Q&A With Kathryn Warner
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Q&A With Kathryn Warner
Today’s Q&A is with British author and historian Kathryn Warner. Some of Kathryn’s work is, Hugh Despenser The Younger & Edward II Downfall of a Kings Favorite, Long Live The King The Mysterious Fate Of Edward II, The Granddaughters of Edward III, & Blood Roses The Houses of Lancaster & York Before The Wars of the Roses.
Q: So Kathryn what made you want to pursue being a historian and author?
A: I’ve been interested in medieval history since as far back as I can remember, and hold two degrees in the subject from the University of Manchester. When I was six years old, we visited Caernarfon Castle in North Wales, which was where Edward II was born. I didn’t know that at the time, of course, and I had no idea who he was, but many years later he and his life and reign became incredibly important to me. In 2004, after reading a novel in which one of Edward II’s relatives featured, I started researching him and his reign, and very quickly I realized I’d found the thing I was meant to be doing in life. I started a blog about Edward in 2005, several years later had an academic article about him published, and then started writing a biography of him. I’d say that my career as a historian and writer arose from my obsession with him, and my need to find out more about him and to share that knowledge with others.
Q: Which historical biographies did you have the most fun doing the research on? They all sound fascinating.
A: The one that means the most to me is my first book, Edward II: The Unconventional King, because it was the book I’d been dying to write for a long time and because Edward is just so endlessly fascinating to me. The one I had the most fun researching was my book about London in the first half of the 1300s, London: A Fourteenth-Century City and Its People. I really love researching and writing social history, and that one was an absolute blast! I got to look through the extant coroners’ rolls which record investigations into unexpected deaths, the records of the Assize of Nuisance with residents’ complaints about their neighbours’ latrine or smelly derelict pigsty, and so on. In general, I always have great fun researching and writing books, looking at original documents and piecing together a narrative about a person or people. It’s always wonderful to go to the National Archives or another library or archive, and see, touch and read documents from 700 years ago.
Q: Which royals would you write books about in the future? What advice would you give someone wanting to pursue a career being a historian and writing historical biographies as you do?
A: I find myself becoming more and more interested in social history and in uncovering the lives and realities of, let’s say, the common people of England as well as the royals, so in the future that’s what I’d love to write more about. I love writing about women in particular, and would love to research and write about more medieval women. My main advice to historians and those writing history is always to go back to the original sources. Don’t just repeat things that other historians have claimed, because this is how myths are perpetuated and come to take on the status of ‘fact’ when they’re anything but.
To give just one example, a writer in the late nineteenth century claimed that Edward II gave the wedding gifts or wedding jewels that rightfully belonged to his new bride, Isabella, to his male favourite or lover, Piers Gaveston. This story is absolute nonsense on stilts, and is based on no actual evidence whatsoever, yet it’s endlessly, mindlessly repeated by writers who don’t bother to check, even today in the 2020s. Even worse, they invent new details, such as Gaveston flaunting himself in front of the distraught young queen wearing her own jewelry. This belongs in the realm of fiction, yet is presented as factual. Historians, like everyone else, are not perfect, and might misread, mistranslate or misinterpret a source. Always check for yourself what the original source says rather than taking someone else’s word for it.
Q: If you’re working on new projects now, which royals are you writing books about?
A: Earlier in 2023, I submitted a book that focuses on Edward II’s sexuality and relationships, including his complex relationship with his wife and queen, Isabella of France. It’s a topic I’ve long found fascinating but had to skate over quite a bit in my biography of him as there were so many other aspects of his life to include, so it was wonderful to have the chance to explore it in detail. My current project is a history of various parts of Western Europe and the Eastern Mediterranean in the thirteenth and fourteenth centuries seen through the eyes of a noble French family, the Brienne/Beaumonts.
John de Brienne, who died in 1237, was the elected Emperor of Constantinople and was King of Jerusalem by his first marriage, his second wife was Armenian and his third was Spanish, his two daughters – born in what is now Lebanon and in Italy respectively – were both empresses, one of his sons was the stepfather of the king of Scotland, one of his grandsons was the king of Germany and Sicily, and another grandson settled in England and became the great-grandfather of an English king and an English-born queen of Portugal. I thought the family’s remarkably international story was endlessly fascinating. I’m also about to embark on a work of social history provisionally titled Life in the Medieval English Town.
Q: If you were to collaborate with another author, who would it be with and why?
A: I work best alone, though if I had to choose, it’d be Ian Mortimer, who’s the biographer of Edward III, Henry IV and Roger Mortimer the first earl of March, and is the author of the Time Traveller’s Guide series. He’s done an awful lot of work on the mystery surrounding Edward II’s death in 1327 and his possible survival for years past that date, and has blazed a trail for the rest of us. He wrote the foreword to my first book, and I’m thanked in the acknowledgements of two of his books for my help.
Q: Since you write non-fiction books about royals, would you ever transition into writing historical fiction?
A: I would absolutely love to write a novel about Edward II and his queen, Isabella of France! Or rather, I’d love to complete a novel about them, I should say, as I did start one ages ago, but sadly never seem to find the time to work on it. As far more people are likely to read a historical novel than to read a work of historical non-fiction, I think it’d be a great way to introduce a much wider audience to these two amazing people and their world. I hope that one day I manage to finish it!