Thursday, 9 April 2020

A song on the demise of Piers Gaveston

Like most of the world at the moment, I have had a lot of time to read.   Whilst re-reading 'Piers Gaveston, Politics and Patronage in the Reign of Edward II' by J. S. Hamilton, I came upon this song.   It supposedly reflects what the sympathy the 'common man' felt for the Earls and their actions, and the contempt felt for Piers.     Here is the verse -

Celebrate, my tongue, the death of Piers who disturbed England.
Whom the king in his love placed over all Cornwall
Hence in his pride he would be called earl and not Piers.
The people of the kingdom were saddened by the defrauding of the treasure.
When Piers would become wastefully insolent with the treasury,
Not bearing in mind what the future day might produce for him.
This is the work of our salvation that Piers is dead.
He who was unwilling to have an equal, clothed in the extreme pride.
He who had placed himself as a head above his equal loses his own head.
Justly his body is pierced whose heart was so puffed up;
Land, sea, stars and world rejoice in his fall.
Now he no longer behaves himself as an earl, or a king;
The unworthy man, worthy of death, undergoes the death he merits.
Glory be to the Creator
!  Glory to the earls
Who have made Piers die with his charms!
Henceforth may there be peace and rejoicing throughout England!

We are used to reading the views of chroniclers of the time, whatever their bias.  This song, however, captures all the supposed faults of Piers.  What stands out for me is the pride of Piers, with his insistence on being called Earl Of Cornwall and seeing himself above even those who he is not equal to.  His love of fine living matches his pride, with him 'clothed in extreme pride'.  The accusation that he stole the treasure of the King is also mentioned, and the idea that he was 'wastefully insolent with the treasury' suggests to me that he himself wore these jewels.  There is a mention of the Edward II, in that he loved him enough to make him Earl Of Cornwall, but everything else is directed at his his pride, and what is evident to me from that is that the barons main bone of contention was that Piers had risen too far above his station.  There's no mention of Piers being ambitious, manipulating the king, or those insulting nicknames for the barons.  There is no criticism of Edward II as such.  If this was a popular song of the time, then it has been clearly influenced  by the barons, and it is their views that are expressed.  Their focus is that Piers is an upstart, with no right to be raised up to be Earl of Cornwall, and that they loathed the pride he felt in this and no doubt exhibited.  Throw in an inaccurate fact that he took England's treasure for himself, and the barons felt they were perfectly justified in their actions, bringing 'peace and rejoicing' to the realm.  Unfortunately for them, it had the reverse effect, because Edward II was a man hellbent on revenge.  No doubt the barons encouraged their retainers and followers to sing this song, but just as the chroniclers reflect their personal views, so this song reflects what the barons wanted believed at the time by the common people.

Wednesday, 4 March 2020

Hatfield House

Found these photos of Hatfield House which I took a few years ago and completely forgot about them.  Hatfield House is usually remembered as the childhood home of Queen Elizabeth 1st.  Very little remains of the original Hatfield House.  The older part of the palace was built by Cardinal John Morton, Bishop of Ely in 1497.   Morton is a fascinating character in history, a supporter of Lancaster in the Wars of the Roses but served under the Yorkist King Edward  IV, before conspiring with Henry VII's mother, Margaret Beaufort to topple Richard III.  He served Henry VII well, and was the architect of Henry's financial policy,  'Morton's Fork'.  Put simply, those who spent money, must have a lot of money in reserve, and those who didn't, obviously saved it!  This was to be made available to the King, through forced loans and benevolences.  

Elizabeth 1st spend a great deal of her childhood at Hatfield, and was also there when she heard the news her sister Mary was dead and she was now Queen.  Hatfield eventually passed into the hands of the Cecil family, and it was Robert Cecil, Earl of Salisbury, who rebuilt it.  Hatfield is often used for filming locations, and films include Shakespeare in Love, Sleepy Hollow, Elizabeth, the Golden Age and The Favourite, amongst others.  It's also popular in television shows.  It's very easy to spot!

                                            The old, Tudor parts of Hatfield House.

Functions such as weddings are held here.  Just imagine marrying in Elizabeth 1st's former home!
Inside the Jacobean part of Hatfield House.

The outside of the Jacobean building.  Instantly recognisable in films and tv shows.

Hatfield House is well worth a visit, particularly as it is home to the stunning Rainbow portrait of Elizabeth 1st.

Wednesday, 19 February 2020

Book Review – Edward II’s Nieces, the Clare Sisters, by Kathryn Warner

I’ve been looking forward to this book for some time, and it was well worth the wait.  The Clare sisters tells the story of Edward II’s three nieces, from his sister’s marriage, Joan of Acre, to Gilbert ‘the Red’ Clare, Earl of Gloucester and Hertford.  The Clare sisters were Eleanor, Margaret and Elizabeth.  Their brother Gilbert was killed at the Battle of Bannockburn in 1314, thus ensuring his sisters inherited his wealth and lands.  The three sisters lived remarkable lives, and were indeed used as pawns of the crown, most noticeably by their uncle, Edward II, who used their marriages to bring his favourites into his family and bind them close to him.  Although it was his father, Edward 1st, that arranged the marriage of the eldest, Eleanor, to Hugh Despencer the Younger, and long before he became the favourite of Edward II.

Kathryn’s book draws on the excellent research she is known for, and although there is scarce information on the feelings of the sisters and their marriages, Kathryn doesn’t make the mistake of putting words into their mouths.  So why have no idea how the sisters felt about their marriages, but they certainly new their duty and what was expected of them.  They were pawns in the marriage game.  

The Clare sister I am most interested in, of course, is Margaret, wife of Piers Gaveston.  She was an excellent bride for Piers.  Edward used Margaret to bring Piers into his family, under his protection, and the couple were made the Earl and Countess of Cornwall.  We don’t know how Margaret felt about marrying Piers, or the relationship between Piers and Edward II.  However, there is no reason to suppose Margaret was upset or displeased with the match.  Why should she be?  She had married quite possibly the most influential and powerful man in the country – although this was dependent on her husband’s relationship with her uncle, Edward, and there is no doubt of the devotion and love that Edward felt for Piers.  For Margaret, it was a spectacular match, and there is no reason to think she was unhappy.  She dutifully followed her husband into exile in Ireland, and as Warner points out, she may well have enjoyed having her husband to herself.  No doubt being Countess of Cornwall was prestigious for her, and being a few years younger than her husband, she was an ideal companion for Edward’s wife, Isabella of France.  What a strange Christmas 1309 at Langley might have been – with perhaps Isabella and Margaret left to their childish chatter while their husbands made the most of their time together.  Tragically, events were to overtake everyone, and after Piers was unlawfully killed in 1314, Margaret was left a widow with a young baby daughter, Joan Gaveston.  Edward cared for both his niece and great niece, and it was to be expected that Edward ensured Joan Gaveston was well cared for by his sister Mary, a nun at Amesbury. 
Remarkably, Edward later married Margaret to another of his favourites, Hugh Audley, whilst the 3rd sister, Elizabeth, after a short first marriage, married another of his favourites, Roger Damory.  What makes truly fascinating reading though is Edward’s sudden infatuation with the husband of his eldest niece, Hugh Despencer.  How and when this happened, we don’t know, and we also don’t know Eleanor’s role in the relationship.  The husbands of both Margaret and Elizabeth rebelled against Edward and his new favourite Hugh Despencer – what a complicated set of relationships!  Both sisters suffered as a consequence.  But Eleanor and her husband Hugh soared in the King’s favour.  Warner raises the intriguing idea of perhaps Eleanor being the secret mistress of Edward II – it seems possible in the evidence Warner presents.  The marriage of Eleanor and Hugh seems a happy one, and they produced numerous children.  Both Eleanor and her husband were ambitious, even to the point of allowing one of their younger children to be brough up in another noble man’s house from a young baby.  Warner points out that Eleanor must have known how ruthless and grasping her husband was, and she seemingly wasn’t opposed to his actions.   When both her uncle and husband fell, Eleanor was imprisoned in the Tower, and her sisters released from their imprisonment.  I found myself disliking Eleanor as the book progressed, which I’m sure wasn’t Warner’s intention.  But the character of Eleanor Despencer is intriguing – if only there was more evidence available that makes clear exactly what her relationship was with her uncle – was she his mistress, or was this a charge levelled at Edward II to blacken the character of her uncle by portraying him in an incestuous relationship with his niece, or did she ruthlessly exploit the relationship between her uncle and husband?  A fascinating read into the insight of 3 powerful pawns in the marriage game of 14th Century politics.

