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The Shw Wolf of France by Maurice Druon/Reaction on the comments of Kathryn Warner/EdwardthesecondBlogspot

maandag 6 maart 2017
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THE SHE WOLF OF FRANCE/REACTION ON THE COMMENTSOF KATHRYN WARNER/EDWARDTHE SECONDBLOGSPOT

SEE ALSO


http://www.astridessed.nl/the-she-wolf-of-france-by-maurice-druonreaction-on-the-comments-of-kathryn-warneredwardthesecondblogspot/





TO MY READERS

INTRODUCTION

As you will see, I'll give a reaction on the comments ofKathryn Warner, historian and writer of among else''Edward II, an Unconventional King'' and''Isabella of France'' [wife of Edward II].Actually, she reacted on an historical fiction novel''She Wolf of France'', about Isabella of France, fifthin a series about the French Royal House in the first halfof the fourteenth century ''The Accursed Kings'', referringto the ''curse of the Templars''[See under Philip IV]
Below you will see her post [on her website] as my comment.
But I realized, that you only can follow the discussion, when youknow something of the background.So underlying you find information about Isabella ofFrance and her father, King Philip IV

But who knows already a lot about the French and English history inthe beginning of the 14th century, in casu the history of Isabella ofFrance and her father, King Philip IV, can skip this informationand go directly to
MY COMMENTS ON THE POST OF KATHRYN WARNERON HER BLOG: EDWARDTHESECONDBLOGSPOT
If not, read the following for more information:
AND ENJOY THE TRAVEL TO THE PAST!


ISABELLA OF FRANCE, WIFE TO KING EDWARD II

As you will see, I'll give a reaction on the comments ofKathryn Warner, historian and writer of among else''Edward II, an Unconventional King'' and''Isabella of France'' [wife of Edward II].Actually, she reacted on an historical fiction novel''She Wolf of France'', about Isabella of France, fifthin a series about the French Royal House in the first halfof the fourteenth century ''The Accursed Kings'', referringto the ''curse of the Templars''[See under Philip IV]
Below you will see her post [on her website] as my comment.
But I realized, that you only can follow the discussion, when youknow something of the background:
So here we go
Isabella of France , later called the She Wolf of France, was the daughter of the French King Philip IV,who married her off to the English King Edward II in 1308.Since she was 12 years, probably the marriage was consumated later.However, fundamental problems would rise, since Edward II had a favouritism for men, probably he was gay.When he married Isabella, he had a deep affection for a Gascon knight,Piers Gaveston, who was to be executed by uprising barons, wholoathed his arrogance and influence over the King.
Later Edward II had Hugh Despenser as a favourite [Despenser's father wasalso his favourite, but his deep affection was for Hugh], which led toconflicts between Edward II and the other nobles, since the Despensersexpanded their lands [with consent of the King] at the cost of theother nobles.Wars broke out, the King and the Despensers won at the cost of many executions,imprisonments of the opponents.One of them was Roger Mortimer, who later became the lover of Queen Isabella,who was imprisoned in the Tower and [as one of the few in history] escaped succesfully and fled to France.
The marriage between Isabella and Edward, which never was very good, detoriatedafter the influence of the Despenser and Isabella would write later in a letterto her husband [when she was in France] that Despenser shared the Kings bed.....

Meantime, they had four children, under who the later King Edward III,who would start the Hundred Years War with France.[And his descendents would slaughter each other in the Wars of the Rosesfor the succession of the English throne]
When things detoriated, Isabella went in 1325 to her homeland, France, as a pretext to negociate between Edward II and her brother King Charles IV overaroused tensions between the two lands.Her son Edward [later III] was with her.But she didn't come back and lived there under protection of herbrother the King for longer than a year.
She met Roger Mortimer [the nobleman, who escaped the Towerof London], they began a relationship and eventually returnedto England with troops [which they begat after bethrotingson Edward to Philippa, the daughter of the Count of Hainault,who provided the troops]
The demand was, that de Despensers would be ousted outof power.They could easily win, because nearly all nobles had leftthe King, out of hatred for the Despensers.
The King and Hugh Despenser fled, but were arrested and HughDespenser was to die a terrible death, the traitors death.His father and many others were executed too.
Isabella and Mortimer imprisoned the King and forced him toabdicate in favour of his son, who was crowned The abdication was in januari 1327.The crowning of Edward III was in february 1327

