Sunday, 19 June 2016

Death of Piers Gaveston

June 19th marks the death of Piers Gaveston.   Quite what made Guy of Warwick break a chivalrous code, abduct Piers and take part in a mock trial with only one outcome, remains a mystery.   No doubt driven by hatred, Warwick none the less committed an atrocious breach of chivalry.   Surely it could not be Piers’ mocking nickname for him, ‘the Black Hound of Arden’?  It fuelled Warwick’s hatred, but hatred already existed – probably to do with jealousy and his contempt for Piers as a Gascon.  And yet Warwick did not attend the ‘execution’ of Piers, and it was carried out on Thomas of Lancaster’s lands.   Neither would Warwick admit the body of Piers into Warwick Castle afterwards.  The story says that some shoemakers found the head and body of Piers – no doubt they knew who it was – and took it to Warwick Castle, probably hoping for some kind of reward.  It seems they thoughtfully sewed the head and body back together.  Why Lancaster left the body at Blacklow Hill remains a mystery.  Did he think that Warwick would return for it?   He seems a strange thing to do.  Warwick would not accept the body, and commanded the shoemakers take it back to the place of execution – knowing it would end up back on Lancaster’s land.   It was a bit late if Warwick was feeling guilty – more likely he feared the re-action of the king, and sought to make Lancaster take the bulk of the blame. 

Having heard of the discarded body of Piers lying at Blacklow Hill, the Dominican Friars, a religious order much favoured by Edward II, took possession of the body.   They took the body to Oxford, where it was washed and prepared for burial, preserved with spices and wrapped in cloth of gold.  However, Piers could not be buried as he had been excommunicated.    Edward II would seek to remedy this, and unbelievably, it took 2 years before Piers was able to have an honourable burial.  Until that time, the body rested at Oxford, with Thomas de London and Philip de Eyndon appointed by Edward to watch over it.   Edward ordered prayers to be said for the soul of Piers.   Whilst Edward fought to get the sentence of excommunication revoked, no doubt he had in mind to bring the rebels who murdered Piers to justice before he buried him.

The monument at Blacklow Hill marking the site of the death of Piers Gaveston.

Thursday, 9 June 2016

June 9th - disaster strikes Piers Gaveston

June 9th marks the beginning of the end for Piers Gaveston.   Having surrendered on very favourable terms to Amyer de Valance, Earl of Pembroke, Piers was no doubt in good spirits.  Pembroke had sworn an oath of honour to protect Piers whilst he was in his custody.    He no doubt treated Piers with respect.   But somehow, Guy of Warwick, Piers Black Hound, knew of Pembroke 's plans.    He must have had spies tracking Pembroke.    When he knew Pembroke was off to visit his wife at Bampton, leaving Piers at Deddington Priory with a small guard, he seized his chance.  Piers and Edward II obviously trusted Pembroke.    Edward II made no attempt to rescue Piers from Pembroke and Piers made no attempt to escape despite the small guard - after all, he was safer in Pembroke 's custody rather than roaming through the English countryside.   Piers must have felt doomed when he heard Warwick had come for him, and Pembroke 's token guards were no match for him and his soldiers.   I have to wonder - did he have a glimmer of hope?

Thursday, 19 May 2016

May 19th anniversaries

Today marks the anniversary Piers Gaveston surrendered to Amyer de Valance, Earl of Pembroke, after a short siege at Scarborough Castle.  The castle was probably not prepared for a long siege and Piers surrendered on very good terms.   He would accompany Pembroke to York where some sort of 'deal' would be done.  Edward II was at York and if no deal could be reached, Piers would be returned to Scarborough Castle and no doubt be prepared for a long siege.  As we know, things turned out differently.  

Today also marks the execution of Anne Boleyn at the Tower of London in 1536.

Not a great day for this history fan!

Monday, 9 May 2016

Rhys ap Thomas - the man who killed Richard III?

My last post dealt with my visit to Leicester and the Richard III centre, as well as to Richard's tomb in the Cathedral. In the exhibition centre there was a mock-up of Richard's skeleton and the wounds inflicted upon it. In particular, there was focus on the wound at the back of Richard's head - the fatal blow that killed him. Legend has it, this blow was struck by Sir Rhys ap Thomas. He became one of Henry VII's most powerful supporters - and yet he had sworn his allegiance to King Richard and vowing that Henry Tudor would never set foot in Wales. This is the vow he allegedly made -

'Whoever ill-affected to the state, shall dare to land in those parts of Wales where I have any employment under your majesty, must resolve with himself to make his entrance and irruption over my belly.'

