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.

Sunday, 20 March 2016

Thank you Mr Postman!

I'm delighted to announce my postman arrived yesterday with Kathryn Warner's new book, 'Isabella of France: The Rebel Queen'.  Congratulations to Kathryn, on her second book.  Have to say, what a fantastic introduction, demolishing the many myths around Isabella, and reminding us to see her story in the context of her times.  Currently on Chapter 4 and loving it!

Saturday, 5 March 2016

A few thoughts on the relationship between Piers Gaveston, and Isabella, Queen of England. Part 1.

Any fiction book, and even some non-fiction books, portrays the relationship between Piers Gaveston and Isabella, wife and Queen of Edward II, as one of either dislike or hatred.  There are tales of Isabella watching in horror as her husband disembarks on his arrival back in England, crashing through the surf, to embrace and kiss Piers, not caring what anyone thinks.  Isabella is then humiliated during the Coronation, where Piers holds centre stage, and then the banquet when even more humiliation is heaped on her as the arms of Edward II and Piers Gaveston adorn the hall and Edward ignores his wife, the food is burnt, Isabella’s uncles, the counts of Valois and Evreux storm out in disgust, Isabella writes to her father bemoaning the neglect her husband has for her, and that he has even given all her wedding presents to Piers, who flaunts her jewels in front of everyone.   No wonder Isabella hated Piers, right?  Except all is not quite what it seems.
Isabella never saw her husband embrace Piers as soon as he set foot back in England, her uncles, although they did complain on their return to France, did not storm out of the banquet, there are no letters written by Isabella to her father from this time and of course, the wedding gifts were Edward’s, and he could do with them what he wished – even give them to Piers for safe keeping.  The negative stories emerge from chroniclers from the time or later, and we actually don’t know how Isabella or Piers felt about each other.  So in this post, I will offer my interpretation, which are just as valid as Thomas Walsingham’s or Agnes Strickland’s.
Isabella was only 12 when she married Edward – both Edward and Piers were in their 20s and already had a life-long bond – whether as a brotherhood or lovers.  Both men had illegitimate children, both married and had legitimate children with their wives.   So even if they were lovers, they both had had relationships with women and knew society’s expectations of them – to marry and produce heirs.  What better way for Edward to show his affection to Piers and bring him into the royal family by marring him to his niece, Margaret de Clare.  Edward himself showed no reluctance to marry Isabella.  But as she was only 12, what interest could she have held for him?   She was still a child, and far too young to share the royal bed.  Surely Isabella herself did not expect to share her husband’s bed at such a tender age?  And her father, King Philip, would surely never allow it.  At 12, her body was too young to bear a child, and she may not even have started her periods.  There must surely have been some agreement to wait.  Philip must also have been aware of Piers Gaveston.  He would have known about the exile of the favourite by Edward 1st, and the indecent haste in which Edward II recalled him after his father’s death.   While he may not have cared about any sexual relationship between Edward and Piers, hoping it would be discreet, he would have wanted to know how the relationship affected the court.   Would he send his daughter totally unprepared to England without any inkling of who Piers Gaveston was?  I doubt it.  Sending her uncles to support her, Isabella may even have been advised to try to please Gaveston, or to try to get along with him.  There is no way she could have insisted as a 12 year old that her husband banish his friend. 
Of course, Edward’s actions at the Coronation and the banquet were insensitive to his wife and no doubt offensive to the English nobility.  It’s my opinion that Edward saw his Coronation as almost his and Piers – he certainly didn’t want to share the limelight with a 12 year old girl, and he wanted to send a message to his nobles – Piers might have been exiled by his father, but now he was exalted above all.  Married into the royal family, allowed to wear purple (a royal colour), and taking a lead role in the Coronation, Edward couldn’t have made his thoughts clearer.  Displaying the Royal arms and Gaveston’s at the banquet, and making such a public display of his affection for Piers in front of everyone, Edward was setting the tone for his reign.  No doubt he was thoughtless and tactless towards his wife – but this was more about sending a message to his nobles.  Isabella had had her introduction to life at the English court and Piers Gaveston – no doubt she felt humiliated, but she knew she would find a way to live with Edward – and Piers.

I hope to write a follow-up to this post soon - how the relationship developed, and what did Piers think of Isabella.

Monday, 15 February 2016

Kings Langley - resting place of Piers Gaveston

The royal residence at Kings Langley was probably the favourite residence of Edward II, and it could possibly be the place where he clapped eyes on Piers Gaveston for the first time. 

   There had been a hunting lodge at Langley from the time of Henry III, but it wasn’t until the time of Edward’s mother, Eleanor of Castile, that a ‘royal residence’ became firmly established. Most of the building was done between 1279-1281. In 1302, the palace was given to Eleanor’s son, Edward II. Edward had in fact spent a great deal of time there anyway.

    In 1308, Edward II established a Dominican Priory at Kings Langley. The Dominicans were a personal favourite of Edward II out of the many ecclesiastical orders in England at the time. It was this priory that would become the eventual resting place for Piers Gaveston after his murder in 1312. The priory and church were built to the north of the palace. The building was not completed until the 1360s, but in 1312 Edward, not surprisingly, had the church consecrated. Piers himself was not laid to rest there until 1315 (more on this in a later post). Kings Langley also became a favourite residence of Edward III, and throughout his reign he continued to add to the Priory and Church. Six large stained glass windows were added and a large bell were installed in the church during his reign. His grandson, Richard II, would also be buried here. With the exception of Blackfriars, the church at Kings Langley was the largest Dominican house in England.

