Friday, 3 July 2015

Anne Boleyn in residence at the Tower of London

The Tower of London is a place I never get tired of.  I visit as often as I can.  I live quite a way from it, but if I lived in London I'd go at least once a month!  One of the things I like about the Tower - and the other royal palaces - are their little 'snap-shots' in time.  I've been lucky enough to 'meet' Edward II, the infamous Judge Jeffreys, Henry VIII, Katherine Parr (as Lady Latimar and Queen) and er, Jane Seymour.  Finally, I got to 'meet' Anne Boleyn!  Anne and her brother George are in residence in the Tower this summer.  The scenario is Anne is at the Tower preparing for her Coronation.  She is accompanied by Thomas Cromwell, Lady Kingston, Francis Weston and her brother George Boleyn.  George and Francis challenge each other for her favour.  The whole show lasts half and hour, and takes place about 3 times a day near the White Tower.  I really enjoyed the performance and had interesting chats with the characters and the people who portray them.  Here are some of my photos.

 Francis Westen awaits the arrival of the new Queen.
(the ravens are sometimes kept in the cage behind)

 George Boleyn greets his sister Anne, whose
arrived at the Tower for her Coronation.
(note the digger behind
helping to build a new
staircase for the White

Lady Kingston chats to Thomas Cromwell  who has come to
oversee preparations for the Coronation. 
Anne and Lady Kingston take their
places to watch George and Francis battle for her favours.

The 'duel' begins.
Both performers 
used a range of weapons. 

Anne is delighted with the show and 'knights' both Francis and George.

The crowd really got involved and it was good fun.  Of course, I couldn't help thinking that Anne, George, Francis and Thomas Cromwell had all been imprisoned in the Tower, executed nearby (Anne on Tower green), and all were buried in the chapel of St. Peter ad Vincula, the other side of the White Tower.
The memorial to those executed within the Tower grounds.

Friday, 19 June 2015

Ah, June 19th.....

Today marks the anniversary of the death, or should we say, murder of Piers Gaveston at Blacklow Hill, near Warwick.  Local legends claim that the sounds of bells, trumpets and jeering can still be heard.   I hope not - Piers deserves to rest in peace.

I found this post from Kathryn's old Edward II forum from the Leek Wootton History Society -

Hi everyone,
I have only just heard about this forum from someone who has researched Edward II, would like to visit the site and was directed to our website as well this one.
I've been reading the postings and would like to reply to a couple of things.
Piers Gaveston is the only person who is recorded as having been executed on Blacklow Hill - this is because (as Anejre says) the Earl of Warwick did not want him to be executed on his own land and Blacklow Hill was the nearest suitable location - it was never a regular site of execution. As for the legend that on some mornings you can hear the bells on Gavestons horse passing down the road from Warwick, a friend of mine rented a nearby farm cottage at one time and told me she heard them once - before she'd heard the legend.
Bertie Greatheed of Guy's Cliffe (a nearby ruined manor which can bee seen from the R Avon behind the Saxon Mill pub) had the monument built in 1821. It is understood that he was a regency 'romantic' character. He had a telescope through which he could read the inscription on the cross from the house. During the Victorian period there are many postcards of the cross standing proudly on top of a hill with no trees around - it must have been magnificent! The cross is on top of a rock that has an older carving on it stating it to be the spot where Gaveston was beheaded.
With reference to the 1312 date on the plaque and 1311 carved in the rock, we've always put this down to the change in calendars causing inconsistent dates. The older carving in the rock says 1311.
As Chazza said, it is overgrown and vandalised and has been a secluded spot where kids have gathered for many years - tucked away as it is. I know that the Parish Council would have liked to have done something about its condition, especially for this year, its anniversary. The woodland is owned by the descendants of Bertie Greatheed, but the farmer who owns the surrounding fields does not want a public footpath across his land. Personally I think that if the trees between it and the A46 were taken down and perhaps the cross were spotlit, it would discourage groups of kids from hanging around up there at night. We believe it is really only since the bypass was built in the early 70s that it has been so overlooked, before that, there was an established footpath past it, but the road cut that off. There is reference in a wartime diary to the writer taking a walk up there.
But if you can visit during the snowdrop or bluebell seasons, then Blacklow Hill is a really beautiful sight - I was up there once when it was carpeted with bluebells and saw a fox meandering through them.
If anyone needs guidance to find the monument, contact Leek Wootton History Group (

Wednesday, 17 June 2015

Trial of Piers Gaveston - what trial?

Having been captured by Guy of Warwick, it seems Piers' fate was sealed.  He was taken to Warwick Castle and kept prisoner there.  And yet it took 10 days from Piers' capture until his 'execution'.  Why?   It is not known if Warwick was acting alone - but once he had Piers in his custody, it wasn't long before some of the other nobles rallied to Warwick.  Thomas of Lancaster undoubtedly travelled to Warwick with relish - he may well have known Warwick's intentions, although Lancaster would surely have loved to have taken Piers prisoner himself.  The Earls of Hereford and Arundel followed.  Lancaster seems to have taken control of the situation.

