Friday, 28 November 2014

Short review of channel 5's The Plantagenets

OK, any programme on the Plantagenets is always welcome - so thank you to Channel 5 for this documentary series.  The opening titles warn there will be scenes of Medieval bloody violence and torture.  We then get Dan Jones talking about Britain's bloodiest and deadliest dynasty, along with flashes of programmes to come.  The series is a sort of docu-drama, with Dan Jones telling the story, and with actors playing the parts of the key figures.  Be warned Kathryn, who runs the excellent Edward II  website and has just published Edward II: the Unconventional King, there was a clip of a man being held down on a table and screaming - so we can expect the red, hot poker story.

Anyway, episode 1 focused on Henry II and his treacherous family.  There wasn't anything in it I didn't already know.  As expected, Jones peppered his story telling with lots of modern phrases.  For example, the crowning of Henry, the Young King, was the 'archbishop's gig', news of Beckett's murder 'went viral', and the Young King set out to 'take down the old man'.

Having become interested in Henry, the Young King, after reading Kasia's marvellous Henry, the Young King blog, I was looking forward to how the programme would portray him.  Jones gives us a young Henry being frustrated by not being given any real power by his father, and reveals the royal accounts of 1172 show the young King existed on meagre amounts of money, that he was almost 'like a beggar'.  Henry II is blamed for guarding his power jealously, and being greedy with his riches.  He allowed the young Henry no power. The focus is on the treachery of the young Henry and Richard  - John barely gets a mention.  Henry and his sons are portrayed as deceitful, power-hungry and utterly treacherous - so nothing we didn't know already then.

Next week's episode focuses on Henry III.

Monday, 24 November 2014

'Britain's Bloodiest Dynasty'

Britain's Channel 5 will start showing a new documentary series on the Plantagenets this week.  Presented by Dan Jones, it will tell the story of 'Britain's bloodiest dynasty - the real life Game of Thrones'. Here's the blurb - The Plantagenets .   I've read Dan Jones book on the Plantagenets and wasn't that impressed with it, particularly comments about Edward II and Piers Gaveston.   I'm not holding out much hope for the TV series.  I also don't like the comparison with Game of Thrones.  Anyway, the series kicks off with Henry II and his troublesome sons, on Thursday, November 27th, at 9pm.  And talking of his troublesome sons, how refreshing to see a more accurate portrayal of King John in Channel 4's 'Walking through History' with Sir Tony Robinson.  He demolishes the Robin Hood myths, and whilst admitting John was a failure, and ruthless, cruel and greedy, he was no different from his predecessors.  As for Magna Carta, it was addressing grievances since 1066, and it was after John's death that it took on more significance.  Which anyone who bothered doing the most minimal of research would know. 

Here's a picture of Dan Jones looking menacing;) to plug his new show.

Tuesday, 18 November 2014

Piers Gaveston could be tactful - yes, really!

Being tactful is not something Piers Gaveston  is usually associated it.  After all, calling Guy, the Earl of Warwick 'the black hound of Arden' is hardly showing restraint, is it?    But it seems in his younger days, Piers did know how to be tactful.   Take for example this wonderful story from about 1302.  It appears in a book of chronicles about Peterborough, edited by J Sparks.   According to this book, Prince Edward, as he was then, was accompanying his father, Edward 1st and his Queen, on a visit to Peterborough.  Of course, Prince Edward brought along members of his own household, which included his dear friend, Piers Gaveston.  What emerges from this story is that already the relationship between the two was already rather, erm, intense. 

Prince Edward, on visiting the abbey at Peterborough, was presented with a fine gift - a cup, said to be of the value of £50.  Very generous of the Abbey.  Surely a gift to please the prince.  Yet what's extraordinary about this story is that Edward refused to accept the gift - unless a cup of the comparable value was presented to his dear friend Piers Gaveston.  Which is a bit cheeky, eh?  Edward might be king-in-waiting, but turning up at Peterborough Abbey and refusing a gift unless his 'dear friend' got one, is, erm, ungrateful, tactless, embarrassing?  Luckily for Edward, those much admired Gascon manners kicked in, and Piers negotiated with the Abbot's messenger.  He thanked the abbot for the gift of the cup sent to him  - worth £40 - with many thanks, and on hearing that Edward had refused his cup, Piers told the messenger to inform Edward that he, Piers, would like him to accept the abbot's gift.  Which of course, as a request from his beloved Piers, he did. 

What Edward 1st made of this story is unknown - but it surely reached his ears and gave him cause for concern about the influence of Piers' over the prince.  And it shows that already Edward was determined Piers should be shown respect and favour as his 'beloved friend/brother/lover' (select appropriate word here - I know which one I'm going for). 