In september the old King Edward II died in strangecircumstances, probably ordered by Isabella and Mortimer,who were the de facto rulers in England.
They however did as the Despensers, enriching themselves shamelessly.
Of course the tensions between Edward III and Mortimer grew:Edward II had no actual power, Mortimer l[who was married also]lived openly with his mother [a shame in that time, especiallyfor a woman] and he could be held responsible forthe death of Edward's father.After the execution of Edward''s uncle, the Earl of Kent[halfbrother of his father] enough was enough.
Secretly Edward planned an attack and with 20 or 30 armedmen of his age, they overwhelmed Mortimer and Isabella.Mortimer was arrested and executed and of course Isabella,being his mother, was spared, but her political influence was over.
But she lived in extreme wealth until 1358.
See also

SHE WOLVES OF ENGLAND, ISABELLA AND MARGARET
https://www.youtube.com/watch? v=192QjemfTh0&t=155s

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/ Isabella_of_France



https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/ Edward_II_of_England


https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/ Edward_III_of_England


KING PHILIP IV, FATHER OF ISABELLA OF FRANCE
King Philip IV, father of Isabella, was a mighty ruler, who was named''Philip the Fair'', because of his good looks and ''The Iron King''because of the iron fist with which he ruled France.He relied rather on skillful civil servants like Nogaret and Marignythen on his barons, wanting to limit the feudal society andestablising a strong central power.
Interesting facts during his reign
Under his reign, in 1302, the Flemish lower classes beat theFrench army in the Battle of the Golden Spurs [Guldensporenslag]
https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/ Battle_of_the_Golden_Spurs

Notorious events during his reign:
He expelled the Jews and destroyed the Templars.According to popular belief Jaques de Molay, Grandmasterof the Templars, cursed the King, Pope Clement V and Nogaretfor their part in the prosecution, before burning to death on the stake.The curse of the Templars.Anyway:The King, the Pope as Nogaret died in the same year, 1314, asMolay should have predicted,.The King was to succeed by his three sons, who ruled oneafter the other untill 1328, died young without mleheirs.And in 1314, the Tour The Nesle adultery scandal came tolight, in which the three wives of the Kings' sons were involved.....

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/ Tour_de_Nesle_Affair


The curse of the Templars?

See also

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/ Philip_IV_of_France



MY COMMENTS ON THE POST OF KATHRYN WARNERON HER BLOG: EDWARDTHESECONDBLOGSPOT
TO MY READERS;

Being a fan of the historical fiction novels of Maurice Druon''The Accursed Kings'' [Les Rois Maudits] about the last Capet Kingsin the early half of the 14th century, I have written some criticalcomments on a posting of Kathryn Warner [historian and authoof ''Edward II, the Unconventional Ling] on her websiteEdwardthesecondBlogspot.
Her posting concerns part 5 of the ''Accursed Kings'', ''The She Wolfof France'' about Queen Isabella, wife of the English King Edward II,mother to the latter King Edward III [who started the Hundred YearsWar with France]
Her reaction on the book was very critical and negative and I have fought her about that, because in my opinion The She Wolf ofFrance is impressive and interesting novel
READ THE BOOK
The She-Wolf


MAURICE DRUONSHE WOLF OF FRANCE

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/The_Accursed_Kings#La_Louve_de_France_.281959.29


Also read the whole series

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/The_Accursed_Kings


See Kathryn Warner's comments

EDWARD II NOVEL OF THE WEEK [2]: ''THE SHE WOLF OFFRANCE'' BY MAURICE DRUON

LINK

http://edwardthesecond.blogspo t.nl/2006/05/edward-ii-novel-o f-week-2-she-wolf-of.html



