Sunday, 23 December 2012

Tis the season to be jolly.....

A Very Merry Christmas and Happy New Year to all!

Thursday, 6 December 2012

Historical Reconstruction: Anne Boleyn 'The Moost Happi' Portrait Medal

Whilst surfing the net, I came across this superb reconstruction of a medallion of Anne Boleyn.  It's a reconstruction of the only surviving contemporary portrait of Anne Boleyn.  Check out any book on Anne Boleyn and you'll find it.  Here is a picture of the badly damaged original -

Stonecarver Lucy Churchill has superbly reconstructed it.  This is the result -

To find out about Lucy's reconstruction, check out her web page here -

There are an awful lot of tacky 'souveneirs' available featuring Anne Boleyn.  As an Anne supporter, I refuse to buy it - but this medal is absolutely stunning and well worth the price.  It's not often I flag up anything for sale, but this is worth every penny.  I ordered mine and am delighted with it.

Sunday, 18 November 2012

Uncertain Proof - a film about the possible survival of Edward II

I first heard of this film on Kathryn’s ‘Edward II’ blog.  It was in production and that was all I heard about it.  So I was delighted to see it for sale in Berkeley Castle shop.  I bought it of course!  It tells the story of Manuel de Fieschi’s quest to find out what happened at Berkeley Castle in 1327.  In an interview with the screenwriter, A. G. Ford, on a second disc, the screenplay is first and foremost written as a piece of drama, about a conversation between the supposed Edward II and Manuel de Fieschi.   It was the discovery of a copy of Manuel de Fieschi’s letter that led to debate about the possible survival of Edward II, and how he lived out his life as a hermit in Italy.   So the film itself is not an exact account of what de Fieschi claimed. 

In this version, de Fieschi has attended the court of Edward II and seen him and his lover Hugh Despencer at court.  Later on, he claims to have been at Berkeley and heard the screams of Edward II.  These scenes are in flashback, and we have a young de Fieschi as a priest having heard the strange story of an English hermit who lives high on a remote mountain.  We don’t really know why de Fieschi is convinced the hermit is Edward – in fact, we just find out that he is desperate to be taken to see this hermit, and the isolation and bleakness of the hermit’s home dominates the first 20 minutes.   When he reaches the remains of an old farm inhabited by a woman who feeds the hermit, we learn about the life of self-imposed hardship of the hermit.  He lives in a disused pig-sty, which he locks from the inside, and he is therefore his own jailor.  He comes out at certain times to eat the bread and water left by the woman, with whom he has virtually no contact.  He has built his own altar and appears daily to worship there.  Fieschi is deliberately portrayed as an arrogant young man with little calling to the priesthood, and when the old man appears, he continually goads him for deserting his duty as king.  He cannot understand how someone who has lived as a king can now live like this.  The hermit goes about his business, washing, eating etc, whilst Fieschi rants about the life Edward led with Piers Gaveston (yes, he gets a mention!) and Hugh Despencer, reminding Edward of the awful death suffered by Despencer.  He talks about life at the court and kingly duty.  Eventually, the hermit, who has not admitted to being Edward II, decides to talk to the young priest and explains his reasoning.  He speculates what this Edward might say.  Basically, the old man longs for death, but will not take his life, and regrets nothing, except the death of the old porter – the first admission by the hermit that he is Edward II.  We are not able to witness their full conversation, but de Fieschi comes away much moved by the hermit’s story.  I have to admit, I found the film deeply moving as well – to think that Edward now lived this poor, remote life with nothing to look forward to but death.  There was no contact with anyone, and his life must have been dominated by the events of his reign.  It is of course only an interpretation, but one that shows great sympathy for the supposed Edward, and whilst I do not believe the ‘red hot poker story’ and strongly believe Edward survived, it made me question the misery of the survival he may have endured.  Well worth watching.


Sunday, 11 November 2012

More pix from Berkeley

It seems to be the norm now, that most castles don't allow photography in them anymore.  I feel guilty, but there are times I just have to have a photo.  Here are a couple of sneaky pix from Berkeley.

 Not a very good one of the so-called dungeon at Berkeley.  It seems to be a well, and it was here, according to one chronicler, where the carcasses of dead animal  were thrown in the hope the putrid smell would kill off Edward II - as well as most of the other occupants as it right in the middle of the castle!

 The material which has been nailed to the wall in one part of the castle is allegedly a tapestry from one of the tents of Henry VIII at the Field of Cloth of Gold, and was put in place for a visit for Henry VIII and Anne Boleyn.
 Their daughter, Elizabeth Ist, also visited the castle, and this is the bed covering used for her visit.
There's very little of it left, but this flag was the English standard from the battle of Flodden in 1513.
And of course, wherever Edward II has been, there just has to be some mention of Piers!  He gets everywhere:)

Friday, 2 November 2012

A Visit to Berkeley Castle - and no sign of a poker!

This week I made it to Berkeley Castle before it closes for the winter.  I have been to Berkeley before  - about 20 years ago.  The castle has very restricted visiting times, and is closed every Friday and Saturday - even at the height of summer.  It makes a very lucrative living from hosting weddings, and can obviously benefit from closing on those days.  It is a fine castle, and has been in the hands of the Berkeley family for almost 800 years.  The family are proud to say on their website that the castle has not been 'romanticised' or modernised by the Victorians, and the castle is  'a Norman fortress with an enclosing curtain wall, built and enlarged through the medieval period and beyond into a secure, comfortable, substantial home.'

Of course, the main reason for my visit was to see the 'cell' that Edward II was kept in when he was deposed and kept prisoner there.  He was kept in some comfort and treated well.   You can't go into the cell, but have to look through some grating in a wall to see how it might have looked.

Of course, someone on the guided tour just had to ask where was the famous red hot poker, which was used to murder Edward II.  The guide was very sensible, and said it was most likely a myth, and that if Edward had been murdered in that cell, he would probably have been smothered or poisoned.  She even said there are stories that Edward escaped and survived, although sadly, she then added she found it ridiculous that his body was returned and buried in Gloucester Cathedral 20 years later.  She obviously needs to read the work of Ian Mortimer and check out Kathryn's website.

Despite the presence of a famous royal prisoner, apart from the cell, there's very little else to do with Edward II there.  Having sold out of guidebooks as it was the end of the season, we had to rely on the guide to get any background to Edward's story, and it was the usual information - Edward was a bad husband, gave his favourite his wedding presents etc, etc.  I could only shake my head.  At least the red hot poker story seems to be on it's way out.

