Saturday, 20 December 2014

Christmas with Piers Gaveston

Somewhere I England, nearly Christmas, 1308, the new Earl Of Cornwall is preparing his Christmas list.

Ah, Christmas as an Earl is sure to be a tricky one.  I mean, what does one give the other barons for Christmas?  I doubt they will ever give me a present, but seeing their faces as I sit beside my dear Edward as they bend their knees to us, well, it’s unbeatable:) 

 Hmmmm, let me think.  The Earl of Lincoln – Burstbelly – now what would he like, apart from all the food he could gorge in one sitting?  Got it – a diet book!  That will be soooo good for his health.  Now for Guy of Warwick – the Black Hound – easy really.  A nice new bone to chew on, and perhaps a ball for his to chase after.  Edward’s cousin, Thomas of Lancaster – the Churl – well, Edward and I know what he’d like – the throne.  That’s out of the question of course.  I think a book on etiquette and a ‘Tales of King Arthur’ book would be ideal.  And for our dear, faithful friend Roger Mortimer – a friendship bracelet. 

Edward is going to be very difficult to get a present for.  I mean, he has everything he wants – me.  So he tells me.  I’m thinking along the line of personalised rowing oars.  I know how much he loves rowing, and it does help to build up those bulging biceps.  Plus a crate of ale from The Thatchers pub.  I do hope he doesn’t get me anything too extravagant – I mean, the Earldom and the fabulous castle that goes with it is more than enough – although a few diamonds are always welcome – after all, diamonds are an Earl’s best friend.
I suppose I ought to get something for the child bride, Isabella.  Some nice colouring in manuscripts, perhaps?  And a book.  Yes, I’ve heard of a new title just out – ‘He’s Just Not That Into You’.  It’ll be a big help to her – especially as she’s heading for her teenage years – which reminds me – some spot lotion would also be ideal.

I'm so looking forward to Christmas this year!   Merry Christmas to one and all!

Friday, 12 December 2014

The Dan Jones episode on the Plantagenets I've been waiting for.........

Last night, Channel 5 showed the episode I'd been waiting for in Dan Jones' series on the Plantagenets - a whole episode devoted to Edward II.   I started watching with low expectations - but was surprised at how good it was!  Straight away, the focus was on Edward's relationship with Piers Gaveston.  We're told Edward's first act of his reign was to re-call 'his mate' Piers Gaveston - one of the 'finest knights in the kingdom'.  Off to a good start!  Jones talked about Edward's obsession with Piers without going into the nature of the their relationship at the start.   He pointed out the obsession cost him the respect of his barons, particularly his cousin Thomas of Lancaster.  I was pleased to see Jones make the point that Edward married the 'child bride' Isabella of France, which is exactly what she was.  He repeats the story of the bad behaviour of Edward and Piers at the Coronation banquet - Piers wearing royal purple, banners with the arms of Edward and Piers on them - and says Isabella's relatives were insulted.  But we do not get Piers being given all the wedding gifts - phew!

Jones also says Thomas of Lancaster started 'a whispering campaign' against Piers, stealing money from the treasury and taking it out of the country.  Thankfully, Jones says Piers was undoubtedly innocent - he might have been arrogant and insulting, but he was no thief.  Jones makes it clear in this episode is all about 'personal revenge', and when discussing the Ordinances, says it might all sound as if the barons were trying to make a stand for justice against the king, when in fact it was a personal vendetta against Piers - and mentions clause 20, which calls for his banishment.   It's now that Jones discusses the nature of the relationship between Edward and Piers.  Jones says Edward was undoubtedly obsessed with Piers, and they may well have been lovers.  But it wasn't this that offended the barons - it was Edward's excessive favouring of Piers and Piers influence.  Jones skims over Piers' 2 exiles during Edward's reign - we hear nothing of his exile in Ireland.  Instead, we get the final exile and recall by Edward, who was basically 'painting a target' on Piers' back.  Jones says Edward was fixated on what would happen right now, than what would happen in the future, or the consequences of his actions.

