Saturday, 18 April 2015

Dan Jones 'Secrets of British Castles'

Channel 5 is currently showing another Dan Jones series, this time called 'Secrets of British Castles', and this week's was about Warwick Castle.  I just KNEW it would feature the fate of Piers.  And of course, with Dan Jones' usual colloquialisms.  I was right on both counts.  OK, it's wonderful to have a series on castles, especially ones you've been to, and the scenery was fantastic.  Unfortunately, you have to put up with 'potted' history, with mere snippets of what actually happened.  So, we have an 'idle, naive' Edward as king, and a 'rude and obnoxious' Piers.   We were 'treated' to actors playing the parts of them, and they didn't speak a word but walked around in silence looking terribly serious.  Edward looked about 50 years old, thoroughly miserable, and dressed in black, and Piers looked less than half his age with a pudding bowl haircut, which made them seem like 'the odd couple'.  They didn't look in the least like a hedonistic couple, which would perhaps have explained the attraction.

Dan Jones says Edward liked nothing more than hanging around with his 'best mate' when he should have been running the country.  He doesn't say they were 'making out' all the time though, which is something.  He speculates on the relationship - were they lovers, friends, a brotherhood, or 'something else' - hmmm, how about father and son, judging by the actors playing them!   There's no mention of Queen Isabella, Piers wife and his previous exiles.

We hear of Piers being exiled, and how Guy of Warwick captured him when he returned 'on the road to Deddington' - as if Piers had been out for a stroll.  No mention of the siege of Scarborough Castle and Pembroke's promise whilst he was in custody.   Jones does say that Piers was subjected to a 'kangaroo' court with no chance of justice.  But then we're told Piers was 'dragged kicking and screaming, begging for mercy' to Blacklow Hill.  All presented as truth.  And Jones adds that Edward would have his revenge - which he did with his cousin Thomas of Lancaster, and also attributes Guy of Warwick's demise to Edward.  Undoubtedly Edward would have taken his revenge, but there's no evidence he was connected with the death of Warwick.

If it's any consolation, other stories connected with Warwick Castle didn't fair any better, particularly those of Warwick the Kingmaker, and Daisy, Countess of Warwick.  Still, it was great to see that fabulous castle.

Wednesday, 8 April 2015


Bit of a 'random' post today.  Hence the title digging.  It's well known that Edward II liked nothing better than thatching a roof or digging ditches - although I rather think Piers would do anything to avoid digging a ditch if he could:)    Of course, recently, digging has been in the news due to the discovery of the bones of Richard III in a car park in Leicester.   TV in Britain was bombarded with coverage of his final journey from Bosworth to Leicester cathedral - hours, and hours of it, plus endless debates on Richard's character.  All this coverage has led some to ask about the cost of the excavation and re-burial, and who paid what.  According to the British newspaper, here is the break down of the costs.

For the search and excavation, the costs was £142,663, of which Leicester University paid £114,050 and the Richard III society paid £18,083.

Leicester Cathedral paid an eye-watering £2.5 million on the coffin and the tomb, and apparently this was matched by fund-raising and donations.  The Express does not know who paid for the policing, road works and local authority time.  Leicester Cathedral think that it will be money well-spent, as with all the publicity it will increase tourism and they will make a profit.  So you can now buy Richard III t-shirts - several varieties - mugs, key rings, mouse mats, shopping bags, baseball hats, posters, greetings cards, aprons - you name, you can buy it.   For me, the best part of the coverage was David Starkey's views and and my favourite Ricardian, John Ashdown-Hill.

Of course, the discovery of Richard's remains has led to coverage of requests to either search or dig up other royal or famous remains.  An academic has says he knows where King Stephen is buried, the search is in for King Alfred, there's a petition for a rather bizarre request to have Anne Boleyn pardoned and re-buried in Westminster Abbey and another academic would like the remains of Shakespeare dug up and examined so we can find out what his lifestyle was like!  Maybe Shakespeare knew he would be regarded as a genius and this may well happen to him, hence the 'curse' placed on his grave.

  Good friend for Jesus sake forbeare,
To dig the dust enclosed here.
Blessed be the man that spares these stones,
And cursed be he that moves my bones.

No doubt there will follow a campaign to have the bones buried in Innocents Corner in an urn in Westminster Abbey re-examined - something the Queen has refused many times.  She is satisfied the bones are those of the 'Little Princes in the Tower'  and sees no reason for them to be re-examined.  There's no doubt in my mind they are the bones of the princes - who else would be secretly buried in a chest under a staircase in the White Tower?  Of course, what everyone would like to know is the age of the bones and any clues as to how the princes died.

Of course, from an Edward II point of view, an examination of his tomb and bones might help us find out his fate - is it really him buried in the tomb?  and if so, what actual age was he when he died?  Now there's a mystery worth solving!

Saturday, 28 March 2015

BBC History magazine - Ian Mortimer's response to Kathryn's book....

Kathryn Warner's marvellous Edward II book was re-viewed previously in BBC History magazine, and the reviewer, Professor Nicholas Vincent responded to Kathryn's work on the possible survival of Edward was 'entirely speculative'.    In the April edition of the magazine, historian Ian Mortimer has written a superb response to the review, praising Kathryn's research and telling us to look at the contemporary evidence rather than the later evidence by certain academics ( though obviously not those who think Edward spent his entire reign making out with Piers).

Mortimer wrote a terrific book, 'Medieval Intrigue' in which he challenges those academics who will not even consider the likely survival of Edward II, when there is plenty of contemporary evidence.  It's ironic in the week when Richard III was re-buried was all pomp and ceremony, where we've had Ricardians on TV protesting his innocence blaming Shakespeare for his tarnished reputation, a work of fiction, where there is plenty of contemporary evidence to condemn him,  and yet certain academics rely on chroniclers writing well after the death of Edward as their sources, and won't consider the contemporary evidence.

If only Shakespeare had written such a superb play about Edward II as he did with his pantomime villain Richard, we may well have had The Edward II Society fighting to find out his true story.  Richard has a lot to thank Shakespeare for;).

Thursday, 26 March 2015

The Lost Chronicle' of Ralph of the 'Splendid Sunne'.

This post was inspired by a recent post on Kathryn Warner's brilliant Edward II website - Edward II makes out.....   Now, having read Kathryn's thoroughly re-searched new book on Edward II, I was amazed that she had over-looked chronicles and eminent professors who seemed to have access to documents not available anywhere else which prove that Edward II never had sexual relations with THAT woman, ie, his wife, and that he spent his reign 'making out' with Piers.

  So I did a little research and found the 'lost' chronicle of Ralph and the 'Splendid Sun' - and yes, here was the missing evidence!  Here are some quotes from it.

On Piers being made his squire, Prince Edward immediately 'ceased all princely activities and made out constantly with his new squire Piers'.

On the knighting of the Prince and Piers, 'the ceremony was delayed, on account of said Prince Edward making out with Piers'.

Here we have the evidence again - when Edward Ist lost his temper  when the Prince asked his father for Ponthieu for Piers.   'The Prince was loathe to continually make out with Piers in Langley, and asked his father for Ponthieu where they might make out in the sunshine'.   When the old king asked his son if he and Piers acted as brothers, 'the prince replieth - come on Pa, we make out whenever we get the chance!'.  No wonder Piers was banished.

On Piers being made Earl of Cornwall, Ralph tells us 'the new King, liking Cornwall and it's magnificent castle, made Piers the Earl, and said how he couldn't wait to make out with Piers in the castle, hopefully with some role-play as King Arthur and Sir Lancelot.  However, the new Earl demandeth that he playeth the role of King Arthur, and such was the king's lust to make out, he agreed'.

Here we have the news that Piers was left as regent while Edward II went to France to marry Isabella.  On his return, Edward leapt from his ship, crashed through the waves 'and to the shock of all around, began to make out in the surf with Piers'.  And at last we have the truth about what went on at the Coronation banquet.   The food was indeed inedible,  'it burnt to a said crisp, for none could start as the king was late, too busy making out the Earl of Cornwall'.  Far from being upset, Isabella breathed a sigh of relief  ' forsooth I am grateful to the handsome Piers, as I am only but 12 years of age.  He may make out with Piers as oft as he wishes, otherwise, he may appear a said pervert'.

And so it goes on - 'the king loveth to thatch ye old roof, and invite up Piers onto the roof to make out',  'the king liketh nothing better than to make out with Piers after a good day's ditch digging' and the king spent his time with the common people 'except when he made out with the said Piers, who demanded to make out only in luxury'.

According to Ralph, to save the king's blushes, Thomas of Lancaster omitted from the Ordinances 'the king must stop making out with Piers Gaveston non-stop - give someone else a chance'.  So now we know the real reason why Piers was banished!

So far, this is all I have been able to find.  I shall keep on researching this fascinating topic;)

Saturday, 7 March 2015

What did Piers Gaveston look like?

How any times have I asked myself that question?  I find it incredibly frustrating that there is no physical description of Piers in his lifetime anywhere!  We're told about his arrogance, vanity, military skills, wit, gracefulness and good manners - but nothing about his physical appearance.   Undoubtedly, Edward II must surely have had a portrait/painting of him commissioned - possibly inter-grated into a mural or painting onto a wall of a palace.  Paintings from the time of Edward II are often crude in their portrayal.  Take this contemporary painting of Edward II.

At least we can see Edward had blonde hair and have some idea of his size and body shape.  Even a painting of Piers like this would tell us the same information - his hair colour and build.  Any paintings of Piers must have been destroyed after Edward's 'death' (or disappearance).  Either white-washed over of completely destroyed.  Of course, the best likeness for Piers would come from his tomb effigy - something else which frustrates me.
It's extraordinary that his father's tomb still has his effigy - even if it is in quite poor condition.  Edward II, however, would have ensured that Piers' tomb would have had a fine effigy, and when you see the effigy of the tomb of Edward II himself, it's clear that the artists of the time put more effort into 3D representations  than they did into paintings.

Of course Edward II was a king, and his son wanted a fitting tomb and effigy for his father.  But just look at the detail that has gone into the curl in the hair and the beard, as well as the serene expression on the king's face.  The writing on the face was carved by mischievous schoolboys in the 1800's - basically, graffiti.  Would Edward II himself commissioned such a fine effigy of Piers?  It seems more than likely that he did.  Although his father, Edward I, has no fine effigy on his tomb, Edward II was short of money when he ascended the throne, and there was little love lost between father and son anyway.  It was recorded that Edward held an elaborate funeral for Piers,  He spent a great deal of money on the tomb, and surely he would have had an effigy.   

Although we have no contemporary images of Piers, many Victorian artists reproduced what I call romanticised versions of what they thought historical personalities looked like.  So we have haunting portraits of Lady Jane Grey and the 'Princes in the Tower', and then we have this painting of Edward and Piers.

This painting is by the artist Marcus Stone, and was painted in 1872.  We don't even get to see Piers' face!  Just a highly amused Edward II, and undoubtedly a disapproving Queen Isabella and courtiers - and the back of Piers' head!  If only Piers' effigy was not destroyed, but lies somewhere, either underground, or wrongly thought of as someone else.

Btw, the BBC will be showing their new drama series Poldark on Sunday evening - with Kyle Soller playing Francis Poldark - Soller was the actor I saw playing Piers' at the National Theatre. 

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!