Monday, 28 July 2014
2014 maybe the 700th anniversary of the Battle of Bannockburn, the scene of Edward II’s allegedly biggest humiliation, but it also marks the year of the huge success of his greatest supporter, Kathryn Warner.
I will never forget the day I stumbled across Kathryn’s website/blog on Edward II. I was suffering a serious bout of tonsillitis that kept me bedridden for a week. During this time, I read the most abysmal novel on Piers Gaveston. I’m not going to name it – suffice to say that it really upset me. I’d developed an interest in Piers in the late 1980s, inspired by Jean Plaidy’s ‘Follies of the King’. Not a very flattering portrayal of Piers, but it sparked my interest and then I devoured every book I could get hold of. Except, there weren’t a lot around then, and those that were portrayed Edward’s reign as a disaster and it was nearly always Piers’ fault – both in fiction and non-fiction. Reading the primary sources I could get hold of, the Piers in the non-fiction, usually romantic novels was not the Piers I knew – they were usually the pathetic fop, greedily pinching poor, faultless Isabella’s jewels, along with snogging her husband in full view of her. With nothing new appearing, I put my interest to bed, so to speak. And then Plaidy’s book was republished, and I bought my own copy, and then Amazon recommended that awful novel. It really upset me, and made me think that all these years later, the same lies, and worse, were being published about Piers. It was then I entered ‘Piers Gaveston and Edward II’ into my search engine – and there was Kathryn’s website and blog!
The joy of reading those posts was indescribable! I saved them, printed them off, put them in a file, and constantly re-read them. I took note of book recommendations and ordered them. Then I contacted Kathryn, and we’ve been cyber pals ever since. I still print off posts and save them in a file, re-reading and checking them for info. It was honestly one of my happiest days, finding that blog. My interest was re-ignited. Thanks to Kathryn’s blog, I’ve read fresh interpretation of chronicles of the times, found hidden gems from chronicles that other academic books have ignored, totally re-thought Edward II’s fate and am convinced he survived – and that he definitely did not die by ‘red hot poker’ horror stories, read fascinating critiques of other historians work, found out interesting snippets from his chamber accounts, his extended international family, read about so-called facts being demolished, corresponded with Kathryn and shared my thoughts, as well as picking her brain – and most of all, found another person who didn’t see Edward and Piers as simpering, effeminate, inadequate men.
My interest re-ignited, I set out to find the Gaveston Cross, re-visit Warwick and Berkeley Castle, and Edward’s tomb in Gloucester Cathedral. I also started this blog, and came across other fascinating and interesting blogs – my favourites being Gabriele’s The Lost Fort , Kasia’s Henry, The Young King (both about subjects I knew very little about but have since learned a lot), and Susan Higginbotham’s History Refreshed, and whose books I’ve read the print off! I love her portrayal of Piers and Edward in ‘The Traitor’s Wife’.
Kathryn’s research is truly outstanding, and now all her hard work has paid off. There was the article published about the Earl of Kent in English Historical Review in 2011. In June 2014, Kathryn appeared on the BBC’s ‘Quest for Bannockburn’ with Neil Oliver. And later on this year, in October, Kathryn’s book, ‘Edward II – the Unconventional King’ (what a brilliant title) will be published! I know Kathryn has been working on this book for several years, and I am so happy it is to be published this year! I cannot wait to read it!
So, Kathryn, I’m dedicating this blog post to you – thank you for fighting to reveal the truth about Edward II and Piers Gaveston, and demolishing the ridiculous stories that have been passed on as facts. You deserve your success and more. Keep the posts – and dare I say – books – coming! This is your year!
Saturday, 5 July 2014
Edward II loved Piers Gaveston - no historian can doubt there. It is the nature of the relationship which comes under discussion. Whatever the relationship, Edward was devastated at the loss of Piers, and the circumstances of it. It is therefore perhaps surprising to read the chronicler of the Vita Edwardi Secundi report Edward’s words as the following -
"By God’s soul, he acted as a fool. If he had taken my advice he would never have fallen into the hands of the earls. This is what I always told him not to do. For I guessed that what has now happened would occur. What was he doing with the Earl of Warwick, who was known never to have liked him? I knew for certain that if the earl caught him, Piers would never escape from his hands."
It sounds as though Edward was furious with Piers, for what had happened. As if he blamed him, and cursed him for it.
If he had taken my advice he would never have fallen into the hands of the earls...... What was he doing with the earl of Warwick, who was known never to have liked him?
It was hardly Piers' fault that he had been kidnapped by the Earl of Warwick. If, as has been suggested, Piers and Edward agreed the surrender of Piers to the Earl of Pembroke on very favourable grounds, both Edward and Piers must have felt they could resolve the situation. But the intervention of Warwick was a disaster. Panic must surely have set in for both Edward and Piers, and Edward did everything he could to secure Piers' safety. But it wasn't enough, as Edward seemingly knew it wouldn't be.
I knew for certain that if the earl caught him, Piers would never escape from his hands.
Edward did as much as he could, but he, Piers, Warwick and his cousin Thomas of Lancaster knew Piers’ fate was sealed. Edward’s re-action was surely one of shock and grief, and in his state of distress, as so often when tragic events occur, he didn’t think what came out of his mouth. Desperately trying to secure Piers safety, looking for support, knowing he was virtually up against a ticking clock, waiting for the news he didn’t want to hear, Edward must surely have been overcome with grief, and quite literally, didn’t know what he was saying. I’m sure in the previous days, Edward had cursed the Earl of Pembroke, his relative Gilbert de Clare, Warwick, Lancaster, and probably himself for the situation. Hearing the news he didn’t want to hear, he cursed Piers. He surely didn’t mean it – it was anger, terror and grief talking.
‘Wuthering Heights’, by Emily Bronte, is a masterpiece of literary achievement. Regarding Edward’s words I’m reminded of Heathcliff’s re-action to the death of Catherine Earnshaw/Linton - it is hardly what we would have expected – he curses her, and says may she never rest in peace – but we, the reader, understand his grief. Likewise, I can understand why Edward uttered those words on hearing of the death of Piers.
Edward’s actions after the death of Piers speak volumes. Edward swore revenge on his killers, and was true to his word. His treatment of Piers’ body clearly shows the love he felt. Piers lay in state almost – he had been previously excommunicated and Edward would not have buried him without getting it revoked. Although this was done in late 1312, Edward still could not bring himself to bury Piers. The Vita says he had sworn revenge on the rebels before burying Piers. It may also have been because he couldn’t bring himself to be so finally separated from Piers.