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Since the round table in celebration of Mark Ormrod’s Edward III (Yale, 2011), I’ve been rereading sections of the book with fresh eyes and mind. I first read it as I was rewriting Rebel Pawn, clearly reading the parts that might change my mind regarding sections I’d already finished with held breath and skittering eyes. I missed so much! I spent yesterday morning browsing the web for images of the Assault on the Castle of Love because Edward III had a set of hangings depicting this then popular theme in the royal chambers (see the 14th century ivory below–notice Cupid in the upper left hand corner aiming his arrow). This is the sort of detail that might appear with so little fanfare in the book that few readers will notice it, but it feeds my overall impression of Edward and Philippa, suggesting how they envisioned the many tournaments they hosted.

This monumental and wonderfully readable biography is filled with such details–on the very next page (145) Mark notes “Elizabeth de Burgh, dowager countess of Ulster, who had been a regular and prominent member of the court under Edward II, was notably cool in her relations with Edward III, even refusing to attend the wedding of her granddaughter to Prince Lionel in 1342.” Did she consider him a usurper of his father’s throne? Had he in some way insulted her? This is why I read history so slowly–my imagination leads me astray.

It’s also fun to reread with some of Mark’s comments in mind, such as that “the Order of the Garter is the beginning of Edward’s political theater”, or that King Charles V of France really turned things around and Edward didn’t want to see this. Edward held to his triumph of 1360 and that was his mistake. And this insight–as long as King Jean of France lived, Edward was encouraged that his ambitions would be realized. Now I return to the book and see, yes, he does say this in so many words, but it’s clearer now that I’m aware of it. That’s part of the value and the joy of attending the medieval congress, especially in years when I’m not traveling to England to sit down with Mark and others and chat over coffee.

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Intrigued by Christine Ekholst’s research I looked her up online and bookmarked some pages so I can check back. Here’s her research partner’s (Henric Bagerius) description of their project: “Currently I am carrying out a research project on heteronormative rulership together with Christine Ekholst at University of Guelph. The aim of our project is to study late medieval kingship and queenship by analyzing the use of sexual transgressions – especially male sodomy and female adultery – in political propaganda. By using a queer perspective, we want to highlight the close connection between politics and sexuality that are evident in medieval chronicles, annals and pamphlets. We argue that the propaganda constructed a heteronormative rulership with clear norms for sexual and gender behavior for both king and queen and that these norms were regarded as essential for a well-functioning rulership.” And further: “The project consists of two parts. One part studies the political propaganda against six kings that were accused of sodomy and therefore were considered unfit to rule. The second part examines political propaganda against seven queens accused of adultery or debauchery. By using a queer perspective, we want to highlight the close connection between sexuality and politics that are evident in medieval chronicles, annals and pamphlets. We argue that the propaganda constructed a heteronormative rulership with clear norms for sexual and gender behavior for both king and queen and that these norms were regarded as essential for a well functioning rulership. The project is comparative and we will analyze sources from several European countries in order to better understand the construction of late medieval rulership. While medieval rulership and politics have been studied from many perspectives it is only recently that the need for a gender perspective has been underlined. Therefore, our project will provide a new perspective on the functions of rulership and demonstrate the importance of gender and sexuality in late medieval politics. It will lead to a deeper understanding of the personal nature of the political system and how propaganda was used and formulated during this period.”

You can see that this touches on both King Edward II and Queen Isabella, and King Richard II, but also, regarding healthy marriage, the fallout for King Edward III when his beloved Philippa died and his liaison with Alice Perrers became more public–precisely at a time of trouble, Prince Edward’s chronic illness and the rising strength of France under King Charles V. Indeed, if my notes from Christine’s talk are correct, Edward II is one of the 6 kings studied, and perhaps Richard II? I wish I took better notes….