Friday, 24 December 2010

A very Merry Christmas to all!

or, as we say in Wales, Nadolig Llawen! I'm sure Piers would say, 'where's my presents?' :) I managed to steel myself to finally watch 'The other Boleyn Girl' which was on tv this week, and felt relieved, in that surely no-one would believe this tosh could possibly be true? As the writer of a letter in the BBC History magazine reminded me, we have a duty to continue to expose blatant misleading untruths in 'historical dramas', because if we don't, they will come to be believed. Unless they are as bad as 'The other Boleyn Girl', I hope. Thank goodness for sites such as The History Police.

Wednesday, 22 December 2010

My top 10 books of the year - well, last 15 months, actually......

These are the books I've read in the past 15 months and would recommend -

1. Medieval Intrigue by Ian Mortimer - I blogged about this book recently. It's out-standing!

2. The Sisters who would be Queen by Leanda De Lisle - a fascinating and revealing life about Jane, Katherine and Mary Grey.

3. The Lady in the Tower by Alison Weir - a very readable book which brings together a variety of sources, for and against Anne Boleyn.

4. The Stolen Crown by Susan Higginbotham - the only work of fiction to appear in my list. I honestly couldn't put it down and it was a refreshing change to see the story of the Woodvilles and Richard III through the eyes of Buckingham.

5. Katherine the Queen by Linda Porter - an enjoyable book about the scholarly life of Katherine Parr.

6. Contested Will by James Shapiro. I've blogged about this book previously as well, and it has much in common with Ian Mortimer's, in that Shapiro takes the view that there is too much 'conspiracy' about Shakespeare, and that, at the end of the day, why shouldn't he have written the plays/poems? Why do people feel the need to disprove he wrote the plays etc? In some ways, the 'opposite' of Ian Mortimer's book.

7. Edward II by Seymour Phillips. OK, nothing really new in ths book, but a book on Edward II is always welcome, surely?

8. The Last White Rose by Desmond Seward - the threats faced by the Tudors from the remaining claimants of the House of York.

9. Elizabeth's Women by Tracy Borman - a look at the life of Elizabeth using the prominent women she encountered.

10. Death and the Virgin by Chris Skidmore. A very readable book about the life and death of Amy Dudley, the wife of Elizabeth's favourite Robert Dudley. Skidmore has uncovered the inquest into Amy's death, which revealed much more about her injuries. It was recently the subject of a Channel 5 documentary.

Have to mention 2 very disappointing books. The first really pains me - ' Jane Grey, A Tudor Mystery' by Eric Ives. His book on Anne Boleyn is THE book to read on Anne, but his book on Jane was a huge disappointment - mainly because I couldn't see any mystery that I didn't already know about, and the book was more about rehabilitating John Dudley, the Duke of Northumberland. The second is 'Anne Boleyn, Fatal Attractions' by G W Bernard, who seems to use 'there's no smoke without fire' to convict Anne of at least one charge of adultery and the 'theory' that Anne, as a commoner, may have had no idea how to behave as Queen, whilst dismissing everybody else's 'theories'.

Monday, 13 December 2010

UK History magazines - December

The BBC History magazine and 'History Today' both have some really good articles this month. 'History Today' has an article by Ian Mortimer entitled 'Barriers to the Truth', which once again has been written to support his excellent recent book, 'Medieval Intrigue'. He cites E H Carr's 'What is history?' for further reading, which takes me back to my university days. It was top of my history reading list for methodology.

The BBC History mag has published a letter in support of Ian Mortimer after that dreadful 'review' of 'Medieval Intrigue', which was nothing more than an attack on Ian's evidence for 'Medieval Intrigue' rather than a review of the book.

The BBC make also has a feature on Catherine of Aragon by Giles Tremlett, in conjunction with his new book on Catherine. The article is entitled 'Spain's Virgin Queen?' and focuses on the evidence used by the Spanish to prove Catherine's case that her marriage to Prince Arthur was unconsummated. The book is on my Christmas list, so I'll reserve judgment until I read it - but the article itself uses Spanish sources questioned years after Arthur's death, and likely to be as questionable as any Henry VIII produced to prove his case.

Sunday, 21 November 2010

Arthur Tudor, Prince of Wales

I’ve been meaning to write this post for some time. The main delay has been in recovering my pictures of the tomb of Prince Arthur that I took earlier this year. I’m still struggling to recover them, but don’t want to delay my post any longer, so pictures will follow, hopefully. I’ve visited Worcester many, many times, since I was a child, and always visited the Cathedral and made my way to Arthur’s tomb. It’s always been one of my favourite tombs – encased in a beautiful chantry. It lacks an effigy, but may well have had a brass of Arthur on top of it. It’s been some years since I visited Arthur’s tomb, but I was delighted to find myself passing through Worcester and that meant only one thing – a visit to the Cathedral. Earlier this year, I bought a book entitled ‘Arthur Tudor, Prince of Wales’, a collection of essays about the young prince, and his tomb, edited by Steven Gunn and Linda Monckton. It was very expensive, but well worth it. I have always wondered what sort of a king Arthur would have made. Read any Tudor novel that features Arthur, and I’ve read many, and he’s portrayed as weak and sickly, over-shadowed by his younger, stronger and healthier brother, the future Henry VIII. Indeed, we often get the scenario of Catherine of Aragon wising she was marrying the younger brother – which I strongly doubt, Catherine being 16 and Henry only 10. It’s also usual for Arthur to be portrayed as spitting blood and suffering from consumption, with Henry VII lamenting his sick and puny son. But where does this sickly portrayal of the prince come from? Yes, it’s the Victorians and their ‘spin’ on the historical evidence. The 19th century historian James Gairdner used Henry VII’s letter to Ferdinand, Catherine’s father, to portray Arthur as ‘sickly’. What Henry VII intended to convey to Ferdinand was his concern that at almost a year younger than Catherine, he didn’t want his son to over exert himself in his ‘married life’ because of his ‘tender’ age, and considered not sending Catherine with Arthur to rule a mini-court in Ludlow. ‘Tender’ becomes ‘delicate’, and the myth of the sickly Arthur is created. His betrothal to Catherine in 1497 elicited these words from the Milanese ambassador – Arthur was ‘about 11 years of age, but taller than his years would warrant, of remarkable beauty and grace, and very ready in speaking Latin’. Hardly the image of a sickly prince – and Henry VII did allow Catherine to accompany Arthur. The surviving portraits of Arthur show a handsome, serious, strong youth and there is no record of him being sickly. Because we know he died when he was 15, and have the image of his brother Henry VIII as the robust, athletic lion of England, whose own sons died young, Arthur has been portrayed as the sickly brother of the dazzling Henry VIII, cut down by the ‘family disease’, consumption. What we do know of Arthur is that he was given an excellent education and was groomed for kingship from an early age. The book contains evidence of Arthur’s movements and his household, and of the promise of his reign. Of course, it also suits supporters of the cause of Catherine of Aragon to have Arthur portrayed as the sickly prince, unable to consummate his marriage. It is one of the most hotly-contested debates in history, but in my opinion, I see no reason for Arthur and Catherine not to have consummated their marriage. I note a new book on Catherine once again quotes her as marrying the 'sickly' Arthur.

