never to return to Edward – not unless Despenser was banished.”

Fat chance. Edward was utterly dependent on his beloved Hugh, which was why he listened when Hugh begged him not to go to France but send his eldest son instead. Hugh feared for his life should he be left behind in England. A correct assumption, I believe.

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Isabella, future Edward III and Charles of France

In sending his son, Edward effectively handed Isabella the sword upon which he would eventually fall. The heir to the English throne arrived in France invested with the Duchy of Aquitaine, which in itself generated an important revenue stream. More importantly, the prince’s hand in marriage could be bartered for men and ships. And finally, with the young prince at her side, Isabella could paint a potential invasion as a legitimate venture, intended to release the English from the heavy yoke of the Despensers.

By late 1325 it was evident Isabella had no intention of returning to her husband’s side – or of sending her son home. Instead, she was spending more and more time with Roger Mortimer and rumours began to fly. A match made in heaven, those two: ambitious, intelligent and ruthless when so required. Personally, I am convinced theirs was a relationship built on hot, searing passion – and I’m thinking Mortimer didn’t mind rubbing Edward’s nose in the fact that he was sleeping with the queen.

Some people seem to think Isabella was some sort of pawn. To me, it is apparent Isabella and Mortimer were equal partners – she needed his military expertise, he needed her and the prince to legitimise his actions. Besides, there was that constant, simmering attraction, that which had Mortimer heatedly declaring that he would rather kill her than allow her to return to the king. After all those years with a man who did not set her first, I believe it was a novel and exhilarating experience for Isabella to find herself swept off her feet by the charismatic Mortimer.

By betrothing her son to Philippa of Hainaut, Isabella acquired the ships and men required to invade England. In September of 1326 she landed in Suffolk, declaring that she – and her army – were here on behalf of her son, thereby making Prince Edward complicit in the rebellion that would ultimately cost Edward II his throne. I don’t think the young prince was all that happy about this – in fact, at fourteen he must have been terribly conflicted.

Instead of leading his army to meet the relatively small rebel force, Edward II fled west with Hugh Despenser. Isabella and Mortimer went after, and wherever they went, they were welcomed with open arms, the aggrieved people hoping this would spell the end of the Despenser terror. They rode together, Isabella and Mortimer. Side by side, they led their army in pursuit of the fleeing king.

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Isabella before the walls of Bristol

In October, the queen and her lover arrived in Bristol. The older Hugh Despenser was behind the walls, but after a week he gave up – and was summarily tried and executed. In November of 1326, the king was captured. With him was Hugh Despenser Jr. Edward II was carried off to Kenilworth, Despenser ended up on a gallows in Hereford, dying excruciatingly while Isabella and Mortimer wined and dined in front of him.

Some months later, the king had been forced to abdicate – he’d be declared dead in September of 1327 – Edward III had been crowned, and Isabella and Mortimer confirmed as his regents. Isabella had also ensured she’d been more than compensated for her lost dower lands: her son, the new king, had been “encouraged” to grant her an annual income of 20 000 marks, equal to approximately a third of the total royal income. The lady was, putting it mildly, greedy. Note also that no equivalent grant – or anything even close to it – was made to Mortimer.

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Isabella – in armour – with Mortimer and her army

Over the coming years, Isabella and Mortimer did everything together. They travelled together, planned together, ruled together, disappeared for months at a time together. Peace and order was restored to the kingdom, capable administrators appointed throughout the realm. Except, of course, that some barons remained unhappy, chief among them Henry of Lancaster, younger brother to Thomas of Lancaster. Henry felt he deserved the role as regent. Isabella and Mortimer obviously did not agree. In late 1328, Henry rebelled, and quite a few flocked to his banner, disenchanted with the regents’ – and especially Mortimer’s – growing power.

The uprising was put down – ever the kick-ass lady, Isabella donned armour and rode side by side with Mortimer through the night to surprise Henry at his camp at Bedford. Lancaster had no choice but to submit. Mortimer and Isabella showed leniency, fining the participants rather than executing them for treason. It seemed the kingdom had finally found peace.