Sunday, 21 October 2012

Raglan Castle

I have really neglected this blog this month, and have nothing Piers-related to post.  However, I came across some more pictures of Raglan Castle from my visit earlier this year.  There's very little of the castle left which Henry VII would have known as a child.  He was a sort of hostage there of Lord Herbert, and his Queen, Elizabeth of York, visited the castle on her own progress.

Monday, 1 October 2012

The mortuary chests at Winchester Cathedral

All this coverage of the possible discovery of the bones of Richard III reminded me of a conversation I had with a guide about the mortuary chests in Winchester Cathedral.  The chests contain the bones of the Anglo-Saxon kings, for example, Cnut, and possibly the bones of William Rufus.  During the time of the Civil war, soldiers destroyed the tombs of the old kings, as well as smashing the stained glass windows and ruining the medieval carvings.  The people of Winchester gathered up the bones, and placed them in mortuary chests, which are placed high up in the cathedral.  Some say the bones of William Rufus are mixed in with them, but there is also a plaque which supposedly marks the place where he is buried.  The chests are due to be opened - right now - and examinations/DNA work carried out on the bones.  I managed to take a few pictures, but I'm afraid the light was not great.

The picture of the carvings shows the Victorians attempts to recreate the original medieval carvings.  The stained glass windows were reconstructed by the townspeople shortly after they were smashed.  Interestingly, the remains of King Alfred were buried in Winchester's old minster, and later moved to Hyde Abbey, and lost in the Reformation.

Winchester also contains the shrine of St Swithun, whose remains were also dug up and discarded.  All this makes me wonder how on earth Piers Gaveston's father's tomb remained intact!

Winchester Cathedral also contains the grave of the novelist Jane Austen, who died whilst visiting Winchester. 

Sunday, 23 September 2012

More pictures of Sudeley castle

The de Sudeleys date back to the Norman conquest.   There has been some sort of castle there since the Conquest.  One of the descendants, a second son, took his mother's name of de Tracy, and was one of the knights who killed Thomas A Beckett.  At one time, the castle was in the possession of Richard III, as Duke of Gloucester.  He added to the existing structure.  The castle passed into the hands of the monarchy, and Henry VIII and Anne Boleyn stayed there.  The real damage to the castle was done in the time of the civil war, when it was blasted with cannon fire.  It has been restored by the Dent-Brocklehurst family.

 In case anyone is wondering, there is a modern sculpture attached to the castle walls.

Friday, 14 September 2012

Quincentenary of the birth of Katherine Parr at Sudeley castle

This summer I was fortunate to visit Sudeley Castle, near Cheltenham, in the quincentenary year of the birth of Katherine Parr, the sixth wife of Henry VIII.  The castle is always worth a visit, but this year, there is a fantastic exhibition running on Katherine Parr with several events taking/taken place to mark the occasion.  Those involved include David Starkey and Alison Weir.  You can see a special film created by David Starkey in which he talks about the personality and character of Katherine.  Katherine must have had an enormous influence on her step-daughter Elizabeth, and the young Jane Grey, who was the ward of Katherine's fourth husband, Thomas Seymour.  She showed them that a woman could wield power, having acted as Regent for her husband Henry VIII when he was at war with France.  She was also the first woman to have her books published in her own lifetime.  Also on show are the costumes used in Starkey's 'Six Wives' documentary for channel 4.  You can see several items that belonged to Katherine, such as a piece of one of her dresses and some of her books, and see the recently restored rooms in her apartments, which had previously been destroyed by fire. 

Sudeley castle is unique in that it is the only private castle in which a Queen of England has been buried.  The story of Katherine's tomb is well known - how, after the castle fell into ruin during Oliver Cromwell's time, and the church was used to stable the horses belonging to the Roundheads, her tomb was discovered by a group of ladies on a walking tour in 1782, who had heard the former queen was buried there.  A slab on top of the tomb had broken, and the coffin was exposed.  Katherine's body had been wrapped in lead, and  a small portion was removed to view her head and one of her arms.  Her body was perfectly intact, her flesh being described as still 'moist and white'.  A lock of her hair and one of her teeth were removed, as well as a piece of seer cloth.   The body was then re-covered.  However, word had got out about the discovery, and the coffin was continually re-opened, so that barely 6 months later, the body had began to seriously decay.  When the Dent family took control of the castle in the 19th century, Katherine was given a proper burial with a fine marble effigy on top of the tomb.  You can see the hair, tooth and portion of seer cloth on show at Sudeley. 

One of the exhibits on show is a piece of lace that was woven by Anne Boleyn for her daughter Elizabeth, which Elizabeth gave to Katherine Parr.  You can clearly see Anne's device of the falcon woven into it.

Above, the ruins of Sudeley castle, the church, and the tomb of Katherine Parr.

A fragmanet of a dress belonging to Katherine Parr
 A lock of Katherine's hair and one of her teeth.  (These were not supposed to be photographed!)
The cloth woven by Anne Boleyn and given to her daughter Elizabeth.

Sunday, 2 September 2012

Tomb of Edward II

I did a mini-tour of the Cotswolds this summer, and visited Gloucester Cathedral.  It was my second visit in 2 years.  It is a splendid cathedral, but my main purpose for visiting is to see the tomb of Edward II.  The tomb is magnificent - particularly the effigy of the King himself, who looks so 'peaceful'.  I believe the effigy is the first time a monarch was featured holding the orb.  There is a plinth in front of the tomb which historians think may have held a golden, jewelled ship which was presented by Edward III, his son.  It's hard to imagine that the tomb would have been encrusted with jewels and brightly coloured.  There is an information sheet which shows how it may have looked.  Unfortunately, there is some graffiti from the 1800s which has been put down to children attending the Cathedral school. 

As I'm writing this post, there's a programme on tv about......Berkeley castle!  and yes, the story of the red hot poker is being told, with the added information that Edward II may have been strangled or suffocated.  No mention of the possible survival of Edward II - most disappointing!  BBC should check out Kathryn's blog and the writings of Ian Mortimer.

