Tuesday, 12 May 2015

The Siege at Scarborough Castle, 1312 – in fiction.

In 1312, Piers Gaveston had returned from his third exile, probably for the birth of his daughter Joan by his wife Margaret.   He certainly returned with the full permission, if not an out and out demand from Edward II.   His return was surely planned, and Edward immediately restored his lands and titles, including Earl of Cornwall.  Both Edward and Piers must have realised the response of the barons, who were infuriated.  Edward and Piers remained in the North, awaiting the actions of the nobles, and even trying to bargain with the Scots to protect Piers.

Against this background, writer Paul Doherty sets the third of his novels involving the character of Mathilde in the novel ‘The Darkening Glass.’  Doherty has written several novels and works of non-fiction, most notably, ‘Isabella and the Strange Death of Edward II’.    In his author’s note, Doherty claims to have based his novel on facts, particularly from the chronicle Vita Edwardi Secundi.  These are his exact words –

‘ Gaveston’s fall is accurately described.  Something hideous occurred at Scarborough that forced him to surrender……Gaveston was seized and executed by Warwick and his allies, as described by Mathilde.  Edward’s re-action to his favourite’s death was strangely muted.  He called Gaveston a fool, and only much later did he kindle his angry hatred against the earls……Isabella’s separation from her husband during the crisis was also very curious, bearing in mind she was pregnant’.

‘The Darkening Glass’ in a nutshell, details the fall and death of Piers Gaveston.   One thing it is vital to know of the author is that he adores Queen Isabella, and is at a loss as to how Edward cannot be madly in love with her – even when she was 12.  Mathilde is clearly in love with her.  We are frequently told how beautiful Isabella is, with plenty of physical descriptions of her beauty.  And of course, how clever she is – for the fall of Piers is down to her!  As the story unfolds, many of Gaveston’s personal guard fall to their death, and a cryptic note is found upon the bodies –

‘Aquilae Petri, fly not so bold, for Gaveston your master has been both bought and sold’.

The note is obviously a play on the message sent to the Duke of Norfolk for his support for Richard III.  ‘Jockey of Norfolk be not so bold, for Dickon they master is bought and sold’.  Hardly original.

Throughout the pursuit of the King and Piers, there are mentions of doom, and fate taking its course.  Eventually, Edward persuades Piers to withdraw to Scarborough Castle and prepare for a siege, whilst the King would head to York to rally support.  During this time, there’s the incident where Queen Isabella is left at Tynemouth.   Murders take place within Scarborough Castle, the well is poisoned – someone is clearly determined to destroy Piers from within, following Isabella’s orders.  Eventually, Piers accepts his fate and surrenders.

What I find particularly difficult to understand here is that Edward has abandoned Piers to his fate, persuaded by Isabella!  Doherty claims that Edward is heartily sick of Piers, having known no peace for 4 years, and now that his young Queen is pregnant, his realises where his priorities lie.  So Doherty wants us to believe that Edward let Piers set off for Scarborough, and that his fate was in his own hands – and what happened to him was his own fault.  Hence his calling Piers ‘a fool’ on hearing of his murder.  It seems Piers was planning a deal with the Scots to kidnap the Queen and harm her and her unborn child, and when Isabella told Edward, he realised how jealous Piers was of the Queen.   Isabella also threatened to humiliate Edward by fleeing to France and wearing widow’s weeds until he banished Piers.  (This is exactly what Isabella does in her dispute with Edward and Hugh Despencer many years later).  As a result, Edward is only too glad to abandon Piers and justify his actions by saying Piers brought it all on himself. 

