Christopher Given-Wilson, Edward II: The Terrors of Kingship (Penguin Monarchs series), (Penguin: London, 2016)
This series of books have been on my radar for a while, but it took a recommendation from an ex-student (thanks, Jay!) to finally push me into buying one. These are absolutely ideal for A Level students (who NEED the context for their final exams: hint, hint to both my classes) or people who wanted a potted history without getting too bogged down.
Given-Wilson‘s writing style was pitched just right, I thought – dryly academic without being off-putting, clear without being condescending to those of us who don’t need (or want) words of one syllable. It’s certainly inspired me to buy some more from the series: naturally, I’m now forced to wait until March 2018 for the Richard III volume, sigh …
This week’s quote of the week, is the final paragraph from the book, which sums up my views on Edward as presented in Marlowe‘s play.
‘… it would be misleading to allow sexual politics to hijack the enduring moral of the reign. It was not the nature of Edward’s relationships with Gaveston and the Younger Despenser that lay at the root of his failure, but their intensity and exclusivity. A king who was prepared to ‘set aside the kingdom for a minion’ would sooner or later forfeit the respect of his nobles, and that was ultimately what brought about his downfall. Explaining why he was the first English king to be desposed is in many ways easier than explaining why it took twenty traumatic years to happen. Edward faced many challenges that would have tested the abilities of any king: his singular quality was the talent he possessed for alienating those who could have helped him to overcome them.’
We’ve had some interesting discussions in class about the nature of power, and by the end of Scene I in Marlowe’s work, Edward has indeed mortally offended both the Nobility and the Church. In Scene IV, when he orders the arrest of Mortimer, of course nobody moves – there’s nobody left on his side, already!
We might well echo Given-Wilson in wondering how and why the play rattles along for over twenty more scenes … even if they ARE well worth reading.