    Whilst at University at Reading, I did my best to find any evidence of the priory/palace at Kings Langley – and this was in pre-Internet days! There was very little information to be found, and I never got to visit what remains. The English Reformation saw to that – the friars were dismissed and the church fell into decay. The remains of Richard II had been reinterred by Henry V in Westminster Abbey. The land was sold to William Houlker and he demolished the priory – all that remained was one room which was used as a barn. The church itself was reduced to rubble. We have some idea of the dimensions of the priory/church due to a farmer in the nineteenth century – ‘Farmer Betts’ , who in 1831 recorded the dimensions and as much detail as he could. Sir Gilbert Scott, visiting the site that year, wrote ‘the Church must have been as fine as Westminster Abbey,’ and there was evidence of Purbeck marble bases to the pillars. Farmer Betts decided not to restore what was left, but flattened what was left to use as farm land. Enough to make you weep, eh? 

      Today, the site is home to by the Rudolf Steiner School. I did write to the Kings Langley historical society a few years ago asking what actually remained, and whether there was any evidence of Piers Gaveston’s tomb. I was told that if anything did exist, it was below the school. A friend of mine who lives not far from the school set off for a walk around it, but could see nothing. Who knows, one day, when I win the lottery, it may be a case of the Favourite Under the School, rather than the King in the Car Park.

Here's a sketch of the priory - or all that remains of it -
from the 19th century.   Opposite is the Rudolf Steiner School,
built on the site of the priory/church.


Wednesday, 20 January 2016

Joan Gaveston - daughter of Piers and Margaret de Clare

January 1312 saw the birth of Piers Gaveston's and Margaret de Clare's only surviving child - a daughter named Joan. Joan was born at a perilous time for her father. He had been banished for the third time by the barons for his 'influence' over Edward II. As his wife was pregnant, it's likely Piers did not go far, and with the birth due in January, he was back in England - re-called once again by Edward II. Margaret was born around the 12th or 13th of January. She was named Joan after the king's sister, Joan of Acre. Edward II collected his niece, Piers' wife Margaret, possibly from Wallingford castle, and took her to York to meet up with her husband. Of course, it seems Edward met up with Piers before Margaret did, which I'm sure Piers didn't object to! Typical of both of them! It may be Piers only ever intended to see his child born and spend time with his wife, before heading off back into exile, with plans for Margaret and his daughter to join him later. This all-changed. On January 18th, Edward II flouted the authority of the barons, and restored the Earldom of Cornwall to Piers. This set in motion a chain of events which would end in the killing of Piers on Blacklow Hill. On the death of her father, Joan was only 5 months old. Fortunately for Joan, Edward II became her guardian. This was due to Piers' lands being granted by the king, so Edward becoming her guardian was expected. It is hard to imagine that Edward would ever have abandoned the child of his beloved Piers anyway. Plus, her mother was his niece, so there was a blood relationship. No doubt Edward would have wanted to protect her and ensure she had a comfortable life and made a good marriage. Joan was sent to live at Amesbury Priory in Wiltshire. The king's sister Mary was a nun there. Joan was placed in the custody of Eleanor de Bohun, another niece of Edward's. Joan was generously provided for. Despite being the daughter of a perceived traitor, Joan was also a member of the king's family and had good marriage prospects. When she was barely 4 years old, Edward had the idea of marrying her to his ward Thomas, Lord Wake. Thomas was about 18 at the time. Such an age gap wasn't unusual for the times, and no doubt Edward was anxious to secure her future. Unfortunately for Thomas, he had married elsewhere without Edward's permission. Naturally, Edward was furious and imposed a heavy fine upon Thomas. Edward continued the search for a husband for Joan, and in 1317, his choice settled on John Multon. John was the son of Thomas Multon, lord of Egremont in Cumberland. John was nearer in age to Joan, being 9 in 1317. It was agreed the couple would marry at a suitable age, and there seems to have been plans for Joan to live with her bridegroom's family. Edward agreed to pay a dowry of £1,000. So anxious was Edward to provide Joan with a suitable marriage, that he extracted from Thomas Multon the promise of £10,000 should he fail to ensure the marriage took place. Joan's future had been secured. There's no doubt Edward expected his niece Margaret to re-marry. She was too young and valuable a widow not to. She would then more than likely bear her new husband children, hopefully a son, and would have little time for Joan. It was vital for Edward to ensure Joan was taken care of. Sadly, all these plans came to nothing. Probably on her birthday, in 1325, Joan Gaveston died of an unknown illness. She would have been just 13 years old. We have no idea what the illness was. Nor do we know how Edward re-acted, though no doubt he mourned Piers' daughter. It was another break from Piers. We don't know how often Edward ever saw Joan. We have no records of her attending court, though she may have attended with her relatives at some point. We obviously don't know what she looked like, but I have to wonder, if she took after her father, and that if he ever did see her, how much she reminded Edward of her father. If only she had survived, married and had children, the direct legitimate descendants of Piers would be around today. I'm sure Piers would have been very proud. Below is the Church of St Mary and St Melor in Amesbury, all that is left of the priory.