INTERVIEW WITH KATHRYN WARNER

My Facebook readers and friends know that in the last few years, I have been sharing my home with a deadline dragon, who has any number of annoying habits; he sheds scales all over the house, scorches the furniture with his fiery breath, and never lets me forget that ticking clock, by his very presence reminding me that time was running out for Lionheart, A King’s Ransom, and now for Outremer.   Sadly, this is the way of publishing nowadays; writers are expected to write faster than the proverbial speeding bullet, even writers whose books require extensive research.    Because of this sort of pressure, I’ve all but given up reading for pleasure, a painful sacrifice for someone who loves to read as much as I do.   The result is that my To Be Read List is as long as any of my own novels; I figure that to read all of the books on that list, I’ll need to live to be 150 or so.    One of the books on that list is Edward II, The Unconventional King, by Kathryn Warner.   After you read our interview, I am sure that large numbers of you will want to add her book to your own TBR lists.
Edward II was as controversial as he was unconventional, but much of what people think they know about him is often wildly inaccurate for he was also one of the most maligned of the English kings.   That is what makes Kathryn’s biography of such value, and Edward was very fortunate to have attracted the attention of this dedicated historian.    She candidly admits that he was a failure as king, while arguing persuasively that Edward the man was as interesting and multi-dimensional as any of the Plantagenets.    Many of you are already familiar with her blog about Edward and his times, which I consider one of the best historical blogs on the Internet.   So I am very pleased that she has agreed to do this interview.

Can you introduce us to Edward II?

He was the son of Longshanks, but please don’t hold that against him.  :-)  Edward II was a very different man to his father.  He was born in Caernarfon, North Wales on 25 April 1284  - six and a half months after his father had Dafydd ap Gruffydd executed - as the youngest child of Edward I and his first Spanish queen, Eleanor of Castile.  He was at least their fourteenth child, perhaps even fifteenth or sixteenth, though only he and five older sisters (Eleanor, Joan of Acre, Margaret, Mary and Elizabeth of Rhuddlan) survived childhood.  Edward was only six when his mother Queen Eleanor died in November 1290, and he succeeded his father as king of England in July 1307, when the sixty-eight-year-old Longshanks died at Burgh-by-Sands near Carlisle on his way to a military campaign against Robert Bruce in Scotland.  Via his mother Eleanor, Edward II was the grandson of Fernando III, king of Castile and Leon, who was canonised as San Fernando in 1671.

What’s your background, and how long have you been studying Edward II?

I studied medieval history and literature at the University of Manchester in the north of England, where I gained a BA and an MA with Distinction. I wrote an essay about Edward II in my second year of university, but only started studying him and his reign in earnest some years later in 2004, and began a website about him in 2005. In 2011, I had an article about him published in the prestigious English Historical Review, and around the same time began researching and writing my biography.  In June 2014, I appeared in the BBC documentary The Quest for Bannockburn as an expert on Edward. I first became passionately interested in him when I read a novel in 2004 which mentioned his great-uncle Richard of Cornwall (Henry III’s brother), and started looking up and reading all about Richard and his family.  It somehow struck me, seeing Edward II on the family tree, how little I felt I knew about him (despite my university essay about him), and I resolved to put that right, and started reading whatever I could find about him. Within days, I was lost. It was as though I’d found what I was meant to be doing in life, and my interest – obsession! – has continued ever since.

What is it about Edward that you like so much more than any other character in history? What is the most surprising or unusual thing you have found out about him?

He was so utterly unconventional for the time he lived in, and this fascinates me, though it exasperated his contemporaries! He liked ‘rustic pursuits’ such as hedging, digging ditches, thatching roofs and shoeing horses, and was enormously strong, healthy and fit. Edward enjoyed or preferred the company of his low-born subjects: in 1315 he went rowing and swimming in the Fens with a ‘great company of common people’, according to a distinctly unimpressed chronicler, and there are numerous references in his household accounts to his spending time with the low-born, such as his giving a pound to a woman he drank with in Newcastle in 1310, watching a group of men fishing near Doncaster in 1322, passing the time at a wedding in 1326 with a servant who ‘made the king laugh very greatly’, and inviting a group of shipwrights to come and visit him at Kenilworth Castle the same year. There are numerous other examples in the records of his chatting with fishermen, blacksmiths, carpenters, sailors, ditchers and so on. In August 1326, he himself joined a group of men hired to make hedges and a ditch in the park of Kenilworth Castle in Warwickshire (which had once belonged to his great-uncle Simon de Montfort, earl of Leicester), and gave money to the one of the men working with him in the ditch, so that he could buy himself new shoes.

