Monday, 8 October 2018

A visit to Hereford

This summer I visited Hereford for the first time in many, many years.  Hereford is famous for it's cathedral, first started in the 8th century (made of wood, and which the Welsh burned to the ground).  The oldest part of the cathedral dates from the 11th Century.  It is most famous for the Mappa Mundi, a medieval map of the world that dates from 1300.   There is a charge to see the Mappa Mundi, but it is well worth seeing, as is the 'chained library', containing many books hundreds of years old.

Hereford Cathedral

The chained library at Hereford Cathedral.  Books are hundreds of years old.

This plaque in the centre of Hereford commemorates the execution of Owen Tudor.
Owen Tudor was the father of Edmund and Jasper Tudor, grandfather of  the future Henry VII.  He was married to the widow of Henry V, Catherine of Valois.  It was a love match, with the couple marrying secretly in 1429.  He was a former squire in her household.  There are 2 legends associated with the courting couple - one has it that Owen was drunk and whilst dancing, fell into Catherine's lap, whilst another legend says that Catherine saw him bathing in a nearby river - and liked what she saw!  It was a shocking and controversial marriage - Catherine was still very young and the mother of the infant Henry VI.   Fortunately, the couple managed to ride out the storm, and Henry VI was close to his 2 step-brothers, making Edmund Earl of Richmond and Jasper Earl of Pembroke.   Edmund went on to marry the richest heiress in the kingdom - Margaret Beaufort.  Margaret was very young, but despite this found herself pregnant - and widowed - at the age of 13.  That is another story.  As for Owen, he supported his stepson Henry VI, fighting for the Lancastrian cause.  He was captured at the Battle of Mortimer's Cross.  Possibly expecting to be ransomed, he became a victim of the vengeance of the Yorkists, who executed him in the town centre.  The Duke of York, father of the future Edward IV, had recently been killed and his head stuck on the Micklegate Bar in York.  Becoming aware that he was to be executed, Owen is quoted as saying "that hede shalle ly on the stocke that wass wonte to ly on Quene Katheryns lappe".  Owen's head was placed on the market cross, where it was washed and cleaned by an unknown woman who lit candles around it.  His body was buried in Greyfriars Church in Hereford.  

Saturday, 15 September 2018

Another visit to Ludlow Castle

I first went to Ludlow Castle in my teens, and after absence of almost 25 years, I find myself going 3 times in the last 2 years.  During my last visit, I explored and blogged about the apartments of Prince Arthur and Katherine of Aragon, and was intrigued by this -

A platform had just been opened and led to the private apartments of the Prince.
This door prevented climbing the staircase to Prince Arthur's bedchamber.
I'm delighted to stay that this door is now open and the narrow, steep stairway leads to Prince Arthur's private bedchamber/apartments.  It certainly pays to keep going back to these places!  Well done to all at Ludlow Castle for their continued renovations.  Here's my pictures of the private apartments.

Some parts are still a no go area.

And once again, I ask myself 'if only walls could talk........'

Wednesday, 22 August 2018

Anniversary of the battle of Bosworth, August 22nd 1485

During my visit to the Cotswolds, I had the opportunity to visit the Bosworth Battlefield Exhibition Centre.  I would recommend a visit to the Battlefield Centre, even if it can be a bit tricky to find.  It's a fascinating exhibition, giving equal status to Richard III and Henry VII.  Both their stories are told really well, without bias.  There's also an explanation about the difficulty in identifying where exactly the battle was fought, as well as an explanation of what happened.   There's also a superb memorial to all those involved on that day.

Dramatic reconstruction of the crown allegedly found in a bush after the battle.

Calculating where the battle took place.

Examples and explanation of weapons used in the battle.

How the battle panned out.

Memorial to all those involved in the battle.

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.