Monday, 21 December 2015

Merry Christmas!

I'd just like to wish everyone a very Merry Christmas and a peaceful, happy New Year!

Friday, 11 December 2015

Commemorating the Battle of Agincourt at the Tower of London

Once again, I found myself visiting the Tower of London recently.  This time, it was to see the current exhibition commemorating the anniversary of the  Battle of Agincourt.  The exhibition is in the White Tower.  The White Tower has been organised differently, and some previous exhibits removed to house the exhibition on the top floor of the White Tower.  Artifacts range from chronicles written from the time, an angel from the tomb of Alice Chaucer, copies of various documents, Charles VI's armour as a child and Richard's Burton's tunic from the 1950's when he played Henry V on stage!  Quite a mixture.  As no longbows survived from the battle, some were borrowed from the Mary Rose exhibition to show what they would have been like, as well as a chest of arrows.  There's also a digital database in which you can research the battle and find out if any of your family took part.  And no, mine didn't take part.

One of the highlights is a superb model of the battle.  It's huge, and you can walk around it and find out the positions of the various combatants at certain times in the battle.  For someone like me, a non-expert in military history, it gave me an excellent understanding of the battle.

Outside the White Tower on the green are 'history characters'.  I got to see Henry V and the Duke of Orleans 'fight'.  First of all, the armour that was worn was thoroughly explained, and then the weapons used were shown and a demonstration on how to use them in 'slow motion', as it were.  Any hand to hand fighting that took place was over very quickly and the pollaxe was used to great effect.

I couldn't take any pictures inside the exhibition, but here are some of the 'history characters'.  The exhibition runs until January.

Tuesday, 17 November 2015

Murder Mysteries - Edward II

Not a promising start to Yesterday 's Medieval Murder Mysteries on Edward II.    The expert on Edward II?      Paul Doherty!   Defender of Isabella!   Kathryn Warner has cited numerous errors in his writings.  We also have the Berkeley family and various criminal barristers and psychologists, plus medical experts giving their views.   So you just know the red hot poker story will be centre stage.  Sure enough, Richard Felix, a 'historian' believes in the poker story entirely.   He states Edward II is a homosexual, and Isabella and Roger Mortimer were lovers.  He then repeats the poker story word for word.  Edward was murdered this way so as to show no marks on his body.   Yet Felix says his screams could be heard throughout the castle and lasted for 15 minutes.   No marks on the body but Edward's screams heard by all.   Isabella orchestrated it out of a perverse sexual jealousy to humiliate the king.  The programme actually showed a reconstruction and then computer generated skeleton/body with the injuries Edward might have suffered depending on how hot the poker was and the length to which it was inserted - yes, really!   It was gross - and I'm not going into detail here as do we really want to know these facts?  Edward may have died of a seizure, shock or a heart attack. The barristers and criminologists refute this as a ridiculous way to murder Edward.  Quite right!

The Berkeley family claim Edward was smothered in such a way as no marks were shown.   Linda, one of their guides, was the one who showed me around on my last visit, and explains this theory.  She concedes very few people viewed Edward's body and the body was hastily prepared for burial.   She mocks the idea of the survival of Edward living as a hermit in Italy - as if a Plantagenet king would do that!   A broken, weakened, tormented and repentant king may well have done this - especially to protect his son.

Doherty then puts forward the survival of Edward II.  He cites lack of witnesses, the burial not being at Westminster Abbey and Lord Berkeley's statement to parliament that he did not know the king was dead in 1329.   The Fieschi letter is only briefly mentioned.

So, the conclusion?   The red, hot poker story can surely be discounted as it was a complicated and a rather elaborate way to murder someone.   Natural causes seems too convenient, and most of the experts agree that Edward died at Berkeley Castle, probably suffocated, although his escape and survival cannot be discounted.   So basically, they don't know!  

I guess having the poker story demolished is a victory for historians like Kathryn and Ian Mortimer, and those of us who follow their blogs etc.   And the possible survival of Edward seriously considered another victory.  It's just a shame neither was invited to take part, and we had to have endless replays of Edward being tied up and gagged with a twisted look and cry of agony as the poker is inserted.   It was gratuitous and unnecessary.

Wednesday, 11 November 2015

UK TV channel Yesterday's Medieval Murder Mysteries

UK TV channel Yesterday has a new TV series called Medieval Murder Mysteries on Monday Evenings.   This week was all about Christopher Marlowe.   Next week is all about Edward II.   Marlowe's was all about conspiracy theories - dare we hope the episode on Edward II may entertain the theory that Edward actually survived?   Or will the focus be on the dreaded red hot poker story?  Or murder of some sort at Berkeley Castle?    I'm daring to look forward to it and will review it next week.

