Saturday, 9 March 2019


Definition of favourite - 

'a person or thing that is preferred to all others of the same kind or is especially well liked.'

This post has been inspired by a post of Kathryn Warner's blog - here  and of course the recent film 'The Favourite', about Queen Anne.  Kathryn rightly makes the claim that Piers Gaveston and Hugh Despencer are always called 'favourites' of Edward, but Roger Mortimer is called Isabella's 'lover.'   Part of it must surely be down to 'tradition' - that it has also been so.   It seems unbelievable to former historians that Queen Isabella could ever have invaded England with an army and allies without there being a sexual element to her relationship with Roger Mortimer.  She could not have possibly have intended to invade England and attempt some sort of reconciliation with her husband ?  That she was in thrall to Roger Mortimer - her puppet master?   Undoubtedly the role women were assigned in the Middle Ages meant that Isabella needed strong, male supporters - but not necessarily a lover.  She was French, and she must have known England would not tolerate a French woman - even their Queen - to usurp the crown from her husband and rule England through her son.  But with strong, male allies she stood an excellent chance.   Throw in historical romance, and we have a poor, deserted Isabella desperate for love and driven away from her evil husband and his favourite into the arms of a virile, handsome lover.  There is of course not a shred of evidence that Isabella and Roger Mortimer were ever lovers, but it's become 'traditional' and the source of good, old romantic history novels.

The 'tradition' of Isabella and her romance is played against Edward and his 'excessive love' of his male favourites.  Again, this is down to tradition - Medieval chroniclers would never dare to refer to Piers or Hugh as the king's lovers - even if they knew.  Instead there are veiled references to 'an evil male sorcerer' and 'the king's brother', and the love between Edward and Piers was like that of 'David and Jonathan'.   Again, we have no concrete evidence that Edward and Piers/Hugh were ever lovers.  Just interpretations and the term 'favourites' which were used in early histories and again, romantic novels.   I purchased a book written in 1899 and repackaged by Walter Phelps Dodge in which Piers Gaveston is described as Edward's 'prime minister' - a post which never existed at the time.

The recent film 'The Favourite' is based on Queen Anne and her 'favourites' - Sarah Churchill and Abigail Hill.  It is made clear in the film that Queen Anne has a sexual relationship with both women.  There is not a shred of evidence she ever did.   In my opinion, the love of Anne's life, George of Denmark, her husband, is totally omitted.  Anne endured 17 pregnancies with her husband, with none of her children surviving her.   So why isn't this film called 'Queen Anne's Lovers'?   Again, it comes down to tradition - anyone who had a strong personal attachment with the monarch was 'a favourite'.    The term was also used to infer if that relationship might have been sexual.

'The Favourites' could easily be a film about Elizabeth 1st and her male favourites.   There are never called her lovers - and yet she displayed jealousies when they married and acted in intimate ways which left her open to accusations of not being the Virgin Queen.  Was that Elizabeth's way of saying 'no matter what my relationships with men look like, there is nothing to them'.   Robert Dudley, Christopher Hatton, Walter Raleigh etc were all in 'high favour', yet none are ever referred to as Elizabeth's lovers, except in discussion about her private life.

For me, I don't think it's purely a case of being 'squeamish  about the idea that some men have sex with other men' as Kathryn recently wrote.  I think it's more to do with habit, tradition, lack of 100% of concrete proof - and good old historical romance, which from the age of 9 I constantly read and then went off and did some research.

Saturday, 9 February 2019

Review of The Spellbinders by Alearda Zanghellini

I got 'The Spellbinders ' by Alearda Zanghellini just before Christmas.   It's been quite some times since a historical fiction book with Piers Gaveston appears as a main character.   The novel tells the story of Edward II's 'favourites ' Piers Gaveston and Hugh Despencer.  In Zanghellini's notes, he cites Kathryn Warner's work as an influence, and therefore we get an Edward whose love of country pursuits, such as thatching and digging, are immediately made clear.  He's also extremely athletic, enjoying rowing and swimming.  He also comes across as a caring husband and has a sharp wit.  I particularly enjoyed his name for the Ordainers!   

