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Customer Review

on September 29, 2003
With an opening prologue espousing the imperial aims of Edwards 1st and focusing on the height of the English mediaeval period of the fourteenth century, Doherty focuses on London's expansion to become a true European capital and how Edward's dreams were thwarted by the Scots. Into the mix came the marriage of his son, the future Edward II and Isabella, the daughter of Philip IV of France
The first half of the book details the history of the couple right up until Edward's somewhat painful death (as reported by Swynbroke) whilst incarcerated at Berkeley. Opening with the political dynastical struggle between Edward and Philip to create future power for their respective countries the two were betrothed in 1299 with what could be seen at the time as a heavily bound contract promising all kinds of dire retribution if any party should renege on the deal. We move swiftly through the sudden death of Edward I in 1307, having some detail on the relationship between the King and the to-be Edward II, Doherty heavily emphasizing Edwards fiercely emotive personality traits. If a fiend you were a friend for life, if an enemy, he never got. This is a trait that is prevalent through Edward II's life and heavily affected his decision making. Two figures leap out as having lived and fallen with him. Firstly, Gaveston who was ultimately elevated to Earl of Cornwall and given such a place of prominence that the nuptials of Edward and Isabella were portrayed in a rather insulting manner to the French nobility. However, given Isabella's age at the time this does not seem to have been too problematic. After Gaveston's exile in 1308 and subsequent `execution' following an English noble revolt headed by Lancaster, Isabella rose in prominence and indeed fortified several treaties between Edward and Philip, whilst Edward eventually rounded on Lancaster and the remaining rebellious lords and had them effectively proscribed. Post-battle of Bannockburn where the Scots crushed the English in 1314 Edward became increasingly emotive in his rulings and Isabella found herself the subject of many plots. It is at this time Hugh de Spencer (or Dispenser as there seems to be some conflict of his name) the Younger rose to favourite under Edward, again to the same degree as Gaveston but this man appears to have been far more brutal. Indeed Doherty tries to suggest that Isabella's ultimate separation and rebellion against Edward in 1326 was due to the suggestion that there ultimately be an `open' relationship amongst the three of them. This in turn, `justifies' Isabella's adultery with Roger Mortimer during he initial self-exile in France and subsequent dealings in England when she returned to invade and execute de Spencer and capture Edward, forcing the coronation of their son, Edward III.
The second half of the book deals with the uncertainty surrounding Edward's death during incarceration, firstly placing his movements during those last few months then his subsequent burial away from Westminster as a `deposed prince'. Doherty gives time to discussing the movements of the body (it took several months to carry out the funeral due mainly to the military expedition in Scotland) before detailing the funeral of Dec 20 1327. After the internment Isabella seems to have forgotten her dead husband, moving swiftly to arrange the marriage of her son and Phillipa of Hainhault. Unfortunately, Isabella appears to have succumbed (with Mortimer) to excessive rapacity and governmental monopolisation resulting in Lancaster plotting rebellion and eventually falling out with her son, Edward III. After Edmund, Earl of Kent's admission that Edward II was not dead but imprisoned at Corfe Castle and there was a plot to free him - in itself a ludicrous turn of events - led to many arrests and death for treason. Nevertheless, by the fall of 1330, Isabella was in exile and Mortimer executed as all they had done was replace Edward's tyranny with their own. It was now the young Edward III decided to act in conjunction with Pope John XXII. Edward's close friend Montague managed to get Mortimer to declare that his word was above the King's and promptly pulled off a coup, imprisoning Mortimer then securing his execution. At the trial of Berkeley we learn that Thomas Gurney, William Ockle and Maltravers were identified as the regicides. All bar Gurney were eventually pardoned, he dying whilst under arrest. Isabella escaped and henceforth no reference was made to her being involved in any of the crimes committed. Doherty skips through the remaining 28 years of her life, noting her piety and charitable goodwill.
Come Chapter 7 the main protagonists are dead and hence Doherty's historical recreation ends. He spends the remaining 60 pages discussing the true events surrounding Edward II's death. He focuses on a letter from the papal notary Fieschi (dated by modern historians to around 1337) who claims to have met Edward II, detailing his life on the run until he ends up at a monastery near Milan. Going through the letter section by section, Doherty firstly seems to pass the letter off as fabrication then comes a more neutral stance is saying that he fundamentally believes that Edward II didn't die, but that Fieschi got his information second hand rather than in a direct interview.
Doherty's account of Isabella and Edward II and III is a good starting point for anyone wishing to gain an instant understanding of the history of England during the early fourteenth century. Immediately accessible to the general reader, it is useful for the pre-university student or for those wishing some standard reading of the subject though it should be noted the quality is nowhere near university standard. For more detailed analysis of the time and the personages involved there are better books out there, but this is not intended to be overly critical. It is a good general overview of the history with some `suggestive' theories that aren't really expanded on, that can leave the reader with questions to which the answers need to be sought elsewhere.
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