As a work of fiction, it’s barely believable.  But for Doherty to use his position as a ‘historian’ to try to prove that Edward abandoned Piers because of his newfound love for his pregnant wife is unforgivable.  He’s trying to persuade the reader that this is fact, and it is clearly not.  Gaveston’s fall is not ‘accurately described’.  The sequence of events is there; - although Isabella’s presence is sometimes confused with a much later incident at Tynemouth, but the interpretation is not.  ‘Something hideous occurred that forced him to surrender’.  No, it didn’t.  According to the Vita, which Doherty says is his main source; it was a lack of provisions –perfectly believable.  Plus, Piers surrendered on the most generous of terms.  If no solution was to be reached with the barons, he was to return to Scarborough castle in August with full provisions and continue the siege.   One chronicler thought the King had bribed the Earl of Pembroke to ensure Piers safety, and another describes the event as a triumph for Piers over the barons.  Doherty states that as soon as Edward and Piers parted, no word reached Piers from the King.  Wrong – Edward and Piers were able to stay in touch.  Doherty also criticises the choice of Scarborough – Mathilde is shocked Edward would tell him to hold up there.  But from my last post, why not?  It was a superb fortress – plus, it was near Scotland, should Edward strike a deal with the Scots to shelter Piers – which he was working for.  Also, as the castle was bordered by the sea on one side, if needed, Piers could put to sea and flee.

The most frustrating part of the novel is Edward abandoning Piers as he has grown tired of him and realises he is a nasty man with nasty plans for Isabella.  Erm, no.  Isabella was perfectly safe from Thomas of Lancaster and the nobles – she was in no danger.  Lancaster was her relative, and she was pregnant with an heir – great news for the kingdom.   Lancaster even promised Isabella he would rid her of Piers, but Isabella returned to her husband’s side. Why would Piers be jealous of Isabella?  He had his own wife and child – he knew Edward’s duty, as did Edward.  Plus, he’d just had all his titles and land restored.  At 16, Isabella was still very young compared to Edward and Piers – what threat could she be?

As for Edward abandoning Piers – well, why plan his return from his third exile?  He worked tirelessly for Piers’ return from his second exile, even getting the Pope onside.  His actions on the return of Piers from his third exile also show that he was anxious and would go to any lengths to protect Piers.  When sending Piers to Scarborough, he made Piers promise never to surrender the castle to anyone except himself, and if he, Edward, should arrive as a prisoner, Piers was not to surrender – even if the king were to be put to death.  Clearly, Edward is putting Piers’ safety above his own. 

Of course I realise ‘The Darkening Glass’ is a novel, fiction based around historical fact.  But what I object to is Doherty asserting his novel is based on absolute fact because he is a historian, and his interpretation is correct.  Compare his statement with that of Alison Weir’s works of fiction.  In ‘The Lady Elizabeth’, Princess Elizabeth is made pregnant by Thomas Seymour, a well-known rumour, but Weir makes it clear she does not believe this; she has just used it as the basis of her novel.  Likewise with ‘A dangerous Inheritance’, she makes it clear there is very little information on the character Katherine Plantagenet, and most of what she has written is entirely fictional.  So when Doherty says ‘Something hideous occurred that forced him to surrender’ – I can only assume the something hideous was Doherty’s dreadful plot.
* Doherty also makes several other mistakes in his novel - for example stating Isabella was buried in the same Grey Friars Church as Roger Mortimer.

Sources: ‘Edward II, the Unconventional King’, by Kathryn Warner, ‘Edward II’, by Seymour Phillips.


Sunday, 3 May 2015

Scarborough Castle

May 1312 marks the beginning of the end of Piers Gaveston's life.   After returning from his third exile to be with his wife Margaret for the birth of his daughter Joan, for whatever reasons, Piers decided to stay.  Along with Edward II, he spent his time in the North of England, until finally preparing for a siege Scarborough Castle.

I've never been to Scarborough Castle - but it's on my castles-to-visit list - right at the top!  The castle has a massive, stone keep, built by Henry II between 1159 - 1169.  His grandson Henry III built the barbican gate tower.  The castle was surrounded by cliffs and the sea on three sides, and on the fourth, was a massive double ditch which could only have been reached by a great bridge.  Scarborough Castle was indeed an impressive fortified castle.  Here are some photos of what is left of the castle today.