Rhys ap Thomas got round this vow by hiding under Mullock Bridge, so Henry Tudor did cross into Wales over Rhys' belly! Rhys quickly joined Henry Tudor's army and marched with him to Bosworth. The story that Rhys slew Richard is written about by the poet Guto’r Glyn (1412-1493), referring to King Richard’s emblem of a boar, wrote contemporaneously that Rhys “killed the boar, shaved his head”. Richard's skull was indeed shaved. Rhys was knighted on the battlefield and went on to serve Henry VII loyally, becoming a knight of the Garter in 1505 and becoming a privy councillor. He celebrated with a grand tournament at Carew Castle. Here are some photos from my last visit.

Approaching Carew Castle from the main road.

The Arms of Henry VII and Prince Arthur at Carew Castle.

The arms were put in place for a visit by Henry VII.

Stained Glass Window added recently.
The castle is now mainly a ruin, but well worth a visit.

Inside the restored Great Hall.
Sir Rhys lived out his days, surviving Henry VII and dying in the reign of his son, Henry VIII. He died in 1525, near Carmarthen and was buried at the Greyfriars church there. Here's a picture of his tomb at St Peter's Church.

Above is the famous carving from Sir Rhys ap Thomas' bed which shows him at the Battle of Bosworth.

You can read more about Rhys ap Thomas in Susan Fern's book 'The Man Who Killed Richard III'.

Tuesday, 5 April 2016

A visit to the Richard III centre in Leicester

Ever since the remarkable story of the discovery of 'The King in the car park', Richard III's remains discovered  in a Leicester car park, I have planned to visit the site/Richard III centre.  Plans have fallen through at least twice, so this Easter, I decided I was going to go.  I'm a 'traditionalist' when it comes to Richard III, seeing him as a man of his times, and either re-acting to or instigating the circumstances he found himself in.   Whatever you think of Richard, the story is a remarkable one, and I understand plans are afoot to make some sort of film about the project.  Anyway, the Richard III centre is right opposite the Cathedral where Richard is buried, where the famous statue of Richard and his crown are sited.

I paid the admission price and headed into the centre.   It was easy to spend an hour and a half there, so good is the exhibition.   There's a film introducing Richard's story, seen from those around him - his brother, Edward IV,  the Earl of Warwick, his mother Cecily Neville, his armourer and Anne Neville, his wife.  To the left of the screening is a room charting the dig and project in pictures.

You then head off to the lower floor of the exhibition, featuring a timeline of Richard's life and his links with Leicester, culminating in the battle of Bosworth and his burial.  Upstairs, it's all about the dig, with various models showing Leicester at the time of Richard's burial and mini documentaries telling the story of the dig.   I appreciate all Philippa Langley has achieved, but my favourite Richardian is John Ashdown Hill and his meticulous research into the final resting place of Richard.  Both Langley and Ashdown Hill feature heavily in the exhibition.  There's a mock-up of Richard's skeleton with an interaction section, telling you about the wounds he suffered, and of course, the famous reconstruction of Richard's head, and how it was made. 

  Back downstairs you enter a room with a glass-topped floor - yes, it's the infamous car park, and you can look down into Richard's grave.  The effect of a projection of a skeleton in the position of the body every few minutes is quite disconcerting at first!

A case of now you see him, now you don't!     It's all very respectful and the volunteers I met there were expert in their knowledge - they really made my visit!   The Grey Friars Church was actually very small in size, and the building of a Tudor house after the friary was dissolved meant that Richard's remains lay beneath the garden/orchard of the house - and the garden remained there for many years, even surviving the buildings of a school and the Victorian houses later built around the site.   Richard's feet were lost with the building of a Victorian outhouse, but the rest of the garden survived until the site was covered in tarmac to provide parking for the staff working for Leicester City Council!   Here's a picture of the rest of the car park - yes, it's still in use!

Whether you are a Ricardian or not, 'into' history or not, this centre is well worth a visit.  It's a fascinating story.  

Richard was re-buried in Leicester Cathedral, right opposite the centre.  I was surprised at how small the cathedral is, but it's a fitting site for Richard to be buried.  I personally feel he should have been re-buried in Leicester, as it's a few hundred metres from where he originally lay, and after all, he had been buried there 500 years previously.  Here are the pictures I took.