Wednesday, 22 August 2012

The tomb of Arnaud de Gabaston

Finding myself in Winchester last week, I headed to the Cathedral.   I knew that Piers' father, Arnaud de Gabaston, was buried there, and thanks to Brad Verity, I knew what it looked like.  Unfortunately, there is no plaque or information post next to the tomb - nothing to identify it as Arnaud.  I asked a guide there about the tomb, and he seemed very surprised that I knew about it, as he explained to me later that no-one 'ever asks about it'.  Amazingly, it was right behind me as I asked!  The guide told me it had been moved from it's original place but that it was 'intact'.  A lot of the tombs had been opened during the Reformation and by those pesky Victorians, who have an awful lot to answer for!  Nearly all the other tombs with effigies were of former bishops of Winchester and other clergy, so it was quite a surprise to see Arnaud's tomb.  It may be that other tombs of knights etc had been removed - I don't know enough about the history of the Cathedral.  Here are some of my photos.

The latter picture if a close-up of the shield Arnaud is holding.   For more on Arnaud de Gabaston and Piers' family, Kathryn has just posted her latest research on her blog.

Saturday, 11 August 2012

Time to give Flo the big picture......

Hi there Flo, (I don't do 'auntie letters'),

OK, first up, I'm not writing to ask you for advice - I never ask anyone for advice, but willingly give my advice to others, which is why I'm writing to you.   I don't feel those who have written to you recently are telling you the whole truth, and while I appreciate your answers, I feel you need to be, well, more honest - blunt, as it were.  Just so you know, I am 'P', 'Perrot', 'Peter' - though I won't hide behind a false name - I'm Piers. 

OK, first of all, the 'child bride' is nothing more than a spoilt brat - totally indulged by her father.  She arrogantly expects every man to fall in love with her.  At the moment she is hanging around her 'arranged' husband like a puppy dog, which is so irritating.  Everyone knows it's an 'arranged' marriage - why pretend otherwise?  She constantly demands he tell her how beautiful she is - but let me tell you, it's hard for him when she has a serious break-out of teenage acne, and worse, squeezes her spots in front of him - bleuch!  As for considering wearing this bra garment - she has nothing to put in it!  She's only 12, which I think explains her naivety.  You are not naive, and you know perfectly well that 'E Rex' and I don't have 'sleepovers'.  We are in fact 'together' - not in 'brotherhood', as Ed likes to kid himself and others, but in the fullest sense - lovers - there, said it.  I've had to put up with all this marriage business, then the elevation of that little madam taking my place at Ed's side.  It hasn't been easy for me, you know.  But have I written a whinging letter asking for advice?  Of course not, I've just been helping Ed exactly as before - even minding the 'family silver', as it were and organising ceremonies and feasts for them. 

I'm afraid Ed lacks confidence, which I can give him by the bucketful!  Why be worried about digging ditches and getting drunk with sailors?  People do far worse things than that!  And digging ditches and rowing have given him a marvellous physique!  You should see him, stripped to the waist, glistening with perspiration in the midday sun!  A splendid sight!  And if he wants to offer me a few perks to make up for having to give him time with that spoilt brat, who am I to refuse?  It would be churlish of me to refuse. 

Now for that awful Tom!  You are so right about him being jealous - of Ed, me, and, erm, me!  I should point out that I am known for my grace and good-manners, whereas he is most ill-mannered - a complete churl, in fact.  No social graces, swaggers around and tries to boss poor Ed around.  It quite upsets Ed at times, and I do my best to defuse the situation and make light of Tom's arrogance - I do a very good impression of him, which makes Ed laugh so much!

So there you have the full story Flo - just tell Isa Ed is NEVER going to be in love with her but will give her a brilliant lifestyle, tell Ed to assert himself and be true to himself, and tell Tom to curb his jealousy - Ed's in charge no matter what he thinks.  And Flo, I've enclosed my portrait, so you can see that yes, I am extremely handsome - pin it above your bed and dream - that's all I can promise you as my heart belongs to Ed.  And I really do think you should get out and live life instead of listening to the likes of Isa and Tom droning on about their so-called problems.

  Blowing you a big kiss,  Piers

Saturday, 4 August 2012

Now who is writing to Auntie Flo?

Dear Auntie Flo,

Oh dear – where to start?  Well, I’ll call myself Tom, and I am part of a great, powerful, family, of which I’m immensely proud.  Unfortunately, I’m not the head of the family, although there are many who think I should be.  My cousin is the head – let’s call him ‘Ed’.  I admit he looks like the head of a great family – he’s very striking, muscular and has presence, but he doesn’t always act like the head.   He enjoys rather vulgar pursuits such as swimming and rowing – and much worse that I daren’t tell you.  Worst of all, he seems, erm, devoted to his ‘best friend’ who I’ll call ‘Peter’.  This friend is just so unsuitable – for a start, he’s not even English, he comes from Gascony, of all places!  And I’m sure you know what those Gascons are like!   He’s not even well-born!  I admit he was thought as a suitable companion for my cousin in his teens – I will say he is graceful and well-mannered.   The family were a little bit worried about how ‘friendly’ my cousin and this Gascon were, and we did our best to separate them for their own good.  But now my cousin is in charge, he and his friend are behaving outrageously!   This Peter has been promoted beyond his wildest dreams, given land and jewels.  Of course, it’s turned his head, and he now is just such a show-off, mocking me for my lack of manners amongst other things – and all the while my cousin just laughs.  He is so arrogant!  Whenever we discuss the family business, this Peter takes centre stage, and Ed listens to only him.  This is just so wrong!  I mean, I am a fine leader of men myself – many think me more suited to my cousin’s job, and I’m much more of a role model than this Gascon upstart.  My cousin has had to marry for the family’s sake – and his wife is a lovely, beautiful, powerful girl – I mean, she is only 12, but she’s so beautiful!  We hoped this would ‘cure’ Ed – but no, he’s more devoted to his friend than ever!  They even have sleepovers!  Please tell me how to rid my cousin of this awful man and realise how marvellous I am. 

Yours  majestically, Tom, Lancaster

Dear Tom,

What is going on here?  I don’t think your cousin’s friend is the problem – who, to be fair, sounds a lot of fun.  You don’t.  It seems to be you are a very jealous person – jealous of your cousin’s looks, hobbies, and his best friend.   You admit this friend has many good attributes.  You accuse him of being arrogant – and yet you talk about how suited you are for the top job and what a marvellous role model you are for your cousin.  At least this Peter has a sense of humour, which your cousin must find a pleasant change as you sound so pompous and snobbish.  I find it disturbing that you would rather your twenty something cousin should be spending all his time with a 12 year old girl than this fun, pleasure-seeking best friend.  You need to get over your jealousy, leave your cousin to run the business and enjoy his friendship with Peter.   Get your own life!
Sincerely, Auntie Flo (and can you send me a portrait of this Peter?  I want to see if he has the looks to match the personality!)

