ISABELLA: SHE-WOLF OF FRANCE, QUEEN OF ENGLAND by Alison Weir (Review)

Let’s start with the title. First, the “of France”: true she was born in France, was “the daughter of the King of France and the Queen of Navarre,” and as such “a great prize in the marriage market: no queen of England before her had boasted such a pedigree.” But after her marriage she was very much the Queen of England, and there no evidence that her loyalties remained to France. On the contrary. Her father, Philip the Fair (IV) was, like the later Henry VIII of England, a brutal megalomaniac who in any other walk of life would have ended up on the scaffold or in the madhouse. Her life from the moment she arrived in England was no longer his to dictate.

And as for the words “She-Wolf”, the phrase “She-Wolf of France” was in fact, Alison Weir tells us, coined by Shakespeare (why am I not surprised?) but he used the words not of Isabella but of Margaret of Anjou, wife of Henry VI; it was not until the eighteenth century that it was first applied, by the poet Thomas Gray, to Isabella. And – very unfairly – it stuck.

Isabella, as Alison Weir makes clear, was not a simple femme fatale, “one of the fairest ladies in the world,” “the fairest of the fair,” but a good queen. If it had not been for her infidelity she would be seen as a great queen, a liberator, for Edward II and his friends the Despensers were, by the time she organised the coup d’état, running what was certainly the worst example of tyranny in the history of England. To see what life was like under Edward and the Despensers, you have only to read one of Michael Jecks’ books such as The Mad Monk of Gidleigh or A Friar’s Bloodfeud. In modern times, that infidelity would not be held against her, especially when we consider that her husband was far more interested in his “friends” (Piers Gaveston, and later Hugh le Despenser) that he was in her.

The other problem is how and why – and if – and on whose orders Edward II was murdered following his deposition. (Also dealt with at length in Paul Doherty’s book, Isabella And The Strange Death Of Edward Ii.) In the present book, “the Fieschi letter” is reproduced in full and the reader, as she considers Weir’s arguments for and against its authenticity and credibility, must make up her own mind whether Edward II in fact escaped and lived on, abroad. Personally, I am convinced that he did, and that it was not in his son’s interest to acknowledge his father’s continued – and shameful – existence when he finally learnt of it. I suspect that he felt only contempt for his father, and admiration for his mother, the lioness who had brought him up and made him king. He had to get rid of Mortimer, his mother’s lover and de facto ruler of England, but he never turned against Isabella.

Another wonderful biography from Alison Weir. I am proposing to read, next, her The Princes in the Tower – Edward IV’s sons Edward and Richard, two more who are said to have been murdered but rumoured to have survived.

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AND DEATH SHALL HAVE NO DOMINION (by Dylan Thomas)

And death shall have no dominion.
Dead man naked they shall be one
With the man in the wind and the west moon;
When their bones are picked clean and the clean bones gone,
They shall have stars at elbow and foot;
Though they go mad they shall be sane,
Though they sink through the sea they shall rise again;
Though lovers be lost love shall not;
And death shall have no dominion.

And death shall have no dominion.
Under the windings of the sea
They lying long shall not die windily;
Twisting on racks when sinews give way,
Strapped to a wheel, yet they shall not break;
Faith in their hands shall snap in two,
And the unicorn evils run them through;
Split all ends up they shan’t crack;
And death shall have no dominion.

And death shall have no dominion.
No more may gulls cry at their ears
Or waves break loud on the seashores;
Where blew a flower may a flower no more
Lift its head to the blows of the rain;
Though they be mad and dead as nails,
Heads of the characters hammer through daisies;
Break in the sun till the sun breaks down,
And death shall have no dominion.

A visitor looks at the simple wooden cross that marks the grave of Welsh poet and playwright Dylan Thomas, in Laugharne, Wales, Sept. 17, 1963. (AP Photo)

ARGUING WITH GOD (by Elizabeth Bartlett)

I’m going to meet Him
arguing madly
and behaving badly,
scratching and biting

I’m not going to lie
down like a dog and die.
I’m going to gird my loins
in a Biblical way
and have them say
I went out fighting.

I’m going to write letters
to my elders and betters.
I’m going to protest loudly
to all who can hear
that what they all fear
is there in the writing.

I’m going to tell them
that it’s not an Amen,
but a Hallelujah instead.
Don’t make me swear
on the book or wear
a shroud for igniting.

I’m not going to admit
to the shame of it.
I’m going to meet Him
arguing madly
and behaving badly,
scratching and biting

HOW TO UNCOVER YOUR PAST LIVES by Ted Andrews (Review)

I believe absolutely in reincarnation, that I have lived on earth before  in other bodies, and will again. I have known since I was a child in London that I used to live in India, used to be Indian. Everything about India seemed familiar to me, drew me towards it. (And not just because my mother is half-Indian, my beloved grandmother having had an affair with an Indian during the War. But more of that another time.)

As it says, this is a “how to” book. Each chapter contains not one but a whole series of exercises all aimed at awakening awareness of, memories of, past lives. In the introduction, Understanding Reincarnation, under the famous Yin-yang symbol, he says:

In this ancient eastern symbol, we can see the mysteries of reincarnation. The black side is that half of the developmental cycle we spend in the physical, and the white side is the half we spend in the spiritual. Together they make one cycle of growth. Because it is a circle, though, it never ends. One cycle always becomes another. Our growing and unfolding never ends.

I like that. I never thought about the yin-yang symbol that way before. And I found especially interesting the use of the unfettered imagination (letting yourself write a story set in another time and place without any interference from the conscious mind – almost like automatic writing!), and, in meditation, along with Qabala and the Tree of Life, and the Tarot Wheel of Fortune, a kind of self-hypnosis (also fascinating) and (something I had been aware of but never practised before) the use of a dowsing pendulum to get answers, establish places and dates, and so on. Also what he says about the  use of particular fragrances to stimulate past life meditation, for instance sage, which has always been a favourite of mine, and of which he says here that it awakens a sense of immortality and the realization that the life of the soul extends far beyond one physical incarnation …

If you have any interest at all in your own past lives, work through the exercises in this book. For me it was nothing less than a revelation.

 

PUNISHMENT (by Seamus Heaney)

Netherlands’ Yde Girl

I can feel the tug
of the halter at the nape
of her neck, the wind
on her naked front.

It blows her nipples
to amber beads,
it shakes the frail rigging
of her ribs.

I can see her drowned
body in the bog,
the weighing stone,
the floating rods and boughs.

Under which at first
she was a barked sapling
that is dug up
oak-bone, brain-firkin:

her shaved head
like a stubble of black corn,
her blindfold a soiled bandage,
her noose a ring

to store
the memories of love.
Little adulteress,
before they punished you

you were flaxen-haired,
undernourished, and your
tar-black face was beautiful.
My poor scapegoat,

I almost love you
but would have cast, I know,
the stones of silence.
I am the artful voyeur

of your brain’s exposed
and darkened combs,
your muscles’ webbing
and all your numbered bones:

I who have stood dumb
when your betraying sisters,
cauled in tar,
wept by the railings,

who would connive
in civilized outrage
yet understand the exact
and tribal, intimate revenge.