Customer Review

9 of 16 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars AN interesting, thorough, if flawed, history of England's infamous king, 16 Sept. 2011
This review is from: Edward II (Yale English Monarchs Series) (The Yale English Monarchs Series) (Hardcover)
Of all the kings in Medieval England, it is perhaps Edward II who achieves the most notoriety. Certainly he is the most condemned for having favourites and his apparently flagrant homosexuality by promoting such men to exalted positions before these favourites, such as Piers Gaveston and Hugh le Despencer were to meet gruesome and grisly ends owing to their favouritism and apparently unnatural affections of the king, which culminated in the king being deposed in a well orchestrated revolt by his wife and queen, Isabella and her lover Roger Mortimer (which interestingly Phillips dismisses as being an unlikely fiction), with Edward ending his life in Berkeley Castle with a red hot poker being thrust into his anus.

With little having been written that is praiseworthy about Edward II, it is interesting to see the approach that has been taken by Seymour Phillips with regard to Edward, and his 20 year long and (largely unsuccessful) reign. Indeed, at over 600 pages of text, a considerable amount of time seems to have been taken by its author to examine the king and the state England found itself at the start of the 14th century, and to cover it in considerable depth. Edward's reign has been approached from different angles before, mostly from an anti-Edward standpoint. One of the most popular of these accounts being a highly readable account by esteemed and popular historian Alison Weir who, rather than writing from Edward's point of view, approaches his reign from that of Isabella, and how, as a woman wronged, she mounted a coup d'état against her husband. Furthermore, according to Weir, she committed flagrant adultery afterwith her lover, Roger Mortimer, and with his help and support managed to gain an uprising amongst the English and the barons to usurp her husband, a useless and pitiful king. By stark contrast, Phillips does not see Edward being such, and offers the suggestion that Edward was not the weak-willed dandy as painted in previous incarnations, but in fact was not much different in nature from the other monarchs who succeeded and preceded him. This is despite the fact that both his father and his son are still considered in historical circles to be two of the finest warrior kings in England's history.

Ideas and theories contained and presented in this thorough book certainly are interesting if not entirely justified ones, but as historical evidence demonstrates, much of the alleged incompetency levelled against Edward has more than just foundation. In addition, Edward seems to have been of a rather unpleasant nature together with having caused England more harm than good. Yet Seymour paints an Edward of deserving of sympathy, betraying a lack of understanding and a more humane nature in the pages of this book. Other than his evident lack of prowess in the battlefield, Edward also caused discontent and upheaval in the both Scotland and England. He was responsible for the creation of laws made to benefit those close to him and those who flattered his ego. He demonstrated a lack of interest in the nation as a whole which would cause much antagonism from his immediate circle and those around him.

However, whether or not one chooses to believe the historical record which has condemned Edward II for his ineptitude as a ruler, to his supposed relations and subsequent branding by history as a sodomite, the author tries to portray Edward as being not entirely to blame for events. Edward is shown and portrayed as being as being misunderstood, and intelligent, ideas which seem to clash terribly with events that occured and recounted herein leading to his eventually being despised, and enforced abdication. One example might be in Edward's ineptitude in battle by losing at Bannockburn and ensuing anarchy in Scotland. This alone should, if not be considered proof of his lack of military prowess, at least set warning lights flashing even in the most pro-Edward historians. The historical record speaks of the anger and contempt for the king shown by his contemporaries, but in these pages Edward is painted in a more sympathetic light, somehow misguided by his actions and not having a full understanding the situation.

The most popular association people have made with Edward II is doubtless that of his being a homosexual, his preference for various knights over and above his wife, and the poetic justice meted out in how he met his violent end in the cellar of Berkeley Castle. It is imortant to note, that other kings were chastsed as being sodomites including Richard the Lionheart, William Rufus and even Edward's own grandson, Richard II - another non-warrior king, accused of sodomy by his enemies and rivals. Phillips dismisses important contemporary chronicles for Edward's reign as being similar in nature to today's gutter press, and the gruesome conclusion to Edward's life as being mere sensationalist invention.

Given perhaps that much of what we know about Edward II is taken from biased accounts and also from the infamous play by Christopher Marlowe, it is perhaps difficult to pick through all the bias and the negative views to be able to put together a balanced portrait of this English king. Quite possibly he was not deserving of all of the hatred, contempt and disgrace that have been placed at his doorstep over the last 6-7 centuries, as history has a nature of re-iterating the "facts" whether or not they are true or not, and these "facts" eventually become accepted and common knowledge. Phillips has created a thorough though not wholly convincing portrait of Edward Pantagenet in these pages, the book is thorough, and certainly intelligently written and well composed. However, the difficulty is in reconciling much of what has been written before and Phillips often contradictory standpoint to what is now considered to be true and factual. Indeed, a fresh approach and new theories and ideas are always valuable (unless they start to err on the occasionally ridiculous, promulgating conspiracy theories and the like), however in reading Philips' work I found it difficult to agree with his assertions, such as the ones cited above, without demanding the burden of proof on the part of Phillips part, rather than on the contemporary sources which have condemned Edward to the rather unfortunate, somewhat soiled reputation which he still holds today.