The portrayal of Piers is very positive.  I don't want to give away too much in case of spoilers, but we have a very witty, charming, chivalrous and naturally handsome Piers.   What we don't get are constant run-ins with the nobles and Piers cutting nicknames.  They do appear, but thankfully the author chooses not to dwell on them, and this makes the novel refreshing.  It's purely about the relationship between Edward, Piers, Hugh and Isabella.   There are no jealous tantrums from Isabella.  Instead she sees the charm and chivalrous side of Piers, accepts his friendship with her husband and does not see their relationship as competition.  After all, she is the Queen and Piers is no threat to that.

I do like the portrayal of Piers and his vanity.  We are told in chronicles that his looks, manners and clothes are important to him, which always makes me smile.  I did laugh out loud when the author relates the return of Piers after his third exile when he's been ill, and he worries he may be a bit gaunt, or even worse - sallow!   I also enjoyed reading his tooth brushing regime!

Edward's relationship with Roger Damory and Hugh Audley has a charming twist to it which I won't spoil.  Hugh Despencer's portrayal couldn't be more different from Piers' - and rightly so.   

This is a very good novel about Edward II - his personality is at the heart of the novel.  A definite read for anyone interested in Edward's reign.

Saturday, 12 January 2019

January 12th 1312 - birth of Joan Gaveston

January 12th, 1312, saw the birth of  Piers Gaveston's daughter, Joan.   Joan's mother was Piers' wife, Margaret de Clare.  Piers had been exiled late in 1311, when  Margaret was heavily pregnant.   Margaret had accompanied Piers to Ireland for his second exile.  Being so heavily pregnant with their first child, there was no question that Margaret would be able to do so now.   There has been speculation that with the birth imminent, Piers may never have left England at all.  There were rumours that he was merely lying low, with of course the assistance of - who else? - Edward II.    Wherever Piers was, he was soon reunited with Margaret and his newborn daughter, Joan - but not before first being reunited with Edward II first!   All three were in the North of England, and it must have been a happy occasion.  

Wednesday, 2 January 2019

Best Books Review

Happy New Year to all!   As usual, my first post of the year is a review of the best books of the previous year 2018.   They are my personal choices and my opinions.  Not all will have been published in 2019, it's just that is when I read them.  I try to persevere with every book I start, even though it's sometimes difficult!  2019 have provided me with some real gems and a few disappointments.   

1.  Undoubtedly the best book of the year was Kathryn Warner's 'Blood Roses - the Houses of Lancaster and York before the Wars of the Roses'.   I absolutely LOVED this book!  There are many, many books on the Wars of the Roses, as we now commonly call the medieval civil war.   However Kathryn Warner takes us right back, to the very first Dukes of York and Lancaster, and their amazing links throughout Europe.   There are fascinating characters to meet along the way - particularly Henry of Grosment.    As usual with all Kathryn Warner's work, the research is out-standing.

2.  The  House of Beaufort - Nathen Amin.  A fabulous and detailed read on one of my favourite, complicated historical families!   That they should come from a 'bastard line' and produce a rank outsider Henry Tudor who became king is remarkable.   In particular, the history of Joan Beaufort and her 18 children is both complicated and riveting.  Very well researched and immensely enjoyable to read.

3.   Another of Kathryn Warner's books - 'Hugh Despencer, the Younger and Edward II'.  Again, meticulous research and what I particularly like about this book is that Kathryn Warner doesn't seek to excuse the behaviour and actions of Hugh Despencer, rather she lays bare all that Despencer has done but that doesn't mean everything he's accused of he is guilty of.  Intimidation, piracy and recklessness all apply to him!

4.  The Nevilles of Middleham by K L Clarke.    I've long had an interest in Richard Neville, the so-called Kingmaker and Earl of Warwick.  This book delves into the background of the Neville family in great detail - particularly the history of Maud Stanhope.   At times a little difficult to follow, but with such a family, it's to be expected.  