Sunday, 29 July 2012

'E Rex' seeks advice.....

Dear Auntie Flo,

Oh dear, where do I start?  I would describe myself as the head of a big, family business - yes, that's it.  I'll call myself E Rex.  I have been a bit of a disappointment to my family in the past - I'm afraid I haven't always behaved like the son of the head of the family firm.  Now that I am the head, I was hoping things would improve.  But I have heard people whispering about me, and complaining that I spend too much time on my hobbies, such a ditch-digging and swimming - and my chief hobby in particular - my best friend 'P'.  I call him that because we spend all our time together.  Our friendship is a bit difficult to explain - we call it a sort of brotherhood, really, and this involves doing most things together - even sleepovers!  He's not into ditch-digging best, but gives me plenty encouragement when I do. He always watches me toiling away in the sunshine.  It's always great fun, and of course, as my best friend, he's been, er,  promoted.  Obviously, there are many who are jealous of him, and who can blame them?  He's just so wonderful - handsome, witty and confident.  As head of the family, I realise it's my duty to marry for  it's sake - and have done so.  This is my real problem - my bride is 12 years-old, and despite her youth, is very keen to be my wife.  I'm in my 20s - she's far too young to interest me.  I'd rather wait until she was, oh, 20!  But she is being very demanding and has even complained that I allowed my best friend to keep her jewels safe - ok, he did wear some to an important banquet - and very handsome he looked as well - but who better to look after things for me?  She's now hinting that she wants to come to one of our sleepovers, and has even asked her uncles to 'have a word' about my husbandly duties.  What can I do? 

yours hopefully, E Rex

Dear E Rex,

hmm, I think there are a number of issues here that need addressing.   First, who cares what your father thought of you?  You're in charge now, right?  As for your bride - yes, a 12 year-old is too young for you to spend time with.  Can't you make sure she has extra lessons, plenty of exercise and is in bed by 7pm, where either you or your friend could read her a goodnight story?  Maybe get her a pet dog as well?  I'm sure she'll be much happier.

What concerns me is your 'friendship' with 'P'.  You have real blood brothers - why do you want a 'brotherhood' pact with someone else?   And please - you are too old for sleepovers.  You don't fool me - even if you can fool a 12 year-old girl.  You are of course in love with 'P', and providing you are discreet, I don't see why you shouldn't enjoy your 'sleepovers' and 'brotherhood':)  You should be cautious, and perhaps not give your friend so many promotions and favours, no matter how handsome he is.  It may also be worth having a word with your child bride's uncles, and ask them to put her in the picture.  Enjoy your ditch-digging and your friend!

good luck, Auntie Flo

Monday, 23 July 2012

Agony Aunt 13th century style

For some reason, the recent discovery of some medieval underwear has inspired me to write a spoof  agony aunt post from a certain Isabella.........

Dear Auntie Flo,

Please can you help me?  I am 12 years old, and apparently the most beautiful woman in Europe, if not the world.  That's what my family and father's courtiers tell me.  Any man who sees me will fall madly in love with me.   I am just so beautiful!  I may be only 12, but could pass for at least 14.  So why am I so unhappy?  Well, I have just got married to a man chosen by my father.  He is very handsome, and considerably older than me - but as I am so beautiful, this shouldn't be a problem.  However, my husband has been rather reluctant to spend any time with me.  He has unusual hobbies such as thatching roofs and digging ditches.   Bizarre, isn't it?  Although I know nothing about these hobbies, I'm willing to put up with them.  What I cannot put up with is the amount of time he spends with his best friend - a certain Gascon who I will call 'Perrot'.  My husband spends most of his time with his best friend - they are always together and even have sleep-overs, to which I am never invited.  My husband even allowed him to try on our wedding jewellery - even if I confess it did look much better on him.  He is very handsome.  I've asked my friends their advice.  Some have suggested taking up my husband's hobbies - but I've no idea how to dig a ditch, and when one has servants, why would you even want to?  Another friend suggests I have a sleep-over in my bedroom and invite them both.  Yet another has told me about a new invention called a bra with matching knickers, and that my husband may find me irresistible in them.  What do you think?

Isa, aged 12.

Dear Isa,

I have a sneaking suspicion I may know who you are on about, so here is my advice.  First, no matter how beautiful you are, I'm afraid there are some men who just won't fancy you - simple as that.  I might add you sound very conceited about your looks, and this can be unattractive to many - including your husband.  You are also only 12 years old - what on earth can you possibly have in common with your husband?  You say he likes thatching and digging ditches - he sounds an outdoor type and I'm sure he looks very handsome, stripped to the waist and gleaming with sweat.  So what are your interests?  Playing with dolls?  riding your pony?  Hardly likely to entice your husband away from a ditch, eh?  As for your husband's friend - you say he is very handsome and looks better in your jewellery than you - are you sure you are not a little in love with him yourself, and that's why you resent your husband spending time with him?   I must say you sound very immature to want to have a sleep-over with your husband and his friend, and I feel it my duty to have to break the news to you that grown men do not have sleep-overs, and that I strongly suspect this friend offers your husband something you cannot.  Perhaps you should ask an older male relative to have a little chat to you about this.  Oh, and as for the bra and knickers - after the chat with your male relative, you will see that they are useless, and I'd pack them away and forget about them.   Your husband will want children at some point, and when you grow up, you may find you enjoy spending such little time with your husband and enjoy splurging on bling and clothes for yourself, and being waited on like a Queen, and caring for your children.

best wishes, Auntie Flo

Sunday, 22 July 2012

Medieval Underwear?

Nothing to do with Piers, but this story did catch my attention in the media this week.  A set of underwear, consisting of a bra and knickers, has been found in a castle in Austria.  Bras were thought to have only been invented about 100 years, but it seems history may have to be re-written.  Here's a picture of the very modern-looking bra. 