I first came across this story from this marvellous blog, where you can read the translation of the chronicle.  Piers Gaveston's Cups.    Trying to research this story has been very difficult.   I came across 2 books from the early 1900s on-line - one of which is called 'A History of the County of Northampton' which actually says the gift was not a cup, but a beautiful embroidered robe/cloak.  I assume that recent translations have corrected robe/cloak for cup.  I mean, if it had been a cloak, Piers undoubtedly would have wanted one:)

Saturday, 1 November 2014

Guest Post by Kathryn Warner

Today I'm delighted to welcome a guest post by Kathryn Warner.  Kathryn's book, 'Edward II, the Unconventional King' has just been published by Amberley Publishing. Kathryn is currently doing a number of guest posts on various blogs.  In this guest post, Kathryn writes about Edward II's relationship with - who else? - Piers Gaveston.

Edward II and Piers Gaveston

Piers Gaveston is one of the most notorious 'favourites' in English history.  He was the beloved of King Edward II, who reigned from 1307 to 1327, and is still well-known today thanks to many productions of Christopher Marlowe's play about Edward and the Oxford University society which bears his name.

Piers came from Béarn, an area of Gascony in south-western France then ruled by the English crown.  His family took its name from the village of Gabaston close to the town of Pau and the Pyrenees.  Piers was the second child and second son of Sir Arnaud de Gabaston and Claramonde de Marsan, and, far from being the lowborn nobody he's often been made out to be in the last 700 years, was the grandson of two of the leading barons of Béarn.  He was probably named after his uncle Piers or Pierre Caillau, mayor of Bordeaux, who married Miramonde de Marsan, sister of Piers' mother Claramonde.  Piers' date of birth is unknown: his parents married sometime before 30 June 1272, and his younger sister Amie, the fifth child of his parents, was born in 1285.  Edward II was born on 25 April 1284 and Piers was described as his 'contemporary', so was perhaps born in the late 1270s or early 1280s.  He first appears on record in November 1297, when he and his father had moved to England and Piers had become a squire of Edward I's household.  At an unknown date perhaps in 1300, Edward I placed Piers in the household of his sixteen-year-old son and heir Edward of Caernarfon, the future Edward II.  It was a fateful decision.

One chronicler says that when Edward of Caernarfon first saw Piers, "he fell so much in love that he entered upon an enduring compact with him, and determined to knit an indissoluble bond of affection with him, above all other mortals."  A clerk of Edward's court who wrote a biography of him remarked "I do not remember to have heard that one man so loved another. Jonathan cherished David, Achilles loved Patroclus. But we do not read that they were immoderate. Our king, however, was incapable of moderate favour."  That Edward II adored Piers Gaveston is absolutely beyond doubt.  He made him earl of Cornwall in 1307, arranged his marriage to his (Edward's) thirteen-year-old niece Margaret de Clare a few months later, and demonstrated time and again that he was unable to live without Piers: Edward's father and his barons exiled Piers from England no fewer than three times, and Edward brought him back every time.  The king's obsession with and excessive favour towards Piers brought England to the brink of civil war in 1308, and most of Edward's magnates united against him and his beloved friend (or lover).  Edward's popularity plummeted, but he seemed to care nothing for this or for the opposition to himself and Piers.  In 1308/09, he worked tirelessly to bring Piers back to England from his second exile, using a policy of 'divide and conquer' among his barons and even manipulating Pope Clement V to his side, and this paid off when Piers returned in 1309, having done a pretty impressive job as lord lieutenant of Ireland in the meantime.

Unfortunately Piers and Edward had little political sense and soon proved they had learnt nothing from Piers' year-long enforced exile.  Piers gave the English magnates insulting nicknames and behaved towards them with a "superciliousness which would be unbearable enough in a king's son," and aggravated beyond endurance, Edward's magnates exiled Piers for a third time in late 1311.  Unable to live without him, Edward II defiantly recalled him within two and a half months and restored him yet again to the earldom of Cornwall in January 1312.  King and earl fled to the north of England, out of the way of the enraged magnates, but Piers was captured in June 1312 by the earl of Warwick, whom he had taunted as 'the black dog of Arden'.  The earls of Lancaster, Hereford and Arundel arrived at Warwick Castle and condemned Piers to death, and he was run through with a sword and beheaded at Blacklow Hill near Warwick on 19 June 1312.  Edward II's reaction to Piers' murder was utter rage, and that he grieved for him deeply and sincerely is obvious.  For the rest of his reign, until 1326, Edward remembered Piers often in prayers and took care of his mortal remains, which he buried at Langley Priory in Hertfordshire, his own foundation.  Piers left a daughter, Joan, Edward II's great-niece, who sadly died when she was thirteen, and an illegitimate daughter, Amie.

Kathryn Warner’s new book, ‘Edward II: The Unconventional King’, is available to buy now at the Amberley website:

Visit Kathryn’s blog here: