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Edward II in Fiction

 


 

 

If you're like me, once you get interested in a historical period, you'll want to read more novels set during it. Here's a list of novels I've come across involving Edward II, Queen Isabella, and/or their close relations.
(But read them after The Traitor's Wife, OK? Think of them as dessert.)

 

Many thanks to Michael Cornelius to tipping me off about some I'd missed and providing descriptions
(marked "MC"). If you know of others I've left out, I'd love to hear about it!

 

Many of these titles are out of print but often turn up at online booksellers or on eBay.

I've starred my favorites.

 

Vanessa Alexander, The Love Knot. Edward II's sister Joan of Acre (mother to Eleanor de Clare) is the heroine of
this novel, which tells the story of the love affair between Joan and her second husband, Ralph de Monthermer, through letters by the couple and by a royal clerk sent to investigate their liaison. (Vanessa Alexander is a pseudonym for the writer P. C. Doherty.)  Edward II is mentioned a time or two here.

 

Margaret Campbell Barnes, Isabel the Fair.** Marital neglect from a well-meaning but incorrigible Edward slowly corrupts Isabella. Gaveston appears to have spent quite a bit of time in college psychology classes. Eleanor de Clare (heroine of The Traitor's Wife) is a shrew in this novel. Still, it's well written, with sympathetic characters.

 

Julie Beard, The Maiden's Heart. A romance set in Edward's court (MC).

 

Pamela Bennetts, The She-Wolf.** Unusually, this novel skips the Gaveston period altogether, opening shortly before Isabella's fateful trip to France. One of my favorite Edward II novels, with a less sympathetic treatment
of Isabella than usual.

 

Edith B. Brouwer, Feudal Family. Book Two: The De Clares of Gloucester. I like this book about several generations of
the Clare family because Eleanor de Clare, the heroine of the last third of the book, is such a sweet young thing here, but the book's not very historically accurate. The young Edward II makes a few appearances in this novel, which ends during the reign of Edward I--this may be the only novel featuring Edward II that doesn't have at least a mention of Piers Gaveston.

 

David Charles, The Switch. A tale of intrigue surrounding the birth of Edward III (MC).

 

Paul Doherty, The Cup of Ghosts. Mathilde, trained as a physician, joins Isabella's household soon before her marriage to Edward II and finds herself surrounded by intrigue, treachery, and murder. The first of a promised series of medieval mysteries featuring Mathilde, this is an interesting and sympathetic depiction of Edward II
and Isabella.

 

Paul Doherty, The Death of a King. A medieval mystery in which a royal clerk sets out to investigate the supposed death of Edward II. Isabella makes a malevolent appearance.

 

Paul Doherty, The Prince of Darkness. The future Edward II is a wastrel in this mystery set during the reign of Edward I. Piers Gaveston owns some very nasty dogs.

 

Shannon Drake, The Lion in Glory. A romance featuring Robert the Bruce and a villainous English king (MC).

 

Maurice Druon, The She-Wolf of France. In this book, part of this French novelist's series The Accursed Kings,
everyone is pretty despicable, and both the king and his favorites are on the shrill side. Hugh le Despenser at
one point shrieks, "Oh, Edward, Edward, why did you marry her?" For crying aloud, the man was a pirate.
Would a pirate talk like this? Maybe it doesn't sound so silly in the original French.

 

Juliet Dymoke, The Lion of Mortimer. Despite the title, the focus of this novel is three generations of the Montacute family who are confidantes to Edwards I, II, and III. The novel's promising premise is damaged by the fact that
the most dramatic events, such as the downfall of the Despensers, take place offstage, though we do get a last
visit with Edward II in his cell. (We see a bit more of the Montacutes in Lady of the Garter, about Joan the Fair Maid of Kent, where Queen Isabella also makes a few appearances as an overweight dowager much given to nagging her granddaughter and namesake to get married. A nice book.)

 

Michael Eardley, Letter from Poitou. Eve de Clavering, her husbands, and her lover live through the tumultuous events of the fourteenth century, including the reign of Edward II. There are some rather gruesome moments
here, including a man getting axed to death by Hugh le Despenser (who has evidently never heard of delegating tasks), a head served up on a platter, and a rat snacking on something most men would probably prefer rats not to snack on. Fortunately, everyone eventually gets to relax with the Hundred Years' War.

 

Evelyn Eaton, The King Is a Witch. In this very unique take on the reign of Edward III, the king, a follower of the
Old Religion, is preoccupied with finding a Substitute Victim to die for him, as Piers Gaveston and Hugh le Despenser had obligingly died for Edward II. Mortimer is killed when he shirks his duty.

