Monday, April 10, 2006

Reviews of Obscure Books:
Eve Trevaskis, The Lord of Misrule

Trevaskis, Eve. The Lord of Misrule. London: Robert Hale, 1972. 223pp, hardbound. 0-7091-2444-9.

Welcome to what may become an irregular feature of this blog. Why bother reviewing historical novels that are out of print and hard to find? Purely for discussion and entertainment purposes, and so you don't have to shell out $795 of your hard-earned cash for the privilege, of course. [Disclaimer: I did not pay anywhere near that amount for my foxed, dog-eared, ex-library copy]

The novel begins in the year 1300, as Piers Gaveston, known as Perot, manages to catch the notice of the King of England's heir, Prince Edward, while on campaign to fight those rebellious Scots. One day, Edward requests that Perot meet him in his tent much later that evening... hmm, an assignation, perhaps? But Edward wants only to talk, as he's heard that Perot has an amusing and witty way about him, and Edward is bored by pompous court behavior. The pair develop a close friendship, and since Edward needs someone he can trust in all situations, they become blood-brothers, swearing an oath "that neither the Pope nor the devil can annul" (p.24). Over the next decade and more, through thick and thin, both hold to this oath, though it earns Perot the barons' enmity, and Edward his kingdom's scorn. It all comes to a head (no pun intended) with Perot's execution by the Earl of Warwick and his allies outside of Warwick Castle in 1312.

Lord of Misrule was both more and less than I expected. Trevaskis packs quite a story into her 220-odd pages, and given my experience with older Hale novels, this one took me longer to finish than others (a couple evenings). She is best when describing physical settings:

"Outside the tents, the English camp lay like a ghost city, lit by ruddy fires and the faint luminosity of the Scottish summer night sky. There were familiar sounds all about him: the enquiring whinny of a horse, the voice of a watchman challenging, some footsteps, some murmuring voices in one of the numerous tents and, far off among the baggage wagons, a dog barking." (p.15)

She also surprised me by positing that the Gaveston-Edward II relationship was not a homosexual one, though she hints that Edward II may have had unspoken feelings in that direction. There is a very funny scene in which a young Roger Mortimer, of all people, reveals to a shocked Gaveston that Edward may very well have more than close friendship on his mind... and as such, Mortimer provides a reason why England's nobles might despise Perot for his inappropriate influence over the king. But while Gaveston is cocky and frequently rude to the barons, especially Thomas Earl of Lancaster, his motives remain pure; while he accepts the king's generous gifts to him and his family back in Gascony, he feels he merely honors a friendship that the two of them swore to uphold long ago. Furthermore, his heart belongs to his wife, red-haired Margaret de Clare, the king's niece, who grows from a shy, giggly teenager to a loving partner as the novel progresses.

On the negative side, the author's characterizations are shaky at best, especially where Edward II is concerned. Sometimes he's a coward running from the Scots, other times he joins the peasants for some nice hard work in the fields, and yet other times he comes close to being a raving lunatic:

"[The King] was snarling at [Perot] now, possessed by the Angevin devil which had driven Becket to his martyrdom. Cruel, savage, merciless rage faced [Perot] there beneath the burning nimbus of golden hair." (p.21)

That Angevin devil! Pure melodrama, in other words. Yet the King's knife attack on Perot, and his injury, leads to the pair swearing their brotherhood of blood, so I guess the scene accomplished its purpose. Isabella of France doesn't feature much in the book, other than to do stereotypical womanly things. She does figure in one bizarre scene at a "Maying" that the author says she completely made up: briefly alone, Isabella and Perot seem to feel a mutual attraction, but Perot insults her pride by not acting upon it. She hints that maybe Isabella planned this deliberately, to prove to herself that Perot's affections were already taken (by her husband). In either case, Trevaskis portrays Isabella as a spoiled child, throwing tantrums when she doesn't get her way.

The other oddity is the almost complete lack of political context, or other scenes to explain why the characters act the way they do. Edward I is off fighting the Scots at the beginning, but we see no battle scenes. Gaveston's voyage to govern Ireland for a year at Edward II's request passes by within half a sentence. England's nobles say they're angry with Gaveston, but apart from some minor insults (which are quite funny, and apparently based in historical fact) he throws their way, we don't see why, and they don't act on it until almost the very end. There are many scenes of interaction between people, yet it's all seen from Gaveston's viewpoint, and even though most readers will know the story, they may not see the bigger picture completely.

Five pages of notes at the beginning provide details on the author's sources, and they explain why she interpreted Perot's relationship with Edward the way she did. I was also impressed by her genealogical knowledge, and I had to refer to another source (no genealogy is included in the book) to see why Thomas of Lancaster called Queen Isabella his niece.

In short: a straightforwardly told, though very quirky, biographical novel of Piers Gaveston, portrayed here as a man possessed of greater loyalty than common sense.

[If you want to read it for yourself, interlibrary loan may work; there are three libraries in the US, one in Canada, and at least four (and likely very many more) in the UK that own it, according to WorldCat.]


  1. Thanks a lot for posting this, Sarah! It's a novel I'd love to read, though certainly not at $800!! I have one of hers called 'King's Wake', which is about the aftermath of Edward II's deposition, from Edward III's point of view.

    It's amazing how few people realise that Lancaster was Isabella's uncle. I've read a few novels where they're portrayed as would-be lovers.

    The relationship between Gaveston and Margaret de Clare in the novel sounds lovely. It's usually depicted as miserable or even 'tragic'. I've written a blog post about Gaveston and his daughters (and a bit about Margaret) that you might be interested in.

  2. Thanks, Alianore, that was a very interesting blog post. Piers's sister Amee (the spelling used by Trevaskis) makes an appearance in Lord of Misrule, though there's no mention of a daughter by the same name.

    In the novel Margaret is clearly infatuated by Piers, though she's too shy to show him much affection until she's a bit older (at which point he becomes jealous because he thinks she's dressing up to flirt with other members of the court).

  3. I'm definitely going to have to get this one from inter-library loan. Or if I saved a dollar every day of the year, I'd be well on the way to owning it after two years . . .

    Trevaskis' portrayal of Margaret certainly does sound refreshing.

  4. None of the female characters in this book is especially well-rounded, not even Margaret, though she does appear in some memorable scenes. Her mother Joan makes a few appearances, usually to stare at Gaveston with that penetrating Angevin gaze until he leaves the room in fear.

    I don't have King's Wake, but I must say I'm eager to read the rest of the story.

  5. Not sure what would be worse--having one's mother-in-law giving one a penetrating Angevin gaze or having one's head chopped off.

    King's Wake is pretty well done, though this one sounds a bit more interesting. And I've seen it on sale for a price that's far less than a mortgage payment.

  6. I got 'King's Wake' a few months ago for about twelve pounds. Bit of a difference from 'Lord of Misrule'! I see it's not available on or at the moment, though.

  7. Twelve pounds is a great price. I'm amused by the description on about Lion of England (Edward I's story): "Edward was sometimes intelligent and disciplined and at others almost hysterical with passion." Anyone read it? I guess he has some Angevin Devil in him too.