As with the other books in the Yale Monarchs series, the primary focus of the book is upon text, facts, and providing information. True to form there are comparatively few illustrations and these are presented in black and white. For readers of the other books in the Yale English Monarch's series this shouldn't pose a problem as this is now a familiar format for readers of the series however for those starting to appreciate the series, it might seem somewhat jarring and give the book a heavy handed academic appearance which might well put potential readers off. Furthermore, Yale have decided to change the format of both their hardback as well as paperback editions of their books. Previous editions of the books were printed with primarily white covers, a portrait of the king or queen and lettering in blue. Subsequently Yale have reissued these editions in gold covers with white lettering (why??), and this recent edition with a subsequent redesign and format will make continuing a collection, in hardback, paperback or both, look rather jarring on the bookshelf whereas previously there had been a degree of a uniformity. A minor quibble perhaps, but somewhat disappointing for collectors seeking uniformity and taking pride in their collections.
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Showing 1-6 of 6 posts in this discussion
Initial post: 1 Aug 2012 01:54:25 BDT
The fact that Alison Weir is "popular" does not mean that her books are any good. Her books are riddled with errors, the one about Edward II included. Considering that Seymour Phillips has been studying this period for *decades* makes me a little more inclined to take his work more seriously than Ms. Weir's. Can't believe that you seem to be slamming this book for "a considerable amount of time seems to have been taken by its author to examine the king and the state England found itself at the start of the 14th century, and to cover it in considerable depth." Isn't that what an author should do? If you want the ridiculous, sensationalist stories about Edward II, they are easily enough found.

It's too bad you seem to think that an in-depth and scholarly work is 'flawed' because it doesn't agree with your conclusions concerning the man and the period under discussion.

Posted on 7 Aug 2012 16:18:46 BDT
I would concur with the view that Alison Weir is not a credible source - her work is riddled with errors

Posted on 17 May 2013 20:45:35 BDT
"Homosexual.....sodomite.....his preference for various knights over and above his wife and THE POETIC JUSTICE METED OUT in the cellars of Berkley Castle" ???

Even in 1327 I imagine most right minded people saw no 'justice' in the horrific end that was (probably) inflicted on King Edward but, in the enlightened 21st Century, to suggest being tortured to death for homosexuality is a form of 'poetic justice' is about as retrograde and bigoted a statement as it is possible to make.

In reply to an earlier post on 14 Jul 2013 13:02:39 BDT
Multrus says:
It seems to me you have read what you want to read into this long review, and sometimes don't follow the author's sentence structure and syntax. The review does not slam Phillips and praise Weir, it gives great praise for the thoroughness of Phillips, and takes considerable pains to suggest that there are aspects of Phillips' work that are as flawed as Weirs was.

In reply to an earlier post on 14 Jul 2013 13:04:36 BDT
Multrus says:
You do not seem to understand the syntax of the reviewer's sentence; he makes it clear that writers of history have remarked in the past that Edward's end was 'poetic justice' - he is not saying that is so himself.

Posted on 4 Nov 2014 11:26:12 GMT
James says:
Nonsense. The accusations of sodomy first rear their ugly head AFTER Edward was deposed. It is entirely possible that this was an invention to justify what was an extreme action, much like Shakespeare's vilification of Richard III was Tudor propaganda to cement the Tudor reputation as 'rightful' instead of usurpers. Philip's has undoubtedly put a huge amount of work and research into this book and it is all documented. As for Bannockburn? Why would a solitary loss of a battle be 'proof' of a lack of military ability? Is Napoleon any less a great general despite losing at Waterloo? The FACT is that Edwards career as a general is NOT heavily chronicled. Surely Bruce's clever use of terrain and tactics should overshadow Edwards supposed lack of generalship? The knives were already out before Bannockburn. This is proved by five earls REFUSING to serve in person. This person clearly prefers sensationalist canon as opposed to possible revision of the story. Philips doesn't 'paint Edward as deserving of sympathy' he simply doesn't hammer him with preconception and easy story telling. This review is to be treated with extreme suspicion and a large tablespoon of salt.
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