Thursday, 5 November 2015

Belated anniversary to Piers Gaveston and Margaret de Clare

I'm almost a week late but November 1st marked the anniversary of the wedding of Piers Gaveston and King Edward's niece, Margaret de Clare.   Margaret would only have been about 13 or 14, and undoubtedly would have expected to make a good match, being the King's niece.   We don't know what Margaret 's feelings were, but marrying the king's favourite and becoming Countess of Cornwall was a good match.  The marriage took place at Berkhamstead Castle.  Edward paid the grand sum of 7 pounds, 10 shillings and six pence in coins for well-wishers to throw over the couple at the church door.  He also gave the newlyweds jewels worth about 30 pounds - I'm sure Piers had first pick:)

Sunday, 25 October 2015

10 most Histrorically inaccurate films

Just read an article from about the 10 worst historically inaccurate movies of all time.  Not surprisingly, Braveheart came 3rd!  The site criticises the dating of the movie and the costumes.  However, they make a huge mistake of their own.  Correctly pointing out that William Wallace could never have fathered 9 year old Isabella's child, they credit Edward III being the father of, erm, himself?:)  In case you're wondering, 'The Alamo' came top.

Check the results out here
Worst Historical inaccurate movies

Monday, 5 October 2015

Reflecting on Helen Castor 's 'She -Wolves'

Helen Castor's TV series 'She Wolves ' has recently been repeated on the history channel 'Yesterday'.   I read the book some years ago, and appreciate that in the TV series Castor has limited time to tell the story of Edward II's Queen, Isabella.   Yet the TV series is heavily biased against Edward II and much in favour of Isabella.

We get the usual starting point.   Isabella was brought up at the sophisticated French court.  Her mother was the ideal role model as to how a Queen consort should behave and influence policy - although no example is given.  Brought up to be a royal bride, Isabella knew her destiny was to cement an Anglo/French with her marriage to Edward II.  Married at the age of 12, Isabella was a child and her husband a grown man - surely she could not expect to be such an influence on her husband at a tender age?  Castor than repeats the infamous tale of the Royal Coronation - with Piers Gaveston dressed in royal purple and carrying the crown.  Let's not forget this was Edward's coronation, not just Isabella's, and whatever his attachment to Piers, as Earl of Cornwall, Edward would want him to play an important part.  Castor focuses on the banquet that followed, and we get the story of Edward 'giving away the wedding presents' to Piers <sigh>. Presents given to Edward, not the couple, and given  to Piers for safe keeping maybe?   Castor says Isabella knew Piers had taken her place - hmmm, was he named 'Queen', carried out her royal duties, given her household and made joint sovereign?   Of course not.   Quite how a 12 year old child hoped to influence and rule as Queen consort is a puzzle to me.

The 2 banishments of Piers are turned into one, and we have Isabella 'dragged' around the North of England so that her husband could protect his lover.   Thing is, Isabella was in absolutely no danger - Piers was.   Castor points out Isabella 'must have spent at least one night' with her husband as she was now pregnant.  As she was now 16, and reached maturity, she was ready to do her duty and produce an heir for her husband - why would it only take 'one night'?   They may have been sleeping together for some months.  Castor also neglects to mention Piers had his own wife and child.   So why shouldn't Edward be sleeping with his wife?  Just imagine - he may even have enjoyed it!

Edward and Piers agreed to separate- Piers preparing for a siege at Scarborough Castle and Edward and Isabella heading to York.   Castor phrases this plan as Edward and Isabella 'being alone for once' - as they must surely have been several times before.  Castor has Piers 'starved' out of Scarborough - no mention of the favourable terms of his surrender.   She does have the good grace to say Piers was murdered by Thomas of Lancaster - and then says we have no idea how Isabella felt about Piers!   That of course is true - but Castor has done her work in portraying Isabella as a neglected wife.

Hugh Le  Despencer is immediately introduced as the king's new predatory favourite making Isabella's life a misery, although she confidently says Hugh was not Edward's lover without saying why.   After fleeing to France, Isabella meets Roger Mortimer, who is described as an astute politician and a courageous man on the battlefield.  The implication being he was all that Edward II was not.  Mortimer becomes Isabella's lover - Castor offers no evidence for this, and together they are welcomed into England to depose Edward II.   Castor is evasive about how involved Isabella was in her husband's death - if indeed he was dead.   Mortimer is described as being given a traitor's death while Isabella mourned in private.   What interests me here is what Castor doesn't say - she totally omits the horrifying capture, torture and execution of Hugh Le Despencer, and that of his father.  There's no mention of Isabella dining as she watched the horrific spectacle.  What a fine PR Castor has managed for Isabella in 25 minutes!

Monday, 21 September 2015

Piers Gaveston and...........David Cameron?????

Piers Gaveston is in the news today, along with Britain's Prime Minister 'Call me Dave' Cameron.   I shall let the papers do the talking for me.  From The Guardian newspaper today -

What have we learned about David Cameron today?

An unofficial biography of David Cameron written by the Conservative donor Lord Ashcroft contains a series of allegations. They include that the prime minister spent time in a drug-taking environment at university, that he took part in a bizarre dinner club initiation ritual, and another claim about Cameron’s knowledge of the peer’s offshore tax status.
One specific allegation is that, in the words of the Daily Mail, Cameron took part in an initiation ceremony in which he “put a private part of his anatomy” into a dead pig’s mouth. It cites a source – a current MP – who claims to have seen photographic evidence. It allegedly took place at a notorious Oxford University drinking club, the Piers Gaveston Society.

What is the Piers Gaveston Society?

“Piers Gav” is highly exclusive, made up of a self-selecting group of 12 undergraduates. The men-only club, named after the alleged male lover of Edward II, king of England from 1307 to 1327, was founded in 1977 and carries the motto: “Fane non memini ne audisse unum alterum ita dilixisse.” It translates to:

Truly, none remember hearing of a man enjoying another so much.
The Mail reports that the club encourages “excess, high camp [and] ostentatious decadence”.
Piers Gaveston members are understood to be given obscure titles such as “Poker”, “Despenser” and “Catamite”, and they all follow the Sicilian code ofOmertà – or maintaining silence about the club. In fact, it prides itself on being a clandestine organisation.

What do people say about it?

Valentine Guinness, one of the founders of the society, once told the journalist Toby Young that the appearance of Piers Gav and other similar societies in the 70s “was a conscious effort to say, look, you know, the country may be in a mess but we’re still going to have a good time”.
And so they do. For its summer ball, members each invite 20 guests – preferably more women than men, who were last year given 72 hours’ notice, when they were told to turn up for a hired coach that would drive them to an undisclosed destination in the countryside. “Cross-dressing is as likely to feature as speed-laced jelly,” says the Telegraph of these parties. “The rules are simple – there are none.”
The journalist Danny Kemp went to the Piers Gaveston ball in summer 1995. He has a different take on the club. “I guess the first thing to say is that it really wasn’t very debauched,” he said. “I was invited by a friend of a friend who was in the Piers Gaveston Society. The most obvious thing is that it is meant to be raunchy fancy dress. This means a lot of people going in drag [myself included unfortunately], others in what back then looked like bondage-type gear.
“Invitees were told to gather in a central Oxford location, where a coach picked everyone up and drove them to a location in a field on the outskirts of the city. There was a big marquee in the field, with what was again meant to look like louche decor, velvet, etc, and bowls of free punch to drink. I think they had some kind of burlesque-type dancing on a stage, but it was mainly just 90s house, techno and people dancing, in drag.
“I was expecting it to be a bit more interesting than it was. And, really, that was it. No pigs’ heads. The whole thing really seemed like not-terribly-debauched public schoolboys’ idea of debauchery.”
The broadcaster Julia Hartley-Brewer went to Piers Gaveston parties in 1989-91. She said they were “just big, fairly wild parties. Lots of drink, lots of very rich posh kids getting wasted – probably lots of drugs [but not my thing so I wouldn’t know]. They were fun bashes – very hot and sweaty and very much about getting off with people.”
Jules Evans, author of Philosophy for Life: And Other Dangerous Situations and policy director at Queen Mary’s Centre for History of Emotions, was a member of Piers Gaveston in 1997. He said it was not a secret society, rather just a club that organised a summer party. “They were pretty innocuous – basically a fancy dress rave. Not nearly as decadent as the media or the participants themselves liked to think. Didn’t stop the Sun sending a reporter and photographer and calling it an ‘orgy’,” he said.

What’s the difference between Piers Gaveston and the Bullingdon Club?

The Bullingdon Club is the other drinking society Cameron was known to be a member of. Most of the sonorous members of the Bullingdon are old Etonians. The prime minister was one such member, as were the London mayor, Boris Johnson and the chancellor, George Osborne.
The Guardian even publishes this picture.

Poor Piers - somehow being linked to ex-public schoolboys, pigs heads, strange and perverse initiation ceremonies and David Cameron - is not quite what he'd like to be associated with, I'm sure.

Thursday, 3 September 2015

Summer Holidays.......

I guess September marks the end of the summer in the U.K.  As well as my visit to Rome, I also did some 'castle visiting' - all ones I've been to in the past, but if you get the chance to go, well, you just have to, right?  So here's some of the 'best of pix'.  Hope you enjoy!

An old favourite - Sudeley Castle.  

The Victorian tomb for Katherine Parr.
Not surprisingly, Sudeley has a huge focus on Richard III at the moment.  As Duke of Gloucester, Richard held the castle during his brother Edward IV's reign.   There is a replica of the head made of Richard III, as well as information about his life when Duke of Gloucester.  You can even buy a white rose flag in the gift shop!  Of course, as a Lancastrian supporter, I quickly passed by!

Next on my visits was Windsor Castle.  I hadn't been there for nearly 20 years!  It's not one of my favourite castles, but I always visit the chapel of St. George.  I'm always amused that Henry VIII has no fine tomb, and lies under a slab in a vault.

St. George's Chapel

Hampton Court is celebrating 500 years this year.  I've visited the palace quite a few times, and naturally prefer to Tudor part of the palace.   There are lots of celebrations and events taking place, so if you can get there,  Unfortunately, the 'mini-timeplays' have ended.  Highlights included the arrival of Henry VIII's court, entertaining us with singing and dancing.  Anne Boleyn was amongst the performers.  Elizabeth 1st interrogated a Scottish envoy about her cousin Mary, Queen, of Scots, Shakespeare and his company rehearsed  a play for King James, Barbara Villiers, mistress of Charles II, argued with his wife, Catherine of Braganza and George 1st had an English lesson.

Henry VIII's court arrives at Hampton Court.

Anne Boleyn, as a lady-in-waiting, is escorted into the palace.

