Saturday, 14 January 2017

Best Books of 2016

Here's a list of some of the best books I read in 2016.  Most are non-fiction, although I did read a lot of non-fiction, but only 1 makes my list.

1.  Isabella of France, Rebel Queen, by Kathryn Warner.  A superb book about Edward II's Queen and how her marriage was actually happy, to begin with!  In hindsight, we have the benefit of knowing that Isabella was successful in her coup, but she was treading an unknown path.  As usual with Kathryn Warner, there is a great deal of supporting evidence from exemplary research.

2.  Game of Queens, the women who made 16th Century Europe, by Sarah Gristworth.  A superb book that makes you realise the 16th Century had many powerful women, who though they may not be Queens, acted as regents or wielded immense power behind the throne.  Their names were well-known to me, but I knew very little about the life of Margaret of Angouleme and Margaret of Austria - I do now and their lives were fascinating.

3.  The Private Lives of the Tudors by Tracy Borman.  Borman's 'Thomas Cromwell' made it onto a previous list, and this book is a great read as well.  Lots of facts about the Tudors - some hidden, some well-known, and some, erm, not quite true.   

4.  In the Footsteps of the Six Wives of Henry VIII  by Sarah Morris.  A comprehensive guide to all the places that have a connection to the wives of Henry VIII.   

5. Red Roses: from Blanche of Lancaster to Margaret Beaufort by Amy Licence.  Really enjoyed this book about the 'Red Roses' of Lancaster.  I knew very little about Blanche of Lancaster and found her story intriguing, while my admiration of Margaret Beaufort grew even more!

6.  Prince Arthur, the Tudor King who never was, by Sean Cunningham.  A superb account of the life of Prince Arthur.  I often feel Arthur is a maligned figure in Tudor history, written off as a sickly youth, when this is far from the truth, but this myth continues to be perpetuated in both fiction and non-fiction. 2016 saw yet another novel about Katherine of Aragon and her 'sickly' bridegroom.  Cunningham shows how Arthur was vital to the plans of Henry VII and Elizabeth of York, and the training that was invested in him to be king.  Arthur and his family knew his destiny from birth.  If Arthur were the sickly bridegroom so often reported, how strange no-one commented on it on his wedding day, when he would be 'on view' to the public.   It served the interests of others to proclaim Arthur as sickly.  Arthur is one Tudor personality I often think about 'what if....?'  He would have been far more capable than his brother Henry.

7.  Crown of Blood:  the deadly inheritance of Lady Jane Grey, by Nicola Tallis    Superb account of the life of Lady Jane Grey - whose life was clearly not her own.   Quite rightly puts the blame where it deserves to be - on the shoulders of the Duke of Northumberland.

8.  'Wars of the Roses - Ravenspur' by Conn Iggulden   I cannot find the words to say how much I enjoyed this series of books by Conn Iggulden, and mourn the fact there will be no more.  The tension builds towards the Battle of Barnet and even though you know what is going to happen, it's almost unbearable.  Although fiction, it enhanced my admiration for Warwick the Kingmaker.  I will miss Derry Brewer!

9.  'The Wars of the Roses - the Key Players' by Matthew Lewis.  An account of who and where that makes everything clear in this confusing period of history.

10.  The King's Bed - Sex, Power and the court of Charles II, by Don Jordan and Michael Walsh.  Made me realise how fickle and weak Charles II actually was.

Thursday, 5 January 2017

HAPPY NEW YEAR!

Something a bit different today.   The tale of a Welsh New Year custom - Mari Llwyd - it has 2 meanings - either 'The Grey Mare' or 'Holy Mary'.  I've actually attended a 'performance' of 'Mari Llywd' in recent years.  Here's an article from the Museum of Wales which explains the customThe Mari Llywd


Thursday, 22 December 2016

Just to wish everyone a Merry Christmas and Happy New Year!



Nadolig Llawen a Blwyddyn Newydd Dda!

Peace and goodwill to all!

Tuesday, 1 November 2016

Wedding of Piers Gaveston and Margaret de Clare

November 1st, All Saints Day, marks the anniversary of Piers Gaveston and Edward II's niece Margaret de Clare.  The couple were married at Berkhamstead Castle in 1307.  Margaret was around the age of 14, and Piers was probably in his mid 20's.   It was a fine match for Piers - and Margaret!  Margaret was the second daughter of Gilbert de Clare, Earl of Hertford, and the king's sister, Joan of Acre.   She was a royal bride and could expect a worthy marriage.   What better, as far as Edward II was concerned, than to marry his favourite into the royal family?  According to the Vita Edwardi Secunda, Edward wanted the marriage to 'to strengthen Piers and surround him with friends'.Margaret also gained - her new husband was the Earl of Cornwall.

Whatever anyone thought of the wedding, Edward was determined to give the couple a wedding to remember.  Jewels were presented to the couple, Margaret received a palfrey worth £20, and pennies to the value £7 10s 6d  were thrown over the couples heads at the church door.  The ladies-in-waiting received cloth of gold and pearls as presents. The king himself attended, as did the Earl of Pembroke.  Edward was in a generous mood - he made a payment to Richard le Kroc of Berkhamstead of 5s for damages caused to the property during the celebrations.  

The historian Seymour Phillips makes the point that Gilbert de Clare would never have agreed to marrying his sister to Piers if Edward and Piers had been lovers.  Likewise, he says Phillip 4th would never have allowed his daughter Isabella to marry Edward if he knew of the relationship.   I think this is a very naive point of view.  Marriage contracts were usually arranged and signed without due regard to the bride's feelings.  Gilbert de Clare was close in age to both Piers and Edward, and would have known what the relationship between the pair was.  He would also have known both Edward and Piers would have wanted marriages - it was their duty to marry and hopefully provide heirs.   His sister was strengthening family ties by marrying the King's favourite.  The fact Piers was Earl of Cornwall, and his sister would now be a Countess, added to the honour and prestige of the family.  We don't know what Margaret's views were, though she if often portrayed in historical fiction as a naive, unwilling girl - but she was only 14, knew her duty to her family and her king, and who knows, she may have just found the charismatic, handsome and impeccably mannered Piers to her liking.











This is an aerial view of Berkhamstead Castle - all that remains of it.
Source: Hamilton's 'Piers Gaveston, Earl of Cornwall'.
Seymour Phillips 'Edward II'

Thursday, 6 October 2016

The Bastard Executioner on UK TV

The History Channel in the UK is currently showing 'The Bastard Executioner' on Tuesday nights.  I've been waiting for this show for a couple of months after first hearing about it on Kathryn's  Edward II blog.  I've read mixed reviews, and then that the show has been cancelled.  Still, any show that features Piers Gaveston HAS to be watched.  The actor playing Piers is called Tom Forbes.

The series focuses on Wilkin Brattle, a knight in the service of Edward Ist, who is betrayed and left for dead.  It's far too complicated to explain - and has nothing to do with Piers Gaveston - but Wilkin takes on the life and role of another man - the official punisher/executioner , based at Castle Ventris - hence he is 'the bastard executioner'.   , Piers has appeared in 3 episodes.   The episodes have Welsh and English titles.  The episodes are no.4 'A Hunger/Newyn'  no. 5 'Piss Profit/Proffidwyr Troeth' , and no. 9, 'The Bernadette Manuever/Cynllywn Bernadette'.

Episodes 4 and 5 focus on a character known as 'the Baroness', who has lost her husband and stands to lose her lands as she is childless.  She falsely claims to be pregnant - hmmm, the writers obviously knew about the widow of Gilbert de Clare, who tried the same ploy.  And guess who is after her lands?  yes, Piers Gaveston, who is called Sir Gaveston!  The Baroness is summoned by Edward II to Windsor, where she has to deal with Sir Gaveston, the king's chief adviser, who makes it plain she is not welcome.   Piers is referred to as a 'Frenchman', rather than Gascon.   Edward II makes only a fleeting appearance.  In episode 5, Piers travels to the home of the Baroness, where he behaves obnoxiously and takes 2 - yes 2! - women into his bedchamber to be entertained!  Who'd have thought it?  Piers a womaniser! haha!  He never gets that accusation flung at him.

Alas, episode 9 sees Piers meet his doom.  He is now an outlaw, pursued as he's hiding out after being exiled.  He's being held in a castle, whilst the Earl of Pembroke romps with his mistress.  He's pursued by.............the bastard executioner and his master, Milus!   Milus has one of the best lines  - ' 'He's there, I can smell the arrogance'.  Naturally they catch up with him, and the executioner does his job. Pembroke's mistress is 'tortured' so that Pembroke will break and say he surrendered Piers willingly.  But not before Milus makes Piers pay for humiliating him on his visit to castle Ventris.  You can find out all about the episode here  here.

I don't expect these type of dramas to be historically correct.  So Piers having 2 half twin sisters doesn't bother me really.   However, the series is far too nonsensical in it's story lines, with a fantasy theme running through it,  and far too gruesome for me.   Thank goodness Piers only had his head cut off, compared to how some of the others suffered.  Piers has THE best line - 'I do not regret loving someone above my status.  Even if this is the fate'.  If only he had said that!  

Saturday, 10 September 2016

Scarborough Castle Part 2

In this post, I'll focus on the history of Scarborough.  There is evidence of  a fortification of some sort at Scarborough going back almost 3,000 years. It's in an ideal position, high up on solid rock that faces the North Sea.  The Romans built a fort there in the 4th Century.  The site was ideal for a signal station.  You can still see a mock signal station there when you visit.  

It seems the first castle was built by William le Gros, the then Earl of York. In 1155, Henry II took control of the castle, and it was he who built the great tower.  The tower overlooked the growing town, the North Sea and most important, anyone approaching the castle.  It was an impressive fortress.  His son, King John, added some royal lodgings and another great hall, but these had fallen into disuse by the 14th century and had been turned into the castle kitchens, brewhouse and bakery.  The only remaining stretch of curtain wall still standing was also built by King John between 1202 to 1212.

The view of the castle from the bottom of the town - it's a steep climb!

The great tower built by Henry II.  It contained a chapel, great hall and private chambers for the king.


The current barbican and gatehouse were built in around 1300.  The walls are about 5.5 metres.  Outside of these walls there was ditch.  Once entering the castle through the barbican, there was another gatetower with 2 drawbridges, both with a portcullis.

The remains of the well at Scarborough Castle.


The gatehouse and curtain walls before you reach the great tower.

By the time Piers Gaveston took shelter in to Scarborough Castle, it was ideal for a long term siege.  However, Edward II and Piers had been surprised by an attack on the royal baggage train whilst at Newcastle, and both escaped by boat with whatever they could.  It was not ideal preparation for a long term siege, and after 2 weeks, Piers surrendered on very favourable terms - including the promise of being allowed to return to Scarborough Castle and prepare for a siege.  I'm sure we've all seen films/documentaries with castle under attack using trebuchets and siege towers.  I've been fortunate enough to see the trebuchet at Warwick castle being fired.  It was amazing! 


A model of a wooden siege tower.  It took time to build and could be easily burned down.


The working trebuchet at Warwick castle, which is usually fired twice a day.

  Attackers could also try to dig and undermine castle towers, use catapults and battering rams, whilst they themselves were under attack from the castle.   far more common were castle sieges that could last for months.  What was required was a castle stocked with provisions - food obviously being the most important.   Sieges could often last for up to six months, and during that time, the besieging lords would have to supply their men with wages, food and ale - a very expensive, and often futile attempt, to capture a castle and it's occupants.  This is what Piers would surely have been hoping for.  But for the disaster of Newcastle, Piers may well have had time to dig in for a long siege.


Friday, 2 September 2016



Visit to Scarborough Castle part 1


This summer I finally made it to Scarborough Castle.   The castle played a huge part in Piers Gaveston's life.   It was at Scarborough Castle that Piers sort refuge after returning from his third banishment.    The castle seemed ideal to withstand a siege.   It stands high above the current  town of Scarborough, on an impressive cliff face.     It should have been the ideal place to keep Piers safe.   He could have actually fled the castle by boat, if the worst came to the worst.  Instead, Piers surrendered.    So what went wrong?   It seems Piers and the castle were woefully prepared for a long term siege, and the terms of his surrender were just too good.   Piers was to surrender to Aymer de Valence, Earl of Pembroke.   Pembroke swore an oath to protect Piers.  Pembroke was to take custody of Piers while negotiations were made to try to resolve the tense situation.   If no agreement was reached, Piers would be allow to return to Scarborough Castle and prepare for a long term siege.  The conditions were very favourable to Piers, and, without the gift of hindsight, he readily accepted.


 The impressive keep at Scarborough Castle.   The main feature of the castle that remains.
                                  The view of the castle from the town of Scarborough.

                                           Information on the building of the castle.
                                                 The entrance to the castle.

There is a legend at the castle that the headless ghost of Piers haunts Scarborough castle and apparently 'pushes' people down a steep slope.  No sign of Piers and no pushing on my visit.

In my next post, I'll look more at the history of the castle and castle sieges.