Monday, 16 February 2015

Edward II and Neath Abbey

Neath Abbey was once the biggest abbey in Wales.  It was founded in 1129 on land given by Richard de Grenville to Savigniac monks, and in 1147, it became a house for Cistercian monks.  Like most religious orders, the Abbey was dissolved, and a Tudor manor house built amongst the ruins.    The site is now owned by CADW, and has recently featured as a backdrop for tv shows such as Dr. Who and Da Vinic's Demons.  On warm, sunny days people visit to walk through the vast grounds or climb the ruins.   I visited it last year, and was disappointed that there was no mention of one of the most dramatic events in history occurring there.  For it was here, on November 6, 1326, that Edward II and Hugh Despencer found themselves shortly before they were captured.   

Despencer, of course, held vast lands in Wales, including the impressive Caerphilly Castle, where Edward and Despencer sought refuge when Edward's Queen, Isabella, landed with an army to depose Edward.  Caerphilly Castle was a mighty fortress, and should easily have been able to hold out if under siege.  For reasons unknown, Edward and Hugh left Caerphilly for Neath Abbey.  It seems a foolhardy thing to do - leave a well-fortified castle for a religious house - but maybe Edward hoped the Abbey would provide him with sanctuary?  He sent the abbot to try to negotiate with Isabella, but when no compromise could be reached, Edward and Hugh set out to return to Caerphilly Castle.  It was on their return that Edward and Hugh were captured.  For many years afterwards, stories about Edward's possessions being 'stolen' or found around Neath Abbey have persisted.  There are stories of gold coins being found after being hidden in various nooks and crannies in the Abbey.  Rumour has it Edward had £30,000 with him.  And yet, visitors to Neath Abbey have no idea of this part of the Abbey's history, for no-where on the information boards is it mentioned.  How can such an important part of history be ignored?  Below are some of the pictures I took.

 Above - the Tudor Manor House.  Below are the ruins of the Abbey.

Sunday, 1 February 2015

It's all Sharon Penman's fault......

I'm afraid I've neglected this blog for a few weeks, and I'm blaming Sharon Penman:)   On the recommendation of  Kasia , I started reading 'The Devil's Brood', and have been hooked on it.  It's over 800 pages long, but once you pick it up, it's difficult to put it down, and if you can't devote at least an hour session to it, then don't pick it up.  Having studied the Angevins at university over 20 years ago, it's been some time since I did any reading on them, apart from the odd King John article.  It was very nice to be re-united with them, even in fiction.  'The Devil's Brood' is extremely well written and absorbing, detailing the squabbles amongst Henry II and his sons.  They all have their flaws.  I still can't help feeling sorry for Henry II with his grasping, never-satisfied sons.  

2015 marks the 800th anniversary of Magna Carta, and as expected, there will be a slew of new books on it.  I'm bracing myself for an onslaught of 'tyrannical' King John.  There's also a new book on William Marshal, 'The Greatest Knight: The remarkable life of William Marshal' by Thomas Asbridge, which I've just ordered. 

Magna Carta also features on the cover of the February issue of the BBC History magazine - and inside is a very good review of Kathryn Warner's   book on Edward II, by Nicholas Vincent, professor of medieval history at the University of East Anglia.

History Today magazine has an excellent article by Ian Mortimer on the DNA controversy of Richard III's remains see  BBC report on Richard III's DNA   Far from casting doubting on the paternity of John of Gaunt, Mortimer makes a convincing argument that the paternity of  Edward III's grandson, Richard of Conisbrough, the grandfather of Richard III, is far more questionable.

Hopefully a Piers-related post will follow soon!

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.