Tuesday, 11 August 2015

The Roman Forum

OK, I' m getting the last of my holiday posts out of the way!  On my first visit to Rome, I didn't get the chance to explore the Roman Forum, but this time I managed to spend quite a few hours amongst the ruins.  There was just too much to see, and once again it was absolutely sweltering!  Here are some of my photos.

Sunday, 9 August 2015

Holidays - Pompeii

I'm so sorry I have neglected this blog lately - and today's post is nothing to do with Piers, I'm afraid.  But it is the holiday season, and I've visited Italy, and in particular, I visited Pompeii, somewhere I've always wanted to visit.  So, I'm afraid, it's my holiday photos - hope you enjoy them!

The remains of houses on a street in Pompeii.

A garden has been added to one of the richer houses in Pompeii to try to reconstruct what it might have been like.

Ah yes, one of the rooms from the brothel at Pompeii.

The detail from a fresco at one of the richer houses in Pompeii.

From the gymnasium at Pompeii.

One of the shops at Pompeii - the holes would have held pots containing food.
Pots etc recovered from excavations in Pompeii.

The forum at Pompeii.

Friday, 3 July 2015

Anne Boleyn in residence at the Tower of London

The Tower of London is a place I never get tired of.  I visit as often as I can.  I live quite a way from it, but if I lived in London I'd go at least once a month!  One of the things I like about the Tower - and the other royal palaces - are their little 'snap-shots' in time.  I've been lucky enough to 'meet' Edward II, the infamous Judge Jeffreys, Henry VIII, Katherine Parr (as Lady Latimar and Queen) and er, Jane Seymour.  Finally, I got to 'meet' Anne Boleyn!  Anne and her brother George are in residence in the Tower this summer.  The scenario is Anne is at the Tower preparing for her Coronation.  She is accompanied by Thomas Cromwell, Lady Kingston, Francis Weston and her brother George Boleyn.  George and Francis challenge each other for her favour.  The whole show lasts half and hour, and takes place about 3 times a day near the White Tower.  I really enjoyed the performance and had interesting chats with the characters and the people who portray them.  Here are some of my photos.

 Francis Westen awaits the arrival of the new Queen.
(the ravens are sometimes kept in the cage behind)

 George Boleyn greets his sister Anne, whose
arrived at the Tower for her Coronation.
(note the digger behind
helping to build a new
staircase for the White

Lady Kingston chats to Thomas Cromwell  who has come to
oversee preparations for the Coronation. 
Anne and Lady Kingston take their
places to watch George and Francis battle for her favours.

The 'duel' begins.
Both performers 
used a range of weapons. 

Anne is delighted with the show and 'knights' both Francis and George.

The crowd really got involved and it was good fun.  Of course, I couldn't help thinking that Anne, George, Francis and Thomas Cromwell had all been imprisoned in the Tower, executed nearby (Anne on Tower green), and all were buried in the chapel of St. Peter ad Vincula, the other side of the White Tower.
The memorial to those executed within the Tower grounds.

Friday, 19 June 2015

Ah, June 19th.....

Today marks the anniversary of the death, or should we say, murder of Piers Gaveston at Blacklow Hill, near Warwick.  Local legends claim that the sounds of bells, trumpets and jeering can still be heard.   I hope not - Piers deserves to rest in peace.

I found this post from Kathryn's old Edward II forum from the Leek Wootton History Society -

Hi everyone,
I have only just heard about this forum from someone who has researched Edward II, would like to visit the site and was directed to our website as well this one.
I've been reading the postings and would like to reply to a couple of things.
Piers Gaveston is the only person who is recorded as having been executed on Blacklow Hill - this is because (as Anejre says) the Earl of Warwick did not want him to be executed on his own land and Blacklow Hill was the nearest suitable location - it was never a regular site of execution. As for the legend that on some mornings you can hear the bells on Gavestons horse passing down the road from Warwick, a friend of mine rented a nearby farm cottage at one time and told me she heard them once - before she'd heard the legend.
Bertie Greatheed of Guy's Cliffe (a nearby ruined manor which can bee seen from the R Avon behind the Saxon Mill pub) had the monument built in 1821. It is understood that he was a regency 'romantic' character. He had a telescope through which he could read the inscription on the cross from the house. During the Victorian period there are many postcards of the cross standing proudly on top of a hill with no trees around - it must have been magnificent! The cross is on top of a rock that has an older carving on it stating it to be the spot where Gaveston was beheaded.
With reference to the 1312 date on the plaque and 1311 carved in the rock, we've always put this down to the change in calendars causing inconsistent dates. The older carving in the rock says 1311.
As Chazza said, it is overgrown and vandalised and has been a secluded spot where kids have gathered for many years - tucked away as it is. I know that the Parish Council would have liked to have done something about its condition, especially for this year, its anniversary. The woodland is owned by the descendants of Bertie Greatheed, but the farmer who owns the surrounding fields does not want a public footpath across his land. Personally I think that if the trees between it and the A46 were taken down and perhaps the cross were spotlit, it would discourage groups of kids from hanging around up there at night. We believe it is really only since the bypass was built in the early 70s that it has been so overlooked, before that, there was an established footpath past it, but the road cut that off. There is reference in a wartime diary to the writer taking a walk up there.
But if you can visit during the snowdrop or bluebell seasons, then Blacklow Hill is a really beautiful sight - I was up there once when it was carpeted with bluebells and saw a fox meandering through them.
If anyone needs guidance to find the monument, contact Leek Wootton History Group (

Wednesday, 17 June 2015

Trial of Piers Gaveston - what trial?

Having been captured by Guy of Warwick, it seems Piers' fate was sealed.  He was taken to Warwick Castle and kept prisoner there.  And yet it took 10 days from Piers' capture until his 'execution'.  Why?   It is not known if Warwick was acting alone - but once he had Piers in his custody, it wasn't long before some of the other nobles rallied to Warwick.  Thomas of Lancaster undoubtedly travelled to Warwick with relish - he may well have known Warwick's intentions, although Lancaster would surely have loved to have taken Piers prisoner himself.  The Earls of Hereford and Arundel followed.  Lancaster seems to have taken control of the situation.

Meanwhile, Aymer de Valence, Earl of Pembroke, was in a state of panic.  He'd sworn an oath to protect Piers, with his lands forfeit if he failed to do so.  His first action was to appeal to Edward II's cousin Gilbert de Clare, Earl of Gloucester, and Piers' brother-in-law.  I am still shocked at Gloucester's callous reply.  'My lord earl,  the wrong done to you is not to be imputed to Earl Guy.  He did this with our aid and counsel; and if, as you say, you have pledged your lands, you have lost them anyhow.  It only remains to advise you to learn another time to negotiate more cautiously'.  Pembroke was as concerned about his lands as he was Piers.  Why Gloucester abandoned Piers is not known - but perhaps he was jealous of the honours and access to the king Piers had. 

According to the chronicle of Trokelowe, Lancaster warned 'while he lives there will be no safe peace in the realm of England, as many proofs have hitherto shown us'.  Lancaster and Warwick dominated proceedings.  Piers' 'trial' was a farce - he was not even allowed to speak in his defence, and no doubt the verdict was already reached.  The canon of Bridlington claims two royal justices, William Inge and Henry Spigurnel, were called in to examine the evidence and pronounced Piers guilty.  Yet Kathryn Warner points out that Edward II took no action against them.   No doubt they were pressured into a 'verdict'. The nobles seem to be more concerned that they would suffer no repercussions, with Lancaster and Warwick promising Hereford they would support him against any losses he incurred.  No doubt many deals were committed to parchment and seals attached.   What a shame they don't survive.  Everything was agreed - Piers was to die on June 19th.

Piers was taken out of Warwick by Lancaster and some of his followers.  Guy of Warwick stayed in his castle.  I have to wonder why he did not accompany Piers on his journey to Blacklow Hill.  Surely witnessing the destruction of his hated enemy would be a chance not to be missed?  Or did his conscience trouble him?  Not for the death of Piers - but the cowardly manner of it.  It was not an execution - it was murder.  Warwick seems to have insisted that Piers' 'execution' take place away from his lands - Blacklow Hill was on Lancaster's lands.  And yet, even Lancaster's resolve seems to have been shaken.  It was agreed that Piers would suffer a 'noble' death - beheading, out of respect of his kinship to Gloucester.  But Lancaster chose not to witness it himself and handed Piers over to 2 of his Welsh soldiers, who took Piers out of sight of Lancaster.  One soldier ran him through with his sword, and the other cut off his head.  Not exactly a 'noble' death.  Lancaster only required to see the head to make sure, and Piers body and head were abandoned.  Neither Warwick or Lancaster wanted to take responsibility for Piers' remains.  Where was their bravado and courage now?  No doubt Warwick trembled in his castle, whilst Lancaster  waited for the rage of Edward II.

Below - the wood surrounding Blacklow Hill.

The monument at Blacklow Hill where Piers Gaveston was killed.


Piers Gaveston, Earl of Cornwall, 1307-12: Politics and Patronage in the Reign of Edward II, Hamilton

Edward II: The Unconventional King  Kathryn Warner

Tuesday, 9 June 2015

June 9th - disaster strikes Piers Gaveston

June 9th, 1312, was the beginning of the end for Piers Gaveston.   After surrendering on very good terms to Aymer de Valence, Earl of Pembroke, Piers was on his way to his own castle at Wallingford, where he would be kept under guard by Pembroke.   Pembroke made perhaps the biggest mistake of his life, when he left Piers at Deddington Priory, so that he could spend the night with his wife at nearby Bampton.   Piers' deadly enemy, Guy, Earl of Warwick, had somehow found out about Pembroke's plan, and seized his chance.  The Vita Edwardi Secundi  tells us what happened when Piers' 'black hound of Arden' arrived:

 'Coming to the village early one Saturday, he entered the gate of the courtyard and surrounded the chamber.  Then the earl called out in a loud voice: 'Arise traitor, thou art taken'.  When Piers heard this, seeing that the earl was there with a superior force and that his own guard did not resist, he dressed himself and came down.  In this fashion Piers was taken and led forth not as an earl but as a thief; and he who used to ride on a palfrey is now forced to go on foot.