Edward had a great sense of humour, as well as the typical Plantagenet vile temper, and his vivid and flawed personality comes right out of the pages of history at me 700 years later. His surviving chamber accounts of the 1320s are far and away my favourite source for his reign, full of the most delightful little snippets of information about him, such as giving generous sums of money to numerous people who had brought him gifts of fish, chickens and ale as he sailed along the Thames and his staff having to buy a key for a chest of money to replace one ‘which the king himself lost’. It’s true that Edward was a disastrous ruler and war leader, so much so that he was the first king of England forced to abdicate his throne, but he was a fascinating man, and there is so much more to him than the one-dimensional and crude stereotype we still see today in Braveheart and in much historical fiction - and even non-fiction.

Edward has been considerably maligned over the centuries. What is the worst thing you have found that anyone has ever said about him?

I would never deny that Edward was an incompetent king, but some of the things said about him are totally unfair and unreasonable. One seventeenth-century writer, for example, said he was ‘worthy never to have been born’. What perhaps upsets me most is the modern notion, popularised by Braveheart, that he wasn’t the real father of his son Edward III. Several novelists have also written this nonsense into their stories (not a shred of contemporary evidence exists for the notion, and it wasn’t invented until 1982, in one of Paul Doherty’s novels). It amazes me that in the twenty-first century there is still so much contempt for Edward’s non-heterosexuality – I’ve lost count of how many prejudiced, bigoted and unkind statements I’ve seen about him in this respect. I once had the misfortune to read a romance novel featuring Edward as a character, and the hatred and revulsion the author showed for him literally made me feel ill – he was a flabby, effeminate and repulsive worm of a man, everyone including his own lover loathed him and he made people shudder with disgust, he didn’t care about his children and refused to pay their expenses, and he was called ‘perverted’ and ‘unnatural’ because of his sexuality frequently throughout the novel, in a way which made it obvious that the author was expecting her readers to share this opinion rather than expressing the prejudices of the early fourteenth century. The way the writer gloated in her author’s note over the ‘red-hot poker’ story of Edward’s murder in 1327 (which she presented as fact, although it most certainly isn’t) and called it ‘ingenious’ was just the final straw.

Certain modern novelists and even non-fiction writers, apparently in the belief that Edward II just hasn’t been maligned enough for the last 700 years, seem to be falling over themselves to invent new slurs to hurl at him that are based on no evidence at all. In recent years, he’s been said to have committed ‘atrocities’ in Wales (nope, never; he wasn’t his father), to have had Jewish people who set foot in England murdered (definitely not), to have allowed his ‘favourite’ Hugh Despenser to rape his queen (not a shred of evidence), to have been ‘extraordinarily stupid’ (he may not have been a Mensa candidate, but he founded colleges at both Oxford and Cambridge, borrowed books from a monks’ library in Canterbury and was a cultured man who enjoyed music and plays), and to have not cared about his children to the extent that he could barely remember their names (the evidence strongly suggests he was actually a loving, caring father). And there are at least four novels I can think of where another man is put forward as the real father of his children, although he and Isabella were certainly together at the right time to conceive all four of them and there is absolutely no reason at all to think that he might not have been their father (see this post here): http://edwardthesecond.blogspot.co.uk/2011/02/edward-ii-and-his-children-and-why.html
I find this extremely disrespectful, both to Edward and to Isabella.

Was he really murdered with a red-hot poker?

Definitely not.  This is the number one thing many people think they know about Edward II, and it’s 99.9% sure to be an absolute myth.  It’s not even certain that he was murdered at Berkeley Castle on 21 September 1327 at all - plenty of influential people at the time, including the archbishop of York, the bishop and mayor of London and several earls, believed he was still alive years later and acted on this belief - and if he was, it’s far more likely to have been suffocation than this sadistic method.  Fourteenth-century chroniclers gave a wide variety of causes of death, from natural causes to illness to grief to a fall to suffocation, and more.  Many admitted they didn’t know how he had died.  The red-hot poker is just one of the stories, but probably because it’s so lurid and horrifying, it’s become the standard accepted version of Edward II’s death over the centuries, and was popularised in the late sixteenth century by the playwright Christopher Marlowe.

On your blog and in your new book, you sift through all the negative tales about Edward and put them into context. How do readers react?

I try not to whitewash Edward, but to present him as honestly as possible.  I would never say that he was a good king or military leader – no king ends his reign the way he did, or suffers as many military setbacks, without making a long series of horrible mistakes.  But there’s far more to him and his reign than a one-dimensional disaster sandwiched between the much longer and much more successful reigns of his father Edward I and son Edward III.  I’ve been delighted with the overwhelmingly positive response from my readers – I’d say that 99% of all the feedback I get is supportive and interested, and yes, many people are surprised to learn that there’s a lot more to his character and reign than they’d thought.  Although there will always be people for whom Edward II will never be anything more than the effete gay prince who loses at Bannockburn and gets a poker up the behind, I’d like to think my blog and Facebook page have gone some small way to presenting a more rounded and positive view of him. And I’m so delighted that my book has now come out to set the record straight still further.

Can you recommend any really good Edward II books?

My The Unconventional King, of course! :)  Professor Seymour Phillips published a magnificent biography of Edward in 2010, in the Yale English Monarchs series, which I can’t recommend highly enough.  Professor Roy Martin Haines also wrote a very good biography of Edward in 2003, though it’s perhaps a little too academic for a general audience, and as far as popular histories go, Caroline Bingham’s 1973 work on Edward is excellent and gorgeously illustrated (though necessarily dated now, of course).  The only novels about Edward that I would unhesitatingly recommend are Susan Higginbotham’s The Traitor’s Wife and Brenda Honeyman’s The King’s Minions and The Queen and Mortimer.  Sadly, the latter two are very hard to find these days.  There are a few other novels about Edward and Isabella which aren’t bad either, such as Margaret Campbell Barnes’ Isabel the Fair, Pamela Bennetts’ The She-Wolf and Hilda Lewis’s Harlot Queen.

Kathryn, thank you so much for this enlightening interview.  It definitely inspired me to cheat a bit and move your biography of Edward  much higher on my TBR list.

Kathryn’s Edward II blog can be found at: http://edwardthesecond.blogspot.co.uk/

Her book Edward II: The Unconventional King, with a foreword by Ian Mortimer, can be bought from Amazon, Book Depository or directly from Amberley, the publisher: http://www.amberleybooks.com/shop/article_9781445641201/Edward-II%3CBR%3EThe-Unconventional-King.html

January 22, 2015

19 Responses to “INTERVIEW WITH KATHRYN WARNER”

  1. Kasia Says:

    Fascinating interview! Thank you both, Kathyn and Sharon. What I find most compelling about Edward is exactly what you said, Kathryn, that he was so utterly unconventional for the time he lived in…

  2. Joan Says:

    What an interesting, impassioned interview! I have a feeling the biography will be likewise. It’s already on my tbr list & am eager to read it. Thank you Kathryn & Sharon.

    Sharon, why is there more pressure on writers today…..just more of the usual super competitive markets? Or something particular? I really have to chuckle at the push & pull of you & your dragon. Better watch it though, you may develop a reluctant affection for the creature!

  3. Veronica Meenan Says:

    Thank you Sharon for such an interesting interview. Kathryn’s book has been added to an ever growing list! It’s interesting what she says that Edward may not have been murdered at Berkeley Castle and that some people at the time believed he was still alive. She mentioned the biography of Edward by Seymour Phillips. He is Emeritus Professor of Medieval History at my alma mater, University College Dublin (where I also worked in academic administration). I last met him on the day it was announced that Richard was to be buried at Leicester. We had a chat about that and then he mentioned he’d like to see inside Edward’s tomb at Gloucester, to see if there was a body there. I’d love to know if Kathryn holds the same view.

  4. skpenman Says:

    Veronica, I will be happy to ask Kathryn this, on your behalf.

