Friday, 12 August 2016

A little bit of Shakespeare (sort of)

As it's summer here, I've been travelling around visiting some of my favourite places and those places on my wish list.  I love going to Stratford-Upon-Avon, and find myself going to re-visit every couple of years.  Of course, with it being the 400th anniversary of Shakespeare's death, Stratford was on my to do list.  For a start, there was a new exhibition at the birthplace, with Shakespeare's actual will on show, borrowed from the National Archives. (unfortunately, it's now been returned ).   Also, for the first time, Shakespeare's grammar school was open to the public, and is well worth a visit (more on that in a later post).   However, for me, the real gem was a visit to Harvard House.  I must have walked past it many times, and just thought it another Tudor house in Stratford.   It's in High Street.   It has no actual connection to Shakespeare, other than he would have known the occupants of the house.  It was built in 1596 by Thomas Rogers.  Rogers was an Alderman and served alongside Shakespeare's father.   He was a successful cattle and corn merchant.   Rogers daughter Katherine married Robert Havard of Southwark.  Their son John emigrated to  America.  John founded an education establishment that went on to be Harvard University.  Unbelievably, in the early 1900s, Stratford council wanted to 'modernise' the property, and thanks to novelist Maria Corelli's campaign to save it, it was purchased and given to Harvard University.  It's been restored and is now part of the Shakespeare's Birthplace Trust.   It's well worth a visit to see how a Tudor house actually was in the 1590s.  Here are some of my pictures.

 Here's the house from the outside.  Note the US flag.
 Inside the house, an example of wattle and daub used to build the house.
                                                        A bedroom in the house.  
 An escape hatch built into the roof.  The house did not have a thatched roof, but being aware of fires in the house in general, an escape hatch was built.
 Some of the original 'wallpaper', made of a certain paste and a stencil used to draw a repeating pattern.  Using the original, the rest of the wall has been restored.
Original Tudor furniture commonly found in merchant houses.

And yes, I did go to Warwick castle, scene of Pier's downfall.   I visited the dungeon, shuddered, and hoped once again that Guy of Warwick kept him in the prisoners rooms above.  Somehow, I doubt it.

Tuesday, 12 July 2016

Oystermouth Castle

I'm going to dedicate this blog post to my blog friend Gabriele  from The Lost Fort/.     I know Gabriele has a big interest in castles and their defences, and has been blogging about the castles of Wales.   Well here's another one for her to view - and it's quite unique.  

This is Oystermouth castle in the small village of Mumbles, near Swansea.  It was originally built in the early 12th Century by William de Londres.  It later became the chief residence for the Lords of Gower.  The oldest part of the castle is the keep.

If you haven't spotted it already, the reason Oystermouth is unique is that the towers at the front of the castle are square, not round.  I've been told it's the only medieval castle to have square towers still standing.  I suspect the others long fell victim to the battering rams and siege machines of the middle ages.

The castle stands on the top of a hill with fantastic views of the coast and sea.  Here's the view from a window at the top of the castle.

One of the castles claims to fame is that Edward Ist spent Christmas there is 1284.   In recent years, the castle has benefited from a grant from the Welsh Assembly to carry out conservation work at Oystermouth, and it was during this work that the very feint remains of a painting in the chapel was discovered.   it appears to be the outline of an angel, and dates from the 14th Century.  It's been badly damaged by exposure to the elements.  

Here's a picture of the restoration work.  A glass walkway allows access to this floor, and the painting of the angel is near the arch on the right. It's a fabulous castle with access to storerooms and staircases that lead underground.

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.