SEE TEXT BELOW MY COMMENTS


MY COMMENTS ON KATHRYN WARNER


THE SHE WOLF OF FRANCE/AN IMPRESSING AND INTERESTINGHISTORICAL FICTIONMY COMMENTS ON YOUR POSTING

Dear Kathryn Warner
Compliments with your historically accurate andvery detailed blog about English 14th century history, concerningthe reign of King Edward II.
You don't know me, so let me introduce myself first:

Being a journalist and historian, although I am not an expert,I always have had a passion for Medieval history,From that interest and certain knowledge, I wrote a number of articles/comments about the Wars of the Rosesand other medieval subjects:See some examples 

http://www.astridessed.nl/the- wars-of-the-rosescauses-of-the -wars-of-the-rosesa-travel-to- the-past/

http://www.astridessed.nl/the- wars-of-the-rosesmargaret-of-a njoushe-wolf-or-notcomments-on -the-article-of-mr-gareth-ruse ll-about-margaret-of-anjou/


http://www.astridessed.nl/the- wars-of-the-roseslancaster-and -yorkusurpation-and-the-right- to-the-throne-by-femalesletter -to-encyclopaedia-britannica/
CRITICAL REMARKS ON YOUR COMMENTSABOUT MAURICE DRUON'S ''SHE WOLF OF FRANCE''
You will be surprised about my somewhat late reaction onyour comment dd 10 may 2006,on the fifth part of Maurice Druon's famousserie books ''The Accursed Kings'' [les rois Maudits], ''TheShe Wolf of France''
http://edwardthesecond.blogspo t.nl/2006/05/edward-ii-novel-o f-week-2-she-wolf-of.html

Reason is, that I saw your comment only today, 6 march 2017, due to some historical investigation.And I found it interesting enough to give some comment,especially because I have recently read ''The She Wolf of France''which I appreciate as thrilling, horror like and moving.
To say it bluntly: I disagree with you on some some important aspects, whichI want to point out to you clearly.But shortly:I think the style of Druon is very vividly, historically convincing[besides some errors you rightly point out, but partly are correctedin part 6] and moving.He succeeds to provoke pity and sympathy for less sympatheticallyportayed characters and combines, in his books, elements ofepics, thriller, romantic, travelling with the reader in a distantpast.

But let me put some remarks you made to the critical light
YOUR COMMENT

1
You wrote
''I'm afraid I really dislike this novel. Really, really dislike it, so Druon fans might wish to stop reading now....''
http://edwardthesecond.blogspo t.nl/2006/05/edward-ii-novel-o f-week-2-she-wolf-of.html

MY REACTION


It is of course,your liberty to dislike the ''She Wolf of France''But you see, I am a fan of the series ''The Accursed Kings''of Maurice Druon and I did not stop reading your comment,because I always open myself to critical notes, from which I can learn, as I hope you will leaarn from my remarks
Now all jokes in the cupboard, I become more serious

YOUR COMMENT
2
''I'll begin with a few things that I did like......''
I can be short about that:I agree with you


YOUR COMMENT
 3
''The rest of the characterisation, at least of the English characters, is just horrible. Edward II himself is so utterly feeble you can only feel contempt. Mortimer is the only remotely sympathetic English character. And the biggest problem I have with the novel is that, despite the title, it's really not about Isabella at all. It's a novel about France which happens to include some scenes set in England. OK, it's a series about French history - but then why call this one 'The She-Wolf of France' when Isabella and Edward only appear in a handful of scenes? There are pages and pages on Lombard bankers in Paris. This may be interesting to readers of the whole series - I presume they're regular characters - but I wanted to read about Isabella and Edward II, not Lombard bankers! Most of the novel is set in France. The death scene of Charles of Valois, Isabella's uncle, goes on interminably.''