When they had left the village behind a little, the earl ordered Piers to be given a nag that they might proceed more quickly.  Blaring trumpets followed Piers and the horrid cry of the populance.  They had taken off his belt of knighthood, and a sa thief and traitor, he was taken to Warwick, and coming there was cast into prison.  He whom Piers called Warwick the Dog has now bound Piers with chains'.

Having visited Warwick Castle, I have seen the dungeon at Warwick.   It forms part of a tower where the noblest prisoners were kept.  We're merely told that Warwick has Piers thrown into prison - and I have the feeling it was not the tower where the noblest prisoners were kept.   Vindictiveness and hatred of Piers, particularly regarding his elevation to Earl of Cornwall, surely meant that Warwick cast him into the dungeon at Warwick.  He certainly took pleasure in stripping Piers of his belt, which signified his earldom, and humiliating him all the way to Warwick, so why stop at Warwick castle?  Piers, no doubt, must have surely known he was doomed, and no doubt was in deep despair.

Inside the dungeon at Warwick castle.  This is not the dungeon where prisoners of noble blood were kept.

In the dungeon is a small hole, in which the lowest rank of prisoners were kept.   It is to be hoped that Warwick showed some mercy to Piers and did not keep him in this 'oubliette'.

Tuesday, 12 May 2015

The Siege at Scarborough Castle, 1312 – in fiction.

In 1312, Piers Gaveston had returned from his third exile, probably for the birth of his daughter Joan by his wife Margaret.   He certainly returned with the full permission, if not an out and out demand from Edward II.   His return was surely planned, and Edward immediately restored his lands and titles, including Earl of Cornwall.  Both Edward and Piers must have realised the response of the barons, who were infuriated.  Edward and Piers remained in the North, awaiting the actions of the nobles, and even trying to bargain with the Scots to protect Piers.

Against this background, writer Paul Doherty sets the third of his novels involving the character of Mathilde in the novel ‘The Darkening Glass.’  Doherty has written several novels and works of non-fiction, most notably, ‘Isabella and the Strange Death of Edward II’.    In his author’s note, Doherty claims to have based his novel on facts, particularly from the chronicle Vita Edwardi Secundi.  These are his exact words –

‘ Gaveston’s fall is accurately described.  Something hideous occurred at Scarborough that forced him to surrender……Gaveston was seized and executed by Warwick and his allies, as described by Mathilde.  Edward’s re-action to his favourite’s death was strangely muted.  He called Gaveston a fool, and only much later did he kindle his angry hatred against the earls……Isabella’s separation from her husband during the crisis was also very curious, bearing in mind she was pregnant’.

‘The Darkening Glass’ in a nutshell, details the fall and death of Piers Gaveston.   One thing it is vital to know of the author is that he adores Queen Isabella, and is at a loss as to how Edward cannot be madly in love with her – even when she was 12.  Mathilde is clearly in love with her.  We are frequently told how beautiful Isabella is, with plenty of physical descriptions of her beauty.  And of course, how clever she is – for the fall of Piers is down to her!  As the story unfolds, many of Gaveston’s personal guard fall to their death, and a cryptic note is found upon the bodies –

‘Aquilae Petri, fly not so bold, for Gaveston your master has been both bought and sold’.

The note is obviously a play on the message sent to the Duke of Norfolk for his support for Richard III.  ‘Jockey of Norfolk be not so bold, for Dickon they master is bought and sold’.  Hardly original.

Throughout the pursuit of the King and Piers, there are mentions of doom, and fate taking its course.  Eventually, Edward persuades Piers to withdraw to Scarborough Castle and prepare for a siege, whilst the King would head to York to rally support.  During this time, there’s the incident where Queen Isabella is left at Tynemouth.   Murders take place within Scarborough Castle, the well is poisoned – someone is clearly determined to destroy Piers from within, following Isabella’s orders.  Eventually, Piers accepts his fate and surrenders.

What I find particularly difficult to understand here is that Edward has abandoned Piers to his fate, persuaded by Isabella!  Doherty claims that Edward is heartily sick of Piers, having known no peace for 4 years, and now that his young Queen is pregnant, his realises where his priorities lie.  So Doherty wants us to believe that Edward let Piers set off for Scarborough, and that his fate was in his own hands – and what happened to him was his own fault.  Hence his calling Piers ‘a fool’ on hearing of his murder.  It seems Piers was planning a deal with the Scots to kidnap the Queen and harm her and her unborn child, and when Isabella told Edward, he realised how jealous Piers was of the Queen.   Isabella also threatened to humiliate Edward by fleeing to France and wearing widow’s weeds until he banished Piers.  (This is exactly what Isabella does in her dispute with Edward and Hugh Despencer many years later).  As a result, Edward is only too glad to abandon Piers and justify his actions by saying Piers brought it all on himself. 