Monday, 18 June 2012

700th anniversary

Today, June 19th marks 2012 marks the 700th anniversary of Piers Gaveston’s death.    To mark the anniversary this year, I thought I’d take a look at the inscription on the Gaveston Cross memorial.   My first ever post on this blog was about my search for this monument.  It is a Grade II listed monument, hidden away, and no-one seems to know who the monument actually belongs to.  The monument is made of sandstone and is over 6 metres tall.  It was put up by a local squire called Bertie Greatheed who lived nearby at Guys Cliffe.  I’ve never found out what inspired him to put this monument in place.  If he was an admirer of Piers,  why does it have such an awful inscription on it?  The inscription was written by a local curate and friend, Dr Samuel Parr.  It reads –

In the Hollow of this Rock,
Was beheaded,
On the 1st Day of July, 1312,
By Barons lawless as himself,
PIERS GAVESTON, Earl of Cornwall;
The Minion of a hateful King:
In Life and Death,
A memorable Instance of Misrule.

The date is incorrect and it hardly honours Piers, Edward II or those who set out to kill him, so maybe it was purely the local history of the place, that inspired him.   So for the 700th anniversary, I shall write what I would like to see inscribed.

In the Hollow of this Rock

Was unjustly executed

By over-mighty barons

On June 19th 1312

Piers Gaveston, Earl of Cornwall

Devoted and loyal friend of King Edward II

RIP Piers Gaveston.  I shall raise a glass of wine and toast as usual.

Friday, 8 June 2012

Reflecting on 'don't defame the dead'

There is a very interesting topic being discussed in some of my favourite blogs, started by Kathryn at her brilliantly researched Edward II, and also at the Thomas Cromwell Experience and Neville Feast.  It’s all about ‘Don't defame the dead’.   Edward II, Thomas Cromwell and Richard Neville, Earl of Warwick have all been much maligned in fiction and non-fiction.  It can be easily done because you cannot libel the dead.  And once a historical person is given a reputation, it can sometimes be very hard to shake the perception.    Those with an interest in history will I’m sure make the effort to check so-called facts, sources and interpretations.  Those who merely like a good story, probably won’t, unless their interest is sparked.  A friend of mine always reads the top sellers, whatever their content, and I could hardly believe what she was trying to tell me about Anne Boleyn after reading ‘The Other Boleyn Girl’ by Phillippa Gregory.  I just cannot believe that anyone would think Anne guilty of the charge of incest.   There are so many biographies on Anne, and almost all find her innocent of the charges brought against her – but a work of fiction being quoted at me as evidence of her character was shocking!   Even worse was the film that followed, which those with little knowledge took as ‘the truth’.   You could say that Gregory is entitled to artistic licence and to interpret the history of Anne as she wants, but when I see Gregory on tv speaking as a ‘historian’, the line becomes blurred for me.

I must admit I read very little historical fiction these days.  The main problem is time, and also that there is so much ‘bad’ historical fiction out there.  In my early teens,  way before the internet, I relied on my local library, and read every  Jean Plaidy  novel I could get my hands on.  I always read non-fiction books on the Tudors, but any non-Tudor Plaidy novels I read would always spark an interest and then I’d look for factual books and check her historical interpretation and understanding.    Plaidy relied on Agnes Strickland’s ‘Lives of the Queens of England’, of which there was a complete reference set in my local library and I spent many a rainy day in school holidays ploughing through the volumes.   Of course a lot of what Strickland wrote has been challenged, and rightly so.   I found Plaidy’s novels inoffensive, even when I disagreed with her interpretation.  It was having read Plaidy’s ‘Follies of the King’ which ignited my interest in Piers Gaveston, although it was very difficult to find any history bios on Edward II then, let alone Piers.   I read many fiction books at that time, and was used to the portrayal  of Edward and Piers as being weak, Edward being more or less stupid and being led by the nose by Piers, who was always arrogant and vain and annoyed the hell out of a neglected/vengeful Isabella and paid the price. 

Today’s historical fiction goes much further than Plaidy ever did.   Some of the things I’ve read have bordered on the ridiculous, the bizarre and downright insulting.  In some novels I’ve read how Isabella was abused by her brothers as a child,  Piers was a high – or even low – class whore,  Edward was unbelievably stupid and a rapist who didn’t love his children.   It’s the portrayal of Piers as a prostitute I most object to.  There is NO evidence for this.  Piers is praised in the chronicles of the time as being graceful, well-mannered and chivalrous who actively took part in warfare or tournaments and was seen as a fit companion for the Prince of Wales by no less a person than his father, Edward Ist.  So, whenever Piers is down on his luck, short of money etc, does he enter a rich tournament?  Ask Edward for some money?  Or even ‘steal’ Edward’s wedding presents?  Ask his family for money?  Sell his horse or fine clothes?  Indulge in a bit of piracy?  No, he sleeps with anyone for whatever coin he can get.    Apparently this is all to do with him being raped as a child.  Poor Piers ends up getting raped by Edward and Warwick’s men when he is imprisoned in the same novel.   I wonder where the source for this evidence comes from?  Is there a book out there entitled ‘Knighthood and Prostitution in Medieval times’?   or maybe ‘Warfare and whoring’?   

The nature of the relationship between Piers and Edward II may never be known – unless Piers’ diary is secretly out there somewhere.  It is open to interpretation by novelists.  But as the novelist Susan Higginbotham said on Kathryn’s blog, and I hope she doesn’t mind me re-posting it here –

I think there's responsible gap-filling and irresponsible gap-filling. For instance, it's beyond dispute that something happened to Richard III's nephews. A novelist writing about Richard is going to have to come up with some solution to the mystery (unless he or she chooses to leave it unsolved, which for me as a reader would be off-putting).

But there's irresponsible gap-filling--as in a novel I read where the author invents an episode where Lady Jane Grey is raped by her father, and then uses this supposed rape, which is not supported by a shred of historical evidence, to explain some of Jane's actions later in the novel.

I totally agree with what Susan is saying, and I have read her novels and thoroughly enjoyed them, and there are times I may disagree with her historical interpretation, but I accept why she has written it and more importantly, I have never been offended by anything she has written. 
Many thanks to Kathryn for this wonderful 'card' which I hope she doesn't mind me re-posting - it says it all for me.