    On this date in 1264 the Mise of Amiens judgment was announced by the French king, Louis IX. It guaranteed that the conflict between Henry III and Simon de Montfort and the English barons would end in warfare, for Louis absolved Henry from the oath he’d sworn to obey the Provisions of Oxford, which had circumscribed some of his royal power. It seems very naïve that Simon and the barons could have expected the French king to rule against a fellow king, one who was also his brother-in-law. But naiveté was not one of Simon’s personality traits, so they must have agreed to submit their quarrel to the French king out of sheer desperation, a last ditch effort to avoid bloodshed.
    Good luck for all of you in the path of the current winter storm, Iola. I was astounded when I heard its name, for my mother was christened Theresa Iola. It was such an unusual name that she was curious about its origins, but her mother remembered only that it was a family name. Many years later, I solved the mystery when I was researching Here Be Dragons. Iola is a Welsh name, the female equivalent of Iolo. My mom had Welsh blood, so it made sense that it would have been passed down through the generations until its origin was forgotten. The correct Welsh pronunciation is with a Y, not a long I, as my mom and the Weather Channel pronounced it. My mom was delighted by what I discovered, and I am sure she’d be amused to know that there is now a storm named Iola; hopefully it will not cause too much misery this weekend.

  5. Kathryn Warner Says:

    Hi Veronica! In my book I go into the possibility that Edward did not die at Berkeley in detail. There were certainly a lot of people at the time who thought he was still alive past 1327, including the archbishop of York, the mayor of London and several earls. I’d also love to know if he’s really buried at Gloucester!

  6. Veronica Meenan Says:

    Many thanks Kathryn - I’m looking forward to reading your book.

  7. skpenman Says:

    While it is not medieval, the History Channel has a three-night series starting tomorrow evening, Sons of Liberty, that I think may be of interest to many of you. According to one review, it starts out with an overdose of high drama, but settles down for the other episodes. Naturally the writers have taken some poetic license and turned the 43 year old Sam Adams into a young stud, but we’d expect that, wouldn’t we? Here is a link to learn more about the show. The website also has a fun quiz to find out which of the Founding Fathers was your spiritual soul brother. I was quite pleased to learn I had most in common with Dr Joseph Warren, the young physician who was killed in the battle of Breed’s Hill, for when I was doing serious research about the period in hopes of writing a novel about what I see as America’s first civil war, I became quite taken with Dr Warren. Sadly, his body was treated as barbarously by the British soldiers as Simon de Montfort’s body was by Edward I. He was exhumed some months later by his brothers and Paul Revere, who identified his remains by means of a false tooth; how’s that for an intriguing historical tidbit? He was given an honorable burial and while few remember him today, he was greatly mourned by those who supported the rebel cause, and many of the towns named Warren were originally founded in his honor. I do hope he shows up in the Sons of Liberty, but we’ll have to see.
    http://www.history.com/shows/sons-of-liberty?mkwid=shIzGu35h|c_pcrid_57212447594_pkw_sons%20of%20liberty_pmt_e&utm_source=google_tune&utm_medium=cpc&utm_term=sons%20of%20liberty&utm_campaign=Sons+of+Liberty&paidlink=1&cmpid=PaidSearch_google_tune_Sons+of+Liberty_sons%20of%20liberty&gclid=CPmp5cHXrcMCFcFr7Aod4UoAkw

  8. Pat Jones Says:

    Great interview and rely interesting information, definately on my TBR list

  9. Sharon K Penman Says:

    My deepest sympathies to all of you in the path of the blizzard named Juno, which will soon be barreling up the East Coast. They are talking about 2-3 feet of snow in NYC and Boston, and the mayor of NYC says this could be one of the worst storms of all time to hit his city. Please take care, stay safe—and indoors if you can. We don’t know yet how my little corner of NJ will be impacted; the last I heard was that we could escape with a few inches or be clobbered with ten inches or more. But that is nowhere near as scary as what is being predicted for Long Island and New England.
    On the medieval news front, January 25th was not a lucky day for royal marriages, for on this date in 1308, Edward II wed Isabella of France and in 1533, Henry Bluebeard Tudor wed the second of his six wives, Anne Boleyn.

