Tuesday, 29 May 2012

PAULA'S PEOPLE Guest Blogspot- Kathryn Warner


Welcome to Kathryn Warner: At day, mild mannered English teacher, at night, obsessive Edward II reasearcher and blogger

Hi Kathryn, thanks for agreeing to be interviewed and being my very first guest. Hi So tell us a bit about who you are and what you do.
Thanks for inviting me to the blog, Paula!  Great to be here.  I grew up in the Lake District and studied at Manchester University, where I received a BA and an MA with Distinction in medieval history and literature.  I then qualified as a teacher and have been teaching English in Düsseldorf, Germany since the early 2000s.  In my spare time, I research and write my blog and Facebook page about Edward II, and do a lot of translating – German and fourteenth-century documents written in Anglo-Norman.  I had an article published in the English Historical Review last year about the plot of Edward’s half-brother the earl of Kent to free him from captivity in 1330, over two years after his supposed death.                                    
So you are an Edward 11 enthusiast. Tell us how he came to be your favourite historical character and how long have you been studying him?
I wrote an essay about Edward in my second year at university, which makes me cringe to read now as I knew so little about him back then.  ;)  It was some years later, in 2004, that I really became obsessed with him and his reign.  I was reading a novel which mentioned his great-uncle Richard of Cornwall (Henry III’s brother), and started looking up Richard’s family online.  It somehow struck me, seeing Edward II on the family tree, how little I felt I knew 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.
Edward's tomb

What is it about Edward that you like so much more than any other character in history? And tell us 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 had little if any talent as a war leader and wasn’t interested in jousting; instead he preferred ‘rustic pursuits’ such as hedging, digging ditches, thatching roofs and shoeing horses.  He 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, and passing the time at the wedding of Hugh Despenser’s niece in 1326 with a servant who ‘made the king laugh very greatly’ and also received a pound from him.  He 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 chamber account of 1325/26 is 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’. 
You get ? hits a day on your blog about Edward so it is obviously a very popular one. What sort of things do you focus on in your blog about him and how difficult/easy is it to maintain regular posts for it after 8 years? 
I get between 150 and 250 hits a day usually, though this is sometimes a lot higher – when I recently wrote a post about historical fiction, I got several thousand visitors in a couple of days.  A lot of my visitors, I think, are looking for information about their fourteenth-century ancestors, genealogy being an enormously popular hobby these days.  I write biographies of the royal and noble men and women who lived at the time, about Edward’s character and family, and about major events of his turbulent reign and its aftermath – his imprisonment at Berkeley Castle and the tales of his death and so on.  I also sometimes write book reviews and more light-hearted, humorous posts.  Sometimes it’s a little difficult to think of a topic every week or more often, but I always find inspiration eventually, and still have many, many things and people I want to write about.  ;)
Edward is obviously a very complex character and a lot has been said about him in a very denigrating way, that he was a useless ruler, a neglectful husband who cared only for his ‘male’ lovers and hanging out with peasants. What is the worst thing that you have found 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 said he was worthy never to have been born, which I think is a frankly evil thing to say about anyone.  What perhaps upsets me most is the modern notion, popularised by Braveheart, that he wasn’t the real father of 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 give a damn about his children and refused to pay their expenses, and he was called ‘perverted’ and ‘unnatural’ 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 his murder in 1327 (which she presented as fact, although it most certainly isn’t) and called it ‘ingenious’ was just the final straw.  The book was a hideous piece of offensive bigoted nastiness and I find it astonishing that it was ever published.  

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), 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):
  I find this extremely disrespectful, both to Edward and to Isabella.

On your blog you try to focus on the truth about Edward and sift through all the negative evidence about him and put it into context. How do you find that people respond to this? Are they interested, surprised or disbelieving when you present them with the facts? 
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 glorious 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.
So you live in Germany and you teach English. What is it like to be an English girl in a foreign country? And do your German friends know about your penchant for an English king with a reputation for “failing” his kingdom?   

I love my job here and am lucky enough to teach fantastic people, and have always been made to feel extremely welcome and comfortable.  It’s a great place to live.  ;)  A few people know about my fascination with Edward and are pretty indulgent about it, even if they don’t really ‘get’ it.  ;)  When I look at my blog stats, Germany is fifth on the list of visitors (after the US, UK, Australia and, surprisingly, Russia), so it seems that a few people here are interested in Edward II too!
Apart from Edward 11, are there any other eras that you are particularly interested in? And who would be some of your favourite historical characters? 
I love your favourite era, Paula, the eleventh century in England, before the Conquest.  I’ve been reading quite a lot this year about Edmund Ironside, Emma of Normandy, the Godwinsons and so on, and am finding it fascinating.  They’re my favourite historical people at the moment, after those of the early fourteenth century.  My favourite two people ever are Edward II and Piers Gaveston.  ;)  I also like the thirteenth century, the Wars of the Roses, medieval French history in general, and am keen to learn a lot more about German history of the thirteenth and fourteenth centuries too.  Generally though, I’m interested in all historical periods, from ancient to about 1700 – after that it gets a bit too modern for me, haha.
9) Can you recommend any really good Edward books?
Professor Seymour Phillips published a magnificent biography of the king 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 very academic, and as far as popular histories go, Caroline Bingham’s 1973 work on Edward is excellent (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.
Lastly, when are you going to write that novel? 
Heh! ;)  I think I’m better at writing academic articles, actually, but would also love to write a novel about Edward and Isabella that’s historically accurate and sympathetic to both of them.


Great answers! Thanks so much Kathryn, it's been lovely having you as my first guest. Good luck with the blog and and continue the fight to educate people to the true Edward!







  1. Thanks sooooo much for inviting me to your blog and asking such great questions, Paula! xx

  2. Lovely post! It must be frustrating to write about someone the world loves to hate!

  3. Great interview, Katrhyn and Paula!

  4. Thank you, Rowan!

    Bluffkinghal, yes, it can get very frustrating and annoying to see the rubbish people invent about Edward...:(

  5. Great interview. Thoroughly enjoyed reading about Kathryn's remarkable crusade to find the truth about Edward II.

  6. Thanks, Clement - so glad you enjoyed it! And the crusade continues...! :)