Monday, 20 August 2018

Tall Tales from Warwick Castle

I've just returned from a long holiday in the Cotswolds, visiting plenty of history places.   Finding myself in Warwick once again, I couldn't resist visiting the castle yet again.  It's one of the finest castles in Britain.  Plus of course, it's where Piers Gaveston was kept prisoner by Guy of Warwick and given a joke of a trial before being taken for 'execution' to Blacklow Hill.  I've visited Warwick a number of times, but there's never really been any mention of Piers, despite the great hall in which he was tried still standing, and the dungeon in which he may have been kept.  This year, the castle has introduced mini history talks, and I attended the tour/talk on 'prisoners and executions' in the hope Piers may get a mention.   And he did - but I wish he hadn't!

The talk started in the Great Hall, and the guide had quite a crowd.  What followed was basically history at it's worst!  We were introduced to Piers as 'Edward II's boyfriend' and how their bad behaviour upset the nobles and Edward's wife Isabella.  Piers was captured by Guy and taken to Warwick, where in the very hall in which we stood, he was forbidden to speak while all the nobles discussed the horrible ways in which they wanted to kill Piers for 3 days, and he had to sit and listen to all this.  Finally, after 3 days, he was stripped naked and marched in a great procession to the nearest hill by Guy and his followers to be executed.  Guy wanted him to really suffer so told the headsman to find the bluntest sword, and whilst Piers was held by 2 soldiers, another took 6 attempts to cut off his head to the cheers of Guy and his followers.  Just when I thought it couldn't get any worse, the guide continues that Edward soon found other 'boyfriends' and Isabella decided she'd had enough and would make her son king instead.  So, one day, when Edward was bending over the fire, poking it with a poker, she had the great idea to........well, you can guess the rest!   The guide assured everyone it was true, and I could hear people saying 'oh my God, that really happened'  and plenty of sniggering etc.  I could take no more, left the tour, and walked over to 2 other guides, standing in the corner.  I asked them who had written this 'stuff', and they told me it wasn't the guide himself, but a local historian.  Really?!   I told them it as one of the worst history talks I'd ever heard, littered with inaccuracies passed off as facts, and that the story of Edward II and Piers was fascinating enough without 'embroidering' the story.  They thanked me for my feedback and said they'd report it back to the powers that be.  Somehow, I doubt that very much.

I know castles need to attract a variety of audiences, and Warwick usually does it's best.  The Kingmaker exhibition is excellent, and for younger visitors there is knight school, and everyone seems to enjoy the jousting and birds of prey activities.  The history tales seem like a great idea, and the basic facts about Piers being imprisoned there, given no trial and then executed on Blacklow Hill are correct - but why tell blatant falsehoods about the execution itself, and then add all the nonsense about Edward II and the red hot poker!  Guy of Warwick came across as very heroic, when in fact he hid in his castle and let Thomas of Lancaster take responsibility for what happened to Piers - he wouldn't even allow the 'execution' to take place on his land! Take a tip from the Yeoman Warders at the Tower - they tell a really good story, and yes, at times exaggerate, but the basic facts of their stories are correct.

Sunday, 29 July 2018

Anne Boleyn - Live at the Tower - until 30th of August

I am a regular visitor to the Tower of London - have been for years.  I never tire of the place.  Also, the Tower regularly changes exhibits and hosts events, which keeps me coming back.  Showing from every Friday to Tuesday, twice a day, is a short drama about the last days of Anne Boleyn, until August 30th. It's included in the ticket entrance price and takes place at the side of the White Tower - which eerily in Anne's time would have been the site of the Queens lodgings and the Great Hall, where Anne's trial took place.  It features a group of talented actors and musicians, 4 of whom play atmospheric music and double up as the co-accused with Anne.  There is also a fabulous female classical singer, which adds to the drama and almost eerie atmosphere.  As it is held outdoors, showings are at the mercy of the weather, so check out the Tower's website daily.

Tower website

The White Tower where the play takes place,

The very talented musicians taking part.

'Anne Boleyn' laments her fate.

Anne and the very talented classical singer.

Anne prepares for her execution.

This is a fantastic production, with actual quotes/speeches made by Anne when she was imprisoned in the Tower, including the speech made at her execution.  It's all the more dramatic when you think the actual events took place either on or near the site of the play.  Not to be missed!

Tuesday, 19 June 2018

June 19th - death of Piers Gaveston

'But I am certain the king grieved for Piers.......for the greater the love, the greater the sorrow.  In the lament of David upon Jonathan, love is depicted which is said to have surpassed the love of women'.

The above quote is from the chronicle, Vita Edwardi Secundi.   Whatever the relationship between Edward II and Piers Gaveston, there was genuine love between them.  Jealousy from the nobles led to hatred, and having been snatched from Deddington  Priory by the Earl of Warwick, Piers was given a farce of a trial.   Warwick refused to try him as an Earl in an act of spite and malice.  He was joined at Warwick Castle by Thomas of Lancaster, and the Earls of Arundel and Hereford.  In the great hall at Warwick, which still stands, Piers was 'tried' and given no right to speak in his own defence.   He must have known the verdict before the trial even started.  But did he hope the sentence of death would be revoked?  Cowering in his castle, Warwick handed Piers over to Lancaster to march him 2 miles from the castle to Blacklow Hill, land belonging to Lancaster, and there Piers was handed over to two Welshmen.  One ran him through with a sword, whilst the other then cut off his head to show Lancaster the bloody deed had been done.  Hardly an execution, more of a murder.  Not one of the Earls would take responsibility for the body of Piers, Warwick even refusing to admit it when it was returned by local shoemakers.  He stayed hidden in his castle, awaiting the terrible wrath of the King Edward, which would surely follow.

The wood surrounding Blacklow Hill.
The monument marking the site of the 'execution' of Piers Gaveston.

Saturday, 9 June 2018

June 9th 1312 disaster strikes!

Having surrendered to the Earl of Pembroke, Amyer de Valence, on very favourable terms, Piers Gaveston must have felt pretty confident that once again his luck would hold.  Although one of the Ordainers, who had banished Piers from England, Amyer de Valence was a chivalrous man.  He had accepted Gaveston's surrender at Scarborough Castle, with the promise that if no solution could be reached between Edward II, Piers would be allowed back to Scarborough with provisions to prepare for a siege.  

Amyer de Valence intended to keep custody of Piers and take him to his castle at Wallingford.  Stopping at Deddington, Oxford, for the night, Amyer had no cause for concern in entrusting Piers to a light, armed guard, while he headed to Bampton to visit his wife, Beatrice.  If only he'd taken Piers with him!   Maybe he had found Piers a tiresome prisoner, or maybe that well-known arrogance had begun to seriously grate on him, or more likely he just wanted some privacy with his wife.  Neither he nor Piers could have known that Guy, Earl of Warwick, had been keeping a careful eye on events, and with a thirst for revenge, and no doubt expecting Piers to wriggle out of any punishment that might be meted out to him, Warwick seized his chance and arrived at Deddington  while Amyer was away.  The horror Piers must have felt when he realised he was now in the custody of a very different jailer can only be imagined at.  And yet, did he think that Amyer de Valence's oath would ensure his survival?   How wrong he was!  Piers was taken to Warwick castle - where another deadly enemy awaited him, Thomas of Lancaster.

The imposing entrance to Warwick Castle.

The dungeon at Warwick Castle - it seems likely that Warwick would have kept Piers here rather than in some better chamber.

Saturday, 19 May 2018

May 19th - this day in history

May 19th marks 2 important events for me.  The first if the execution of Queen Anne Boleyn at the Tower of London.  Being a Saturday, I had initially made plans to visit the Tower today, but due to other Royal event taking place (!) decided London was best avoided.    Rest in Peace, Anne Boleyn.

                       These pictures are from last year.

May 19th also marks the anniversary of Piers Gaveston surrendering to the Earl of Pembroke at Scarborough Castle after a failed siege.  Of course, Piers surrendered on very favourable terms and no doubt expected to wriggle out of this setback.  How wrong he was.

                           Entrance to Scarborough Castle.

And of course, the Royal event taking place at Windsor today will also go down in history.

This is St George's chapel at Windsor, burial place of Henry VIII and Jane Seymour.

Tuesday, 8 May 2018

The Ordinances of 1311

The Ordinances of 1311 were the result of an exasperated nobility seeking to curb the powers of Edward II and banish Piers Gaveston once and for all.  It was drawn up and signed by the Earls of Gloucester, Lancaster, Lincoln, Pembroke, Hereford, Warwick, Richmond and Arundel, as well as the clergy and nobility. 

The damning Ordinance against Piers - although there are thinly veiled attacks on him in others - is Ordinance number 20.

