The one and only Anna Belfrage, who has graced the confines of this blog many many times over the years, is here once again with a stellar post about the marriage of Isabella and Edward II, of whom take residence as characters in her latest series – and well more than that, I suppose it is how Isabella takes her independence, or maybe claims it is a better word? Or maybe she earned it as well…but either way, you’ll find out about that in this post and in the pages of Anna’s books.
The second book in the series, Days of Sun and Glory, just released in July of this year and I’ll not only be featuring Anna with her guest article, but a review soon as well as an interview next week. That’s always a glorious time, as Anna is rip-roaring fun to say the least.
Breathing life into the long dead – something only historical fiction writers get to do. (One hopes…)
by Anna Belfrage, Historical Fiction Author
When I began writing The Graham Saga very many years ago, I very much on purpose ensured my main protagonists were fictional characters, the historical events that defined their times relegated to the background. Yes, their lives were very affected by what was happening in the world around them, but they weren’t in the eye of the storm, so to speak, no matter just how flung about they were by the winds that blew.
Obviously, my reluctant time travelling Alex Graham is not much impressed by all this. As she is prone to pointing out ad nauseam, I plunged her back into an excessively exciting life in the 17th century, and albeit that I offered some compensation (a lot, in my biased opinion) in the shape of Matthew Graham, she would have me know she’d have preferred a somewhat quieter life. Boring, I tell her. Not something people want to read about.
Anyway, in my new series, I took a couple of deep breaths and decided that this time I’d move my fictional characters right into the midst of things. Adam de Guirande may be an invented man, but he interacts on a daily basis with people who definitely lived and breathed back then, in the 14th century. His wife, Kit, is a reluctant lady-in-waiting to the very real Queen Isabella, and Adam himself was originally sworn to serve Roger Mortimer, but has recently become Prince Edward’s man, which at times puts him in the difficult position of balancing his loyalties and feelings for his former lord (and Adam loves Roger, warts and all. After all, Roger saved his life) with those his new young lord engenders.
Obviously, for there to be some nerve in this narrative, the real characters with which Adam and Kit interact had to come across as breathing, living creatures. More importantly, they had to do so while still remaining relatively true to what we actually know about them.
Now, I write historical fiction which means…wait for it, wait for it…that I invent stuff – that’s what writers of fiction do. When writing as far back as the 14th century, not all events are recorded, and what we definitely don’t have are personalised diaries or videotapes expressing how the main protagonists thought and felt. We can extrapolate some of their character from their actions, but even then, what we have is the tip of an iceberg, and as any writer knows, if you want to engage your readers, you need the whole iceberg – i.e. characters have to be well-rounded and, preferably, complex.
Take, for example, Queen Isabella. Throughout history, she has been variably portrayed as a victim or as a full-blooded bitch. No middle ground there, people. Either she is somewhat vacuous, incapable of tearing free from the alpha male dominance of Roger Mortimer, or she is one of those notorious she-wolves, potentially into ripping people apart for her own enjoyment. Umm…
First of all, Queen Isabella was described by her contemporaries as being not only the most beautiful woman around, but also as very well-educated and intelligent. In an age where very few were literate, Isabella not only read and wrote, she read for enjoyment – as did most of the ladies of the French court.
Also, Isabella was educated to be a royal consort, which involved more than sitting about looking adequately pretty and birthing heirs to the throne. A good royal consort should be capable of advising her husband, and to do so the lady in question needed to be up to date with what was happening from a political perspective – and have a conceptual framework to apply to whatever information she gathered. Not something a pretty air-head could do…
Isabella was more than eager to shoulder the full responsibility of being a good consort to her husband, albeit that she was only twelve to his twenty-four when they wed. Problem was, Edward wasn’t as keen on seeking her advice as she was to give it – which initially wasn’t a problem, because Isabella was young and had enough of a challenge adapting to her new homeland.
During those first few years of their marriage, Edward II preferred the company of Piers Gaveston to all others – including his wife. Piers was charming and witty, he was daring and brave, and Edward was quite besotted with this the first in the string of his royal favourites. Don’t get me wrong: while Edward would much rather spend time with Piers, he did not ignore or mistreat his wife – in fact, he was quite fond of her and she of him.