The siege at Scarborough and Piers' capture is missed out - instead we have Piers a prisoner at Warwick castle, (there's very little mention of Guy of Warwick, it's all Thomas of Lancaster), with no trial and sentenced to death - Jones calls it 'political murder'.  We cut to a scene at Gaveston's Cross.  Jones says typically Edward doesn't blame himself, he blames Piers at first, then Lancaster.  That's a bit harsh in my opinion, as Edward no doubt lashed out in grief when he made the comment about Piers.  All in all, I was quite happy with Jones' interpretation.

The rest of the episode was mixed. We see Edward taking 'personal revenge' on Thomas of Lancaster, committing 'political murder' in not allowing Lancaster a fair trial - I think Jones failed to see the parallel that Edward treated Thomas as he had treated Piers.  I did like his point though about Lancaster letting Edward down at Bannockburn because he didn't want Edward to have anything that would make him successful.  We have the scene where Isabella's children 'are ripped from her' - by the nasty, snarling Hugh Despencer, complete with small sobbing children, and are told they were placed in the care of Despencer's wife - without mentioning his wife is actually their relative, Edward's niece, Eleanor.   Jones piles on the sympathy for Isabella - after all she has done for her husband, this was how he repaid her - hmmmmm.   Then we get Isabella in France immediately becoming lovers with Roger Mortimer and plotting her husband's downfall, her 'personal revenge'.  Sympathy for Isabella soon vanishes however, as we get a full description, and as much as can be acted out, of Hugh Despencer's execution - how near Isabella was to his suffering, and how she ate as she watched. 

Jones then tells us what happens to Edward II - sent to Berkley Castle where he was murdered with - yes - a red hot poker, and we're shown as much as possible of the horrific scene.  But hang on, Jones then demolishes this story, saying it appeared years after Edward's death, and that the method made too good a story for a possibly gay king receiving his 'just punishment'.  So good a story that Channel 5 decided to show a scene of it!  Unfortunately, there's no discussion of Edward's possible survival.

So, to sum up - this episode was a lot better than I expected, and dominated by Jones' theory of 'personal revenge'.  I'm not quite sure about the use of actors to dramatise each episode - particularly as they always speak French and we have to have the subtitles underneath.  I'm sure viewers could cope with being told the language of the court was French without having them actually speak in French.  Oh, and the actors playing Piers and Edward looked absolutely nothing like I thought they'd look, but I guess that's a minor detail;)

Sunday, 7 December 2014

My poppy from the Tower of London display

This week, my ceramic poppy from the display Blood Swept Lands and Seas of Red arrived.  I bought it back in September.  The artwork was a stunning sight, and 2 parts of it are to tour.  The Weeping Window is the cascade of poppies which can be seen pouring out of a window in the Tower - see below.

Wave is the curling swathe of poppies which rises up to create an arch over the entrance to the Tower.  Both will tour Britain until 2018.

This is my poppy - thankfully is wasn't damaged, and yes, it does have a stem but I haven't assembled it yet.

Friday, 28 November 2014

Short review of channel 5's The Plantagenets

OK, any programme on the Plantagenets is always welcome - so thank you to Channel 5 for this documentary series.  The opening titles warn there will be scenes of Medieval bloody violence and torture.  We then get Dan Jones talking about Britain's bloodiest and deadliest dynasty, along with flashes of programmes to come.  The series is a sort of docu-drama, with Dan Jones telling the story, and with actors playing the parts of the key figures.  Be warned Kathryn, who runs the excellent Edward II  website and has just published Edward II: the Unconventional King, there was a clip of a man being held down on a table and screaming - so we can expect the red, hot poker story.

Anyway, episode 1 focused on Henry II and his treacherous family.  There wasn't anything in it I didn't already know.  As expected, Jones peppered his story telling with lots of modern phrases.  For example, the crowning of Henry, the Young King, was the 'archbishop's gig', news of Beckett's murder 'went viral', and the Young King set out to 'take down the old man'.

Having become interested in Henry, the Young King, after reading Kasia's marvellous Henry, the Young King blog, I was looking forward to how the programme would portray him.  Jones gives us a young Henry being frustrated by not being given any real power by his father, and reveals the royal accounts of 1172 show the young King existed on meagre amounts of money, that he was almost 'like a beggar'.  Henry II is blamed for guarding his power jealously, and being greedy with his riches.  He allowed the young Henry no power. The focus is on the treachery of the young Henry and Richard  - John barely gets a mention.  Henry and his sons are portrayed as deceitful, power-hungry and utterly treacherous - so nothing we didn't know already then.

