Saturday, 28 February 2009

Piers in fiction

Finally got around to including a review on fictional Piers Gaveston. Bit surprised at my first choice, but as I’ve just finished reading it, and enjoyed the interpretation, somewhat, I’ve settled on ‘Where Nobles Tread’ by Janet Kilbourne, a novel published in the early 1970’s. You can tell it’s from the 1970’s, just by it’s cover – featuring a colourful picture of the heroine, Eleanor Stanton – an entirely fictional character – and a man in the background who is either Piers or one William Darcy, as both figure equally in the novel. If it is meant to be Piers, he isn’t very well dressed – as inside his clothes are always described as beautiful and richly embroidered and decorated. The man on the cover is in a rather dull green – dull green would never do for Piers!

Piers is dark-haired in this novel, with piercing blue eyes. There are plenty of references to his good looks, and dark hair, and those piercing blue eyes are much in evidence. The author tends to use plenty of ‘romantic’ 1970’s clichés in her descriptions. Piers’ blue eyes are always raking over everyone at court – and particularly the ladies, whom he seems to ‘strip naked’ with those raking eyes. For the men, they tend to be full of mockery. Clearly this is Kilbourne’s favourite adjective for Piers – every time he appears in the novel, he’s always being ‘mocking’ – and it doesn’t matter what his mood is – whether he’s bating the nobles, trying to seduce Eleanor, fighting with William Darcy or drinking with the king, he’s always ‘mocking’.

Piers is very much a 1970’s man as well. He has his shirt and doublet open, often slashed to the waist to show off his manly chest – and he also wears that 1970’s classic – a medallion! Yes, Piers is a medallion man! Reminded me of Tom Jones or Oliver Tobias (if you know the latter, you remember the 1970’s well! :> ). Naturally, he constantly fiddles with the medallion, and poor Eleanor is practically swooning when he does it.

As for the plot – well, it concerns Eleanor Stanton, a country baron’s daughter, who has come to court to attend Queen Isabella. She makes friends with a French girl Jeanne, who fills her in on all the court gossip. Piers is the no.1 topic of conversation – plenty of swooning adjectives, mockery, and yes, Jeanne identifies him as the King’s lover but with a lust for the ladies. Edward doesn’t appear to mind, as Piers tires of them rather quickly and only the king holds his attention. Naturally, Isabella hates him. Then there is Sir William Darcy, a mysterious knight who, although he doesn’t know Eleanor, has fallen in love with her and wants to protect her from the carnal Piers. Eleanor has other ideas – and decides it would be rather useful for her to become Piers’ mistress so she can reap the rewards. She realises this is rather sinful, but can’t help herself. Initially, she decides she will hate Piers, attract him by rebuffing him (of course, Piers has raked her already an decided she’s his next conquest) in order to make him desire her more and in that way, hold his attention. However, she can’t help falling in love with Piers, and embarks on a love affair with him. Piers can read her character well, and knows she is looking to advance herself, and keeps telling her how awful he is and what a bad influence he is on the king and kingdom, all with mockery and thoroughly enjoying himself. All the time, William Darcy smoulders with indignation.

Won’t give away the ending for Eleanor, but poor Piers meets his fate. We only hear about it second hand, when it is reported to the king. We have Piers leaving court with a sense of doom, but for no particular reason, and then hearing he’s been murdered with a rusty sword and that it was painful, taking several attempts – damn that rusty sword:> Naturally, Eleanor faints.

As much as I may display some of Piers mockery, I actually liked the portrayal of Piers. This Piers has charisma, he holds the attention of all at court, and there’s no doubt who rules this court. He dominates the novel whenever he appears. He may be promiscuous with the ladies, but the love between him and Edward appears to be genuine. He knows he’s a ‘bad boy’ and a bad influence on the king, but he doesn’t think much of the morals of anyone else, and maybe part of the charm of this fictional Piers is his honesty. He has nothing but contempt for Lancaster, Warwick and Isabella, realising they seek to rule. It’s a case of him and Edward against the world.

The portrayal of Edward is disappointing. The relationship between him and Piers seems genuine and touching. However, Edward is seen as an indolent, childlike, weak king. He always seems to be drinking, and when he can’t have Piers, whom he almost seems to worship, he’s surrounded by young boys fawning all over him. Lancaster and Warwick talk to him as if he were a naughty, peevish child whom they can bully easily. Only when Piers is around to protect him, can Edward stand up to them – and yet he tells Piers he is his protector and must stay at court to be safe. There’s no sign of that terrible Plantagenet temper. After Piers’ death, Edward seems to accept that Lancaster and Warwick rule the kingdom now, and he must do their bidding. There’s no sign of any fightback by him. Isabella is equally contemptuous to him – getting pregnant by him but enjoying the young knights of the court. I would have liked to have read a scene between Edward and Eleanor, but they never exchange a word.