Meanwhile, Aymer de Valence, Earl of Pembroke, was in a state of panic.  He'd sworn an oath to protect Piers, with his lands forfeit if he failed to do so.  His first action was to appeal to Edward II's cousin Gilbert de Clare, Earl of Gloucester, and Piers' brother-in-law.  I am still shocked at Gloucester's callous reply.  'My lord earl,  the wrong done to you is not to be imputed to Earl Guy.  He did this with our aid and counsel; and if, as you say, you have pledged your lands, you have lost them anyhow.  It only remains to advise you to learn another time to negotiate more cautiously'.  Pembroke was as concerned about his lands as he was Piers.  Why Gloucester abandoned Piers is not known - but perhaps he was jealous of the honours and access to the king Piers had. 

According to the chronicle of Trokelowe, Lancaster warned 'while he lives there will be no safe peace in the realm of England, as many proofs have hitherto shown us'.  Lancaster and Warwick dominated proceedings.  Piers' 'trial' was a farce - he was not even allowed to speak in his defence, and no doubt the verdict was already reached.  The canon of Bridlington claims two royal justices, William Inge and Henry Spigurnel, were called in to examine the evidence and pronounced Piers guilty.  Yet Kathryn Warner points out that Edward II took no action against them.   No doubt they were pressured into a 'verdict'. The nobles seem to be more concerned that they would suffer no repercussions, with Lancaster and Warwick promising Hereford they would support him against any losses he incurred.  No doubt many deals were committed to parchment and seals attached.   What a shame they don't survive.  Everything was agreed - Piers was to die on June 19th.

Piers was taken out of Warwick by Lancaster and some of his followers.  Guy of Warwick stayed in his castle.  I have to wonder why he did not accompany Piers on his journey to Blacklow Hill.  Surely witnessing the destruction of his hated enemy would be a chance not to be missed?  Or did his conscience trouble him?  Not for the death of Piers - but the cowardly manner of it.  It was not an execution - it was murder.  Warwick seems to have insisted that Piers' 'execution' take place away from his lands - Blacklow Hill was on Lancaster's lands.  And yet, even Lancaster's resolve seems to have been shaken.  It was agreed that Piers would suffer a 'noble' death - beheading, out of respect of his kinship to Gloucester.  But Lancaster chose not to witness it himself and handed Piers over to 2 of his Welsh soldiers, who took Piers out of sight of Lancaster.  One soldier ran him through with his sword, and the other cut off his head.  Not exactly a 'noble' death.  Lancaster only required to see the head to make sure, and Piers body and head were abandoned.  Neither Warwick or Lancaster wanted to take responsibility for Piers' remains.  Where was their bravado and courage now?  No doubt Warwick trembled in his castle, whilst Lancaster  waited for the rage of Edward II.

Below - the wood surrounding Blacklow Hill.

The monument at Blacklow Hill where Piers Gaveston was killed.


Piers Gaveston, Earl of Cornwall, 1307-12: Politics and Patronage in the Reign of Edward II, Hamilton

Edward II: The Unconventional King  Kathryn Warner

Tuesday, 9 June 2015

June 9th - disaster strikes Piers Gaveston

June 9th, 1312, was the beginning of the end for Piers Gaveston.   After surrendering on very good terms to Aymer de Valence, Earl of Pembroke, Piers was on his way to his own castle at Wallingford, where he would be kept under guard by Pembroke.   Pembroke made perhaps the biggest mistake of his life, when he left Piers at Deddington Priory, so that he could spend the night with his wife at nearby Bampton.   Piers' deadly enemy, Guy, Earl of Warwick, had somehow found out about Pembroke's plan, and seized his chance.  The Vita Edwardi Secundi  tells us what happened when Piers' 'black hound of Arden' arrived:

 'Coming to the village early one Saturday, he entered the gate of the courtyard and surrounded the chamber.  Then the earl called out in a loud voice: 'Arise traitor, thou art taken'.  When Piers heard this, seeing that the earl was there with a superior force and that his own guard did not resist, he dressed himself and came down.  In this fashion Piers was taken and led forth not as an earl but as a thief; and he who used to ride on a palfrey is now forced to go on foot.

When they had left the village behind a little, the earl ordered Piers to be given a nag that they might proceed more quickly.  Blaring trumpets followed Piers and the horrid cry of the populance.  They had taken off his belt of knighthood, and a sa thief and traitor, he was taken to Warwick, and coming there was cast into prison.  He whom Piers called Warwick the Dog has now bound Piers with chains'.

Having visited Warwick Castle, I have seen the dungeon at Warwick.   It forms part of a tower where the noblest prisoners were kept.  We're merely told that Warwick has Piers thrown into prison - and I have the feeling it was not the tower where the noblest prisoners were kept.   Vindictiveness and hatred of Piers, particularly regarding his elevation to Earl of Cornwall, surely meant that Warwick cast him into the dungeon at Warwick.  He certainly took pleasure in stripping Piers of his belt, which signified his earldom, and humiliating him all the way to Warwick, so why stop at Warwick castle?  Piers, no doubt, must have surely known he was doomed, and no doubt was in deep despair.

Inside the dungeon at Warwick castle.  This is not the dungeon where prisoners of noble blood were kept.

In the dungeon is a small hole, in which the lowest rank of prisoners were kept.   It is to be hoped that Warwick showed some mercy to Piers and did not keep him in this 'oubliette'.

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.