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The grey, bizarre story of Edward II (1284-1327), one of the few truly frail Plantagenet barques (which went under in furious baronial and royal power plays); and, as always in this series, Plaidy builds her simplified personages from the bland historical mainstream rather than try for strenuously imaginative insights. (For those, see such other treatments as Marlowe's and Brecht's.) Generally considered to have been a homosexual, certainly a politically inept ruler, Edward II was also a victim--of famine, of warring barons, of politics (the loss of Scotland), of his own weakness, and of his over-generosity to court ""favorites."" Prime favorite: humbly born Gascon knight Perrot Gaveston, whom Edward loads down with wealth, land, a title, and responsibility. Meanwhile, he weds Isabella, daughter of ruthless and crafty Philip le Bel, King of France (whose persecution of the Knights Templar is seen here as nasty greed rather than ruthless politics). And though gifted stateswoman Isabella eagerly marries handsome Edward, she soon realizes that Perrot is the King's favored bedmate; so she plans ahead, insuring heirs to the throne, biding her time--while Perrot, who has assumed more and more authority, is dispatched by a barricade of barons. . . to exile and, later, the executioner. Distraught, Edward finds a new favorite in Hugh le Despenser--who, with his father Walter, will for a time outwit the king's enemies. But Isabella, having produced four children, is now ready to act. Along with Roger de Mortimer and Prince Edward, now 15, she hies to France; and, though receiving little support from her brother Charles IV, they return to invade England--which leads to Edward's near-escape, capture, and famously horrible murder. Subtleties of interpretation--Was Isabella the user or used? Was Edward's torture-murder a symbolic judgment on his sexual nature?--are, as usual, missing here. But newcomers to the material will find it neatly set out in Plaidy's calm, homogenized fashion.

Pub Date: March 18th, 1982
Publisher: Putnam