By 1312, Piers was history, murdered (or executed, depending on who you talked to) by Edward’s rebellious barons. Edward was devastated, Isabella offered comfort, and late in that year, their eldest child – a son – was born. Maybe Isabella hoped that this would be the beginning of a closer relationship between her and her husband, an opportunity to become a true influence at court. If so, she was to be disappointed – Edward soon had another young man to go crazy about. However, he still found the time to act the husband, testament to which is the fact that there were three more children. (Before we go on, I think it’s important to clarify that the fact that Edward II had a fondness for the company of young men – even sharing his bed with them – does not in itself mean he was homosexual. Men shared beds frequently in medieval times, if nothing else to keep warm)
As she grew up, Isabella would have chafed at her restricted role. I imagine her as vain – being told repeatedly you’re drop-dead can foster such traits – and increasingly frustrated by being relegated to the fringes of things, appreciated for her decorative value rather than her intellectual acuity. But she was young and hopeful – besides, she liked her handsome husband. And then Hugh Despenser burst onto the stage, and Isabella must have realised that as long as he was around, there was no chance in hell she’d be allowed to play the role of mover and shaker she so aspired to.
Frustration turned to irritation, turned to concern. She didn’t like just how much influence Despenser had over her husband, and while Edward ignored the rising malcontent, Isabella must have been worried – for herself, for her man, but also for their children. Did she try and talk to Edward? I imagine she did – but I also imagine she was fobbed off. Edward was too dependent on Despenser to listen to any criticism of his favourite and his voracious greed for more power, more land, more wealth (quite often at the expense of Edward’s other barons).
Come 1325, Isabella had moved firmly into the camp of the opposition. Not surprising, seeing as she had every reason to be pissed off with her husband, staring by his confiscation of her dower lands. One day, she had her own income, managed her own affairs, the next, Edward had appropriated all that and gave her an allowance, severely curtailing her freedom. Did not go down well, one could say. Our elegant queen was no longer a child, she was an adult woman of poise and intelligence, and she was used to handling her own money – wanted to handle her own money. She must have seethed at Edward’s high-handedness, even more so when he went on to exile her entire household, stating as his reason that as England was at war with France, he didn’t want any foreign nationals skulking about court. Hmm. Isabella herself was one such foreigner, and devoid of means and loyal servants, she was further relegated to the background.
By now, my Isabella had taken on form. Willowy and dark, she simmered with resentment, most of it directed at Despenser – easier to blame him than her husband. Intelligent and literate, I imagine she found ways to communicate with her brother, the king of France, and with other members of the baronial opposition. Problem was, as long as she remained in England, she also remained firmly under the thumb of her husband – and his favourite.
Testament to her capacity for strategic thinking is that she somehow managed to hide her resentment and repair the fences with her husband – at least sufficiently for him to send her to France as his envoy in the peace negotiations. Once there, it soon became evident she had no intention of returning to a kingdom where she had little influence. She’d had it with Hugh Despenser monopolising Edward II’s ear. And his time. And, some would say, his bed & body.
We know for a fact she refused to return home unless her marriage was rid of this invasive third party. She said as much, before the entire French court, when the Bishop of Exeter, representing Edward, told her to be a good girl and go home. The bishop was somewhat flabbergasted by her acid response and turned to her brother, Charles IV, and asked him to talk sense into the woman. To his credit, Charles told the bishop his sister was welcome to stay – for as long as she liked.
So, when Isabella returned to England in 1326, accompanied by her lover Roger Mortimer (and how Edward II must have hated it, that of all the men in all the world, his wife should choose to cuckold him with the man he labelled his greatest traitor) she had her own axe to grind against Despenser – and her husband. She had income to reclaim, a throne to secure for her son, and, most importantly from the perspective of my Isabella, a role to fill as chief advisor to the future king, her young son. No more being shoved aside by young male upstarts, no more being dependent on her husband’s goodwill. No, Isabella had every intention of claiming her prize, and if this caused her son anguish, tough.