  10. Theresa Says:

    Thanks for putting up this interview with Kathryn. I must admit I’ve never thought much of Edward II as a monarch and as a husband. However, I enjoyed reading this interview and I will certainly try and obtain a copy of ‘The Unconventional King’. Perhaps some of the odium placed upon poor Edward was the fact that he was one of the few kings to be defeated in a major battle by the Scots? Just a theory perhaps? The only historical novel I read about Edward II was Jean Plaidy’s ‘The Follies of the King’. While it didn’t demonise Edward- he did come across as a feeble ruler, although rather unlucky, especially in his choice of wife!

  11. skpenman Says:

    Very sad news today that the Australian novelist Colleen McCullough has died. She was perhaps best known for The Thorn Birds, although I think her masterpiece was her series about ancient Rome. She will be greatly missed, but not forgotten, not as long as there are people who love to read. http://www.abc.net.au/news/2015-01-29/australian-author-colleen-mccullough-dies/6055952

  12. skpenman Says:

    This is for my British readers. On Saturday Barnes and Noble’s UK site will select Time and Chance as their Daily Find. On Saturday only, the price will be reduced, although I don’t know what it will be. Here is the link. http://www.nook.com/gb/ebooks/time-and-chance-by-sharon-penman/9781447228547?cmpid=em_uk_150126_NO_NWS_UK_DAILY_FIND_NA&source_id=L000016015

  13. Theresa Says:

    31 January, Antonia Minor daughter of Mark Antony and the stern mother of the future emperor Claudius was born today in 36 BC. One of the best historical mini series I’ve ever seen is ‘I Claudius’ in which Antonia plays a prominent part.
    This day also saw Guy Fawkes and some of his fellow accomplices executed for their role in the Gunpowder Plot. Naturally they were hung drawn and quartered, however Fawkes was supposed to have died fairly quickly due to the amount of torture he underwent on the rack previously. Apparently poor Guy holds the record of lasting the longest (over four hours) on the rack before confessing. Thats what I was told when visiting the Tower of London.

    On the subject of period dramas,
    Has anyone been watching ‘Wolf Hall’ ? The show hasn’t been aired in Australia as yet.

  14. skpenman Says:

    It hasn’t been shown yet in the US, either, Theresa. I think it starts in April?

    My editor at Head of Zeus, Nic Cheetham, recently published Colleen McCullough’s novels in the e-book format. Coincidentally, His father, Anthony Cheetham, first published Colleen in 1977 and he has written a beautiful tribute that I wanted to share with you all. The literary world lost a true star. http://headofzeus.com/ You might want to linger and browse the Zeus website, as it offer some very interesting articles.

  15. Sharon Kay Penman Says:

    February 2nd—one of the more important festivals of the medieval Church calendar, Candlemas. Also Groundhog Day and this year the day after an exciting Super Bowl, a miserable day for Seahawk fans and a glorious one for Patriots fans. The game had everything, including a David Tyree sort of miraculous catch and incomprehensible play calling which led to a dramatic interception that broke hearts all over Seattle.
    Now on to history. On February 2nd in 1141, King Stephen was defeated at the battle of Lincoln by the Empress Maude’s brother Robert, the Earl of Gloucester. This was a battle that had everything, too—an amazing march by Robert, a betrayal, personal heroics by Stephen, a frigid February backdrop, all of which made it fun to write about.
    February 2nd was also the date of death of Llywelyn Fawr’s beloved wife, Joanna, who died in 1237 at age 46—probably, since we cannot be 100% sure of her birth date. Llywelyn founded a friary in her memory.
    And February 2nd was the date of the battle of Mortimer’s Cross, a highly significant battle during the Wars of the Roses, one which rescued the flagging hopes of the House of York and established the young Duke of York and future Edward IV as a battle commander to be reckoned with. It was before this battle that soldiers saw a parhelion, three suns appearing in the skies above their heads. They were panicking until Edward, always a fast thinker, shouted out that they represented the Holy Trinity and meant that victory would go to York. Here is a link to a website that offers some interesting information about this battle. http://www.battlefieldstrust.com/resource-centre/warsoftheroses/battleview.asp?BattleFieldId=25

  16. skpenman Says:

    The news has been horrible lately, showing the worst of mother nature and the worst of mankind. So I am going to try again to post stories that give us a brief respite from the ugly reality of 2015. Here is one about a Georgia teenager who was saved from a kidnapper by her small dog, who defended her fiercely when a man tried to drag her into his truck. We are not surprised when a hero dog is a German shepherd; my Cody would have taken the guy’s leg off. But we are often surprised when small dogs show they can be heroes, too. I still remember a similar story a few years ago in the Midwest; a ten year old girl was suddenly grabbed by a man in broad daylight, and as he started to run toward his car, holding the struggling child, her tiny Jack Russell terrier came to her rescue, biting the man until he dropped the girl and she could escape. Today of all days, I think we need stories like this. http://www.nbcnews.com/news/video/dog-foils-kidnapping-georgia-n297616

  17. Sharon Kay Penman Says:

    This is what I posted two years ago and am repeating now since no one is likely to remember it and that saves me a lot of typing. :-) In Ransom, we see Eleanor at her best, fighting tooth and nail to save her son.
    On February 4th, 1194, Richard Lionheart was finally freed from his German captivity after paying an astronomical ransom. He’d been held for one year, six weeks, and three days. But two days earlier, he’d been double-crossed by Heinrich, who announced to the assemblage of German and English lords and prelates that he’d had a new offer from the French king and Richard’s brother John and, with an utter lack of shame, invited Richard to better it.
    From A King’s Ransom, Chapter Twenty
    * * *
    While Richard glanced down at the letters, the Archbishop of Rouen hastily translated Heinrich’s comments for Eleanor. The letters were indeed from Philippe and John and, as Richard read what was being offered and what it could mean for him, his numbed disbelief gave way to despair and then, murderous rage.
    His fist clenched around the letters and he flung them to the floor at Heinrich’s feet. But before he could speak, his mother was beside him. “Wait, Richard, wait!” She was clinging to his arm with such urgency that she actually succeeded in pulling him back from the dais. “Look around you,” she said, her voice shaking, but her eyes blazing with green fire. “Look!”
    He did and saw at once what she meant. Virtually every German in the hall was staring at Heinrich as if he’d suddenly revealed himself to be the Anti-Christ. Not a word had yet been said, but their expressions of horror and disgust left no doubt as to how they felt about their emperor’s eleventh-hour surprise. “Let them speak first,” Eleanor hissed. “Let the Germans handle this.”
    * * *
    The Germans did handle it; led by Richard’s friend, the Archbishop-elect of Cologne, they forced Heinrich to honor the original terms for Richard’s release. But Heinrich saved face by insisting that Richard would not be freed unless he did homage to the German emperor. Richard was outraged and refused, but again his mother interceded, convincing him that he had no choice. He was then freed on February 4th, although the forced act of homage left some deep psychic scars. But he’d not have regained his freedom if not for his mother, and to his credit, he realized that. How different the history of the Angevins would have been if Henry had been able to value his queen’s intelligence and political skills as their son did. Henry did not even allow her a say in the governing of her own Aquitaine and that would cost him dearly. Richard entrusted her with his kingdom and she saved it for him.

    j

  18. Sharon Kay Penman Says:

    For my fellow football fans out there, who are still puzzling over Pete Carroll’s play calling on Sunday. http://www.cnn.com/videos/sports/2015/02/03/erin-pkg-moos-seahawks-play-calling-critiques.cnn But I think the best response came from one of our own, Kyung posting that not giving the ball to Lynch was the worst decision since the Lionheart didn’t bother to wear his hauberk at the siege of Chalus. How’s that for an inspired blend of our passion for football and our passion for history?

  19. skpenman Says:

    It is hard to believe that it has been two years already since it was officially confirmed that the bones discovered in that Leicester car park were indeed those of Richard III. Yorkists and those who are fascinated by history owe a great debt to those intrepid souls who forged ahead in the search for Richard’s grave, defying the odds and overcoming so many obstacles and setbacks along the way. Like many, I believe that the most credit should go to Philippa Langley, for she truly was the moving force behind this project. Philippa just e-mailed me, asking me to post this petition on my Facebook pages, and I told her I would be happy to do so. We are attempting to have Richard’s remains moved from their current laboratory location to a church or chapel until he is reburied at Leicester Cathedral. That seems like a reasonable request to me. Here is the link. You can read the petition for yourself and if you agree with us, please consider signing it. Thank you. https://www.change.org/p/leicester-cathedral-richard-iii-should-be-coffined-in-a-holy-place-not-as-scientific-specimen

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