MY REACTION:
In the first place I disagree with you, that the figure ofRoger Mortimer is the only sympathetic character.I deal with that later.
Further you are in sofar right, that calling the book''The She Wolf of France'' is not entirely right,since a great deal of the book involves other subjects.But see it like that:It's part five in the historical series about the earlypart of the 14th century concerning the French royalFamily, with as an important theme the effects ofthe socalled ''curse of the Templars'', which affectsthe offspring [and further generations]] of KingPhilip IV, who persecuted them and sent them to the stake.The other parts concern the reigns of two brothers ofQueen Isabella, Louis X [Le Hutin] and Philip V[The Long] and their disastrous end.She Wolf of France concerns the reign of her last brother,King Charles IV and of course involves her, beingPhilip IV's daughter.
The chapters 1, 2, 3, 5 and 6, concern Queen Isabella, Roger Mortimer [who escapes from theTower in chapter 1] and the French-English relations.But of course the parallel French history, with the financialrole of the Italian bankers [the money lenders of Kingsand nobles], as the political conflicts within French nobility,etc must be described too!You are a too good historian not to realize, that a storycan't only involve two important historical persons[here Edward II and Isabella], but that they must beseen against the background of the wholeeconomic-political landscape.

YOUR COMMENT

4
FIRST PART

''The only time Edward and Isabella appear together (and one of only four scenes where Edward appears at all) is in the second scene of the novel, after the Prologue and Mortimer's escape from the Tower. Isabella is sitting on her throne whinging to the French ambassador about her awful life when Edward, the Despensers and some of the English nobles enter the room. Isabella then proceeds to insult Edward, over and over, in front of the whole court. Neither Edward nor Hugh Despenser respond to her insults - they blush, pretend not to hear, change the subject. This is a really bad way of writing fiction: the scene should have crackled with tension, as Edward and Isabella exchange (spoken) blows and witty repartee.''

MY REACTION
In this I agree with you sofar, that it is highly likely,a Queen like Isabella, as a French princess trainedin not only very good manners, but also in the womanlyrole of modesty and a role on the background, shouldhave uttered in public on that way to her husband, shebeing a Queen and he, the King. especially in thecompanion of a French ambassador as the Despensers,who she loathed.But it's fiction after all and should not be judged witha too strict historical view.Besides, people are complicated.Who can tell, that Isabella not uttered herself on thatway out of yearlong frustration and that theKing and Despenser said nothing out of a certain'feeling of guilt?Who can say.I was not present and either you..............

YOUR COMMENT

4
SECOND PART
''As it is, Edward and Despenser seem totally pathetic, no match at all for Isabella. Another bad way of writing fiction - it would make for a much better novel to equalise their opposition, to make us see why Isabella hates them and wants to destroy them. Also, giving Edward the ability to hit back would have given the reader a glimpse into their awful marriage, and possibly lots of other interesting information like the impending war with France. But there's no insight at all. As it is, the scene just makes Edward even more pathetic, if that's possible. The French ambassador Bouville thinks that Isabella is 'brave' to stand up to the king, but it doesn't seem so to me - in fact, it seems cruel, like kicking a man who can't kick back. The narrative claims that Isabella is 'surrounded by so much hatred', but we never see this. We only see that all the hatred is coming from her.''
MY REACTION
Yes, perhaps Edward and Despenser were portrayeda little pathetic, maybe due [I don't know] to prejudicesof Maurice Druon about love relations between men.[as they are portrayed by Druon and presumably were,testifying historical sources, among else the letter of Isabella toEdward from FranceWhy should she say so, if it were not true,considering the taboo on relations between menin that time, and certainly not spoken of by a woman,let alone a Queen?
http://edwardthesecond.blogspo t.nl/2015/09/edward-iis-relati onship-with-hugh.html]