Sunday, 20 May 2012

Anniversary of Anne Boleyn's execution

The 19th of May is the anniversary of the execution of Anne Boleyn, and this year I managed to make my way to the Tower of London for the date.  I visited the chapel of St Peter ad Vincula on 2 of the Beefeater tours, and then when it was opened to the public after 4.30pm.  I saw the famous basket of roses that arrives every year - no-one knows who from.  Other people had also brought flowers to lay on Anne's grave.  The flowers increased as the day went on.  I enjoyed meeting some of Anne's 'fans', and although it's not allowed, I'm afarid I did sneak a quick photo.  Sorry!

Friday, 18 May 2012

Dark forces?

I had intended this post to be about the surrender of Scarborough castle by Piers Gaveston  on May 19th.  I wanted to look at Paul Doherty's novel 'The Darkening Glass' (the third in his 'Mathilde' novels) and his idea that there was a 'dark force' at work.  Unfortunately, there is an even bigger dark force at work, and not in 1312, but 2012.  Kathryn, who runs the Edward II blog, alerted me to an article that appeared in the Daily Telegraph by the 'historian' Dan Jones.  Dan Jones has written an extremely heavy book entitled 'The Plantagenets'.  Tackling such a huge project has, I'm afraid, let Dan Jones - known for his 'sexy writing' - rely on some of the same old stories that have been reproduced over the years, if the article in the Daily Telegraph is anything to go by.  Here is the link -

We get the usual tales of Edward wanting to give away his lands and being assaulted by his father, Edward giving Piers a 'royal' title that was promised to his younger half  brothers,  Piers taking all the wedding presents for himself, blah, blah, etc.  Oh, and Isabella is the 'much-maligned Queen'.  But Jones seems to go a step further.  Piers was credited as being graceful, good-mannered, chivalrous etc - a good role model for Prince Edward - but Jones says this was all a 'facade' - and that Piers introduced Edward to the unaristocratic pursuits of swimming, rowing, thatching - yes, Piers, who is never mentioned as enjoying these pursuits himself or introducing them to Edward.  The real Piers Jones tells us, was 'was arrogant, haughty, grasping and immature'.  He may well have been over-confident and displayed arrogance - but does that mean he couldn't be graceful?  well-mannered?  Looking like the god Mars at the coronation?  active in tournaments?  What surely could Edward have seen in someone so awful?  Jones seems to think it could have possibly be lust.

Other things that irked me were when Jones admits the wars with Scotland were inherited and expensive - and then slams Edward for not pursuing them.  The must ridiculous statement, in my opinion, is this one -

 The French king was a cruel persecutor of heresy who would not have allowed his little girl to marry a sodomite.

Erm, Philip was a medieval monarch, and as such would have wed his 'little girl' (a rather emotive way to describe Isabella) to whoever it suited him to.  And following this theory, if Edward and Piers were lovers, that it can only have been so after Edward was married, unless they were terribly discreet - but surely Philip would have had an inkling when Piers was left as regent, and the fact Edward Ist had banished him.  And talking of banishment, Jones says Piers  ' had repeatedly breached orders exiling him from England.'  Not true.  Edward ist banished him, the new King Edward II recalled him.  After he was banished a second time, Edward did all he could to get the barons to allow Piers back - which they did.  It was only after the third banishment Piers returned illegally from exile.

The only good thing about the article is that it refutes the claim that Edward was murdered with a red hot poker.  That's the only 'good' thing I can say about it.  I ordered the book on Amazon and it arrived yesterday.  I am not looking forward to reading it.

Saturday, 14 April 2012

So what happened at the coronation banquet?

In my previous post, I looked at the coronation of Edward II and Piers, oops, I mean Isabella.   Piers had played an important role in the coronation, and it seems he had been in charge of the banquet that followed the coronation.   Isabella’s family included her uncles, Charles de Valois and Louis d’Evreux, as well as her brother, the future Charles IV.  Wearing royal purple seems to have upset many there, even if it did make Piers look like the god Mars.  The rest of the nobles ‘made do’ with cloth of gold.  Also offensive were the tapestries on show.    These had been specially made for the banquet, by the upholsterers John Engayne and John le Tapyter and cost £5.  They showed the emblems of England – Edward’s – and those of the Earl of Cornwall – Piers.  Doubtless the emblems of Isabella were displayed somewhere.    What totally out-raged Isabella’s family was the fact that Edward preferred to share Pier’s couch rather than Isabella’s.  They were disgusted and humiliated.  No doubt they encouraged Isabella, who was only 12, to feel likewise.  If, as Pierre Chaplais says, Edward was showing to the court, and the French in particular, that Piers was his ‘adopted brother’, why should they be out-raged?    Edward choosing to share his ‘brother’s couch’ could not have caused such offence.    It’s my opinion that Edward and Piers chose to show all those present, English and French, the exact nature of their relationship – that they were lovers, and that any marriage and alliances were secondary to them.    Edward would have wanted Piers to share in his special day, and no doubt Piers would have wanted to show all how important he was to Edward.   It might have been tactless,  and unchivalrous towards Isabella – but surely the French must have had some idea of the relationship between Edward and Piers, and marriage to a 12-year-old wasn’t going to change it.  There would be no deceit or denial for Isabella and her family. 

If only the chroniclers had detailed the exact behaviour of Edward and Piers!  Instead, all we are told is that Piers was very arrogant – and maybe it was his intention, to show no marriage alliance would come between him and Edward – and that one of the nobles was furious at the behaviour of Edward and Piers and ‘allegedly’ swore to kill Piers.  Added to that, the food didn’t taste very nice and some of it was burnt, although I’m sure this didn’t upset those present as much as Piers and Edward’s behaviour.   The Vita says ‘now for the first time nearly all the earls and barons of England rose against Piers Gaveston’ as a result of what happened at the banquet.  Maybe the English nobles had been bidding their time, waiting for a chance to attack Piers, and the complaints of the French gave them the excuse they wanted.   They may have been genuinely out-raged by Piers and Edward’s antics – whatever they did in private was acceptable, but flaunting it in front of the court, and Edward’s new bride and her family was just too much.  Or maybe Piers had grown far too proud.   If Edward and Piers were lovers, surely the nobles would not expect the 12 year-old Isabella to ‘change’ her husband’s nature?   And if they did believe this was possible, then surely they must have already tried to do this by exposing him to various court beauties.   But they knew the king had an illegitimate son, Adam, and that doing his duty would not be a problem for Edward.   In my opinion, it must have been how Edward and Piers had acted at the banquet,  and the nobles felt that Edward had not only humiliated Isabella and her family, but themselves and the dignity of the crown of England.   And I haven’t even started on Edward 'giving' all the wedding presents to Piers!