Arthur’s death in April 1502 left his parents grief-stricken – only Elizabeth of York and Henry VII could offer comfort to each other. Arthur’s funeral was a huge event. It was re-enacted in 2002, the 500th anniversary. A stained glass window was erected in the Cathedral to commemorate the event. It is a copy of the stained glass window of Arthur at Malvern.

The book is mainly taken up with the recent investigation of Arthur’s tomb. During my visit, I saw red stickers in place which marked the place of heat seeking equipment which had been used to investigate the tomb. It seems Arthur does not lie beneath the marble monument in his chantry, but a few feet away. I met a delightful, elderly and very knowledgeable local guide and asked him about the research, and he showed me where it is thought Arthur lies. We had an enjoyable discussion about what sort of king Arthur would have made, and how differently events might have turned out. What we both found very touching was that one of Arthur’s loyal household members, Gruffydd ap Thomas, requested his tomb be placed close to the prince he never forgot. When Gruffydd died in 1521, his request was granted.

Sunday, 7 November 2010

A Visit to Chepstow Castle

I visited Chepstow Castle a couple of weeks ago, and was amazed at the sime of it. It was built in Norman times, around 1067, and is famous for being in possession by William Marshall. It was badly damaged in the English Civil war. Here's a link for more info -

Here are some of my pictures.

Sunday, 31 October 2010

Anniversary greetings to Piers and Margaret

November 1st is the 703rd anniversary of the marriage of Piers Gaveston and the king’s niece, Margaret de Clare. Edward 1st had died on July 7th 1307. The new king, Edward II, quickly recalled Piers and wasted little time in finding a royal bride for him. The chronicles state recalling Piers was Edward’s first act as king. He then made Piers the Earl of Cornwall, and a royal bride would surely complete his elevation into the nobility. Maybe it as also Edward’s way of ‘officially’ bring Piers into his own family.

Margaret de Clare was the king’s niece and sister of the young earl of Gloucester. Her mother was the king’s late sister, Joan of Acre and her first husband Gilbert, Earl of Gloucester. Despite the hostility the chroniclers were later to heap upon Piers, his marriage attracted little of their attention. We know the marriage took place at Berkhamsted and the king himself attended. Naturally, Edward was generous with his gifts where Piers was concerned. He gave the couple jewels totalling £30, £36 17s. 7d. on gifts for her ladies, £20 for a palfrey for Margaret and £20 for minstrels. In a further act of generosity, Edward provided £7, 10s. 6d. on coins for which to shower the couple as hey entered the church.

We have no evidence to tell us how Margaret felt about her marriage, but I doubt she was displeased with it. She was married to the king’s favourite and had become a countess. More honours would surely follow. And if we are to believe the descriptions of Piers, that he was handsome, graceful and well-mannered, she may well have been delighted. Margaret would of course have known her duty.

Sunday, 17 October 2010

This month's BBC History magazine

The cover has Henry VII and Henry VIII and an article by Desmond Seward to coincide with his book 'The Last White Rose - the secret war against the Tudors', which I have but have not began to read yet. In the book review section is a review of Ian Mortimer's 'Medieval Intrigue' by Nicholas Vincent, professor of history at the University of East Anglia. I admit to beng totally blown away, as it were, by Ian Mortimer's book, but Vincent is not. The review is meant to be available on-line but isn't 'showing' for me, so I'll quote from the magazine itself.

Vincent's main concern is ' Mortimer's doubts have burgeoned into a theory which itself has failed to win approval from the academic establishment.........critics have, on the whole, either sat firmly on the fence or just as firmly rejected his tottering tower of conjecture. Most writers would at this point pass on to better things. Not Mortimer, who has now brought together a collection of essays not only to restate his theory, but to indict his critics with grave crimes: a lack of professionalism, a herd mentality, a refusal to entertain ideas beyond the accepted concensus............[However] Far from being the victim of a spiteful academic cartel that has refused him access to the published media, Mortimer is in fact a best-selling author with a particular hefty axe to grind. The louder and more repeatedly he grinds his axe, the more he risks being mistaken for a solipist, incapable of dispassionate neutrality about his own pet theories'.

This is an abridged version of the review, which only offers a few sentences at the end on the quality of the book - the rest is taken up with a critique of Ian Mortimer's 'pet theory'. As I previously blogged, I thoroughly enjoyed the book and the struggle to get his essays published and taken seriously were a huge part of the enjoyment, plus Mortimer's challenge to question what we think we know about history. Perhaps he won't be surprised to find this reviewer merely challenges his 'theory' rather than reviewing the process of how his work has been received, challenged and evaluated, and how Mortimer arrived at his conclusion that Edward II did indeed survive beyond 1327. I'm certainly a convert!