AGAIN, YOUR COMMENTS
''Also, giving Edward the ability to hit back would have given the reader a glimpse into their awful marriage, and possibly lots of other interesting information like the impending war with France. But there's no insight at all. As it is, the scene just makes Edward even more pathetic, if that's possible. The French ambassador Bouville thinks that Isabella is 'brave' to stand up to the king, but it doesn't seem so to me - in fact, it seems cruel, like kicking a man who can't kick back. The narrative claims that Isabella is 'surrounded by so much hatred', but we never see this. We only see that all the hatred is coming from her''
Even if the scene makes Edward ''pathetic'', that doesn'tmean, he can't fight back.Don't forget, he is the King and therefore endowed withreal power and supported by his favourites, nobles,his army and his royal authority, while Isabella ismerely his consort, also a princess of foreign descent withno obvious ties in England.So where thus the power lie?Even if Edward is ''pathetic''
And it' not true, that there is no sign of that''awful marriage''The Despensers, especially Hugh, are supposed to have stolen her whole dowry, her rights and lands ofCornwall, steal [under the pretext of ''borrowing'']her pearls, take with them expensive books as shefears to be assassinated [that is higly unlikelybeing the sister of the King of France]
However, added to those stealings [I don't know,if this is true historically, but here I follow thetale of Druon] the lack of emotional warmth ofthe King, giving that to friend Hugh, there Druonmakes a horrible marriage convincingly.
YOUR COMMENT

5

''Druon tells us that Edward II is 'handsome', a 'fine-looking man, muscular, lithe and alert' with an 'athlete's constitution'. Yet the details used to describe him make him grotesque. He has pouches beneath his eyes, an 'uncertain line of the curve of the nostril', an overly large (but weak, naturally) chin and a spine that 'curved unpleasantly from the neck to the waist, as if the spine lacked substance'. A deformed back in an athlete? Really? Oh, and his hands are 'flaccid' and 'flutter aimlessly', he pirouettes, he stamps his foot. Lovely.''

MY REACTION
Okay.Even Druon describes Edward as such, as other characters,does that say something about the liking or not liking of someone?If Despenser the Elder is described as ''a weazel'', greedyand what else more, or his son as weak and bad, shouldone not feel pity on the horrible end they met?No, someones more or less sympathetic orstrong character has, in my book, nothing to dowith liking or feeling pity.
I felt a deep pity with King Edward because of his [supposed] bad treatment, his goodbye to hislover Hugh [although it is not likely, they partedlike that]
Because when people are losing everything they holddear [he never saw his children again] the reader mustpity them, whatever they did in the past.
And I am not going for that vindictiveness Isabella [as Mortimer] showed, however wrongly she wastreated.And they WERE vindictive, following the crueldeath of the Despensers, the execution of the Earlof Kent and her forcing Despensers innocent daughtersinto convent.

http://www.susanhigginbotham.c om/blog/posts/two-maybe-three- little-nuns/]



YOUR COMMENT

6


''Druon tells far more than he shows, and what he shows is different from what he tells us. It's pointless to state in the narrative that Isabella 'suffers' when the reader never sees it. All that she seems to 'suffer' in this scene is having to put her feet on a threadbare footstool. Well, boo-hoo. It's also stated that she believes her life to be in danger from the Despensers. When we see the Despensers, however, it's hard to imagine that they could even find their way to the privy by themselves, never mind plot to have the queen of England murdered.''

MY REACTION
I repeat my former reaction, that Druon DID showthe ''awful marriage of Isabella:

And it' not true, that there is no sign of that''awful marriage''The Despensers, especially Hugh, are supposed to have stolen her whole dowry, her rights and lands ofCornwall, steal [under the pretext of ''borrowing'']her pearls, take with them expensive books as shefears to be assassinated [that is higly unlikelybeing the sister of the King of France]
However, added to those stealings [I don't know,if this is true historically, but here I follow thetale of Druon] the lack of emotional warmth ofthe King, giving that to friend Hugh, there Druonmakes a horrible marriage convincingly.
YOUR COMMENT


7


''I found it utterly impossible to summon up a shred of sympathy or liking for these despicable people. They are ugly and repulsive to the point of being grotesque, yet are not villainous enough to be interesting. My reaction was to recoil from them. At least the elder Despenser dies well. That's the best thing you can say about any of them.''