Sources –
Chaplais – Piers Gaveston, Edward II’s Adoptive brother
Hamilton – Piers Gaveston – Politics and Patronage in the reign of Edward II
Seymour Phillips – Edward II
Helen Castor - 'She-Wolves'

Monday, 9 April 2012

The Coronation of Edward II

The coronation of Edward II took place on Sunday, February 25th, 1308.  The king had just returned from France on February 7th, where he had married the 12 year old Isabella, daughter of the king of France.  He had left his kingdom in what he considered safe hands – Piers Gaveston had been left as Regent.  It seems this had been unopposed by the nobles.  Now the coronation loomed.

 It was obvious Edward wanted Piers to play a major role.  Invitations had been sent out on January 18th, and the Coronation was due to take place on February 18th.  It was delayed until February 25th. The St. Paul’s annalist speculates that this may have been due to attempts by the English and French nobles to oust Piers from a primary role in the ceremony, and refers to him and Edward as ‘two kings reigning in one kingdom, one in name and the other in deed’.  It’s ridiculous to think that either the English or French nobles honestly expected Edward to be passionately in love with his 12 year-old bride.  So why did they object to Piers playing a central role?  If, as Chaplais puts forward, Edward and Piers behaved as ‘adopted’ brothers, why should they care?  Piers had been accepted as Earl of Cornwall at the start of Edward’s reign, been married to Edward’s niece, Margaret de Clare and acted as regent.  So why the furore over Piers taking a primary role at the coronation?  In my opinion, the French nobles had become aware that the relationship between Edward and Piers was more than ‘adopted’ brothers, it  was in fact sexual.  Perhaps the fact that the king’s male lover was to play a primary role caused them to stir up trouble with the English nobles.   If Edward had had a mistress, she no doubt would have been hidden away from court and as a female played no part in the coronation.   As far as Edward was concerned, there would be nothing more pleasing than to have Piers play an important role in the ceremony.   Piers may have wanted the French to be in no doubt of his importance to Edward, and may have acted in an arrogant way.  OK, I concede he must surely have!  Seymour Phillips in his biography of Edward II compares the chroniclers to the tabloids of today, and that there began a ‘feeding frenzy’ of tales about Piers from this time – his arrogance, stealing from the royal treasury and sending money to Gascony – all of which were inaccurate.   It seems the delay for the Coronation may have been caused by the nobles seeking to curb Edward’s excessive reliance on Piers and Edward promised to address this at a later parliament.  However, Edward got his way and Piers took on a primary role in the ceremony.   Dressed in royal purple and pearls, the St Paul’s Annalist describes him as "so decked out that he more resembled the god Mars than an ordinary mortal".  I LOVE this description of Piers! 

So, apart from looking like the god Mars, what role did Piers play in the coronation?  He was given the task of carrying the crown of St Edward, and later taking possession of the Curtana sword – the sword of St Edward, which had been carried by the king’s cousin, the Earl of Lancaster.  Piers then fastened the spur on the king’s left foot.  Philip IV’s brother, Charles de Valois, fastened the right spur.  It must have been Edward’s idea that Piers be given these things to do, and no doubt, Piers was honoured and only too keen.

If what happened at the ceremony outraged both French and English nobles, it got worse at the banquet.  That will be the subject of my next post.

Sources –

Chaplais – Piers Gaveston, Edward II’s Adoptive brother

Hamilton – Piers Gaveston – Politics and Patronage in the reign of Edward II

Seymour Phillips – Edward II

Friday, 2 March 2012

Helen Castor's 'She Wolves'

For those who enjoyed Helen Castor's book 'She Wolves - England's Early Queens', the BBC has her presenting 3 documentaries on the subject.  They will be shown on BBC 4, on Wednesdays, starting Wednesday, March 7th, at 9pm.  The first show will feature Matilda and Eleanor of Acquitaine.  I'm looking forward particularly to Isabella, Edward II's queen, being featured.

Thursday, 23 February 2012

So, what was the truth about Braveheart?

Yes, it's full of inaccuracies!  Channel 5 went to work on Mel Gibson's 'epic', although Gibson doesn't get all the blame.  It all stems from an American visiting Scotland with the surname Wallace and becoming intrigued about William Wallace.  He then set out to write a book from a human viewpoint, not a historical one - yes, he really said that!   

The title 'Braveheart' comes from a poem written by 'Blind Harry' in 1470 - 165 years after Wallace's death.  The purpose for the poem?  Propaganda.  The Scots were worried James III was becoming too friendly with the English, and so looked back in history to find a hero for an independent Scotland - and Blind Harry - who wasn't blind - chose Wallace.  The Bailey family sponsored 'Blind Harry', and he wrote one of their ancestors into the poem as Wallace's wife.  It seems no-one knows who Wallace was married to.

The blue woad and kilts worn by Gibson's army were easily dismissed, as was the alleged 'Wallace sword' which turned out to be made of 3 separate weapons moulded together.  The weapons were also dissected.  Particularly interesting was the testing of the warbows from Edward Ist's army.  Wallace's army would never have been able to withstand the onslaught from the English army.  The battle of Stirling bridge was an opportunistic victory, the result of an ambush by Wallace and his fellow leader Robert of Lundy, who later died of his wounds - hence he wasn't chosen as the hero of the poem by 'Blind Harry'.  Wallace was not an 'ordinary' man, but a younger son of a knight, who first appears in a document in an act of theft. 

As for Wallace being the father of Edward III, this was scoffed at for obvious reasons - Isabella was a child, still living in France.  This easy dismissal meant there was no mention of Edward II or Piers/Phillip being thrown out of the window.  Oh well......

Wallace did his best to evade capture - and you can hardly blame him as he knew what fate would await him.  He fled to France to try and persuade Philip IV to help him and involve the Pope, which failed. 

The only shock for me was that this film won 5 Oscars - yes, really!  Including one for best film. 