The impressive stone keep

The Gate House

Scarborough Castle seemed ideal to withstand a siege.  In my next post, I'll look at what went wrong.

Saturday, 18 April 2015

Dan Jones 'Secrets of British Castles'

Channel 5 is currently showing another Dan Jones series, this time called 'Secrets of British Castles', and this week's was about Warwick Castle.  I just KNEW it would feature the fate of Piers.  And of course, with Dan Jones' usual colloquialisms.  I was right on both counts.  OK, it's wonderful to have a series on castles, especially ones you've been to, and the scenery was fantastic.  Unfortunately, you have to put up with 'potted' history, with mere snippets of what actually happened.  So, we have an 'idle, naive' Edward as king, and a 'rude and obnoxious' Piers.   We were 'treated' to actors playing the parts of them, and they didn't speak a word but walked around in silence looking terribly serious.  Edward looked about 50 years old, thoroughly miserable, and dressed in black, and Piers looked less than half his age with a pudding bowl haircut, which made them seem like 'the odd couple'.  They didn't look in the least like a hedonistic couple, which would perhaps have explained the attraction.

Dan Jones says Edward liked nothing more than hanging around with his 'best mate' when he should have been running the country.  He doesn't say they were 'making out' all the time though, which is something.  He speculates on the relationship - were they lovers, friends, a brotherhood, or 'something else' - hmmm, how about father and son, judging by the actors playing them!   There's no mention of Queen Isabella, Piers wife and his previous exiles.

We hear of Piers being exiled, and how Guy of Warwick captured him when he returned 'on the road to Deddington' - as if Piers had been out for a stroll.  No mention of the siege of Scarborough Castle and Pembroke's promise whilst he was in custody.   Jones does say that Piers was subjected to a 'kangaroo' court with no chance of justice.  But then we're told Piers was 'dragged kicking and screaming, begging for mercy' to Blacklow Hill.  All presented as truth.  And Jones adds that Edward would have his revenge - which he did with his cousin Thomas of Lancaster, and also attributes Guy of Warwick's demise to Edward.  Undoubtedly Edward would have taken his revenge, but there's no evidence he was connected with the death of Warwick.

If it's any consolation, other stories connected with Warwick Castle didn't fair any better, particularly those of Warwick the Kingmaker, and Daisy, Countess of Warwick.  Still, it was great to see that fabulous castle.

Wednesday, 8 April 2015


Bit of a 'random' post today.  Hence the title digging.  It's well known that Edward II liked nothing better than thatching a roof or digging ditches - although I rather think Piers would do anything to avoid digging a ditch if he could:)    Of course, recently, digging has been in the news due to the discovery of the bones of Richard III in a car park in Leicester.   TV in Britain was bombarded with coverage of his final journey from Bosworth to Leicester cathedral - hours, and hours of it, plus endless debates on Richard's character.  All this coverage has led some to ask about the cost of the excavation and re-burial, and who paid what.  According to the British newspaper, here is the break down of the costs.

For the search and excavation, the costs was £142,663, of which Leicester University paid £114,050 and the Richard III society paid £18,083.

Leicester Cathedral paid an eye-watering £2.5 million on the coffin and the tomb, and apparently this was matched by fund-raising and donations.  The Express does not know who paid for the policing, road works and local authority time.  Leicester Cathedral think that it will be money well-spent, as with all the publicity it will increase tourism and they will make a profit.  So you can now buy Richard III t-shirts - several varieties - mugs, key rings, mouse mats, shopping bags, baseball hats, posters, greetings cards, aprons - you name, you can buy it.   For me, the best part of the coverage was David Starkey's views and and my favourite Ricardian, John Ashdown-Hill.