MY REACTION

I repeat my earlier reaction:


Even Druon describes those characters as ''weak''or even ''bad'',does that say something about the liking or not liking of someone?Or don't feel pity with them, when the tables turned?
If Despenser the Elder is described as ''a weazel'', greedyand what else more, or his son as weak and bad, shouldone not feel pity on the horrible end they met?No, someones more or less sympathetic orstrong character has, in my book, nothing to dowith liking or feeling pity.
I felt a deep pity with King Edward because of his [supposed] bad treatment, his goodbye to hislover Hugh [although it is not likely, they partedlike that]As the death Edward met, ''red hot poker;''[although very unlikely''] or smothered witha pillow [because he is most probably murdered]
Because when people are losing everything they holddear [he never saw his children again] the reader mustpity them, whatever they did in the past.
And I am not going for that vindictiveness Isabella [as Mortimer] showed, however wrongly she wastreated.And they WERE vindictive, following the crueldeath of the Despensers, the execution of the Earlof Kent and her forcing Despensers innocent daughtersinto convent.

http://www.susanhigginbotham.c om/blog/posts/two-maybe-three- little-nuns/]


YOUR COMMENT

8

''A lot of the dialogue is pitiful - almost entirely the dialogue spoken by the English characters. When the French characters speak, they make sense. Edward's last line before he is murdered (with the usual red-hot poker) is "Oh you brutes, you brutes, you shan't kill me!" Dignified and moving, no? No? Unfortunately, it makes me giggle every time I think about it. At the time of the arrest, 'Hugh the Younger, emaciated, trembling, threw himself on the king's breast. His teeth chattered, he seemed about to swoon and he groaned: "You see, it's your wife who has ordered all this. It is she, that French she-wolf, who is the cause of it all. Oh, Edward, Edward, why did you marry her?"'

MY REACTION
It is as I have said.Bad dialogue or not.I can't laugh at so much human misery.
Because whether it happened like that or not.Whether they spoke like that or not, their endswere horrific, a deep human tragedy and I only can pity them.Because suppose the dialogue is ''laughable'', theirend was horrible.Keep that in mind.
LAST, BUT NOT LEAST
YOUR COMMENT 

9

''However, this is a really poor effort, and I haven't even mentioned the numerous historical inaccuracies (Henry of Lancaster was not called Crouchback - that was his father; Despenser became Edward's favourite in the years 1318-20, not 1312). I finished the novel, because I can't imagine ever not finishing a novel which includes Edward II and Isabella, but everyone here is so despicable I felt like taking a bath after I'd read it. No - make that several baths.''
MY REACTION
You are exaggerating here, mrs Warner.
You were right about Edmund Crouchback, thefather of Henry of Lancaster [which Druon correctsin book 7 ''The Lily and the Lion''] as the beginningof the favouritism of Hugh Le Despenser, but otherfacts were accurate, as he mentions the answer of Charles IVto Edward II, who wanted Isabella's return from France]
So, that were my comments.
I hope you were not offended and that you learnt from meAs I learned from you

Astrid EssedAmsterdamThe Netherlands

www.astridessed.nl


EDWARD II NOVEL OF THE WEEK [2]: ''THE SHE WOLF OFFRANCE'' BY MAURICE DRUON

LINK

http://edwardthesecond.blogspo t.nl/2006/05/edward-ii-novel- of-week-2-she-wolf-of.html



TEXT


''Published as La Louve de France in 1959, English translation 1960.
This is the fifth in Maurice Druon's acclaimed Les Rois Maudits/The Accursed Kings series. The four preceding volumes are: Le Roi de fer/The Iron King, La Reine étranglée/The Strangled Queen, Les Poisons de la couronne/The Poisoned Crown and La Loi des mâles/The Royal Succession. The last two novels in the series are Le Lis et le Lion/The Lily and the Lion and Quand un Roi perd la France/When a King Loses France. The English translations are fairly rare these days, and sell for between about 20 and 40 pounds on Amazon UK, and on Amazon US for between about 25 and 50 dollars. The French originals can be picked up for a euro or less.

I'm afraid I really dislike this novel. Really, really dislike it, so Druon fans might wish to stop reading now....