Saturday, 2 October 2010

Argument or facts? Ian Mortimer's Medieval Intrigue

This post has been inspired by Ian Mortimer’s ‘Medieval Intrigue’, recently published. In fact, it’s basically a review of the book plus my thoughts. My interest in Edward II was sparked by the Jean Plaidy novel ‘The Follies of the King’ back in the 1980s. I was ‘brought up’ on Jean Plaidy, with my mother being an avid reader with a deep love of history. From a very young age – I can certainly remember being as young as 7, my mother would always tell me ‘historical stories’, and I started reading Plaidy when I was about 10. I was always in the library where they had a whole shelf of her novels, and then I discovered they had a complete set of the reference books she had used – ‘Lives of the Queens of England’, by Agnes Strickland, and Saturday afternoons were spent reading various volumes. Of course, I was also reading the ‘serious’ historical books by now, although there were none on Edward II at my local library. I must have been about 12 when I read ‘Follies’, and as always, with my interest sparked by Plaidy, I set about finding information on him. Thus the story that Edward II was murdered at Berkeley Castle with a red hot poker was fact to me – it had really happened, and I remember being appalled when I read his screams had been heard through the thick walls of the castle, and it had all been done by his wicked queen Isabella and her lover Mortimer. I was shocked that Edward III allowed the murderers to walk around without revenge. I then duly convinced my parents a few years later to take me to Berkeley castle to see the scene of the crime and visit Edward’s tomb in Gloucester Cathedral. ‘Follies’ had also sparked my interest in Piers Gaveston as well. I never questioned Edward II’s fate. At University, I specialised in medieval history and wrote an essay on Edward II, accepting the death of Edward II in 1327. I eventually allowed my interest to wane in that particular area, as there were so few books available - and no Internet – and developed my interest in other parts of history. I then came across Ian Mortimer’s ‘Greatest Traitor’, which frankly astonished me, and I readily dismissed his case that Edward II had survived. Plaidy’s books were re-issued, and I bought ‘Follies’, which led me to Kathryn’s marvellous Edward II site. It’s down to Kathryn that I no longer accept the red hot poker story, and began to accept that Edward might have survived. I feel myself very fortunate that she shared some of her research with me and answered all my questions. Because, as Ian Mortimer rightly states, once we are ‘brought up’ on so-called historical facts that have been unchallenged, it becomes very difficult for us to question and reject them. He uses the example of Alfred burning the cakes – I was brought up on that, reading the Ladybird history books – Florence Nightingale had her lamp, Walter Raleigh laid down his coat for Queen Elizabeth and Alfred burnt the cakes. As I got older, it became ‘the weather saved England from the Armada’ and Jane Grey was brutally beaten by her parents and was the idealised Protestant martyr. There were books that tried to challenge accepted views, and history, as Mortimer says, became split into ‘traditionalists’ and ‘revisionalists’. There’s also the charge that some historians are ‘conspiracy theorists’ – popular subjects included ‘JFK’ and Princess Diana, and even Dan Brown challenged with ‘The Da Vinci Code’, which in the UK had been flagged up in ‘Holy Blood, Holy Grail’. (I should point out that I don’t consider Dan Brown a historian at all – but Ian Mortimer points out that he was placed alongside him in a review of his article ‘The Death of Edward II’, which I think is dreadfully unfair).

I want to return to my University days for a moment. One aspect of my degree was the ‘methodology’ of history. My preference was always for the ‘narrative’ aspect of history. I remember being set a task using comparative case studies – not involving Edward II or indeed any king. But it shaped my interpretation of Edward II being murdered – because isn’t that what happens to all deposed monarchs? Any usurper would not keep the former king alive, as they would surely be a continual threat to them. The cases of Richard II and Edward V convinced me that Edward II would have to have been disposed of – murdered on the orders of Isabella and Mortimer. It was Kathryn that got me to re-asses this – because the cases are not the same at all. Edward II was deposed before Richard II and Edward V, and there was no real precedent for deposing kings and what should happen to them in his case study. Edward II was deposed to make way for his son, Edward III, by his mother and Mortimer – it was not his idea or actions which deposed his father, so he is not a usurper in the sense that Henry IV was. He was very much the ‘puppet’ of them, being only 15. Mortimer’s hold, in particular, was tenuous, for Edward III would surely seek to rule on his own, and Mortimer could find himself in real danger, especially if the story that he had had the king’s father ‘murdered’ became known. Would it therefore make sense to ‘fake’ the former king’s death from natural causes, and keep him a prisoner, and use him as a ‘force’ against his own son when he needed to?

Mortimer’s book is not about putting forward the ‘argument’ that Edward II did not die in 1327 – he uses facts to show that he did not. I’ve questioned Kathryn time and again about the points raised to prove Edward II was alive – and they always seemed to be ‘I’m not convinced’ or trying to find other meanings to challenge the evidence – like what on earth Lord Berkeley meant when he said he did not know Edward II was dead in 1330 – maybe the translation was wrong? Or maybe he didn’t know he had been murdered? Likewise the account of the Earl of Kent seeing his brother at Corfe Castle – surely it was an impostor set out to entrap Kent, who was known for his gullibility? And as for Edward III supposedly meeting his father in Cologne – well, that could have been an impostor trying his luck – after all, hadn’t there been people trying to impersonate either of the ‘little princes in the Tower’? Except that in Mortimer’s book, and in discussions with Kathryn, Lord Berkley’s words are a literal translation, Kent was not gullible and there were many other important men who supported his rebellion, and the ’impostor’ at Cologne seems to have had nothing to gain, was never punished and in fact was never referred to as an impostor.

Mortimer has written a stunning book in which he proves that Edward II was alive and did not die in Berkeley castle in 1327. The points I have mentioned are only a small part of the evidence – I haven’t, for example, even mentioned the Fieschi letter. I don’t want to post any ‘spoilers’ or replicate Ian Mortimer’s work in detail – but I advise any one with an interest in Edward II to read the book. The 2 chapters I enjoyed the most were ‘Twelve Angry Scholars’, in which Mortimer challenges his ‘peer reviewers’ most successfully and the chapter on ‘Edward III, His Father and the Fieschi’. His research into the Fieschi family and their connections with Edward II and Edward III is incredibly detailed and pieces together the movements of Edward II after 1327 and how he was able to do so. Also outstanding is his research of Edward III’s court accounts and his patronage of his father’s tomb at Gloucester – all makes sense and is proof.

No doubt Ian Mortimer has suffered by having his name bandied about with ‘conspiracy theorist historians’, which is very unfortunate, because in my opinion, he has shown there is a great deal of evidence that Edward II survived after 1327 – far more than the sole source that Edward II died at Berkeley of ‘natural causes’, namely Lord Berkeley. When you consider some of the flimsy books written about Richard III, and I’ll name the recent example of ‘Richard III and the murder in the Tower’, as one of the worst – full of, ‘suppose’, ‘what if’ etc – it would be a real shame if Ian Mortimer’s latest work isn’t given the respect it surely deserves.

Sunday, 19 September 2010

Time for some Piers…….

Well, sort of. As some of my fav blogs are having a ‘books related’ theme, I thought I’d follow suit. I’ve added quite a few books to my collection in the last few weeks. I’ve had J. S. Hamilton’s ‘The Plantagenets – history of a dynasty’ for a couple of weeks. Hamilton has written his own book on Piers quite a few years ago. This time he tackles the Plantagenet kings. I’m afraid I’ve only read the chapters on Edward II (naturally!) and Richard II. Hamilton is very sympathetic to Edward from the opening paragraph. He points out the problems Edward immediately encounters – obviously being in the ‘shadow of a colossus’, his father, and inheriting a bankrupt treasury and the ‘Scotland problem’. As for Piers, he doesn’t just re-hash parts of his bio.

I liked the way that Hamilton deals with some of the chroniclers at the time. He challenges the chronicler who says that Edward instantly ‘felt so much love’ for Piers as soon as he saw him, pointing out that Piers was in Edward’s service for some 5 years before their attachment became apparent. Hamilton also challenges ‘The Ponthieu story’ – whereby Prince Edward asks his father for Ponthieu for Piers and is verbally and physically abused by his father. He claims Guisborough’s chronicle appears to be a ‘set piece’, with reference to the biblical story of Saul confronting David over his relationship with Jonathan. This confrontation allegedly was the cause of Piers’ first banishment. Hamilton rightly points out that the banishment wasn’t permanent, and the conditions were not harsh. Edward Its may have been concerned about the nature of the relationship between the prince and Piers, but the lenient sentence passed on Piers suggests he was not that worried – as we know, Prince Edward had fathered an illegitimate son.

I learned something new in the chapter on Richard II that has a connection with Piers. I must admit I know very little about the reign of Richard II, so for any Richard II scholars out there, this will be already known. After his death, Richard was buried in the Dominican friary in Langley – yes, the same resting place for Piers. Or as Hamilton puts it, ‘the same resting place of another Lancastrian victim, Piers Gaveston’. It seems he was buried in the tomb of Edmund, Duke of York and his wife, before being removed to Westminster abbey by Henry V. Can’t help wondering if Piers’ remains might have been disturbed then.

Hamilton writes in such a readable and enjoyable style, I’m looking forward to reading the rest of the book.

This week, I also got ‘The Red Queen’ by Philippa Gregory. I admit to not being a fan of her work, but I got the book at an incredibly good price from my book club – for £4.99 it was too good to turn down. Not sure when I’ll get around to reading it though. I also got hold of a copy of Michael Hicks ‘False, Fleeting, Perjured Clarence’ – at a really good price! I’m currently reading his ‘Warwick the Kingmaker’. I really enjoy Michael Hicks books and have been after this book for some time, although I wasn’t willing to pay the extortionate price for it on Amazon. So many times I’ve been tempted, and then last week a really good price came up for an immaculate condition!

And my favourite on-line book? The Daisy and the Bear, at Ragged Staff’s excellent ‘A Neville Feast’ . Since ragged Staff moved server, I haven’t mastered posting a comment. . I LOVE it! If you haven’t already succumbed to it, try it out at -

Tuesday, 31 August 2010

Yet another visit to the Tower of London – and an encounter with George, Duke of Clarence

Whenever I visit London, I always seem to end up visiting the Tower of London. Having visited in October, I found myself heading there again in July. I didn’t intend to, but finding myself with a spare 3 hours, in which I intended to go shopping, I realised that yet again I’d be able to fit another visit in. So once again, I found myself heading for Tower Hill tube station. Once inside, I decided not to visit the White Tower or the medieval palace exhibition. My focus was on the chapel of St Peter ad Vincula, the Beauchamp and Bloody towers, and the Bowyer tower. I’d managed a fleeting visit to the previous 3 last time, but decided to take my time this visit. I always start off with my visit with a Yeoman Warder’s tour. Yes, I’ve heard their stories and jokes many times, but still enjoy them. They are a huge asset to the Tower – part of the tradition of the Tower. Plus, in my previous visits, it was the only way I could access the chapel of St Peter ad Vincula, where the remains of, amongst others, Anne Boleyn and Lady Jane Grey are buried. I was surprised when the Yeoman ended his tour at the site of the scaffold, and on asking abot the chapel, I was informed it was now open to the public to visit whenever they wished. I headed to the chapel and having been in there many times, knew my way around and who was buried where. I wondered how other visitors would cope without the Yeoman warder giving his usual chat, and that’s when I discovered the latest addition for visitors to the Tower – the audio guide. I have mixed views about audio guides. I used one at Westminster Abbey, and still got confused, and didn’t bother with my visit to Hampton Court. I appreciate their usefulness for those not fluent in English or who have difficulty using guide books. However, I much prefer the Yeoman taking you into the chapel, telling you al you need to know and who is buried where, plus there is a sense of reverence. I also prefer to see people communicating with each other, asking questions and making observations – seeing families walking around in silence with headphones on seems odd to me. There’s virtually no inter-action between them.

The Tower seems to be gearing up for another exhibition shortly – the zoo at the Tower. There is scaffolding, coverings and banners behind the Jewel House making visitors aware of it. The Bowyer tower is behind the Jewel House, and I’d completely forgotten about it during my last visit. Having read Susan Higginbotham’s ‘The Stolen Crown’, which had me absolutely gripped from the start, I made a point of visiting the Bowyer tower, for it was here, as tradition has it, that George, Duke of Clarence, met his end – drowned in a butt of malmsey, if we are to believe Shakespeare. Although there were many visitors to the Tower that day, I think many may have been put off going further than the Jewel House because of the scaffolding and coverings. So when I ventured around the back of it to go to the Bowyer tower, there was no-one there except for one other visitor, heading into the Bowyer tower. Outside was a board informing visitor this was where George had met his end, and I admit I only skimmed it, and inside, was the story of his imprisonment. The tower was empty, apart from a large barrel in the corner and the sound of dripping. The other visitor, a man, was on the opposite side of the Tower. I headed over to the barrel, and thought how clever they had made it look - the top had an image of a hole projected onto it and you could see rippling liquid. As I gazed down on it, the image of a drowning man appeared, clearly intended to be George. It was cleverly done to make it appear as if one was watching from underneath the barrel. It was unbelievably realistic, and so unexpected, I confess I let out an almighty shriek! Very embarrassing, but luckily there was only the other visitor present. He swung round to face me, clearly shocked himself, and I could only garble ‘it’s supposed to be Clarence in there’ and point at the barrel – and of course, there was no sign of the image then. We had to wait several minutes for George to pop up again. On leaving the tower, I noted on the board outside, it did warn to expect a ‘surprise’. That will teach me to skim information boards!

Wednesday, 25 August 2010

BBC History magazine September issue

The September issue has 10 places to visit for those interested in the Wars of the Roses. I've listed them in the magazine's order with their reasons in quotes. The magazine also has far more detailed descriptions and pictures.

1. Ludlow Castle, Shropshire - 'where the wars began.'

2. Bamburgh Castle, Northumberland - 'where the Lancastrians clung on'.

3. Raglan Castle, Monmouthshire - 'where Edward IV's favourite ruled'. (William Herbert)

4. Gainsborough Old Hall, Lncolnshire, - 'where civil rule continued'.

5. Tewkesbury Abbey, Gloucestershire - 'where the secnd war was won'.

6. Middleham Castle, North Yorkshire, - power base of watwick the Kingmaker and Richard III.

7. St George's Chaperl, Windsor - 'where Yorkist and Lancastrian kings flaunted their power'.

8. The Tower of London - 'where the bloodiest crimes were perpetrated'.

9. Bosworth Field, Leicestershire - 'where Richard III was slain'.

10. Westminster Abbey, London - 'where the first Tudor king built a magnificent chapel'.

I have visited all these places except number 6. Although it seems when I walked Bosworth field, I may not have walked the actual battlefield - complete with red rose (seriously!). Michael Hicks, one of my favourite 'Roses' historians, has written the article.

A visit to Hampton Court

The Entrance to Hampton Court - 'The Tudor Palace'

I decided to make the most of my recent visit to see ‘Anne Boleyn’ at the Globe, and visited Hampton Court Palace. I haven’t been there since I was very young. It’s easy to get a train from Waterloo station to Hampton Court – they run almost every half an hour, and the palace is right by the train station. As last year was the 500th anniversary of the accession of Henry VIII, the palace is continuing it’s ‘Henry’ theme this year. Last year, the focus was on the women in Henry’s life, and to some extent, this continues. On the day I went, ‘Henry’ was in residence with his sixth wife, ‘Catherine Parr’. They were celebrating their wedding. The man playing Henry VIII was exceptionally good, and kept making appearances throughout my 4 hour visit, along with Catherine, his courtier and lute player. In keeping with the wedding theme, the Great Hall is set out for the wedding feast, and there were some wonderful notices about Tudor eating and social habits.

The palace is divided into ‘themes’. As well as the wedding theme, there is also a young Henry VIII exhibition running. It is set in part of the original palace, and the rooms occupied by Thomas Wolsey, who acquired the manor house there and turned it into a palace. The exhibition is set around Henry, Wolsey and Catherine of Aragon, and the early years of Henry’s reign. There isn’t really a lot to see, but the story is told through video and information boards.

The ‘Henry VIII’ apartments features the ‘wedding’ of Henry VIII. There are some well known Tudor portraits on loan and are displayed in the so-called ‘haunted gallery’ (the scene of Catherine Howard’s hysteria). The chapel is open to view, as well as Henry’s council chamber, which features ‘video’ performances from Henry’s councillors from the 1540s.

Hampton Court has 2 distinctive styles. The Tudor palace is much in evidence as you enter the palace. The monarchs that altered the palace were the joint sovereigns William and Mary. I have to say, their apartments hold little interest for me, but they make up the third exhibition and if you are interested in them and their baroque design, it’s well worth a visit, and if you are not, well, it’s interesting to see how the palace changed. They ran out of money, and thankfully, were unable to complete their redesign of the palace.

The kitchens at Hampton Court give an excellent insight to what life at court was like, and I’ll save this description for another day.

Below - the 'Baroque' Palace of William and Mary.

Initials of Henry VIII and Anne Boleyn
'Old and new' meet.

Sunday, 15 August 2010

A little bit about the Globe theatre.

I can’t believe I’ve left it so ‘late’ to visit the Globe. The current Globe theatre was opened in 1997, and was the idea of the American actor Sam Wanamaker. Wanamaker had visited London in 1949 and had set out to find the site of the original Globe theatre. He was disappointed that there wasn’t even a memorial to it, as was I when I read about it. In 1970, he formed the Shakespeare Globe Trust, and in 1987, building work was started on the site of the original Globe theatre. The foundations were laid, and in 1993, the construction of the theatre itself was begun. I find it very sad that Wanamaker did not live to see the completion of his project – he died in 1993.

The original Globe was built in 1599, by Shakespeare’s players company, the Lord Chamberlain’s Men. The Globe burned down on June 29th, 1613 during a performance of Henry VIII. The thatched roof caught fire. No-one was killed or seriously injured.

As well as the theatre, the site also has a lecture room, eduactional facilities, book and gift shop and an exhibition, openly daily. I didn’t have time to go to the exhibition, and not surprisngly, it’s closed during performances.

On the subject of Shakespeare, I’ve been reading ‘Contested Will’ by James Shapiro which I bought at the Globe bookshop. It’s not really what I thought it would be about – that is discussing the candidates who might have been the ‘real’ Shakespeare. It’s actually the history, and I’d say pyschology, about the authorship debate. When it started, possible reasons for it and the thinking of the challengers of the authorship by promoters of Francis Bacon and the Earl of Oxford. It’s thought provoking and an excellent read.

Sunday, 8 August 2010

Further Thoughts on 'Anne Boleyn'

I was surprised that Brenton chose George Villiers, later the Duke of Buckingham, as the favourite of James 1st, instead of Robert Carr, who would have been the favourite at the time. The play covers James and Villiers meeting and the start of their relationship. At one point, James puts on Anne Boleyn's dress, dances with Villiers, and then kisses him on the lips. In the aftershow discussion, some of the audience made comparisons with other members of royalty. At one point, when Anne says she is Henry's 'true love', she uses the phrase 'the Queen of his heart', which reminded me, and others, of Princess Diana's desire to be the Queen of hearts, and Miranda Raison said this occurred to her. Another audience member remarked that James and George's relationship reminded him of Charles and Camilla - in being secretive -and also Edward II and his lover. I hoped he meant Piers! Although, the comparison of Charles and Camilla and Edward and Piers I find mind-boggling. Piers cared so much about his appearance and was complimented on his manners - erm, harldy much in common with Camilla. (I'm not a fan). Undoubtedly there were three people in Edward and Isabella's marriage, but the difference is that Charles could have married Camilla before Diana and didn't.

The comparison with James Ist and Robert Carr/George Villiers makes more sense, although James doesn't seem to have been as faithful to his favourites as Edward II. And what about James' Queen - Anne of Denmark? She was not as powerful as Isabella, but she seems happy to have tolerated James and his favourites, and went on to have many children with James. James' relationship with his favourites may have caused petty jealousies at court, but didn't really lead to any crisis. Scandal, yes - the infamous case of the murder of Thomas Overbury by Robert Carr and his wife Frances Howard. James survived it relatively unscathed, and both Carr and his wife, although convicted, were not executed. In my opinion, the majore difference is the role of the monarch and parliament, which had changed drastically since the reign of Edward II.

I will take this opportunity to recommend Anne Somerset's 'Unnatural Murder', about the Overbury case. It's a fascinating and riveting book about the scandal.

Saturday, 7 August 2010

A Review of ‘Anne Boleyn’ by Howard Brenton

It’s been a pleasure for me to attend 2 productions at The Globe Theatre in London. I’ve never attended any plays there or been on a tour of the Globe, so it was a thrill to experience Shakespeare’s Henry VIII and a new play, ‘Anne Boleyn’, in an Elizabethan setting. Fortunately both plays took place in glorious sunshine on the Saturday matinees I attended. ‘Henry VIII’ is not one of my favourite Shakespeare plays – it was written towards the end of his career and lacks a ‘real villain’ in Cardinal Wolsey. The actress playing Anne Boleyn in the play was Miranda Raison, (previously seen in Spooks), and she would go on to play Anne in Howard Brenton’s new play a few weeks later.

Brenton’s take on Anne Boleyn is as a keen promoter of the Reformation, with Anne passionate about William Tyndale’s ‘The Obedience of a Christian man’. The play opens with the ghost of Anne Boleyn, and the setting is the court of James 1st early in his reign. James has been going through Elizabeth’s possessions, and comes across a chest containing Anne’s Coronation day dress and a copy of Tyndale’s book hidden away. James is faced with problems with religion early in his reign, and he calls upon Anne to show him how to finish what she started. James 1st is played by James Garnon, who is out-standing in his portrayal of the ‘wisest fool in Christendom’. James is flamboyant, sharp-tongued, playful, clever and manipulative, as well as great fun to watch. The play then presents us with a serious of flash backs to Anne’s life contrasted with James’ problems with the clergy.

This is obviously first and foremost a drama. Nevertheless, the play is very accurate in it’s portrayal of Anne’s life. We never see Katherine of Aragon, but Wolsey and Thomas Cromwell both dominate the play. Cromwell eventually reveals his reformist reviews to Anne and gives her his support for the divorce. Henry VIII is played by Anthony Howell, ( previously in Foyle's War) and his scenes of courtship with Anne are charming. The play’s language is in stark contrast to Shakespeare’s Henry VIII – speeches are short and precise, and characters give us a modern slant on their thoughts – Anne wishes Katherine would ‘piss off and join a convent’. I thoroughly enjoyed the play.

Afterwards, I was lucky enough to attend a question and answer session with the cast in the lecture room at the Globe. Howard Brenton’s chief source for Anne was Eric Ives book, the best biographer of Anne in my opinion. Miranda Raison said she prepared for the role by reading selected parts of Ives biography. The actor playing Tyndale revealed he had read a bio of him and his works to prepare for the role. Anthony Howell had actually appeared in the film version of ‘The Other Boleyn Girl’ and already had background information. Interestingly, other cast members had not done any research.

Miranda Raison was excellent in the role of Anne – showing the religious side of Anne’s life, her vivacity and charisma. There was none of the ‘sexiness’ of the recent ‘The Tudors’ tv production, and Thomas Boleyn didn’t appear, so we did not have the ‘father pushes daughter’ scenario either. This is a thoughtful and enjoyable play, and I'd recommend anyone with an interest in Anne , Henry VIII or James 1st to see it.

Making Changes

I’ve decided to change the content of this blog. Ultimately, it is dedicated to Piers Gaveston, known sometimes as Perrot, the favourite of Edward II. Alas, I do not have the time to devote myself entirely to researching Piers, and could never hope to match the research done by Kathryn at her Edward II blog. Plus, I read a range of historical biographies and novels, and go on a number of historical visits unrelated to Piers but never get to share them. So I’m going to relate my experiences and opinions here – hence the Plus part. Hopefully this will ensure I post more regularly.

Saturday, 19 June 2010

Piers Gaveston Day!

Today is, of course, the anniversary of Piers' murder - I won't use the word execution. I have neglected Piers terribly the last couple of months - due to heavy work commitments. But I've decided today will be Piers Gaveston Day. I won't be dwelling on the sadness of Blacklow Hill. I shall be remembering the fun side of Piers - those searing insults to the barons, his mastery as a knight - particularly the Wallingford tornament - and his love of finery. Most of all, his loyalty and devotion to Edward II. I shall definitely be raising a glass to toast him tonight!

Thursday, 15 April 2010

Which actor should be cast as Piers?

A fun post today, inspired by Alianore who was inspired by me, if you follow! Not knowing how Piers Gaveston looked, I've often wondered if a film was made about Edward II, who should be cast as Piers. We don't even know if Piers as a blonde or dark-haired. I've always thought him to be dark-haired - don't ask me why! And for some reason, Ben Barnes as Prince Caspian is my candidate for Piers.

Despite looking incredibly young, Ben was 27 when he played this part. The fact that he's kitted out as 'a knight' is a huge advantage for Ben.

My favourite actor is Johnny Depp. As Captain Jack Sparrow, he has the swagger, the bravado and the flamboyance to be Piers. He's also really handsome! But so established is Johnny as Capt Jack, I can't imagine him as Piers. Hmmm, but how about Johnny as 'himself'? At 46, he's a bit too old to be Piers. But maybe in his younger days? How about this pic -

Or how about Johnny in one of my fav roles as Don Juan DeMarco?

My last contender - and I must admit, a real outsider for me, is Orlando Bloom. As William Turner in Pirates of the Carribean.

I'm definitely sticking with Ben Barnes as Prince Caspian, with Johnny as Don Juan in second place. I wonder who would be the ideal Edward II?

Wednesday, 7 April 2010

A review of Piers De Gaveston, by E.e.c.

This novel was originally published in 1838. It has been re-published by General Books using OCR software. I suspect E.E,C. is a woman, but there is no identification of the author. In the preface, the author gives nothing away, and continually refers to himself or herself as ‘the author’. This happens throughout the novel as well. The author ‘shares’ commentary with the main characters in the book, inviting them to tell their story, and then taking over for them. It becomes annoying when the author says he/she will leave the character to dwell on what has happened to them, and not intrude on their private thoughts.

The main focus of the novel is Margaret de Clare, Edward II’s niece. Margaret is a mature 17 at the start of the novel – not the ‘child bride ‘ of Piers. She is ‘hopelessly in love’ with Hugh Audley, and despite her status she has promised herself in marriage to him. All this has been done in secret because her brother would not approve. Then along comes Piers Gaveston, who falls in love with her, and asks Edward II for her hand in marriage. Margaret has taken a dislike to Piers, who, although very handsome, is haughty and proud – no surprise there! Margaret refuses to marry Piers, and it’s a case of being ‘forced’ by her family to do her duty. She reluctantly marries Piers, and, because of her family honour, acts the dutiful wife.

When Piers is banished to Ireland, Margaret dutifully promises to follow him, but is concerned Piers doesn’t want her to follow him. When she gets to Ireland, she founds out the reason why. Her husband spends hardly any time with her, and Margaret is shocked to find out he has a long-term mistress – the French-born Adele. Adele has been dishonoured by Piers – he persuaded her to elope with him, before he met Margaret, and she has followed him around as his mistress. The author says she has been ‘degraded’ and brought shame on her family. She loves Piers and cannot help herself. Margaret discovers that Piers has tired of her, and to gently cast her off, has asked Edward to declare and interest in her and take her as his mistress to free Piers of her. I know Edward is devoted – but really! Adele is horrified, and Margaret resolves to send her home to her family, away from the womanising Piers! This she manages, and of course, by then, Piers realises he really does love Margaret. There has to be a however – because it’s not long before Piers is tempted again by a lady of the court – in between cheating at cards at court. He has to cheat at cards because he and Edward have no money, and HE has to bankroll Edward – how sweet! The lady concerned is whisked away from court by her brother – one of the leading nobility who swears revenge on Piers.

The villain in this novel is ……Pembroke! How’s this for a twist? He has married Adele! So when Piers is ‘captured’ by Pembroke, Adele tries to help him to run away with her. But Piers is now once again devoted to Margaret, and faces his fate.

Margaret is the heroine of the novel – the author makes much of her obedience to her husband, which grows into love. Piers is called ‘our hero’ throughout, and is re-deemed by his love for Margaret. Margaret swoons quite a bit and is of course very brave. The author informs us that Adele realises she has led a life of vice and dies ‘by her own hand’. This is quite a charming novel, a novel of its time, and not to be taken seriously.

Thursday, 25 March 2010

A Few More Words on Dodge……

After the murder of Piers, chronicles claim that some shoe-makers recovered his body where it had fallen, and took it to Warwick Castle, where the Earl of Warwick refused to receive it. It was then taken by the Dominican friars to Oxford. There the body lay in state awaiting burial. Piers had died whilst excommunicated and Edward had wanted to exact revenge upon his murderers before finally burying him. Piers was finally laid to rest in January 1315 at the Dominican house in Kings Langley. This ‘house’ was built in the grounds of the palace of Kings Langley.

Dodge has inquired into churches in Kings Langley, and the ‘Church of the Friars Preachers was long gone’. All Saints Church is still standing, and Edmund of Langley's tomb was removed there. Dodge says that the altar tomb of Sir Ralph Verney, who died in 1528, was once mistaken for Piers’ monument. Edward would surely have given Piers a fine tomb – and it makes me wonder why that to wasn’t removed to All Saints? I have the feeling it would have been defaced etc during the Reformation.

Tuesday, 16 March 2010

Another 'new' 'old' book

Another publication from 'General Books', using OCR software, arrived today - 'Piers de Gaveston', by E.E.C. It's a novel and was originally published in 1838.

I still haven't finished with my comments on the Dodge book, but will also review this book when I've read it.

Wednesday, 10 March 2010

Review of Piers Gaveston, A Chapter of Early Constitutional History by Walter Phelps Dodge

This book was originally published in 1899. It was re-published by General Books in 2009. I got it from Amazon. The book is available on-line, but I would much rather have the hard copy. Inside the cover, there is a blurb that explains how this book was re-published – the original book was scanned using Optical Character Recognition software and then printed. It does keep the cost of the book down, and as I have said, I prefer a ‘hard-copy’ of the book than reading it on-line. However, there are some drawbacks – namely the photographs cannot be reproduced - you are able to see them with the on-line version – and the OCR cannot always recognise the words, which leads to a corruption of some words and sentences.

Written in 1899, it is a product of its time, and avoids identifying the nature of the relationship between Edward II and Piers Gaveston. In some parts of the books, Piers is referred to as ‘the favourite’ or even ‘Edward’s nephew’. At one point, the relationship is referred to as ‘sordid’. However, in the Appendix, Dodge makes his viewpoint clear. He refers to ‘some 16th century obscure chroniclers’ have ‘characterised the relationship between Edward and his favourite as being like those attributed to Socrates and Alcibiades. There is, however, little authority for such a scandalous supposition.’ Dodge then cites Hume, who says their relationship was ‘innocent though frivolous’. Dodge obviously never considered that in Edward’s case, actions speak louder than words, and 14th Century chroniclers just may have been wary in their recording of events.

Dodge gives a good account of the life of Piers’ father and the early life of Piers. In his discussion for the reasons for Piers’ banishment, however, he makes light of the ‘Ponthieu’ incident, giving it only 3 lines. He cites the incident of the ‘legend’ of Piers being caught hunting in the ‘Bishop of Chester’s park’ or the abandonment of the border war with Scotland. He notes the King was concerned over the Prince’s attachment to Piers. And that’s it.

Dodge claims Piers birthday was in December – without giving the source – but says that Edward gave him 2 gold rings, one set with a ruby, the other an emerald, as presents. This just made me think Piers was re-acting like anyone else with a birthday in December – making sure he got 2 presents :)

Dodge believes the animosity of the barons was mostly based on Piers being a foreigner, and that Edward chose Margaret de Clare as his bride to try and neutralise this. He claims that Margaret appeared fond of her ‘handsome husband’ and ‘never lost her affection for him’. Later on in the book, however, he says Margaret is no more than a ‘plaything’ for her husband!

Regarding Edward’s marriage, whilst referring to Isabella as a ‘child bride’, he says ‘from the first the Queen took a violent dislike to Gaveston’. His evidence is Piers behaviour at the Coronation – his ostentatious clothes and of course, pocketing Isabella’s jewellery! Usual clich├ęs! He does go on to say though that Isabella had a malicious and spiteful character, and that Edward failed to spot her true character. In fact, the whole of Dodge’s book is based on ‘if only…’. If only Piers had realised he could be a good influence on Edward, if only Edward were not so childish around Piers, if only Piers could have distinguished himself in England as he did in Ireland. Dodge believes that Piers had the potential to be a ‘good favourite’, and blames Edward for being weak and the barons for being as greedy and corrupt as they accused Piers.

One baron who is blasted by Dodge is Pembroke. He lays the blame for Piers fate squarely on Pembroke’s shoulders. Either Pembroke knew Warwick was on his way and left Piers to his fate, or he was incredibly stupid to leave Piers at Deddington and poorly protected. He even accuses Pembroke of leading Piers further away from any of his supporters by heading south. He is scathing that Pembroke didn’t arm himself and head for Warwick castle himself and demand to speak with Warwick. I don’t think Dodge takes on board how Pembroke’s honour was slighted, and his response afterwards. It does make me wonder though why Pembroke didn’t at least try to go to Warwick and negotiate with the barons there. Maybe he knew it was futile? Or maybe the lack of response from Gloucester made him realise he would be very much on his own in defending his honour and prisoner, and no one else nearby was going to help.

Dodge is also scathing with Lancaster. He says he was unpatriotic, didn’t have England’s interests at heart, and was avaricious and corrupt.

Dodge believes that Piers career could have been very different, and says that his epitaph could have been ‘wasted opportunities’. Overall, it is a positive biography of Piers, with good use made of sources. Brad Verity rightly pointed out that Dodge translated and examined sources not used by Chaplais or Hamilton, the most recent biographies. Definitely a Piers biography to be read.

Tuesday, 9 March 2010

Yet another great big THANK YOU to Brad Verity

Brad has offered his pictures of the tomb of Arnaud de Gaveston to be posted here. They are splendid pictures, and as Brad points out, you can see how different Piers' Coat of Arms as Earl of Cornwall are to his father's.

Sunday, 7 March 2010

A great big Thanks to Brad Verity!

Who has sent me 2 marvellous photographs from Winchester Cathedral of the tomb of Piers Gaveston's father, Arnaud de Gaveston. I'm amazed it has survived so well. A big thank you Brad as well for the link to your brilliant website - geneology and the descendants of monarchy.

Here's the link for anyone who wants to check it out -

Friday, 26 February 2010

A New/Old Piers book

Browsing on Amazon last week, I came across a re-issue of 'Piers Gaveston; A Chapter of Early Constitutional History' by Walter Phelps Dodge. The book was originally published in 1899, and has been available on-line for some time. It was re-issued in December 2009. Naturally, I ordered it, as it was reasonably priced, and much easier to read than on-line. Sadly, it doesn't have the pictures included. The on-line version (which is available for download), has a picture of the tomb of Piers Gaveston's father. I've never read the full text, so am looking forward to reading it.

Saturday, 9 January 2010

Neath Abbey

Ok, not really to do with Piers, but certainly Eward II. Edward fled to Neath Abbey and was pursued there by the supporters of Isabella, his estranged wife. Coins from Edward's reign have been found hidden in pillars, which Edward must have had put there. And this is not even the picture I wanted to post! There's a fantastic picture of Neath Abbey in the snow in a local paper, but it won't allow me to post it, so I came up with this one from last year, which is almost as spectacular.

Thursday, 7 January 2010

New Hugh Despencer Blog

Have just come across the new Hugh Despencer website by 'Lady Despencer' - Jules. It looks fantastic! Visit it it here -