Call the accused.
You are Colin Falconer, the author of Isabella, Braveheart of France.
That’s right. It says so on the cover.
Yes, let’s start with the cover. You call Isabella ‘braveheart’. History has rather called her a she-wolf. In his testimony, her husband the king substantiates that.
Because I call her Braveheart does not mean I am taking her side. I did choose to tell the story from her point of view.
How can you take her part in this? She committed regicide! She murdered her husband!
Giving her point of view doesn’t mean I’m taking her part. Besides, her degree of her complicity has never been proved. There were even rumors that he didn’t die at all. But even if she was complicit, she wasn’t murderous when she first came to England.
She has a compelling story to tell. I tried to tell it.
You believe all her lies? You think she was justified in what she did?
I think she was underestimated by her contemporaries because she was a woman. What people saw was not necessarily what they got. In fact it certainly wasn’t – look what happened later.
When she invaded England she was living in exile in France, her brother Charles, the King of France, had washed his hands of her and she had just five hundred men and her wits to turn the tide against her.
No matter what you think of her, it was a remarkable thing to do.
But you’re a novelist, not a historian. How can you presume to know what she was thinking and feeling. How can you know what anyone was thinking and feeling?
I don’t presume to know.
I’m speculating on the facts, trying to understand why she and Edward and everyone around them acted as they did. It may or may not be true.
Historians deal in facts and only facts. Historical novelists try to learn the facts and then imagine what might have happened in the background.
But you have surely presumed too much. How can you know what Edward really felt about Hugh Despenser the Younger, for instance?
We know Edward was defeated at Bannockburn in 1314. That’s a fact. You can’t tamper with that.
But other things are not certain. We don’t know, for instance, if he had a physical relationship with Hugh Despenser. If not, what other reason might he have had for raising him so high above everyone else? It’s an intriguing question and one I chose to speculate on.
But by taking Isabella’s viewpoint you have made her the heroine of your story.
Well, we see the story through her eyes.
But it’s a much more complex story than that.
For instance, Edward was a very bad king but then good kings can also be very bad people. It’s your judgment not mine.
If there’s anyone who’s unsympathetic it’s probably Hugh Despenser. But then in this storyline we don’t have the chance to get to know him, we just know what he does.
But after Mortimer and Isabella took power they only lasted four years. Her own son kicked her off the throne and executed her lover. How can she be other than how history painted her?
But all that came later. My purpose was to look at a moment in history before that, what led to it. There are no cartoon villains here. Despenser was ruthless but he didn’t drive the plot, he was an effect of it.
Did Edward allow himself to be manipulated again by his lover – or could there have been another, more interesting, reason?
The villain anyway is the world Edward and Isabella were born into – they are both victims of it and it is never going to let them go unless they find a way out – and when you’re king and queen of England getting out poses a big problem.
You changed the ending! Everyone knows Edward was killed with a red hot poker up his …
You’d like that, wouldn’t you? No, he wasn’t. But you can understand how the story came about. Look, everyone has their own opinion about history, and for most people it’s set in stone. Fair enough.
But Bernard Cornwell said in a recent interview: “If you are wanting to write historical fiction I always say, you are not an historian. If you want to tell the world about the Henrician reformation, then write a history book – but if you want an exciting story, then become a storyteller. Telling the story is the key.”
I’ve tried to tell her story as well as keep to the facts. It’s what novelists do.
You be the judge. Isabella is one sale now.
ISABELLA, Braveheart of France.
And also available as POD from Cool Gus publishing.