Monday, 6 January 2020

Best Books of 2019

Hete are my best books from 2019.  They are purely my opinions.  I did my best to try to read more historical fiction - most of these reads were dire, with some extremely dire!   Only one non-fiction book makes my list.  In no particular order.......

Phillipa of Hainault, Mother of the English Nation, by Kathryn Warner.   A welcome biography of a Queen I knew very little about.  What emerges is a portrait of a close knit Royal family.

The House of Grey by Melita Thomas.   I really enjoyed reading about the Beaufort and Neville families, and this is a welcome addition to that genre.   I really enjoyed the early years of the Grey dynasty.   However, there was nothing new when the narrative moved on to Lady Jane Grey and her family.

Henry VIII - decline and fall of a tyrant, by Robert Hutchinson.  I've read all of Hutchinson's Tudor books and been fortunate enough to hear him speak at a history event.  I really enjoyed his indepth look at the latter years of Henry VIII, in particular his various ailments and the detailed history of his tomb and what happened to it.

John Morton - Adversary of Richard III, Power behind the Tudors, by Stuart Bradley.  I was delighted to find a biography of Morton.   This man fascinates, surviving the rise and reign of Edward IV, while adhering to the Lancastrian cause, and most likely to be the author of the Croyland Chronicle, a primary source from the time.

The Poison Bed by EC Freemantle.   The only work of historical fiction to make my list.   Not too keen to see the publicity surrounding it call it 'This Year's Gone Girl' , but then for anyone not familiar with the story of Robert Carr and Frances Howard, it's a fair description.  Read as a thriller I'm sure readers will enjoy 'the twist', but as I know the story really well, it was still enjoyable for me.    I don't want to give away too much, but definitely worth a read.

'Unatural  Murder'  by Anne Sometset.   This book was published years ago but is THE book to read on Robert Carr and France's Howard.  I bought this book when it came out and it is so well written and researched.   Without this book, I wouldn't have read The Poison Bed.

Henry the Young King by Matthew Strickland.  At long last I managed to get my hands on a copy of this book and read it, after following Katya's blog on Henry.   Quite pleased with how much I actually already knew!  Very readable and poignant.

Henry VIII and the men who made him by Tracey Borman.  Just when you think you've read everything on Henry VIII, Borman introduces you to some less well known courtiers and their influence on Henry VIII.  Fabulous read.

I've also read non-fiction books that have surprisingly disappointed me and some that have just offered nothing new.   In keeping with starting the year trying to be positive, I've decided not to mention them.

Monday, 23 December 2019

Tuesday, 17 December 2019

Ludlow Medieval Christmas Fayre

Every year, late in November, the small town of Ludlow holds it's Christmas Medieval Fayre.   It's an event I've long wanted to attend, and this year I got my wish.  Ludlow is a picturesque, small medieval town, dominated by it's castle.  Having visited it several times, usually in the summer, it was a joy to visit at Christmas and to see the castle transformed.  Here are some of my pictures.

There were marquees set up in the grounds of the castle selling crafts.  Quite a few were selling medieval costumes.

There was entertainment on offer in the hospitality marquees.

There were some very talented musicians.  

There were plenty of medieval customs on display.

Monday, 18 November 2019

Dover Castle

During the summer, I finally got to visit Dover Castle.   It's been on my castle wish list for years.   There's so much history that has taken place there over hundreds of years.  It's well worth a visit, whatever period of history you are interested in.

This is a picture of the Anglo Saxon church of  St Mary, which was restored in Victorian times.  Next to it is the oldest surviving lighthouse in Britain, the Roman Pharos.  It was built to guide the Romans across the channel from France.

The current focus of the main castle is that of Henry II's Queen, Eleanor of Aquitaine, who is 'in residence' with her lady in waiting.  It was very enjoyable 'chatting ' to her.

The castle is decorated as it would have been in Eleanor's days.

There are apartments for the King and Queen, as well as private chapels for worship.