King Edward II of England, 1308-1327. An unpopular monarch, fixated on his favourites, first Piers Gaveston, then the Despensers. In 1325, his Queen, Isabella, leaves for France and then, with the aid of her lover Roger Mortimer, the Earl of March, invades England. Edward is captured and deposed – he is imprisoned in Berkeley Castle. This is fact.
What is also assumed to be fact is that, in November 1327, Edward was murdered in Berkeley Castle, a red-hot poker inserted somewhere where… it wouldn’t show. He was laid to rest in Gloucester Cathedral. But there are questions that have been raised in a number of places – Paul Doherty’s doctoral thesis, for one.
Medieval Miscreants continues with this, the first ever novel by Paul Doherty (who is about to release his 100th!) – Edward III commissions Edmund Beche, a royal clerk to find the truth about his father’s murder. But it seems that everyone is keeping something secret – and his enquiries will threaten Edmund’s own life. Some secrets need to stay buried.
Every chapter of the book is a letter from Beche to his friend Richard Bilton, prior of Crowland Abbey (with one exception – a letter from Bilton to Beche) detailing his mission from the king along with his misgivings, his suspicions, his discoveries and much more.
There’s not much to say without spoiling the developments in the book, and anyone who’s read any theories regarding the fate of Edward II will guess part of it before reading the book. But there is so much more to the book than a way of putting a writer’s pet theory across. Edmund’s story is a fascinating one, with a lot of twists and turns, and what could have been a dry piece of historical conspiracy theory becomes a fascinating page-turner.
It may not be a traditional mystery – it certainly isn’t a whodunnit – but this is an outstanding read, both entertaining and fascinating in equal measure. If you’re interested in history and want something a little different, this comes highly recommended.
If you want to know more (a lot more in fact) about Edward II, then do check out this blog, dedicated to the man himself. It’s worth pointing out that according to the author of that blog, Doherty does fudge a date for dramatic effect in this book, so don’t take it as gospel.
I will be taking a look at Doherty’s non-fiction version of this story, Isabella and the Strange Death of Edward II at a later date.