As a work of fiction, it’s barely believable.  But for Doherty to use his position as a ‘historian’ to try to prove that Edward abandoned Piers because of his newfound love for his pregnant wife is unforgivable.  He’s trying to persuade the reader that this is fact, and it is clearly not.  Gaveston’s fall is not ‘accurately described’.  The sequence of events is there; - although Isabella’s presence is sometimes confused with a much later incident at Tynemouth, but the interpretation is not.  ‘Something hideous occurred that forced him to surrender’.  No, it didn’t.  According to the Vita, which Doherty says is his main source; it was a lack of provisions –perfectly believable.  Plus, Piers surrendered on the most generous of terms.  If no solution was to be reached with the barons, he was to return to Scarborough castle in August with full provisions and continue the siege.   One chronicler thought the King had bribed the Earl of Pembroke to ensure Piers safety, and another describes the event as a triumph for Piers over the barons.  Doherty states that as soon as Edward and Piers parted, no word reached Piers from the King.  Wrong – Edward and Piers were able to stay in touch.  Doherty also criticises the choice of Scarborough – Mathilde is shocked Edward would tell him to hold up there.  But from my last post, why not?  It was a superb fortress – plus, it was near Scotland, should Edward strike a deal with the Scots to shelter Piers – which he was working for.  Also, as the castle was bordered by the sea on one side, if needed, Piers could put to sea and flee.

The most frustrating part of the novel is Edward abandoning Piers as he has grown tired of him and realises he is a nasty man with nasty plans for Isabella.  Erm, no.  Isabella was perfectly safe from Thomas of Lancaster and the nobles – she was in no danger.  Lancaster was her relative, and she was pregnant with an heir – great news for the kingdom.   Lancaster even promised Isabella he would rid her of Piers, but Isabella returned to her husband’s side. Why would Piers be jealous of Isabella?  He had his own wife and child – he knew Edward’s duty, as did Edward.  Plus, he’d just had all his titles and land restored.  At 16, Isabella was still very young compared to Edward and Piers – what threat could she be?

As for Edward abandoning Piers – well, why plan his return from his third exile?  He worked tirelessly for Piers’ return from his second exile, even getting the Pope onside.  His actions on the return of Piers from his third exile also show that he was anxious and would go to any lengths to protect Piers.  When sending Piers to Scarborough, he made Piers promise never to surrender the castle to anyone except himself, and if he, Edward, should arrive as a prisoner, Piers was not to surrender – even if the king were to be put to death.  Clearly, Edward is putting Piers’ safety above his own. 

Of course I realise ‘The Darkening Glass’ is a novel, fiction based around historical fact.  But what I object to is Doherty asserting his novel is based on absolute fact because he is a historian, and his interpretation is correct.  Compare his statement with that of Alison Weir’s works of fiction.  In ‘The Lady Elizabeth’, Princess Elizabeth is made pregnant by Thomas Seymour, a well-known rumour, but Weir makes it clear she does not believe this; she has just used it as the basis of her novel.  Likewise with ‘A dangerous Inheritance’, she makes it clear there is very little information on the character Katherine Plantagenet, and most of what she has written is entirely fictional.  So when Doherty says ‘Something hideous occurred that forced him to surrender’ – I can only assume the something hideous was Doherty’s dreadful plot.
* Doherty also makes several other mistakes in his novel - for example stating Isabella was buried in the same Grey Friars Church as Roger Mortimer.

Sources: ‘Edward II, the Unconventional King’, by Kathryn Warner, ‘Edward II’, by Seymour Phillips.


Sunday, 3 May 2015

Scarborough Castle

May 1312 marks the beginning of the end of Piers Gaveston's life.   After returning from his third exile to be with his wife Margaret for the birth of his daughter Joan, for whatever reasons, Piers decided to stay.  Along with Edward II, he spent his time in the North of England, until finally preparing for a siege Scarborough Castle.

I've never been to Scarborough Castle - but it's on my castles-to-visit list - right at the top!  The castle has a massive, stone keep, built by Henry II between 1159 - 1169.  His grandson Henry III built the barbican gate tower.  The castle was surrounded by cliffs and the sea on three sides, and on the fourth, was a massive double ditch which could only have been reached by a great bridge.  Scarborough Castle was indeed an impressive fortified castle.  Here are some photos of what is left of the castle today.

The impressive stone keep

The Gate House

Scarborough Castle seemed ideal to withstand a siege.  In my next post, I'll look at what went wrong.

Saturday, 18 April 2015

Dan Jones 'Secrets of British Castles'

Channel 5 is currently showing another Dan Jones series, this time called 'Secrets of British Castles', and this week's was about Warwick Castle.  I just KNEW it would feature the fate of Piers.  And of course, with Dan Jones' usual colloquialisms.  I was right on both counts.  OK, it's wonderful to have a series on castles, especially ones you've been to, and the scenery was fantastic.  Unfortunately, you have to put up with 'potted' history, with mere snippets of what actually happened.  So, we have an 'idle, naive' Edward as king, and a 'rude and obnoxious' Piers.   We were 'treated' to actors playing the parts of them, and they didn't speak a word but walked around in silence looking terribly serious.  Edward looked about 50 years old, thoroughly miserable, and dressed in black, and Piers looked less than half his age with a pudding bowl haircut, which made them seem like 'the odd couple'.  They didn't look in the least like a hedonistic couple, which would perhaps have explained the attraction.

Dan Jones says Edward liked nothing more than hanging around with his 'best mate' when he should have been running the country.  He doesn't say they were 'making out' all the time though, which is something.  He speculates on the relationship - were they lovers, friends, a brotherhood, or 'something else' - hmmm, how about father and son, judging by the actors playing them!   There's no mention of Queen Isabella, Piers wife and his previous exiles.