 

Jean Evans, Brittle Glory. In a nice change of perspective, the king's fool tells the story of his master's downfall.
This and the books by Eve Trevaskis, Brenda Honeyman, and Maureen Peters are well written, slender volumes from Robert Hale Publishers, all quite collectible these days, I think.

 

Edith Felber, Queen of Shadows: A Novel of Isabella, Wife of King Edward II. A very sympathetic look at Queen Isabella, and one that abounds in historical inaccuracies (Edward II being ordered to share the throne with the Despensers? Mortimer locking up Edward III in the Tower? Edward III hiding from Mortimer? Edward II not
being Edward III's father?). There's some lively dialogue, especially in Hugh the younger's case, and Isabella's handmaiden Gwenith is appealing, but much of the dialogue is exposition rather than conversation, and the ending, encompassing twenty-eight years, is far too abrupt. The depiction of Isabella in the last pages, nobly suffering while her lover Mortimer basks in his power, is simply unconvincing; surely a woman who could
bring down a king could figure out how to dispose of an upstart earl.

 

Alice Walworth Graham, The Vows of the Peacock. Elisabeth, daughter of the Earl of Warwick, becomes involved first with the plot to overthrow Edward II, then with the plot to overthrow Mortimer. Elisabeth is well drawn. Poor Eleanor de Clare is particularly wimpy in this novel.

 

Molly Costain Haycraft, The King's Daughters. The king in question is Edward I, and the heroine is his daughter Elizabeth, the narrator. Joan, Eleanor de Clare's mother, also has a major role in this novel, although Haycraft gives her only two daughters, leaving Eleanor out entirely. (As Haycraft is the daughter of Thomas Costain, who wrote several popular histories, she really ought to have known better.) Edward II and Gaveston make a rather unmemorable appearance; this is the ladies' turn to shine.

 

Virginia Henley, Infamous. Guy de Beauchamp, Earl of Warwick, is the hero of this steamy historical romance novel set in the reign of Edward I and the earliest part of Edward II's reign. As a romance, it's entertaining, as history, it's something else altogether. Edward II stays in the background, which is just as well, because Henley rolls out all the anti–Edward II stereotypes here; he's an effeminate coward who's so unfeeling as to engage in a snowball fight on the day of his mother's death. Henley ignores genealogical and historical facts with abandon: Joan of Acre, a major character, is given only one child, a daughter (historically, she had eight, and her eldest child, a son, inherited the Clare estates and survived until the Battle of Bannockburn); Edward I's second marriage is overlooked altogether; Warwick survives his wife Alice (she survived him); Edward II is a teenager when his mother dies (he was a young child); and Joan of Acre is alive and well at the time of her brother's marriage to Isabella (Joan died during Edward I's reign).  There's a longer list by Alianore here.

 

Virginia Henley, Notorious. The sequel to Infamous, featuring Brianna de Beauchamp and Wolf—that's right, Wolf—Mortimer. Mortimer, son to Roger Mortimer, is gifted with second sight, an attribute he uses to predict
the downfall of the Despensers but somehow neglects to use to predict the downfall of his own father, who
might have appreciated the warning. That nice Queen Isabella is praised for achieving her husband's overthrow without any bloodshed, which would probably come as a surprise to some of the people she had executed,
such as the Earl of Arundel.  (See Alianore's two-part review of this one here and here.)

 

Emily Sarah Holt, In All Time of Our Tribulation and In Convent Walls. These Victorian novels are the earliest I've run across about Edward II and Isabella. Holt researched her novels well, but she was intensely anti-Catholic and her novels reflect that, with her good characters being incipient Protestants. The first novel deals with Piers Gaveston and his daughter Amie, sort of, and the second with the Despenser family, sort of, but there are plenty of shifts in viewpoint and lots of preaching along the way.

 

Brenda Honeyman, The King's Minions** and The Queen and Mortimer.** Beautifully written novels with deft characterizations. The first book deals mainly with Gaveston's relationship with Edward II; the second with
the last years of  Edward II's reign and the rise and fall of Isabella and Mortimer.

 

Liz Howard, Isabel, the Girl and Isabel, the Woman. The Isabel here isn't the queen, but a country girl with a very complicated love life whose husband, out-of-wedlock son, and lover become involved with the king.

 

Susan Howatch, Cashelmara. The story of Edward II, Isabella, and their lovers is updated to nineteenth-century Ireland, with the Edward II character an Anglo-Irish landowner and Isabella his wealthy American bride. Shootings, stabbings, and poisonings replace red-hot pokers and beheadings.

 

Chris Hunt, Gaveston. Pretty much every male in this novel, dictated by Edward II to his retired fool,  lusts after Gaveston, even Thomas of Lancaster. It's very well researched.