Except, of course, that the young king had no intention of remaining forever under the control of his mother and her lover. In this matter, Isabella showed a remarkable lack of perceptiveness. She should have recognised her own ambition in her son, seen how the boy grew into a young man – a man determined to be the perfect king, and perfect kings are rarely managed by their mothers.

When Mortimer tricked the king’s uncle, Edmund of Kent, into treachery – which led to Kent’s execution for treason – something snapped in the young King Edward. Partly, I suspect he feared that Mortimer – and loving Mama – had no intention of ever relinquishing their power. Partly, he was enraged at having been played as a pawn in the matter of Edmund. And so, our young king retired to his chambers and began to plot.

As described in a previous post, Isabella and Mortimer were ousted from power in Nottingham – quite the cloak-and-dagger stuff, involving a determined band of conspirators and a secret tunnel. Mortimer was dragged off to face trial and subsequent execution, Isabella was taken to Berkhamstead Castle, there to contemplate her manifold sins – or rather wise up to the fact that her son expected her to return all the lands and incomes she’d appropriated over the last few years. Not being stupid, she did just that – and in return she was granted lands and income equivalent to her dower, which left her more than comfortably off.

At the time of Mortimer’s execution, Isabella was thirty-five. In some aspects, her life was over, but soon enough she was a well-received guest at her son’s court. There must have been dark and dreary days when she missed her lover and the thrilling sense of power, but ultimately Isabella was a pragmatist. She’d had her days in the sun, and such halcyon days came at a price. When she died, in 1358, she chose to be buried in her wedding finery and with Edward IIs purported heart. A repudiation of Mortimer? Not necessarily – but Isabella was a Capet, the daughter of a king, the wife of a king, the mother of a king. Of course she wanted to be buried as a widowed queen!

To close this post without touching upon the fate of Edward II would be like baking a chocolate cake without chocolate. As we all know, Edward supposedly died in September of 1327 – some say murdered by Mortimer (and Isabella). I find it doubtful that Isabella would ever have countenanced murdering her deposed husband – or that Mortimer would have lowered himself to do so. In fact, I am not entirely convinced Edward II did die in 1327 – I am rather fond of the recent theories that indicate he lived abroad for a number of years. If so, maybe Isabella was one of those behind the scheme to smuggle her husband out of England and give him his freedom in return for his oath never to return. Maybe. Or maybe that’s me being romantic again. One of my major faults, they tell me…

A tunnel, a tunnel, a kingdom through a tunnel

Some weeks back, I introduced you to Ralph Stafford, a gentleman (?) notorious for having abducted his second wife, Margaret Audley. When the bride’s parents protested, the king, Edward III, ruled in favour of Ralph. The king, you see, was indebted to Stafford – and to a bunch of other young men – for their role in the events that led to Roger Mortimer being toppled from power.

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Edmund B Leighton – I just couldn’t resist it – the proud queen and her son…

I’ve been living in a very close relationship to dear Roger Mortimer for quite some years by now – he is the indirect protagonist of my ongoing series The King’s Greatest Enemy. Accordingly, I’ve also spent quite some time with Edward III, watching him grow from a confused boy torn in two between his parents to a young man seething at having his powers usurped by that damned Mortimer. I am quite fond of both of them, and as to my protagonist Adam de Guirande, he loves them both, which inevitably is going to cause him tremendous heartache and pain.

Anyway: for those of you who do not walk about with a summary of the events 1322 – 1330, a brief recap may be required. In 1322, Roger Mortimer was imprisoned by Edward II for having risen in rebellion against his liege. The expectation was that very soon he’d hang before being disembowelled and quartered. For some reason, Edward II chose not to execute Mortimer, and instead our daring Roger orchestrated an escape from the Tower and fled to France, where he was warmly welcomed by King Charles.

The French king was the brother of Edward II’s wife. Isabella. Poor Isabella had spent the first years of her marriage playing second fiddle to Piers Gaveston, Edward II’s beloved Gascon favourite, and by 1322 she was yet again forced out of the king’s affections by a certain Hugh Despenser. Well, to be correct TWO Hugh Despensers, as there was a father and a son. The Despensers were greedy men. Edward was more than happy to give them what they wanted, trampling roughshod over the rights of his other barons. While the king was fond of the older Hugh, it was the son who claimed the king’s heart, and even if we will never know just how intimate the two men were with each other, it is obvious Edward valued Hugh more than his wife.