Next week's episode focuses on Henry III.

Monday, 24 November 2014

'Britain's Bloodiest Dynasty'

Britain's Channel 5 will start showing a new documentary series on the Plantagenets this week.  Presented by Dan Jones, it will tell the story of 'Britain's bloodiest dynasty - the real life Game of Thrones'. Here's the blurb - The Plantagenets .   I've read Dan Jones book on the Plantagenets and wasn't that impressed with it, particularly comments about Edward II and Piers Gaveston.   I'm not holding out much hope for the TV series.  I also don't like the comparison with Game of Thrones.  Anyway, the series kicks off with Henry II and his troublesome sons, on Thursday, November 27th, at 9pm.  And talking of his troublesome sons, how refreshing to see a more accurate portrayal of King John in Channel 4's 'Walking through History' with Sir Tony Robinson.  He demolishes the Robin Hood myths, and whilst admitting John was a failure, and ruthless, cruel and greedy, he was no different from his predecessors.  As for Magna Carta, it was addressing grievances since 1066, and it was after John's death that it took on more significance.  Which anyone who bothered doing the most minimal of research would know. 

Here's a picture of Dan Jones looking menacing;) to plug his new show.

Tuesday, 18 November 2014

Piers Gaveston could be tactful - yes, really!

Being tactful is not something Piers Gaveston  is usually associated it.  After all, calling Guy, the Earl of Warwick 'the black hound of Arden' is hardly showing restraint, is it?    But it seems in his younger days, Piers did know how to be tactful.   Take for example this wonderful story from about 1302.  It appears in a book of chronicles about Peterborough, edited by J Sparks.   According to this book, Prince Edward, as he was then, was accompanying his father, Edward 1st and his Queen, on a visit to Peterborough.  Of course, Prince Edward brought along members of his own household, which included his dear friend, Piers Gaveston.  What emerges from this story is that already the relationship between the two was already rather, erm, intense. 

Prince Edward, on visiting the abbey at Peterborough, was presented with a fine gift - a cup, said to be of the value of £50.  Very generous of the Abbey.  Surely a gift to please the prince.  Yet what's extraordinary about this story is that Edward refused to accept the gift - unless a cup of the comparable value was presented to his dear friend Piers Gaveston.  Which is a bit cheeky, eh?  Edward might be king-in-waiting, but turning up at Peterborough Abbey and refusing a gift unless his 'dear friend' got one, is, erm, ungrateful, tactless, embarrassing?  Luckily for Edward, those much admired Gascon manners kicked in, and Piers negotiated with the Abbot's messenger.  He thanked the abbot for the gift of the cup sent to him  - worth £40 - with many thanks, and on hearing that Edward had refused his cup, Piers told the messenger to inform Edward that he, Piers, would like him to accept the abbot's gift.  Which of course, as a request from his beloved Piers, he did. 

What Edward 1st made of this story is unknown - but it surely reached his ears and gave him cause for concern about the influence of Piers' over the prince.  And it shows that already Edward was determined Piers should be shown respect and favour as his 'beloved friend/brother/lover' (select appropriate word here - I know which one I'm going for). 

I first came across this story from this marvellous blog, where you can read the translation of the chronicle.  Piers Gaveston's Cups.    Trying to research this story has been very difficult.   I came across 2 books from the early 1900s on-line - one of which is called 'A History of the County of Northampton' which actually says the gift was not a cup, but a beautiful embroidered robe/cloak.  I assume that recent translations have corrected robe/cloak for cup.  I mean, if it had been a cloak, Piers undoubtedly would have wanted one:)

Saturday, 1 November 2014

Guest Post by Kathryn Warner

Today I'm delighted to welcome a guest post by Kathryn Warner.  Kathryn's book, 'Edward II, the Unconventional King' has just been published by Amberley Publishing. Kathryn is currently doing a number of guest posts on various blogs.  In this guest post, Kathryn writes about Edward II's relationship with - who else? - Piers Gaveston.

