In 1327 King Edward II was slain, as Ranulf Higden put it, ‘with a hoote broche putte thro the secrete place posterialle’, or so the story goes. Edward, the only mediaeval king who could swim, was detested by both his barons and his wife for his love of recreational pursuits and, perhaps, the man he placed on the throne when in absentia, Piers Gaveston. An historian reading this tale may well mix red and blue to produce a suitably royal purple: that the poker-in-the-bum tale may be just that, an allusion to Edward’s supposed homosexuality.
But, red-hot iron or not, is this really how Edward died? Ian Mortimore, an historian whose work I refer to often in class, has written 400 pages of suspicion (Medieval Intrigue) suggesting that Edward II did not actually die, at least then and of that terrible punishment. Instead, Mortimore tells us that since the one source which explains the death was written in bad faith then whole episode must be nonsense.
Now, there happens to be another reason for questioning Edward’s death. A letter written by a papal official, Manual di Fieschi, to Edward III, the late monarch’s son, says that Edward II escaped to Lombardy where he lived his last few years as a hermit. As the source, di Fieschi, is more reliable, Mortimore asserts that Edward must have survived into the 1330s.
This, as many other historians and commentators have pointed out, is quite possibly a triumph of methodology over common sense. All history is tentative, but if we were to argue that doubt over x equates to the probability of y then we’d be losing even more trust than Edward II did of his subjects.
I’m no expert on this, by the way, but it is an argument that strikes me as odd, borne out of tenacity and bloody-mindedness. You can read one particular criticism here.
It reminds me a little of an argument Richard Dawkins puts forward in The Greatest Show on Earth in order to show why a Creationist ‘God of the gaps’ critique of evolution is both compelling yet nonsensical. Imagine a butler is on trial for the murder of his baronet. There are no witnesses but footprints, fingerprints, DNA and a motive all point towards the butler. At the last minute, video footage from security cameras is found: one piece shows the butler loading the pistol, another him creeping towards the baronet; but the final piece, of the murder itself, is missing. Ah ha!, exclaims the defence, there’s a gap which shows there’s missing evidence – he must be innocent!
Again, common sense is trumped by the methodology, though in this case with understandable cause. During a trial in which the defendant is most likely guilty, and in which the available information points only towards this butler’s guilt, the defence have no choice but to change the argument.
In essence: don’t like what you’re hearing? Change the argument. And if you really want to make a big deal of it then get your argument published.
When Tom Bennett said that watching a whole DVD during a lesson might really just be “lighting cigars with fivers made out of children’s opportunities” his argument was seized, contorted and spat back out by commentators (and an actor!) in the Evening Standard, The Guardian and the TES. But responding to something one doesn’t like by rebuffing a point that wasn’t made in the first place lacks intellectual rigour. Indeed, it smacks of a desperation to be annoyed, to take that czarbait hook, line and poster, holding on in anger to have one’s vox pop five-cents because, well, why the hell not, I’ve got an opinion, ain’t I? I’ve got a right to reply because I LIKE FILMS, TOM BENNETT, AND JUST BECAUSE YOU HATE THEM DOESN’T MEAN I HAVE TO LIVE IN YOUR COMMIE, GREY UTOPIA SO F-OFF BACK TO THAT NIGHTCLUB!
Just because you can doesn’t mean you should. There are plenty of things I get annoyed about, like restaurants serving hot food on cold plates, but unless I morph into Jay Rayner I’ll probably not write into The Guardian with my apoplexy, and instead keep my scathing reviews for Trip Advisor.