Friday, 17 February 2012

The 'truth' about 'Braveheart'

On Tuesday, February 21st, channel in the UK is showing a documentary about the truth behind Mel Gibson's (dire, IMO), 'Braveheart'.  I hadn't realised how influential this film was until Kathryn - on her marvellous Edward II blog - revealed that 'William Wallace was the father of Edward III' was one of the most popular searches on her website.  Just a simple check on the dates easily proves this a myth, but unfortunately, Gibson's slander has become accepted as truth for some cinema-goers.  I've no idea what this documentary is like, but I'm looking forward to it.  I'm wondering if Piers will get a mention, as in 'Braveheart' he has morphed into 'Phillip' and is thrown out of a window by Edward Ist - as if!  I've only ever sat through 'Braveheart' once completely, and that was a big effort on my part, and then watched clips of it.  It is strewn with errors - even the Beefeaters at the Tower of London mock it - and I just wonder whether a 60 minute documentary will be long enough to expose every mistake.  I'll report back on the documentary after it's screened.

Here's a link to Kathryn's brilliant and well-researched article on the slander of Edward II and his children -

Tuesday, 14 February 2012

Valentine Greeting

I have shamefully neglected this blog for so long!  I've started 3 Piers-related posts and abandonned them all.  But as today is Valentine's Day, I can always rely on The Valentine Generator

So here is Edward II's valentine greeting for Piers!

To my Scrumptious Gascon Piers,
You are the jewel of my crown. I want to joust with you more than any other lance in the whole court.
The first time we thatched, I felt in my splendid fingers, and I was so overwhelmed that I could barely thatch. I knew that we would throb together for years.
Whenever you tease, it makes me swoon gracefully and spend like a parliament .
I will toast with you provocatively until the treasury empties and the country revolts.
Splendid Valentine's Day!
Love, your devoted King

Thursday, 5 January 2012

Not quite the best books of 2011………

I’ve been meaning to post my top ten books of 2011, but after much searching of my book cases, I have to say I don’t have a ‘best 10 books’, so what follows is a mixture of the best, adequate, interesting and ‘how did this get written’ review of books I’ve read in 2011.

1.        Best book of 2011 was undoubtedly ‘Fatal Colours’  by George Goodwin.  There were several books released about the battle of Towton in 2011, but Goodwin’s book gripped me.  It set the scene for the so-called ‘Wars of the Roses’ origins, which is open to debate.   The chapter on the possible schizophrenia of Henry VI was revealing and sympathetic.   The analysis of the battle is first rate.  A definite read for anyone interested in this topic.

2.       Best fiction book has to be Susan Higginbotham’s ‘The Queen of Last Hopes’.  As in her previous novels, once I started reading it, I couldn’t put it down.  It gives a very sympathetic portrayal of a much maligned Queen, Margaret of Anjou.  Her struggle to support her husband and her son is at times heart-breaking, and there is a very charismatic portrayal of Henry Beaufort, Duke of Somerset.   To say Margaret lead an eventful life is an understatement, and Susan Higginbotham covers all stages of her life.  I’m amazed she lived as long as she did.

3.       After all the books on Henry VIII and the other Tudors , most notably Anne Boleyn, Giles Tremlett’s ‘Catherine of Aragon’ attempts to remind us of Catherine’s life.  Tremlett  is undoubtedly on ‘Catherine’s side’, and examines documents in Spain dating from the time of ‘the great matter’, the divorce.  Tremlett makes the claim this information has rarely been seen, and while it is interesting to read these documents, they are unsurprisingly pro-Catherine and not real ‘proof’ that she was telling the truth about her wedding night to Prince Arthur.  It is from these documents that the image of the ‘sickly prince’ emerges. Tremlett also irks me by referring to Anne Boleyn’s sharp tongue, nagging ways etc. He also constantly calls her Boleyn – but never refers to Catherine as ‘Aragon’.  Just lay your cards on the table and say you are pro-Catherine and anti-Anne Boleyn, and make no claim to be impartial is my advice.  Pro-Catherine fans will obviously love it.

4.       I am unashamedly pro-Anne Boleyn, and after the glut of books that came out in 2010, 2011 was a leaner year.  I will buy any book relating to Anne Boleyn and her family.   I was delighted that Paul Friedman’s Anne Boleyn, first published in 1884, was re-issued.  It was once THE book to read on Anne Boleyn and I was so happy to finally have my own copy.

5.       Another Anne Boleyn book was ‘Anne Boleyn in her own words etc’ edited by Elizabeth Norton.  It contains written accounts of contemporaries on Anne Boleyn plus any documents pertaining to her.  A worthy addition to my collection.

6.       I have Robert Hutchinson’s previous books on Thomas Cromwell, the House of Treason (The Howard family) and ‘Henry VIII’s last days’.  These books are interesting and I tend to dip into them every so often rather than read them from cover to cover.  ‘The Young Henry VIII’ follows closely on the heels of David Starkey’s ‘Young Henry’, and both books reveal very little that I didn’t already know about Henry.  One book on the young Henry VIII was quite enough, and in my opinion, no-one can better Starkey.  I would never have bought it had I not seen it in the ‘bargain basement’.

7.       ‘The Boleyns’ by David Loades is a definite must to find out about Anne Boleyn’s early family and what happened to them after her fall, particularly those who survived and flourished in her daughter Elizabeth’s reign.

8.       While Loades dealt with the Boleyn family, Alison Weir centred on Mary Boleyn – and it must be said, there is very little to be said on Mary Boleyn.  There is very little evidence that survives on Mary, certainly not enough to fill a biography, so we are left with a lot of supposition – what if?  maybe,  this could be…. etc.  For some strange reason there is a picture of Francis 1st’s queen, Claude on the cover – very bizarre.  The title ‘Mary Boleyn, the infamous whore’ is obviously meant to grab attention.  In all honesty, does Mary warrant a biography?   In my opinion, no – that she was Anne’s sister and the mistress of Henry VIII is all the important information that one needs to know about her.   Even if Henry VIII had fathered any of her children, they played no part in the Tudor dynasty.   I have not yet bought ‘Bessie Blount’, a biography on Henry VIII’s mistress and mother of his bastard son Henry Fitzroy, and to be honest, can’t see myself doing so as I suspect there is even less information on her than Mary Boleyn.

9.       ‘The Winter King’ by Thomas Penn is a welcome biography on Henry VII, who is so often over-looked.  I first thought it was a novel – it certainly looks like one and the blurb at times read like one.  I’ve only just started it but am enjoying it.

10.   Erm, there isn’t a number 10!  There’s been a real lack of Medieval  books for me this year.  The Tudors continue to dominate, and even the books out this year are among some of the weakest.  Even novelwise, there was nothing that caught my eye.  Please someone write a half-decent novel on Piers Gaveston.