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.

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.