 

Michael Jecks. The West Country Mysteries. A series set during the last years of Edward II's reign that involve various nefarious doings by Hugh le Despenser the younger. The latest, Dispensation of Death, features Hugh and Edward II as major characters.

 

Mary Ellen Johnston, The Lion and the Leopard.** A well-written novel about the ill-fated romance between Edward II's fictional bastard brother and a married woman, whose paths intersect with those of the queen and the king.

 

Annelise Kamada, A Love So Bold and A Banner Red and Gold. OK, I wish the titles didn't rhyme, but this is a nice
pair of romance novels in which the fictional protagonists act out their very busy love stories amid the events
of Edward II's reign.

 

Janet Kilbourne, Where Nobles Tread. Eleanor Stanton comes to Edward II's decadent court as a lady-in-waiting to Isabella and is promptly corrupted by Piers Gaveston, whose mistress she becomes.

 

Arnette Lamb, Chieftain. A Scottish romance set near the time of Bannockburn, with a "vengeful" Edward as an obstacle to true love (MC).

 

Jane Lane, A Secret Chronicle. Neglected Queen Joan of Scotland, struggling with her husband's infidelities, commissions one of her servants to investigate the death of her father, Edward II, and realizes in the process
that she can avoid making her parents' mistakes.

 

Hilda Lewis, Harlot Queen. Another novel focused on Isabella. Lewis follows the Fieschi letter theory. Eleanor de Clare turns up in this one too, though some character development takes place in that she changes from a
dishrag into a shrew. (This one has recently been reissued.)

 

Isolde Martyn, The Knight and the Rose. An unusually gritty romance novel about a battered wife and a mysterious stranger who fake a clandestine marriage while at the same time becoming involved in Isabella's overthrow of her husband. Well written and researched, though the final kiss-n-clinch love scene, coming at the heels of a very grisly execution, is a bit of a head-scratcher.

 

Stephanie Merritt, Gaveston. The historical figures from Edward II's reign are cast in a contemporary setting (MC).

 

John Colin Penford, The Gascon. A very hard-to-find novel about Edward II and Gaveston, The love story between the two men is touchingly rendered.

 

Maureen Peters, Isabella, The She-Wolf. In an unusual touch, Isabella, looking back from a rather unrepentant old age, narrates this novel herself.

 

Maureen Peters, My Philippa. Isabella, accompanied by a monkey and a parrot, pays a reluctant Philippa a visit in this novel that begins with Philippa's first meeting with Edward III and ends with the king falling under the spell of Alice Perrers.

 

Jean Plaidy, The Follies of the King.** A look at the reign by the late, highly prolific grande dame of historical novelists, this is a sentimental favorite of mine because it's the first novel I read about Edward II. The story ends with the death of Edward II and is continued in The Vow on the Heron. Edward II also appears as a youth in an earlier Plaidy book about Edward I and his family, published under the titles of Edward Longshanks and Hammer
of the Scots
.

 

Brandy Purdy, The Confession of Piers Gaveston. Edward II's favorite tells his version of the events that end at Blacklow Hill.

 

Mildred Gladys Richings, Men Loved Darkness. An early fictional account of the life of a post-reign Edward II (MC).

 

Philip Rush, Queen's Treason. A retelling of Isabella's rebellion by a young lad who aids the queen (MC).

 

Eve Trevaskis, The Lord of Misrule.** Hard to find and quite expensive now, this is a well-researched tale of Edward II's relationship with Gaveston, from Gaveston's point of view. Refreshingly, Gaveston and his wife have a loving relationship. Its sequel, King's Wake,** opens shortly after the deposition of Edward II and reconciles the differing accounts of Edward II's fate with a nicely ambiguous ending.

 

Terry Tucker, Woman Into Wolf: The Story of Three Marriages. The marriages in question are those of Edward I, Edward II, and Edward III, but Edward I's marriages are barely depicted, and there's curiously little interaction, even hostile interaction, between Edward II and Isabella. The book improves when the maturing Edward III comes into focus, and there's a nice scene where Edward II, Hugh le Despenser the younger, and Robin Hood
(yes, Robin Hood) have a forest encounter.

 

Philippa Wiat, Queen-Gold. Spans the time between the last days of the reign of Edward II and the fall of Isabella and Mortimer, with a stong emphasis on the relationship of Edward III and his queen.

 

Jay Williams, The Good Yeoman. A novelized version of the Robin Hood Gest set during Edward's reign (MC).

 

Sandra Wilson, Alice. A thoroughly heterosexual Gaveston tries his best to keep Edward II away from young
men but gets the barons mad at him anyway. Along the way he introduces his mistress, the title character, to witchcraft. There's a rather gratuitous rape near the end, courtesy of the Earl of Warwick, but the victim gets
her revenge.

 

 


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