Of course, the discovery of Richard's remains has led to coverage of requests to either search or dig up other royal or famous remains.  An academic has says he knows where King Stephen is buried, the search is in for King Alfred, there's a petition for a rather bizarre request to have Anne Boleyn pardoned and re-buried in Westminster Abbey and another academic would like the remains of Shakespeare dug up and examined so we can find out what his lifestyle was like!  Maybe Shakespeare knew he would be regarded as a genius and this may well happen to him, hence the 'curse' placed on his grave.

  Good friend for Jesus sake forbeare,
To dig the dust enclosed here.
Blessed be the man that spares these stones,
And cursed be he that moves my bones.

No doubt there will follow a campaign to have the bones buried in Innocents Corner in an urn in Westminster Abbey re-examined - something the Queen has refused many times.  She is satisfied the bones are those of the 'Little Princes in the Tower'  and sees no reason for them to be re-examined.  There's no doubt in my mind they are the bones of the princes - who else would be secretly buried in a chest under a staircase in the White Tower?  Of course, what everyone would like to know is the age of the bones and any clues as to how the princes died.

Of course, from an Edward II point of view, an examination of his tomb and bones might help us find out his fate - is it really him buried in the tomb?  and if so, what actual age was he when he died?  Now there's a mystery worth solving!

Saturday, 28 March 2015

BBC History magazine - Ian Mortimer's response to Kathryn's book....

Kathryn Warner's marvellous Edward II book was re-viewed previously in BBC History magazine, and the reviewer, Professor Nicholas Vincent responded to Kathryn's work on the possible survival of Edward was 'entirely speculative'.    In the April edition of the magazine, historian Ian Mortimer has written a superb response to the review, praising Kathryn's research and telling us to look at the contemporary evidence rather than the later evidence by certain academics ( though obviously not those who think Edward spent his entire reign making out with Piers).

Mortimer wrote a terrific book, 'Medieval Intrigue' in which he challenges those academics who will not even consider the likely survival of Edward II, when there is plenty of contemporary evidence.  It's ironic in the week when Richard III was re-buried was all pomp and ceremony, where we've had Ricardians on TV protesting his innocence blaming Shakespeare for his tarnished reputation, a work of fiction, where there is plenty of contemporary evidence to condemn him,  and yet certain academics rely on chroniclers writing well after the death of Edward as their sources, and won't consider the contemporary evidence.

If only Shakespeare had written such a superb play about Edward II as he did with his pantomime villain Richard, we may well have had The Edward II Society fighting to find out his true story.  Richard has a lot to thank Shakespeare for;).

Thursday, 26 March 2015

The Lost Chronicle' of Ralph of the 'Splendid Sunne'.

This post was inspired by a recent post on Kathryn Warner's brilliant Edward II website - Edward II makes out.....   Now, having read Kathryn's thoroughly re-searched new book on Edward II, I was amazed that she had over-looked chronicles and eminent professors who seemed to have access to documents not available anywhere else which prove that Edward II never had sexual relations with THAT woman, ie, his wife, and that he spent his reign 'making out' with Piers.

  So I did a little research and found the 'lost' chronicle of Ralph and the 'Splendid Sun' - and yes, here was the missing evidence!  Here are some quotes from it.

On Piers being made his squire, Prince Edward immediately 'ceased all princely activities and made out constantly with his new squire Piers'.

On the knighting of the Prince and Piers, 'the ceremony was delayed, on account of said Prince Edward making out with Piers'.

Here we have the evidence again - when Edward Ist lost his temper  when the Prince asked his father for Ponthieu for Piers.   'The Prince was loathe to continually make out with Piers in Langley, and asked his father for Ponthieu where they might make out in the sunshine'.   When the old king asked his son if he and Piers acted as brothers, 'the prince replieth - come on Pa, we make out whenever we get the chance!'.  No wonder Piers was banished.

On Piers being made Earl of Cornwall, Ralph tells us 'the new King, liking Cornwall and it's magnificent castle, made Piers the Earl, and said how he couldn't wait to make out with Piers in the castle, hopefully with some role-play as King Arthur and Sir Lancelot.  However, the new Earl demandeth that he playeth the role of King Arthur, and such was the king's lust to make out, he agreed'.

