Zanghellini (The Sexual Constitution of Political Authority, 2015) imagines the personal life and loves of English King Edward II in this work of historical fiction.
In 1308, 12-year-old Queen Isabella of France comes to England to marry its king, Edward II. However, on the night of the wedding, Edward—a decade her senior—assures her that he won’t consummate the marriage until she’s an adult. Isabella then meets the king’s best friend, Sir Piers Gaveston, Earl of Cornwall. The two men have a friendship that makes other nobles at the English court whisper. “My husband the King is always quite full of life, from what I can judge,” Isabella observes, “but never so much as when he’s with the Earl.” Edward met Piers, the dashing son of a Gascon banneret, when the former was only 15. He succeeded to the throne with Piers as his lover and closest adviser, although the relationship—and the power it grants Piers—draws the ire of Edward’s earls. They scheme to banish Piers, but when the king thwarts their wishes, they find a more permanent, and deadly, solution. In the aftermath of Piers’ murder, his memory—perhaps even his ghost—haunts Edward, who must find a way to rule a country that doesn’t understand him. Zanghellini writes in a deliberative, detailed prose style throughout that illuminates the historical record while also imbuing his characters with agency and urgency: “He didn’t try to explain to her that sinking to the bottom of the sea, clutching Piers to his heart, seemed far more desirable to him than any number of alternative fates likely to await them if Lancaster and the others had their way.” Although some readers may find the central relationship of the novel to be a bit too idealized, the author also creates a complex, engrossing character in Isabella, who serves to ground the narrative; her observations give readers a clear window into the life of an unusual medieval monarch. Overall, the book should please aficionados of historical fiction—particularly those who are interested in the things that history books usually leave out.
An expansive, immersive look at Edward II.