I'll begin with a few things that I did like. The list of characters at the beginning is very helpful, and I like the system of 'Historical Notes' at the end of the novel, even if they're not always totally accurate (I don't know why the younger Despenser's claim to the earldom of Gloucester was 'fantastic'). As for the characters, I liked seeing the earl of Kent in Gascony in 1324 - normally Kent never appears in Edward II novels until his attempt to rescue his brother the king in 1330, so it's refreshing to see another side of him here. Also, Roger Mortimer is pretty sympathetic here, which he rarely is in novels. His relationship with Isabella in Paris in 1325 is very nicely portrayed as a genuine love affair. His escape from the Tower proves that he's resourceful and courageous, and unlike the rest of the English characters, he's 'so handsome and so great a lord' with a 'strong, confident body'. Mortimer at least has genuine grievances against Edward and Despenser.

The rest of the characterisation, at least of the English characters, is just horrible. Edward II himself is so utterly feeble you can only feel contempt. Mortimer is the only remotely sympathetic English character. And the biggest problem I have with the novel is that, despite the title, it's really not about Isabella at all. It's a novel about France which happens to include some scenes set in England. OK, it's a series about French history - but then why call this one 'The She-Wolf of France' when Isabella and Edward only appear in a handful of scenes? There are pages and pages on Lombard bankers in Paris. This may be interesting to readers of the whole series - I presume they're regular characters - but I wanted to read about Isabella and Edward II, not Lombard bankers! Most of the novel is set in France. The death scene of Charles of Valois, Isabella's uncle, goes on interminably.

The only time Edward and Isabella appear together (and one of only four scenes where Edward appears at all) is in the second scene of the novel, after the Prologue and Mortimer's escape from the Tower. Isabella is sitting on her throne whinging to the French ambassador about her awful life when Edward, the Despensers and some of the English nobles enter the room. Isabella then proceeds to insult Edward, over and over, in front of the whole court. Neither Edward nor Hugh Despenser respond to her insults - they blush, pretend not to hear, change the subject. This is a really bad way of writing fiction: the scene should have crackled with tension, as Edward and Isabella exchange (spoken) blows and witty repartee. As it is, Edward and Despenser seem totally pathetic, no match at all for Isabella. Another bad way of writing fiction - it would make for a much better novel to equalise their opposition, to make us see why Isabella hates them and wants to destroy them. Also, giving Edward the ability to hit back would have given the reader a glimpse into their awful marriage, and possibly lots of other interesting information like the impending war with France. But there's no insight at all. As it is, the scene just makes Edward even more pathetic, if that's possible. The French ambassador Bouville thinks that Isabella is 'brave' to stand up to the king, but it doesn't seem so to me - in fact, it seems cruel, like kicking a man who can't kick back. The narrative claims that Isabella is 'surrounded by so much hatred', but we never see this. We only see that all the hatred is coming from her.

Druon tells far more than he shows, and what he shows is different from what he tells us. It's pointless to state in the narrative that Isabella 'suffers' when the reader never sees it. All that she seems to 'suffer' in this scene is having to put her feet on a threadbare footstool. Well, boo-hoo. It's also stated that she believes her life to be in danger from the Despensers. When we see the Despensers, however, it's hard to imagine that they could even find their way to the privy by themselves, never mind plot to have the queen of England murdered.

Druon tells us that Edward II is 'handsome', a 'fine-looking man, muscular, lithe and alert' with an 'athlete's constitution'. Yet the details used to describe him make him grotesque. He has pouches beneath his eyes, an 'uncertain line of the curve of the nostril', an overly large (but weak, naturally) chin and a spine that 'curved unpleasantly from the neck to the waist, as if the spine lacked substance'. A deformed back in an athlete? Really? Oh, and his hands are 'flaccid' and 'flutter aimlessly', he pirouettes, he stamps his foot. Lovely.