Here we have the news that Piers was left as regent while Edward II went to France to marry Isabella.  On his return, Edward leapt from his ship, crashed through the waves 'and to the shock of all around, began to make out in the surf with Piers'.  And at last we have the truth about what went on at the Coronation banquet.   The food was indeed inedible,  'it burnt to a said crisp, for none could start as the king was late, too busy making out the Earl of Cornwall'.  Far from being upset, Isabella breathed a sigh of relief  ' forsooth I am grateful to the handsome Piers, as I am only but 12 years of age.  He may make out with Piers as oft as he wishes, otherwise, he may appear a said pervert'.

And so it goes on - 'the king loveth to thatch ye old roof, and invite up Piers onto the roof to make out',  'the king liketh nothing better than to make out with Piers after a good day's ditch digging' and the king spent his time with the common people 'except when he made out with the said Piers, who demanded to make out only in luxury'.

According to Ralph, to save the king's blushes, Thomas of Lancaster omitted from the Ordinances 'the king must stop making out with Piers Gaveston non-stop - give someone else a chance'.  So now we know the real reason why Piers was banished!

So far, this is all I have been able to find.  I shall keep on researching this fascinating topic;)

Saturday, 7 March 2015

What did Piers Gaveston look like?

How any times have I asked myself that question?  I find it incredibly frustrating that there is no physical description of Piers in his lifetime anywhere!  We're told about his arrogance, vanity, military skills, wit, gracefulness and good manners - but nothing about his physical appearance.   Undoubtedly, Edward II must surely have had a portrait/painting of him commissioned - possibly inter-grated into a mural or painting onto a wall of a palace.  Paintings from the time of Edward II are often crude in their portrayal.  Take this contemporary painting of Edward II.

At least we can see Edward had blonde hair and have some idea of his size and body shape.  Even a painting of Piers like this would tell us the same information - his hair colour and build.  Any paintings of Piers must have been destroyed after Edward's 'death' (or disappearance).  Either white-washed over of completely destroyed.  Of course, the best likeness for Piers would come from his tomb effigy - something else which frustrates me.
It's extraordinary that his father's tomb still has his effigy - even if it is in quite poor condition.  Edward II, however, would have ensured that Piers' tomb would have had a fine effigy, and when you see the effigy of the tomb of Edward II himself, it's clear that the artists of the time put more effort into 3D representations  than they did into paintings.

Of course Edward II was a king, and his son wanted a fitting tomb and effigy for his father.  But just look at the detail that has gone into the curl in the hair and the beard, as well as the serene expression on the king's face.  The writing on the face was carved by mischievous schoolboys in the 1800's - basically, graffiti.  Would Edward II himself commissioned such a fine effigy of Piers?  It seems more than likely that he did.  Although his father, Edward I, has no fine effigy on his tomb, Edward II was short of money when he ascended the throne, and there was little love lost between father and son anyway.  It was recorded that Edward held an elaborate funeral for Piers,  He spent a great deal of money on the tomb, and surely he would have had an effigy.   

Although we have no contemporary images of Piers, many Victorian artists reproduced what I call romanticised versions of what they thought historical personalities looked like.  So we have haunting portraits of Lady Jane Grey and the 'Princes in the Tower', and then we have this painting of Edward and Piers.

This painting is by the artist Marcus Stone, and was painted in 1872.  We don't even get to see Piers' face!  Just a highly amused Edward II, and undoubtedly a disapproving Queen Isabella and courtiers - and the back of Piers' head!  If only Piers' effigy was not destroyed, but lies somewhere, either underground, or wrongly thought of as someone else.

Btw, the BBC will be showing their new drama series Poldark on Sunday evening - with Kyle Soller playing Francis Poldark - Soller was the actor I saw playing Piers' at the National Theatre.