Things weren’t helped by the fact that England and France were effectively at war over Gascony. Isabella toed a fine line between loyalty to her husband and loyalty to her brother, and at some point King Edward decided she was not to be trusted, which was why he deprived her of all her incomes, all her dower lands. Major, major faux-pas. If not before, this high-handedness definitely pushed Isabella over into the enemy camp, at present an ever growing collection of disgruntled English barons headed by the charismatic and capable if exiled Roger Mortimer.

Edward III tribute-of-edward-iii-to-philip-1460The Gascony situation went from bad to worse – Isabella’s uncle, Charles de Valois, crushed the English troops – and Edward realised he needed to negotiate some sort of peace or lose his French lands. Suggestions were made that he send Isabella. Edward was not entirely comfortable with this – he was no fool, however incompetent a king he was, and he knew his wife had not forgiven him for taking her lands away from her. Still; Isabella was a wise choice and in 1325 off she went, Edward first having assured himself Mortimer was nowhere close to the French court.

Isabella negotiated a peace treaty, and all that needed to be done was for Edward to come to France and do homage. Hugh Despenser panicked at the thought of being left alone in England with the king away in France. He feared (probably quite correctly) that the barons would take the opportunity of murdering him. Instead, he convinced the king to send his young heir, Edward of Windsor, to France. Hmm. Yet again, the king was doubtful, and he spent days and weeks mulling this over. In the end, Hugh’s pleading won the day, so Edward II had his son made Duke of Aquitaine and sent him over to France and his waiting mother. He was never to see his son again.

EHFA Isabella_and_Roger_MortimerMeanwhile Queen Isabella and Roger Mortimer had joined forces. Well, to be quite correct, they joined more than forces, engaging in a passionate love affair that had the sheets sizzling and the entire French court gossiping. Two handsome, intelligent and determined people formed a pact to see England rid of the yoke of the Despensers, and once Prince Edward had joined them, they had the wherewithal with which to do it.

Prince Edward was betrothed to Philippa of Hainault. This was to prove a happy and succesful marriage, but at the time it was an expedient move, pledging the prince’s hand in marriage in return for the ships and men required to invade England. What Prince Edward thought of all this is unknown. What his father thought is somewhat more well-known. He wrote his son several letters in which he ordered him to return home and act the dutiful son. Except, of course, that Queen Isabella had no intention of allowing her son to leave…

Isabella BNMsFr2643FroissartFol97vExecHughDespenserIn 1326, Queen Isabella returned to England accompanied by her son and her lover. In a matter of weeks, all resistance crumbled, and in November of 1326 Mortimer and Isabella had the distinct pleasure of watching Hugh Despenser’s agonising death while partaking of a light meal. The king was imprisoned, obliged to abdicate, and come February 1327 England had a new king, the fourteen-year-old Edward III. Some months later, his father was purportedly dead, his funeral a magnificent affair in Gloucester.

Obviously, the boy king couldn’t rule on his own. Obviously, the self-evident choice of regents were Isabella and Mortimer. Well; as per Isabella and Mortimer. Others did not agree. Henry of Lancaster proposed himself as regent, and the young king’s uncles, Edmund of Kent and Thomas of Norfolk, also wanted a say. Not about to happen. Isabella trusted Mortimer and no one else, and soon enough the lovers had the kingdom under their thumbs. Note the plural – their thumbs. Isabella was no meek woman, she was an equal partner in this great endeavour.

Isabella w Hugh D the eder & Earl of ArundelThe barons weren’t all that much happier under Isabella and Mortimer than they’d been under Despenser. Not so much due to misuse of power – Mortimer set up an efficient administration and returned the rule of law to the kingdom – as due to the fact that it was the queen mother and her lover who held both reins and purse-strings. There were some rebellions, and in March 1330 the king’s uncle, Edmund of Kent was accused of treason and executed. Kent clearly believed the former king was very much alive, which begs the question if maybe he was.