A woman – or man – who wields huge power is easily corrupted by it. Isabella during the years of Edward III’s minority is one such woman, as greedy for wealth and power as Despenser ever was. A victim? Nope, not in my book. A clinging vine, utterly dependent on Roger? Absolutely not. My Isabella had the strength and determination to forge her own future. She was given an opportunity and she took it, revelling in her power, in her status. Unfortunately for Isabella, for all her intelligence and astuteness, she made one major error: she underestimated her son. But that, as they say, is another story entirely – and one I’ll address in the coming two books of my series.
Days of Sun and Glory (The King’s Greatest Enemy #2)
by Anna Belfrage
Publication Date: July 4, 2016
eBook & Paperback; 418 Pages
Series: The King’s Greatest Enemy
Genre: Historical Fiction
Adam de Guirande has barely survived the aftermath of Roger Mortimer’s rebellion in 1321. When Mortimer manages to escape the Tower and flee to France, anyone who has ever served Mortimer becomes a potential traitor – at least in the eyes of King Edward II and his royal chancellor, Hugh Despenser. Adam must conduct a careful balancing act to keep himself and his family alive. Fortunately, he has two formidable allies: Queen Isabella and his wife, Kit. England late in 1323 is a place afflicted by fear. Now that the king’s greatest traitor, Roger Mortimer, has managed to evade royal justice, the king and his beloved Despenser see dissidents and rebels everywhere – among Mortimer’s former men, but also in the queen, Isabella of France.
Their suspicions are not unfounded. Tired of being relegated to the background by the king’s grasping favourite, Isabella has decided it is time to act – to safeguard her own position, but also that of her son, Edward of Windsor. As Adam de Guirande has pledged himself to Prince Edward he is automatically drawn into the queen’s plans – whether he likes it or not.
Yet again, Kit and Adam are forced to take part in a complicated game of intrigue and politics. Yet again, they risk their lives – and that of those they hold dear – as the king and Mortimer face off. Once again, England is plunged into war – and this time it will not end until either Despenser or Mortimer is dead.
Days of Sun and Glory is the second in Anna Belfrage’s series, The King’s Greatest Enemy, the story of a man torn apart by his loyalties to his lord, his king, and his wife.
Anna Belfrage, Biography
Had Anna been allowed to choose, she’d have become a professional time-traveller. As such a profession does as yet not exists, she settled for second best and became a financial professional with two absorbing interests, namely history and writing. These days, Anna combines an exciting day-job with a large family and her writing endeavours.
When Anna fell in love with her future husband, she got Scotland as an extra, not because her husband is Scottish or has a predilection for kilts, but because his family fled Scotland due to religious persecution in the 17th century – and were related to the Stuarts. For a history buff like Anna, these little details made Future Husband all the more desirable, and sparked a permanent interest in the Scottish Covenanters, which is how Matthew Graham, protagonist of the acclaimed The Graham Saga, began to take shape.
Set in 17th century Scotland and Virginia/Maryland, the series tells the story of Matthew and Alex, two people who should never have met – not when she was born three hundred years after him. With this heady blend of romance, adventure, high drama and historical accuracy, Anna hopes to entertain and captivate, and is more than thrilled when readers tell her just how much they love her books and her characters.
Presently, Anna is hard at work with her next project, a series set in the 1320s featuring Adam de Guirande, his wife Kit, and their adventures and misfortunes in connection with Roger Mortimer’s rise to power. The King’s Greatest Enemy is a series where passion and drama play out against a complex political situation, where today’s traitor may be tomorrow’s hero, and the Wheel of Life never stops rolling.
The first installment in the Adam and Kit story, In the Shadow of the Storm, was published in 2015. The second book, Days of Sun and Glory, published in July 2016.
Other than on her website, www.annabelfrage.com, Anna can mostly be found on her blog, http://annabelfrage.wordpress.com – unless, of course, she is submerged in writing her next novel. You can also connect with Anna on Facebook, Twitter and Goodreads.
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