Saturday, 3 January 2015

An important anniversary I forgot......

I hadn't realised that this year marks the 700th anniversary of the burial of Piers Gaveston.  I'm indebted to Kathryn Warner for her superb report on it here 

It's an extraordinary story of Edward's devotion to Piers.  He must have spent a great deal of time, money and thought to Piers' funeral.  It contrasts with funeral plans for his father, Edward Ist.  Edward Ist requested his body be boiled, and his bones placed in a box and carried into battle against the Scots.  He did not want to be buried until the Scots had been subdued.   Inheriting a bankrupt treasury from his father, Edward II had no such plan, and buried his father in a plain tomb in Westminster Abbey. 

Piers resting place was at Langley Priory.   Some years later, the deposed king Richard II was buried there as well, before being re-interred at Westminster Abbey by Henry V.  The site has long since vanished, and my enquiries to the local history society lead me to believe there is now a public school built on the site.  I can only hope that Piers' remains lie undisturbed under the ground or that he was re-interred in the local church during the Reformation.  Knowing Edward, he must surely have given him a fine tomb - surely with an effigy?   I can but wonder what the inscription said.........

Friday, 2 January 2015

The Best Books of 2014

As usual, at the end/start of a year, it’s time for my ‘best books’ review post.  I don’t think there will be any surprise at my number 1 book of the year!  It’s a book I’ve been waiting years for.

  1.  Kathryn Warner’s superb ‘Edward II: the unconventional King’.  Not only is it superbly researched and written, but it’s been a personal delight for me to share Kathryn’s journey to write her book, which has been floating around for a number of years, and getting it published.  Her dedication to research and uncover the truth and destroy the myths about Edward has all paid off.  I can't wait for the follow-up!
  2. ‘Inside the Court of Henry VIII and his Six Wives’ by Lauren Mackay.  Not just another book about Henry and his wives – and there are so many of them – but the focus of this book focuses on the writings of the Spanish ambassador Eustace Chapuys.  We’re so used to reading quotes by Chapuys in biographies of Henry that it is refreshing to find out about the man behind the quotes.  I particularly enjoyed reading about his lifestyle and his views on the politics of Henry’s court – particularly Thomas Cromwell and the Duke of Norfolk.  I also enjoyed his concerns and thoughts on Princess Mary – he clearly had worries about her personality and what it would mean for her.
  3. ‘Richard III – the king in the car park’ by Terry Breveton.  A welcome relief from all the ‘poor Richard III’ books currently out.  Breveton uses sources from Welsh history – yes, I know they are likely to be pro-Henry Tudor – which are rarely used and has translated them.  He also points out the romantic prose used in many pro-Richard books used to manipulate readers as well as downright untruths. 
  4. Last Christmas, someone bought me Conn Iggulden’s ‘Wars of the Roses – Stormbird’.  I don’t read a lot of historical fiction, and it wasn’t until the summer that I started reading this book.  I absolutely loved it!  The life of the knights and ‘ordinary soldiers’ is very detailed in sometimes quite gruesome detail.  I like his take on the rebellious leader Jack Cade, and I love the character of Derry Brewer, the king’s spymaster.
  5. So it’s no surprise that I bought the follow-up ‘Trinity’, and again, I was hooked from the first chapter.  It’s the descriptions of life in the London streets, the countryside, and the squalor that the ordinary folk endure.  Iggulden has a sympathetic view of Henry VI, and still manages to gain sympathy for a frustrated Margaret of Anjou.  And once again, Derry Brewer continues to out-fox the Duke of York, who is not as ambitious for the crown as he is portrayed in other novels.  Can’t wait for part 3!
  6. Thomas Cromwell seems to be the man of the moment, with the popularity of ‘Wolf Hall’ and ‘Bring up the bodies’.  Tracey Borman’s biography is the pick of the bunch of the recent Cromwell biographies. 
  7. ‘The Third Plantagenet – George, Duke of Clarence’, by John Ashdown-Hill.  Along with King John, one of history’s bad boys – Shakespeare’s ‘False, fleeting, perjured Clarence’.  But was he any different from his brothers Edward and Richard?  Not in my opinion.  He just wasn’t as clever. Clarence had the misfortune of being Edward IV’s heir for a number of years, and was spoiled by his doting mother.  But he seems to have been a good master to his servants and tenants, and a good husband to his wife Isabel.   

For Christmas this year, I got Helen Castor’s ‘Joan of Arc’, and Sharon Penman’s ‘Devil’s Brood’, which will no doubt thrill my fellow blogger – Kasia    - I’m on page 216 and enjoying every page of it! 

Happy New Year to all!

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.