King Edward couldn’t forgive the execution of his uncle. Besides, in June of 1330 he became a father, and all of him itched to be rid of his regents. And so the tunnel plot came into being, although I seriously doubt anyone called it the tunnel plot.

Main players in this were Ralphie boy, Sir William Montagu, Robert Ufford and a number of other men who all had that in common that they were the young king’s men, not Mortimer’s. At the time, Mortimer had surveillance on all of them, and as he feared something was a foot he subjected some of them to intense questioning, Montagu among them. It was but a matter of time before Mortimer found sufficient evidence to lock them all up – or execute them – which was why Montagu urged that they “bring the dog down before it bites us all”. There was unanimous consent among the plotters. Time was ripe.

The setting for the planned overthrow was Nottingham Castle, known as one of the strongest and most impregnable castles in the kingdom. Well, except for the tunnel, that is.

In October of 1330, Parliament was convened in Nottingham. At the time, the Mortimer-King Edward relationship was strained – it had been ever since Earl Edmund had died back in March. King Edward’s relationship with his mother was not much better – I imagine what we have here is a mother refusing to acknowledge her son is an adult, not so much because she wanted to constantly tweak his childish chubby cheeks but because she rather liked being in control.

Nottingham Castle was a huge complex, but with all the people staying there to attend Parliament, things were a bit cramped, and most of Mortimer’s men were given lodgings in the outer wards. The king and his boon companions were present, but on this particular October evening the king complained of feeling ill. He retired to his rooms alone – well, as alone as a medieval monarch ever was. Mortimer, Queen Isabella, the bishop of Lincoln and a few others repaired to Mortimer’s rooms, situated at a convenient distance from that secret tunnel.

Now, before we go any further, I must clarify that I seriously doubt Mortimer would not have been aware of a secret passage. He was nothing if not a meticulous man. Thing is, the passage had doors both ends, and these were always kept locked. Mortimer could not know that Montagu et al had managed to find a keyholder and oblige this young man to unlock the doors.

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19th century depiction of Mortimer being taken

Things quieted down. From Mortimer’s chambers came the odd laugh, the sound of voices in deep discussion. From the door behind which was the tunnel came a squeak. One by one, the plotters emerged, swords at the ready. One of Mortimer’s men saw and attempted to raise the alarm, but it was too late. The door to Mortimer’s rooms were kicked open and in swarmed the determined young men. Mortimer’s long-time squire Richard de Monmouth threw himself in front of his lord in a desperate attempt to save him. Richard died. Mortimer made for his sword. Queen Isabella screamed for help.  How she screamed! Over and over she screamed, while her lover was overpowered and bound.

Despite Isabella’s screams, no help was forthcoming. Instead, a gagged Mortimer was dragged out of the room. They were never to see each other again. Isabella was carried off to Berkhamstedt Castle. Mortimer was hauled down the secret passage and hoisted onto a horse. Moments later, they were on their way, making for London. The king rode with them, and in Leicester he was all for hanging Mortimer on the spot, but was convinced it was best to have him face a trial by his peers.

On November 26, 1330, a gagged Mortimer was brought into Westminster Hall and accused of a long list of crimes, among which figured murdering the previous king. Hmm. Unable to defend himself, he was found guilty – well, chances are he’d have been found guilty anyway – and hanged. Twenty-four years later, his conviction was overturned – a bit late in the day, one would think.

Queen Isabella made her peace with her son and lived out the rest of her days as the perfect widow. Who she truly grieved for – her husband or her lover – we will never know. My bet is on Roger, the man who for some years encouraged her to soar, fly as high as she wished. Unfortunately, both Roger and his Isabella had forgotten the story of Icarus. Fly too close to the sun, and chances are you will crash and burn.

Edward III Siege of Berwick 1333

King Edward went on to become one of the more capable of English kings. Determined to be a better king than his father, he never fell under the sway of a favourite – well, except as an old man when his mistress Alice Perrers called the shots.

And as to Montagu, Stafford, Ufford and all the rest, they went on to become successful magnates. And one of them, as we know, became filthy rich through abducting his (much younger) wife. Details, schmetails, the king felt. His loyal Ralph could do no wrong and besides, maybe the bride wanted to be abducted. Hmm. Double hmm.