5.  Best fiction book of the year is 'The First of the Tudors' by Joanna Hickson.  This is a novel about Jasper Tudor, uncle of the future Henry VII.  The story is told from Jasper and his cousin Jane's point of view, and their romantic involvement during perilous times.  I particularly enjoyed the scenes at Pembroke Castle, with Jasper almost in awe of his young sister-in-law, Margaret Beaufort.   Despite the age difference, Jasper puts Margaret on a pedestal, and will do anything to protect her and her son.  His growing love for his cousin Sian/Jane is charmingly told and I couldn't wait to read the next installment.

6.  'The Tudor Crown' by Joanna Hickson is the follow up to 'First of the Tudors'.  Much as I was looking forward to it, it doesn't quite match 'First of..' , mainly because I was expecting - hoping - for the continuation of Jasper Tudor's story.  But it's not to be, for Henry Tudor himself takes the main role, along with his mother Margaret.  Jasper is present but not as a main character.  We know very little of Henry Tudor's early life, so this allows Hickson to invent a moving romance for the young Henry and his life in France and Brittainy.  I shall look forward to the next instalment.

6.  La Reine Blanche - Mary Tudor, a life in letters by Sarah Bryson.  Exactly what it says it is - a fascinating look at the life of Henry VIII's younger sister, Mary Tudor, using primary sources.  I hadn't realised so many of her papers survived.

7.  The White King - Charles 1st, Traitor, Murderer and Martyr by Leander de Lisle - again, does exactly what it says, and gives a balanced recount of the life of Charles 1st. 

8.  A slight cheat here, as I've still to finish this book, and it deserves a post of it's own (to follow).   It's a novel called 'The Spellbinders' by Aleardo Zanghellini - which at the moment, is the best - yes really - novel I've read on Piers Gaveston and Edward II.  Full review will definitely follow!

Biggest disappointment - and it really pains me to write this as Lauren MacKay's previous book, 'Inside the Court of Henry VIII'  was outstanding, but sadly her book 'Among the Wolves of Court: the Untold story of Thomas and George Boleyn' was very slim, and offered nothing new.  I was so looking forward to this book, and was very disappointed.  There are so many books on the Tudors, particularly Henry VIII, and the market is saturated, to be honest.  I expected so much more from Lauren MacKay.

Friday, 21 December 2018

Friday, 2 November 2018

Piers Gaveston 's First Exile

Piers Gaveston's first exile came during the reign of Edward Ist.   Initially the King was delighted with Piers being in his son's service, thinking perhaps that the chivalrous and graceful young man would be an excellent role model for his son - a chronicle of the time says Piers was chosen was his 'fine manners...he was courteous'.   Piers entered the household of Prince Edward late 1300.   Piers began to rise in Prince Edward's household, seemingly with the blessing of the King, who had ultimate control.    Fast forward to 1307, and we have a very different scenario.   It was then that the King demanded Piers be exiled, and Piers and the Prince were made to swear an oath to uphold this command.

Piers had been removed from the Prince's household in 1305, along with Gilbert de Clare, but this was carried out to punish the Prince, rather than anything Piers or Gilbert had done, for both were allowed to return.   If Piers had angered King Edward, he surely would not have allowed him to return.   Yet return he did, and continued his rise.    The only chronicle to go into detail about Piers' first exile is by Walter of Gainsborough.    He tells the highly dramatic story of Prince Edward asking his father to give Piers the county of Ponthieu.    Suspecting his father might not find the idea palatable, he asked treasurer Walter Langton to ask for him!    It seems Prince Edward had done all he could for Piers, and now wanted his father to give him his own land.    Not surprisingly, King Edward was furious, and demanded the prince appear before him and explain himself.  The prince didn't stand a chance, and we have the image of the King grabbing his son by the hair and calling him 'a whoreson should never enjoy your inheritance ' if he wanted to give away lands he'd never earned.  It's a scene played out in many fictional accounts.   If true, it shows the terrible rage of Edward 1st - calling his son 'a whoreson' suggests he lost all control of himself - and the prince's infatuation with Piers.    There's no indication Piers asked the Prince for Ponthieu.   He may have had no idea of Prince Edward's plan - for surely he would have known of the King's reaction?   Certainly Piers bore the brunt of the incident and was exiled.  However, he was exiled on seemingly good terms.

