WEAVE the warp, and weave the woof,
The winding-sheet of Edward`s race.
Give ample room, and verge enough
The characters of hell to trace.
Mark the year, and mark the night,
When Severn shall re-echo with affright
The shrieks of death, thro Berkley`s roofs that ring,
Shrieks of an agonizing king!
She-Wolf of France, with unrelenting fangs,
That tear`st the bowels of thy mangled mate,
From thee be born, who o`er thy country hangs
The scourge of Heav`n. What terrors round him wait!
Amazement in his van, with Flight combined
And Sorrow`s faded form, and Solitude behind.
Fill high the sparkling bowl,
The rich repast prepare;
Reft of a crown, he may yet share the feast:
Close by the regal chair
Fell Thirst and Famine scowl
A baleful smile upon their baffled guest.
Yet thee the din of battle bray,
Lance to lance, and horse to horse?
Long years of havoc urged their destined course,
And thro` the kindred squadrons mow their way.
Ye towers of Julius, London`s lasting shame,
With many a foul and midnight murder fed,
Revere his consort`s faith, his father`s fame,
And spare the meek usurper`s holy head.
Above, below, the rose of snow,
Twined with her blushing foe, we spread:
The bristled bore in infant-gore
Wallows beneath the thorny shade.
Now, brothers, bending oer`th`accursed loom
Stamp we our vengeance deep, and ratify his doom.
Edward, lo! to sudden fate
(Weave we the woof. The thread is spun)
Half of thy heart we consecrate.
(The web is wove. The work is done.)
~~ Thomas Gray, The Curse Upon Edward ~~
Anyone familiar with English history will recognize the events described within Thomas Gray`s poem: King Edward II of England is an openly gay monarch in an age of ferocious, testosterone fueled male aggression; his young wife, Isabella of France, soon realizes that her husband holds none of the qualities needed to hold his over bearing Lords in check, and keep the family business from the threat of usurpation and civil war.
Born the daughter of the French King Philip le Bel around the year 1289, and directly descended from that great ass kicker of the age, par excellence, William the Conqueror, she was given to Edward II of England at a lavish ceremony at Boulogne in January1308, shortly after his accession. Because of his sexual orientation, Edward neglected her, despite spending enough time with her to produce four children. Edward III, one of England`s great warrior kings, and the man who invaded France, added most of it to his dominions, and instigated the Hundred Years War, was born in 1312: to him would be the task of reigning in his mother`s hold on power through the support of her lover, Roger Mortimer.
Isabella was increasingly side-lined at court, and replaced in the royal bed by the king`s male lover, Piers Gaveston: coupled with the fatal flaw in a medieval king of Edward being a profound loser on the battle field, Isabella began to scour the horizon for not only a champion to fight her corner, but also to administer to her sexual needs, and found one in the sizeable reputation of Roger Mortimer. Unfortunately for Edward, his wife wasn`t the kind of woman you wanted to kick into touch and ignore: a power struggle ensued, which resulted in Gaveston losing his head and Edward trying to execute the perpetrators, only for Isabella to flex her political muscles and persuade him to forget about it if he knew what was good for him.
From this point on, the phrase, “This Town Ain`t Big Enough For The Two Of Us” springs to mind, as the warring royals circled each other like two prize fighters looking to land a knock-out blow. Edward thought he had, when in 1325, Isabella made a run for it to France, with Mortimer in tow: only to return a year later at the head of an invasion force sponsored by her brother, Charles IV, and led by Mortimer. Edward was deposed, and supposedly murdered at Berkeley castle in September 1327 on the orders of his wife, by the strategic use of a red hot poker thrust up his backside; no doubt a deliberate choice of weapon and place to deposit it because of Edward`s sexual proclivities.
Isabella and Mortimer then ruled in the name of her teenage son, Edward; but in 1330, they were overthrown by a coup which had the young king`s tacit support. Mortimer was immediately executed and Isabella was forced into a comfortable retirement before moving into a nunnery for her last years.
Thomas Gray`s wonderfully colourful and visual poem has more than a hint of the Old Norse Saga about it, with it`s metaphor of the loom to convey the ebb and flow of personal destiny: “WEAVE the warp, and weave the woof/ The winding sheet of Edward`s race.” It really is quite a magical and descriptive use of language with which Gray weaves a story for us; one to be told by the warmth of a fire against the closing dark.