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.