Of sodomists, sex and sin the Middle Ages – not as clearcut as one thinks

sex Men of the CrossToday, I have invited Charlene Newcomb to visit with me. We originally met over Facebook, but came face to face with each other at the latest HNS Conference which, I believe, has reinforced our friendship. Once you’ve hugged someone for real, they’re sort of more permanently engraved in your heart.

Anyway, one of the things Charlene and I discussed when we met, was her excellent book, Men of the Cross. As you can guess from the cover, this is a book about the crusades – specifically the Third Crusade, the one led by Richard Lionheart, including such unforgettable incidents as the siege of Acre, the mass-slaughter of Muslim prisoners, the horrific heat, rain, mud, and snow (I know! But yes, snow…) on the march to Jerusalem, and finally, King Richard’s capture in Bavaria after he had departed the Holy Land.

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Richard and Philip Augustus

Many people write about the Crusades. Charlene’s book, however, is the first one I’ve read which features a love story between two men. I recall being somewhat taken aback when I realised just what sort of feelings Stephan harbours for young Henry, and one part of me was thinking “hang on: did they do guy-guy love & sex back then?”

Charlene: Well of course they did! Why else would the Church have had a whole list of penances ready to dispense if it wasn’t happening? (More about that later!) Can I assume you realised where the story was headed, and then questioned my sanity?

Anna: Your sanity? Nope. But it was an unusual element, one that I found intriguing. Plus, I couldn’t help feeling a bit sorry for your protagonists. The rainbow parade wasn’t exactly around at the time, was it?

Charlene: The book is about conflict on so many different levels. If the reader feels for the characters, I’m going my job, right? And you are correct – no rainbow parades, no public displays of affection, other than what might have been a normal greeting kiss. However, there were places where same-sex unions were sanctioned by the clergy in the Middle Ages, though I don’t deal with that directly.

Anna: Wait, wait: same-sex unions sanctioned by medieval clergy?

Charlene: Yep. In the 12th or early 13th century, the chronicler Gerald of Wales describes an Irish ceremony where two men enter a church, celebrate Mass, and with “the prayers of priests, they are permanently united as if in some marriage.” Liturgical documents have been identified that describe the “Office of Same Sex Union” (10th & 11th centuries) and “The Order for Uniting Two Men” (11th & 12th Century). These and other instances are cited in research by John Boswell, a 20th century scholar who identified texts from numerous European (including Vatican) archives. Boswell identifies medieval same-sex unions that included many of the trimmings of heterosexual unions of those times. His work is controversial, but there are other historians who corroborate his findings.

Anna: Wow – nothing new under the sun, hey? I am somewhat stunned – just as I was surprised when reading your book, as rarely do novels set in those times have gay protagonists.

Charlene: This quote is an inspiration to me: “Be bold. Take risks. Surprise them.” I did.  Mainstream historical fiction may not explore this path, but there is a sub-genre of historical fiction that is LGBTQ. Some of those stories take place in medieval times; and there are historicals that have a gay character, but the few I know of generally don’t include a romantic relationship.

Sex post illicit-sex-e1436561949425Anna: These days, we’re mostly comfortable with the fact that there are some people who prefer same-gender relationships, just as we’re pretty relaxed about sex. The Middle Ages, however, had an anything but permissive approach to sex in general – and definitely not when we’re talking about what the Church so sweepingly covered as “sodomy”.

Charlene: You’re right: “sodomy” covered a spectrum of sex-related sins – not only restricted to sex between two people of the same gender. Getting into that medieval mind-set to understand the Church’s view on sodomy helped me frame Stephan and Henry’s characters and attitudes.

Anna: Back then, the general approach to relationships was that sex was essentially always a sin – unless it happened between man and wife for pro-creational purposes.

Charlene: Exactly. Not just a sin, but mortal sin. Still, the threat of eternal hellfire and damnation did not stop people from sinning. Shall we go through that litany?