His friends fare no better. His niece Eleanor (Hugh Despenser's wife) has 'that quality of ugliness imprinted by a wicked nature'. Hugh Despenser (the younger) is 'too curled, scented and over-dressed for a man of thirty-three'. He is narrow-chested and has a 'bad, spotty skin'; later in the novel he is 'wide-hipped and pigeon-breasted' though Druon does allow him a 'well-shaped mouth'. Despenser's father, called 'the weasel', apparently, is described thus: 'cupidity, envy, meanness, self-seeking, deceit, and all the gratifications these vices can procure for their possessor were manifest in the lines of his face and beaneath his red eyelids'.
It is predominantly, though not exclusively, the English characters who are described in such terms; Jeanne the Lame, wife of Philip of Valois, has a face 'made hideous by the avarice of her thoughts'. Even Isabella is constantly said to have 'little carnivore's teeth' though she does have 'beautiful blue eyes' and her 'beauty was unrivalled by that of any young girl.'

The younger Despenser's 'expression seemed to imply: "This time things have really gone too far; we shall have to take stern measures!"' I have tried, and failed, to imagine what this expression would look like. Like most of this scene with Edward, Isabella and the Despensers, it makes no sense. And if he's really the kind of man who would plot to have the queen murdered, shouldn't his expression be more sinister?

I found it utterly impossible to summon up a shred of sympathy or liking for these despicable people. They are ugly and repulsive to the point of being grotesque, yet are not villainous enough to be interesting. My reaction was to recoil from them. At least the elder Despenser dies well. That's the best thing you can say about any of them.

A lot of the dialogue is pitiful - almost entirely the dialogue spoken by the English characters. When the French characters speak, they make sense. Edward's last line before he is murdered (with the usual red-hot poker) is "Oh you brutes, you brutes, you shan't kill me!" Dignified and moving, no? No? Unfortunately, it makes me giggle every time I think about it. At the time of the arrest, 'Hugh the Younger, emaciated, trembling, threw himself on the king's breast. His teeth chattered, he seemed about to swoon and he groaned: "You see, it's your wife who has ordered all this. It is she, that French she-wolf, who is the cause of it all. Oh, Edward, Edward, why did you marry her?"'
Umm, because he was the king of England and she was the daughter of the king of France, and their marriage was part of an arrangement between the two countries - as Despenser well knew? As Susan Higginbotham points out, Despenser was a pirate. Not to mention a clever, ruthless extortionist who had been ruling England for a few years. Would he really talk and behave like that??

The only line the future Edward III gets in the whole novel is "Oh no, you wicked woman, you shan't have everything!" (spoken to his cousin Eleanor Despenser about a book she wants). But we do get some stunning insight into his thoughts while watching the younger Despenser's execution: "Is that really the man my father loved so much?" Superb, really.

A lot of the novel is psychologically unconvincing. For example, Mortimer's wife Joan de Geneville ('Lady Jeanne Mortimer') is dealt with in a single paragraph: 'Lady Jeanne suffered terribly from this betrayal by the two people in the world she had loved and served best. Did fifteen years of attendance on Queen Isabella, of devotion, intimacy and shared risks, deserve such a reward?.....Lady Jeanne, who had always been so loyal, found herself among the vanquished. And yet she could forgive, she could retire with dignity, precisely because the two people she most admired were concerned and because she understood that these two people were bound inevitably to fall in love as soon as Fate had brought them together."

How convenient. That gets rid of her, doesn't it? Saves Isabella and Mortimer from having to feel guilty, and Druon from having to deal with the thorny problem of Mortimer's adultery. This often happens in novels - Joan de Geneville is either ignored, or made so dull and sexless that nobody could ever blame Mortimer for preferring the beautiful, exciting Isabella. Strangely, nobody ever uses this excuse for Edward II. Maybe he found Despenser a lot more exciting than his wife.

I don't mean to tread on anyone's toes here, and I know Druon has many fans. However, this is a really poor effort, and I haven't even mentioned the numerous historical inaccuracies (Henry of Lancaster was not called Crouchback - that was his father; Despenser became Edward's favourite in the years 1318-20, not 1312). I finished the novel, because I can't imagine ever not finishing a novel which includes Edward II and Isabella, but everyone here is so despicable I felt like taking a bath after I'd read it. No - make that several baths.

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