Because it is known, and by examination by the prelates, earls and barons, knights and other good people of the kingdom found, that Piers Gavaston has acted badly towards and has badly advised our lord the king and has incited him to do wrong in divers and deceptive ways; in taking possession of for himself all the king’s treasure and sending it out of the kingdom; in drawing to himself royal power and royal dignity, as in making alliances on oath with people to live and die with him against all men, and this by the treasure he acquires from day to day; in lording it over the estate of the king and of the crown, to the ruin of the king and of the people; and especially in estranging the heart of the king from his lieges; in despising their counsels, not allowing good officers to carry out the law of the land; in removing good officers, appointing those of his own gang, as well aliens as others, who at his will and command offend against right and the law of the land; in taking the king’s lands, tenements and bailiwicks to himself and his heirs; and has Caused the king to give lands and tenements of his crown to divers people to the great loss and diminution of the estate of the king and of his crown, and this as well since the ordinance that the king granted to the ordainers to act for the profit of himself and his people as before against the ordinance of the ordainers ; and in maintaining robbers and murderers and getting for them the king’s charter of his peace, in emboldening wrongdoers to do worse, and in taking the king into a land where there is war without the common assent of his baronage to the danger of his person and the ruin of the kingdom, and in causing blank charters under the great seal of the king to be sealed to the deceit and disinheritance of the king and of his crown, and against his homage; and feloniously, falsely and traitorously has done the aforesaid things to the great dishonour and loss of the king and disinheriting of the crown and to the ruin of his people in many ways: And in addition to this we having regard to what was done by the most noble king, the father of the present king, by whose adjudgment the aforesaid Piers abjured the realm of England and whose will it was that our lord the king, his son, should abjure forever his company, and that since by the common assent of all the realm and of the king and of the same prelates, earls and barons it was heretofore adjudged that he should leave the said realm, and he did leave it, and that his return was never by common assent, but only by the assent of some individuals who agreed to it on condition of his behaving well after his return: and now his bad conduct is established beyond doubt, for which conduct and for the great wickednesses aforementioned and for the many others that could befall our lord the king and his people, and in order to foster good understanding between the king and his people and avoid many kinds of discords and dangers, We ordain, by virtue of the commission our lord the king granted us, that Piers Gavaston as the evident enemy of the king and of his people be completely exiled as well from the kingdom of England, Scotland, Ireland and Wales as from the ‘whole lordship of our lord the king overseas as well as on this side, forever without ever returning; and that he leave the kingdom of England and all the aforesaid lands and absolutely all the lordship of our lord the king between now and the feast of All Saints next to come; and we assign to him as port in the way aforesaid Dover and nowhere else for crossing and leaving. And if the said Piers stays in the kingdom of England or anywhere else in the lordship of our lord the king beyond the said day that has been given him for leaving and crossing as is aforesaid, then let there be done with him as would be done with the enemy of the king and of the kingdom and of his people. And let all those who from now on contravene this ordinance with regard to the said exile or the penalty that follows, be dealt with accordingly, if they are convicted of it.

The hatred of the nobility is crystal clear.  There was no way back for Piers - his third banishment should have been his last.  And yet, both Edward and Piers ignored it, and Piers was back in a few short months - if he had ever even left.  Whatever were they thinking of????

The Ordinances from the archives.

Friday, 27 April 2018

Edward of Westminster

In my last post I published photos I took of an April Fool in Tewkesbury a few years ago - an obvious spoof  of Richard III, 'The King in the Car Park'.   I was reminded of it because I've been reading books about the so-called Wars of the Roses.  I've visited Tewkesbury quite a few times in the last few years, and always visit the Abbey, the real site of the burial of Edward of Westminster.  There is no grand tomb for him - merely a brass plaque added years later.

Edward's story is a tragic one - of a life cut short and, like Prince Arthur, elder brother of Henry VIII, a life that promised so much.  Edward was the only son of Henry VI and his Queen, Margaret of Anjou.  He was born at Westminster, hence the name he is known by.  Deprived by his birthright by the usurpation of Edward IV, Edward was forced to flee with his mother to the French Court, whilst his father was shabbily treated and kept a prisoner in the Tower of London.   Whilst Edward remained in France, he was still a threat, and this is why Henry VI was kept alive.  When Edward IV and his staunch supporter the Earl of Warwick finally fell out, Edward's chance to reclaim the throne for his father had arrived.   Warwick fled with his family to France to beg Margaret of Anjou to join him in a plan to return her husband to the throne.  The bargain was sealed with the marriage of Edward of Westminster, and Warwick's younger daughter, Anne Neville.  

Warwick set off ahead of Margaret and her son, and was killed at the battle of Barnet.  This left the 17-year-old inexperienced Edward of Westminster to lead the Lancastrian army at the battle of Tewkesbury, a role he did not shirk.  George, Duke of Clarence, brother of Edward IV, was married to Warwick's eldest daughter, and was involved in the plot to restore Henry VI.  He changed sides, and was now involved in the battle fighting with his brothers, Edward IV and Richard, Duke of Gloucester.  There are varying accounts of how Edward died at Tewkesbury.  One version has him killed in battle, whilst a more sinister version has him brought before the 3 York brothers, and, refusing to acknowledge Edward IV as king, was stabbed to death by all 3.  He was hastily buried in Tewkesbury, with no tomb provided for him.  Edward IV wanted no memory of Edward of Westminster, and his death sealed his father's fate - Henry VI was put to death in the Tower.

One can only try to imagine how devastated Margaret of Anjou was.  Her beloved son, the Lancastrian hope, had been slain, and his death led to his father's.   Margaret was imprisoned in the Tower and eventually released.  She went back to France, and lived out her days there.  She died in August 1482.  If only she had lived a few more years, she would have seen the destruction of her bitter enemies, the Yorkists, and the Lancastrian cause led by Henry Tudor.

It's with some irony that George, Duke of Clarence, was later put to death on the orders of his own brother, the king.  He too was buried in Tewkesbury, and the vault in which he was buried, along with his wife, regularly flooded, and now only several bones remain.

Also buried, eventually, in Tewkesbury, was Hugh Despencer, former favourite of Edward II.

The grill covering the vault of George, Duke of Clarence.

Tomb of Hugh Despencer.
                                                                 Tewkesbury Abbey