To begin with, Piers was not instantly banished, but was given 2 months to prepare himself.  This gave him time to prepare his household to take them with him and put his affairs in order.   Neither was Piers banished indefinitely.  Piers 'shall remain there without returning until he shall be recalled by the King and his permission '.   So the banishment was not permanent.    Piers was even to receive 100 marks per annum as long as he remained overseas.   Considering Edward 1st had violently assaulted his son and cursed him, Piers came off well in the incident.   There's no evidence that the King took out his violent temper on Piers.   Both Piers and Prince Edward were made to swear a sacred oath they would obey the King's orders.   Was Edward 1st actually far more concerned with his son's infatuation with Piers, and seeking to put an end to it?   And by making Piers exile quite comfortable, was his rage directed at Prince Edward, and that in fact, he did not hold Piers responsible?   Did the King hope the infatuation would burn itself out, and in a few years Piers could return and the past forgotten?

We will never know if the violent scene between father and son is true but there must have been an incident - or a series of incidents - that caused the King to fear the direction the Prince and Piers' relationship was heading, whether it was sexual, or whether Piers would become too influential on his son and become the dreaded 'over-mighty' subject.    However, it seems like the King blamed his son, not Piers.

Source:  'Piers Gaveston: politics and patronage in the reign of Edward II' by J.S. Hamilton

Monday, 8 October 2018

A visit to Hereford

This summer I visited Hereford for the first time in many, many years.  Hereford is famous for it's cathedral, first started in the 8th century (made of wood, and which the Welsh burned to the ground).  The oldest part of the cathedral dates from the 11th Century.  It is most famous for the Mappa Mundi, a medieval map of the world that dates from 1300.   There is a charge to see the Mappa Mundi, but it is well worth seeing, as is the 'chained library', containing many books hundreds of years old.

Hereford Cathedral

The chained library at Hereford Cathedral.  Books are hundreds of years old.

This plaque in the centre of Hereford commemorates the execution of Owen Tudor.
Owen Tudor was the father of Edmund and Jasper Tudor, grandfather of  the future Henry VII.  He was married to the widow of Henry V, Catherine of Valois.  It was a love match, with the couple marrying secretly in 1429.  He was a former squire in her household.  There are 2 legends associated with the courting couple - one has it that Owen was drunk and whilst dancing, fell into Catherine's lap, whilst another legend says that Catherine saw him bathing in a nearby river - and liked what she saw!  It was a shocking and controversial marriage - Catherine was still very young and the mother of the infant Henry VI.   Fortunately, the couple managed to ride out the storm, and Henry VI was close to his 2 step-brothers, making Edmund Earl of Richmond and Jasper Earl of Pembroke.   Edmund went on to marry the richest heiress in the kingdom - Margaret Beaufort.  Margaret was very young, but despite this found herself pregnant - and widowed - at the age of 13.  That is another story.  As for Owen, he supported his stepson Henry VI, fighting for the Lancastrian cause.  He was captured at the Battle of Mortimer's Cross.  Possibly expecting to be ransomed, he became a victim of the vengeance of the Yorkists, who executed him in the town centre.  The Duke of York, father of the future Edward IV, had recently been killed and his head stuck on the Micklegate Bar in York.  Becoming aware that he was to be executed, Owen is quoted as saying "that hede shalle ly on the stocke that wass wonte to ly on Quene Katheryns lappe".  Owen's head was placed on the market cross, where it was washed and cleaned by an unknown woman who lit candles around it.  His body was buried in Greyfriars Church in Hereford.