 Richard's tomb and his heraldic symbols at Leicester Cathedral.

 This cloth covered Richard's coffin during his re-burial service, and the crown below was placed on it.

Sunday, 20 March 2016

Thank you Mr Postman!

I'm delighted to announce my postman arrived yesterday with Kathryn Warner's new book, 'Isabella of France: The Rebel Queen'.  Congratulations to Kathryn, on her second book.  Have to say, what a fantastic introduction, demolishing the many myths around Isabella, and reminding us to see her story in the context of her times.  Currently on Chapter 4 and loving it!

Saturday, 5 March 2016

A few thoughts on the relationship between Piers Gaveston, and Isabella, Queen of England. Part 1.

Any fiction book, and even some non-fiction books, portrays the relationship between Piers Gaveston and Isabella, wife and Queen of Edward II, as one of either dislike or hatred.  There are tales of Isabella watching in horror as her husband disembarks on his arrival back in England, crashing through the surf, to embrace and kiss Piers, not caring what anyone thinks.  Isabella is then humiliated during the Coronation, where Piers holds centre stage, and then the banquet when even more humiliation is heaped on her as the arms of Edward II and Piers Gaveston adorn the hall and Edward ignores his wife, the food is burnt, Isabella’s uncles, the counts of Valois and Evreux storm out in disgust, Isabella writes to her father bemoaning the neglect her husband has for her, and that he has even given all her wedding presents to Piers, who flaunts her jewels in front of everyone.   No wonder Isabella hated Piers, right?  Except all is not quite what it seems.
Isabella never saw her husband embrace Piers as soon as he set foot back in England, her uncles, although they did complain on their return to France, did not storm out of the banquet, there are no letters written by Isabella to her father from this time and of course, the wedding gifts were Edward’s, and he could do with them what he wished – even give them to Piers for safe keeping.  The negative stories emerge from chroniclers from the time or later, and we actually don’t know how Isabella or Piers felt about each other.  So in this post, I will offer my interpretation, which are just as valid as Thomas Walsingham’s or Agnes Strickland’s.
Isabella was only 12 when she married Edward – both Edward and Piers were in their 20s and already had a life-long bond – whether as a brotherhood or lovers.  Both men had illegitimate children, both married and had legitimate children with their wives.   So even if they were lovers, they both had had relationships with women and knew society’s expectations of them – to marry and produce heirs.  What better way for Edward to show his affection to Piers and bring him into the royal family by marring him to his niece, Margaret de Clare.  Edward himself showed no reluctance to marry Isabella.  But as she was only 12, what interest could she have held for him?   She was still a child, and far too young to share the royal bed.  Surely Isabella herself did not expect to share her husband’s bed at such a tender age?  And her father, King Philip, would surely never allow it.  At 12, her body was too young to bear a child, and she may not even have started her periods.  There must surely have been some agreement to wait.  Philip must also have been aware of Piers Gaveston.  He would have known about the exile of the favourite by Edward 1st, and the indecent haste in which Edward II recalled him after his father’s death.   While he may not have cared about any sexual relationship between Edward and Piers, hoping it would be discreet, he would have wanted to know how the relationship affected the court.   Would he send his daughter totally unprepared to England without any inkling of who Piers Gaveston was?  I doubt it.  Sending her uncles to support her, Isabella may even have been advised to try to please Gaveston, or to try to get along with him.  There is no way she could have insisted as a 12 year old that her husband banish his friend. 
Of course, Edward’s actions at the Coronation and the banquet were insensitive to his wife and no doubt offensive to the English nobility.  It’s my opinion that Edward saw his Coronation as almost his and Piers – he certainly didn’t want to share the limelight with a 12 year old girl, and he wanted to send a message to his nobles – Piers might have been exiled by his father, but now he was exalted above all.  Married into the royal family, allowed to wear purple (a royal colour), and taking a lead role in the Coronation, Edward couldn’t have made his thoughts clearer.  Displaying the Royal arms and Gaveston’s at the banquet, and making such a public display of his affection for Piers in front of everyone, Edward was setting the tone for his reign.  No doubt he was thoughtless and tactless towards his wife – but this was more about sending a message to his nobles.  Isabella had had her introduction to life at the English court and Piers Gaveston – no doubt she felt humiliated, but she knew she would find a way to live with Edward – and Piers.

I hope to write a follow-up to this post soon - how the relationship developed, and what did Piers think of Isabella.