As for historical accuracy – well, allowing for interpretation of character – there is no sign of Piers’ wife Margaret, banishment by the nobles, sieges at Tyneside, Scarborough etc.

If you can stand the clichés, - ladies swooning, fainting, scorching tears running down cheeks, hearts burning with desire – this novel is definitely worth a read.

Sunday, 22 February 2009

A little more on my visit to Caerphilly Castle

Caerphilly castle currently has an exhibition running on the building of the castle and two historical people linked to the castle. One is Llywelyn Bren, the other Edward II.

After the death of Gilbert de Clare at the battle of Bannockburn in 1314, his lands were divided between his 3 sisters. Hugh Despencer the younger, was married to Eleanor de Clare, the eldest sister and niece of Edward II. He was also the ‘favourite’ of Edward II. He chose the largest portion of the de Clare lands, the lordship of Glamorgan, which included the castles of Caerphilly and Cardiff. The current custodians of Caerphilly castle, CADW, are in no doubt of his greed, ambition and treachery. Llywelyn Bren had led a revolt in 1316 and attacked Caerphilly castle. The revolt spread throughout Glamorgan. A royal army was assembled and sent to quell the revolt. Llywelyn surrendered, and asked for royal mercy. He was sent to the Tower of London. However, in 1318, in an act of ‘wanton cruelty’, Despencer had him brought to Cardiff, where he was hanged, beheaded and quartered. Llywelyn’s story is told with sympathy and compassion. Despencer is definitely the ‘bully boy’. Llyeleyn’s body was buried in Greyfriars church in Cardiff, which no longer exists – yes, another victim of the Reformation. A tower block currently stands on the site.

The second history story centres on Edward II, and obviously involves Despencer again. When the castle’s restoration was begun, a carved head was found, and identified as that of Edward II. Despencer spent a lot of time and money on Caerphilly, and the great hall’s supporting pillars had the heads of the Despencer family and the king carved into them. The head is no longer at the castle – probably kept in Cardiff museum. Edward fled with Despencer, and his treasure, to Caerphilly castle when his estranged Queen, Isabella, and her favourite, Mortimer, staged an invasion to seize the crown for Prince Edward. They stayed a few nights at Caerphilly, from October 29th until November 2nd, before fleeing to the Cistercian abbey at Neath. Edward took some of the treasure with him and hurriedly hid it, so the story goes, throughout the abbey. Edward and Despencer then fled the abbey and were then captured near Llantrisant.

The inventory taken in 1327 at Caerphilly makes fascinating reading. Amongst the arms found there were 1,130 crossbows fitted with hedgehog quills! £13,000 was found packed into 26 barrels, and a further £1,000 was found in a barrel belonging to Despencer. The king’s personal belongings included his armour, his bed, a mattress, canopy and curtains, two sheets, four pillows, a silk coverlet, a red dressing-gown, doeskin gauntlets and a black cap decorated with butterflies and pearls. Edward’s story concludes with him being dismissed as weak and foolish, and being murdered ‘horribly’ at Berkley castle. At one pint in the commentary, his wife changes from Isabella to Eleanor!

Stories of Edward II’s treasure hidden around Neath are part of local legend. Coins have been found hidden around the Abbey, dating from Edward II. Being somewhat of a local myself, I’ve grown up with stories of ‘the English king’s treasure’ being hidden around Neath. Parts of the Abbey remain in various decayed states, and the town has grown up around it. One interesting fact is the story of Edward and Isabella’s ‘wedding certificate’ turning up in the 19th century. A doctor was called out to treat a farmer’s wife, and the farmer, unable to pay the doctor, gave him the certificate which had been in his family ‘for years’. He couldn’t read it, had no idea what it was, but felt it may be worth something!

Saturday, 21 February 2009

Visiting Caerphilly Castle

Nothing to do with Piers, really, but this week I visted the magnificent castle at Caerphilly. It's the largest ruined castle in Wales, and was built not by the royal family, but by the de Clare family, which makes it even more unique. The de Clare family gained the lordship of Glamorgan in 1217. The de Clares were confronted with petty revolts, and to take control of Glamorgan, they built the castle at Caerphilly. The castle fell into the hands of Hugh Despencer, after the death of Gilbert de Clare at Bannockburn in 1314. Despencer was married to Gilbert's elder sister, Eleanor. Piers had been married to Gilbert's second sister, Margaret.

Here are some of the pictures I took. It was cold, but thankfully dry. I will add a little more about Despencer's time at Caerphilly castle next week.

Tuesday, 10 February 2009

Check out Alianore's latest blog on Edward II

There's a well re-searched article on Piers with lots of fascinating facts! Check out the link below!