Anna: Why not? “Spilling your seed” – e.g. having sex without actively “planting” a child (or trying to) – was considered a terrible sin. Masturbation was a sin, doggy style was a sin, loving your pregnant wife was a sin, sleeping with a whore was a sin, and – it goes without saying – man sleeping with man was a sin. Not much worse than the others, though…

Charlene: Sleeping with anyone who was not your spouse was a sin. Sex – even with your spouse – was also a sin on certain days of the year. One scholar noted that if you marked off all the days when sex was forbidden, that would leave about 40 days in the year when a man and wife could have sex. Bummer, eh?

Anna: Yeah, but somehow I think people then were as people are now – we all need love and intimacy, and if indulging led to extra penance after the next confession, so be it.

Charlene: AMEN to that!

sex lastjudgementadulterers378 Taddeo di Bartolo adulterers and lustful

San Gemigiano, The Last Judgement. Adulterers and other lusful creatures getting their comeuppance

Anna: Getting back to the subject: In principle, when a medieval person spoke of sodomy – or was accused of engaging in it – this could be any type of sexual activity outside of marital sex, whether you did it alone or with “a friend”. It is also important to understand that the desire to pigeonhole people based on their sexual inclinations is a very modern invention. Medieval people had no need to label anyone as being straight or gay or whatever. Lust was a mortal sin, a desire to be fought tooth and nail, and whether your “baser instincts” led you to sleeping with your wife on a forbidden day, or your young handsome squire, well, who cared? You’d sinned, full stop.

We can see from medieval depictions of the Last Judgement that men who had indulged in homo-erotic pleasures were in for a tough time once they were in hell, but so were the usurers and the gluttons – who, interestingly enough, were also considered as sodomites. (I guess combining food and sex would have been amajor, major no no) And yet, given the fact that there are so many explicit depictions of eternal punishment, one must assume men did love men, just as women loved women. Interestingly enough, medieval society rarely consider two women capable of engaging in sexual acts. Sex was an act of penetration, and women had nothing with which to penetrate.

Charlene: Ah, but there was the dildo (or its equivalent) – even back in medieval times! Penitentials, or Church rules, listed sins and their appropriate penances. Would you be surprised to learn that penances were usually harsher for female/female relationships than for male/male dependent on the circumstances? Men who used artificial aids to stimulate themselves might receive 40 days of penance; a woman who used a dildo: 1 year if used alone, 3 years if used with another woman!

Anna: Seriously? 3 years?

Charlene. Yep.

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San Gemigiano, again. More lustful to be punished (by having their sexual organs devoured by a snake…)

Anna: So how do Henry and Stephan deal with their relationship? How do the Church’s teachings on sex during their 12th century lifetimes impact them?

Charlene: They are in denial for a long time. Henry had never considered that he could be attracted to another man. Stephan wants Henry, but he respects Henry’s wishes. He won’t jeopardize their friendship. It’s a profound change for him. Stephan has had a string of sexual encounters since his teens, and for him, it had been about the physical act. He didn’t believe men like him could have love. Then he meets Henry. Hello, confusion. How could he be falling in love with another man?

Anna: So Stephan could accept the physical aspects of his attraction to other men, but not the emotional consequences?

Charlene: Stephan never had that emotional tie to the men he had sex with. He accepted that it wasn’t part of the deal. There were no ‘relationships.’ He didn’t expect anything but a good roll in the hay. Henry comes along and changes that for him.

Anna: Complicated man…but it wasn’t easier for Henry, was it?

Charlene: No. Henry has a girl back home waiting for him. The good ol’ arranged marriage, common for people of his class. Though he likes her well enough, she stirs no passion in him, but Henry will do his duty and marry because that is what society expects.

As the knights’ friendship deepens, Henry questions his feelings for Stephan. He’s been taught from a very early age that Hell awaits those who commit this “unnatural” act. He struggles to keep thoughts of loving Stephan away. He prays to God for guidance, but finds the answer in himself. As Stephan says, “How can loving another person be a sin?”

sex two-men-embracingAnna: Interesting. I’m dealing with a similar issue in my new series, The King’s Greatest Enemy, as one of the indirect protagonists is Edward II, accused of having intimate relationships with his male favourites. For a medieval king, admitting to a love-affair with a man must have been very difficult – and dangerous. On the other hand, a medieval king was powerful enough to bend the rules a bit – if not much.

Charlene: True. Laws and punishment varied across Europe in the Middle Ages. Canon law might have been very clear on the matter, but in the late 12th century of Men of the Cross, England had no secular laws regarding punishment for this “crime.” Laws were enacted in the second half of the 13th century, so your Edward II would have been well aware of the consequences.

Anna: Well, sodomy had the benefit (from the accused’s perspective) of being difficult to prove unless your partner in sin decided to confess – not about to happen when it came to royal favourites, who had everything to gain from staying on Edward’s good side.

Charlene: Mid-twentieth century historians cited incidents to accuse Richard the Lionheart of being gay, but there is no definitive proof in the historical record and I haven’t suggested it in Men of the Cross. Aren’t historians on the fence about Edward’s homosexuality? What is your approach in the series?

Series-One-RowAnna: In my series, Edward does have an amorous relationship with Hugh Despenser. To some extent, this is because I want to portray Hugh with some good qualities – as the story is told from the POV of people firmly in the other camp, Despenser is mostly lean, mean and dangerous – but also because I believe Edward was open to sexual and emotional relationships with men as well as women. Whether he acted on these impulses, we will never know, but seeing as Edward comes across as a rather unhappy person – a square peg forced into a round hole, just because he was born to inherit a crown – I do hope he did find some happiness, however short-lived. Other than one very tender scene in the next book, I never invite the reader to come along to the king’s bed – mostly because he’s a secondary character. In your books, however, the protagonists are gay. How have you handled that?

Charlene: There are sex scenes in Men of the Cross, but they aren’t overly graphic. I’d call them tender, sensual, and occasionally steamy – and necessary for character development. On a scale of 1 to 5, with 5 being erotica, I’d say the scenes are about a 2 to 2.5.

Anna: I’d agree.

Charlene: So Edward’s scene with Hugh is tender – where does that fall?

Anna: A 2, I think.

A5 Mailer-FrontCharlene: But you’ve written some pretty steamy love scenes in The Graham Saga. *fans self*

Anna: Yup. I enjoy writing sex scenes. But for me, the emotional context is fundamental. My characters enjoy steamy hay-rolling sex because they love each other. Sex in my books strengthens the bonds, reinforces just how dependent my protagonists are on each other – after all, sex is an integral part of most loving relationships. This is the romantic me coming to the fore, I guess, but I genuinely believe great sex goes hand in hand with an emotional commitment. Or maybe I’m just naïve and inexperienced…*laughs*

Charlene: You said that so much better than I could! I don’t think any of the scenes between Henry and Stephan come close to the heat levels of Alex(andra) and Matthew in the Graham Saga. I had to decide what I was comfortable with writing sex-wise when I wanted my book to appeal to a broad audience. I figure most readers – even heterosexual ones – know the logistics of gay sex. I don’t need to give them a play-by-play. But, is there a comfort level for readers who will read a very hot het romance but will cringe at the idea of a tender love scene between two men?

800px-Amor_Vincet_OmniaAnna: Some will – perhaps. But if the characters are well-developed, I think most readers will see beyond the gender to the relationship. Besides, I’d say that neither you nor I write formulaic romance – we write books set in the past that depict human beings muddling through their lives as well as they can, taking comfort where it is offered. IMO, love – and sometimes sex – are just some of many ingredients required to build a multi-faceted story.

Charlene: Multi-faceted? You can say that again! I’m writing military history and bloody battles, complete with renowned warrior heroes, that might appeal to a mostly male audience. I’ve added in a romance, which probably has little appeal to most men. And OMG – it’s a love story between two men!

Anna: Except, of course, that I would argue many men enjoy a romantic element, even if they don’t always own up to it. After all, men need love just as much as women do.

Charlene: You’re right: every human has the capacity to love. Some just happen to love someone of the same sex. And this has been true throughout history, it’s part of the human condition. It’s only natural that historical fiction should recognize this – at least now and then.

Anna: I couldn’t agree more! I’ll look forward to reading the sequel to Men of the Cross.

Charlene: For King and Country will be out in early 2016.

Anna: Wonderful! On that note, I’d like to thank you for stopping by.

Charlene: It’s been my pleasure to chat with you, Anna.

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For those of you who want to read more about Charlene’s thoughts on the subject, please go here, http://charlenenewcomb.com/2014/11/17/medieval-man-sex-and-mortal-sin-in-men-of-the-cross/.

Should you want to buy & read her book (warmly recommended) it can be found here!

Other interesting posts on the subject are MJ Logue’s post about her female cross-dressing 17th century trooper, http://uncivilwars.blogspot.com/2015/10/fifty-shades-of-gender-bias-and.html and Hunter S Jones who asks the question “How should sexuality be portrayed in fiction?” http://expatspost.com/creative/articles/boys-and-girls-keep-swinging/.

Meet my main character

I have been tagged by the talented M.J.Logue in a Meet My Main Character bloghop, giving me a golden opportunity to introduce you to Adam de Guirande, protagonist of my upcoming series set in 14th century England. As an aside, it is interesting to note that M.J.Logue’s Hollie Babbitt lives through times of uncertainty and fear (his story is set during the English Civil War) very much because of an inept king. My Adam has the same problem – a kingdom with a weak leader is a kingdom that quickly sinks into the quagmires of rebellion and unrest.

Adam de Guirande is very much a creation of my fertile mind, but the historical events he lives through are anything but, a mere decade in which England was rocked by a power struggle of gigantic proportions between Edward II and his disgruntled barons.

Adam was unfortunate in his parents, but was luckier in his lord. A young Baron Mortimer discovers a badly beaten Adam one night at Ludlow Castle, and decides to take the lad into his household, first as a rather scruffy page, then as a somewhat more useful squire, and, finally, as a belted knight – Mortimer’s man through and through.

Being Mortimer’s man in the early 1320s come with its drawbacks – like being honour-bound to participate in a rebellion against the king that eventually fails. In consequence, things very quickly spiral out of control for Adam and his wife, Kit.

Very briefly, Edward II had problems with his barons for most of his reign, to a large extent due to his tendency to fall under the sway of one male favourite after the other. In many ways a tragic figure, Edward II was a man whose many talents did not include kingship, and he made quite the mess out of things – further exacerbated by his Plantagenet temper and his disregard for promises made to his barons.

When my story opens, Edward II has a close relationship with the Despensers – father and son, plus the wife of the son, who also happens to be Edward’s niece. The Despensers and the Mortimers are implacable enemies, out to feather their nest at each other’s expense. Hugh Despenser and Roger Mortimer are both extremely capable, both intelligent and ambitious. In many ways, they’re both ideal royal servants, but instead of harnessing them to his cause, Edward II offers preferment to Despenser – now and then at the expense of Mortimer.

Mortimer doesn’t trust Hugh Despenser further than he can throw him – a sentiment returned in full. After a year of provocation, Mortimer has had enough, and at the head of an army of disgruntled barons, he mows through Despenser land, creating havoc as he goes. He rides all the way to London, where his camped army is a sufficient deterrent for Edward II to agree to Mortimer’s terms which are, simply put, to pardon Mortimer for his rebellion and exile the Despensers.

At the time, Edward has no choice to comply, but as we all know, revenge is a dish best served cold, and Edward has no intention of letting Mortimer win. Ever. And so the stage is set, dear people, for a bloody conflict that will ravage England for years.

As I think you’ve gathered by now, Adam’s story involves a number of historical figures, first and foremost among them Baron Mortimer, Prince Edward, Queen Isabella and Hugh Despenser. But centre stage is taken by Adam himself, accompanied by his wife, Kit. Not that Adam particularly wants to take centre stage. In fact, Adam has no hunger for fame, no desire for more land – all he wants is to be left alone to live out his life in peace. Not about to happen when a kingdom is collapsing around you – even less so, if you’re as capable as Adam is, a natural leader of men.

In the Shadow of the Storm is the first of a planned series about Adam and Kit. It is planned for publication late autumn 2015.

Well, that was a bit about my WIP. I would now like to pass the baton to Prue Batten (nice rhyme, hey?), Irina Shapiro, Linda Root, Paula Lofting and Barbara Gaskell Denvil.

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