Edward II and Piers Gaveston

Piers Gaveston is one of the most notorious 'favourites' in English history.  He was the beloved of King Edward II, who reigned from 1307 to 1327, and is still well-known today thanks to many productions of Christopher Marlowe's play about Edward and the Oxford University society which bears his name.

Piers came from Béarn, an area of Gascony in south-western France then ruled by the English crown.  His family took its name from the village of Gabaston close to the town of Pau and the Pyrenees.  Piers was the second child and second son of Sir Arnaud de Gabaston and Claramonde de Marsan, and, far from being the lowborn nobody he's often been made out to be in the last 700 years, was the grandson of two of the leading barons of Béarn.  He was probably named after his uncle Piers or Pierre Caillau, mayor of Bordeaux, who married Miramonde de Marsan, sister of Piers' mother Claramonde.  Piers' date of birth is unknown: his parents married sometime before 30 June 1272, and his younger sister Amie, the fifth child of his parents, was born in 1285.  Edward II was born on 25 April 1284 and Piers was described as his 'contemporary', so was perhaps born in the late 1270s or early 1280s.  He first appears on record in November 1297, when he and his father had moved to England and Piers had become a squire of Edward I's household.  At an unknown date perhaps in 1300, Edward I placed Piers in the household of his sixteen-year-old son and heir Edward of Caernarfon, the future Edward II.  It was a fateful decision.

One chronicler says that when Edward of Caernarfon first saw Piers, "he fell so much in love that he entered upon an enduring compact with him, and determined to knit an indissoluble bond of affection with him, above all other mortals."  A clerk of Edward's court who wrote a biography of him remarked "I do not remember to have heard that one man so loved another. Jonathan cherished David, Achilles loved Patroclus. But we do not read that they were immoderate. Our king, however, was incapable of moderate favour."  That Edward II adored Piers Gaveston is absolutely beyond doubt.  He made him earl of Cornwall in 1307, arranged his marriage to his (Edward's) thirteen-year-old niece Margaret de Clare a few months later, and demonstrated time and again that he was unable to live without Piers: Edward's father and his barons exiled Piers from England no fewer than three times, and Edward brought him back every time.  The king's obsession with and excessive favour towards Piers brought England to the brink of civil war in 1308, and most of Edward's magnates united against him and his beloved friend (or lover).  Edward's popularity plummeted, but he seemed to care nothing for this or for the opposition to himself and Piers.  In 1308/09, he worked tirelessly to bring Piers back to England from his second exile, using a policy of 'divide and conquer' among his barons and even manipulating Pope Clement V to his side, and this paid off when Piers returned in 1309, having done a pretty impressive job as lord lieutenant of Ireland in the meantime.

Unfortunately Piers and Edward had little political sense and soon proved they had learnt nothing from Piers' year-long enforced exile.  Piers gave the English magnates insulting nicknames and behaved towards them with a "superciliousness which would be unbearable enough in a king's son," and aggravated beyond endurance, Edward's magnates exiled Piers for a third time in late 1311.  Unable to live without him, Edward II defiantly recalled him within two and a half months and restored him yet again to the earldom of Cornwall in January 1312.  King and earl fled to the north of England, out of the way of the enraged magnates, but Piers was captured in June 1312 by the earl of Warwick, whom he had taunted as 'the black dog of Arden'.  The earls of Lancaster, Hereford and Arundel arrived at Warwick Castle and condemned Piers to death, and he was run through with a sword and beheaded at Blacklow Hill near Warwick on 19 June 1312.  Edward II's reaction to Piers' murder was utter rage, and that he grieved for him deeply and sincerely is obvious.  For the rest of his reign, until 1326, Edward remembered Piers often in prayers and took care of his mortal remains, which he buried at Langley Priory in Hertfordshire, his own foundation.  Piers left a daughter, Joan, Edward II's great-niece, who sadly died when she was thirteen, and an illegitimate daughter, Amie.

Kathryn Warner’s new book, ‘Edward II: The Unconventional King’, is available to buy now at the Amberley website:

Visit Kathryn’s blog here: