Saturday, 26 March 2011

David Starkey’s ‘Crown and Country’.

This book was one of my Christmas treats. I’ve always had a huge respect for Starkey, ever since I first saw him as a ‘witness for the prosecution’ in Channel 4’s ‘The Trial of Richard III’. I’ve subsequently watched all his television documentaries and read many of his books. I won’t review the whole book here, but I found his ‘take’ on Edward II and Piers very interesting. He starts, not surprisingly, by comparing Edward II with his father, and points out, rightly in my opinion, that whoever followed Edward Ist was in for a difficult time. He refers to the differences in character – the usual contrast between the warrior king Edward Ist and the ‘rustic pursuits’ Edward II enjoyed. Apart from the similarity in looks between father and son, they also shared a terrible temper.

Edward’s fascination for Piers is described as his ‘major personality flaw’, and that he only had ears and eyes for Piers. Exploring the relationship between the pair, Starkey affirms that no contemporary source explicitly says they were lovers – ‘but they probably came as near as they could’, and cites the well-known quotes, that Edward’s feelings for Piers was ‘the love, that surpasses the love of a woman’, and the infamous ‘David and Jonathan’ quote.

Much is made of Edward’s coronation oath, whereby he promised of uphold and defend ‘the laws and rightful customs which the community of the realm shall have chosen’. Therefore, the nobles saw the loyalty to the monarchy and not to Edward himself. They disapproved of Edward and Piers behaviour – Starkey says they were ‘breaking the rules’, and thus offended the nobles who saw themselves as the keeper of the rules. I particularly liked this quote from Starkey – ‘ Piers mockery of the nobility was the classic response of the outsider confronted by the clique of crusty old insiders’. The nobles, older members of this clique, saw it as their right to have their values and sensibilities to be respected by all – even the king. Membership to their clique was exclusive and limited, to those with the ‘right background’. ‘Their attitude was of course selfish and class-ridden’. Which begs the question, what if a member of the senior nobility had been Edward’s ‘favourite’? Would a homosexual relationship with a senior noble have been accepted? Would Edward have been left in peace? Or would powerful factions have been created? My opinion is that whoever Edward had become besotted with, whatever class he came from, factions would surely have sprung up. A king’s mistress could wield very little power at court, but a male lover was something else.

Although Starkey describes Edward as grief-stricken after the death of Piers, he sys the loss ran deeper than this. It was an affront to his kingship. ‘Gaveston was the thing in the world that had mattered most to him. But he had not been powerful enough or feared enough, to protect his life or avenge his death’.

Of course, Edward swore vengeance on the killers of Piers, and he would eventually take revenge on his cousin, Thomas of Lancaster. Edward and Piers had ‘gone along’ with exiles when threatened, but always with the intention they would re-unite. There’s no doubt in my mind that some nobles, namely Warwick and Lancaster, decided to assert themselves over Edward by murdering Piers. As well as ridding themselves of someone who thumbed his nose at them, they struck right at the heart of the king’s authority.

Sunday, 6 March 2011

5 Piers related things I'd like discovered........

The recent discovery of the ‘Henry VIII’ mural has really got me thinking about what else might be ‘out there’, waiting to be discovered. Well, actually, what I would like to be discovered. Here’s my ‘wish’ list for Piers. I’ve kept it to 5.

The first 2 are difficult to choose between, but I’m going to go with –

1. A portrait of Piers. Wouldn’t it be wonderful if a locket with his likeness was hidden away somewhere? Or perhaps his likeness lurks beneath an ancient plastered wall as a mural. I’ve always thought of him as dark-haired but there’s just no way of knowing his hair colour. We just know he was athletic, graceful and with fine manners.

2. His tomb. We know that Edward II had Piers interred at Langley – eventually. Edward buried Piers some 21/2 years after his death in a fine tomb at Langley. There was a palace, Dominican friary/Church at Langley. Hardly anything remains. I’ve got in touch with the local historical society, and the best they can tell me is that a private school now stands on the probable site.

3. A ‘private’ letter from Piers to Edward II, preferably written in his own hand, revealing the true nature of their relationship.

4. A ‘private’ letter from Edward II, to Piers, revealing the true nature of their relationship.

5. Some of Piers’ ‘bling’:) Piers has the reputation of a love of finery and jewels. When Piers was taken, he had on him a silver box containing 3 large rubies set in rings ( maybe one was the famed ‘La Cerise’ ruby ring), a diamond and emerald. Who knows where these precious stones ended up? They could possibly still be amongst today’s royal jewels or in a private collection anywhere in the world. And no-one would their history. A few years back, I read an article about how a diamond worn in a portrait by Mary Tudor, Henry VIII’s daughter, was traced to the actress Elizabeth Taylor. Or how about one of Piers silver forks for eating pears?

An item not related to Piers I would love to see turn-up is Anne Boleyn’s famous ‘B’ pearl necklace, although I’m sure it would have been broken up and incorporated into some new jewellery.