We hear of Piers being exiled, and how Guy of Warwick captured him when he returned 'on the road to Deddington' - as if Piers had been out for a stroll.  No mention of the siege of Scarborough Castle and Pembroke's promise whilst he was in custody.   Jones does say that Piers was subjected to a 'kangaroo' court with no chance of justice.  But then we're told Piers was 'dragged kicking and screaming, begging for mercy' to Blacklow Hill.  All presented as truth.  And Jones adds that Edward would have his revenge - which he did with his cousin Thomas of Lancaster, and also attributes Guy of Warwick's demise to Edward.  Undoubtedly Edward would have taken his revenge, but there's no evidence he was connected with the death of Warwick.

If it's any consolation, other stories connected with Warwick Castle didn't fair any better, particularly those of Warwick the Kingmaker, and Daisy, Countess of Warwick.  Still, it was great to see that fabulous castle.

Wednesday, 8 April 2015


Bit of a 'random' post today.  Hence the title digging.  It's well known that Edward II liked nothing better than thatching a roof or digging ditches - although I rather think Piers would do anything to avoid digging a ditch if he could:)    Of course, recently, digging has been in the news due to the discovery of the bones of Richard III in a car park in Leicester.   TV in Britain was bombarded with coverage of his final journey from Bosworth to Leicester cathedral - hours, and hours of it, plus endless debates on Richard's character.  All this coverage has led some to ask about the cost of the excavation and re-burial, and who paid what.  According to the British newspaper, here is the break down of the costs.

For the search and excavation, the costs was £142,663, of which Leicester University paid £114,050 and the Richard III society paid £18,083.

Leicester Cathedral paid an eye-watering £2.5 million on the coffin and the tomb, and apparently this was matched by fund-raising and donations.  The Express does not know who paid for the policing, road works and local authority time.  Leicester Cathedral think that it will be money well-spent, as with all the publicity it will increase tourism and they will make a profit.  So you can now buy Richard III t-shirts - several varieties - mugs, key rings, mouse mats, shopping bags, baseball hats, posters, greetings cards, aprons - you name, you can buy it.   For me, the best part of the coverage was David Starkey's views and and my favourite Ricardian, John Ashdown-Hill.

Of course, the discovery of Richard's remains has led to coverage of requests to either search or dig up other royal or famous remains.  An academic has says he knows where King Stephen is buried, the search is in for King Alfred, there's a petition for a rather bizarre request to have Anne Boleyn pardoned and re-buried in Westminster Abbey and another academic would like the remains of Shakespeare dug up and examined so we can find out what his lifestyle was like!  Maybe Shakespeare knew he would be regarded as a genius and this may well happen to him, hence the 'curse' placed on his grave.

  Good friend for Jesus sake forbeare,
To dig the dust enclosed here.
Blessed be the man that spares these stones,
And cursed be he that moves my bones.

No doubt there will follow a campaign to have the bones buried in Innocents Corner in an urn in Westminster Abbey re-examined - something the Queen has refused many times.  She is satisfied the bones are those of the 'Little Princes in the Tower'  and sees no reason for them to be re-examined.  There's no doubt in my mind they are the bones of the princes - who else would be secretly buried in a chest under a staircase in the White Tower?  Of course, what everyone would like to know is the age of the bones and any clues as to how the princes died.

Of course, from an Edward II point of view, an examination of his tomb and bones might help us find out his fate - is it really him buried in the tomb?  and if so, what actual age was he when he died?  Now there's a mystery worth solving!

Saturday, 28 March 2015

BBC History magazine - Ian Mortimer's response to Kathryn's book....

Kathryn Warner's marvellous Edward II book was re-viewed previously in BBC History magazine, and the reviewer, Professor Nicholas Vincent responded to Kathryn's work on the possible survival of Edward was 'entirely speculative'.    In the April edition of the magazine, historian Ian Mortimer has written a superb response to the review, praising Kathryn's research and telling us to look at the contemporary evidence rather than the later evidence by certain academics ( though obviously not those who think Edward spent his entire reign making out with Piers).

Mortimer wrote a terrific book, 'Medieval Intrigue' in which he challenges those academics who will not even consider the likely survival of Edward II, when there is plenty of contemporary evidence.  It's ironic in the week when Richard III was re-buried was all pomp and ceremony, where we've had Ricardians on TV protesting his innocence blaming Shakespeare for his tarnished reputation, a work of fiction, where there is plenty of contemporary evidence to condemn him,  and yet certain academics rely on chroniclers writing well after the death of Edward as their sources, and won't consider the contemporary evidence.

If only Shakespeare had written such a superb play about Edward II as he did with his pantomime villain Richard, we may well have had The Edward II Society fighting to find out his true story.  Richard has a lot to thank Shakespeare for;).

Thursday, 26 March 2015

The Lost Chronicle' of Ralph of the 'Splendid Sunne'.

This post was inspired by a recent post on Kathryn Warner's brilliant Edward II website - Edward II makes out.....   Now, having read Kathryn's thoroughly re-searched new book on Edward II, I was amazed that she had over-looked chronicles and eminent professors who seemed to have access to documents not available anywhere else which prove that Edward II never had sexual relations with THAT woman, ie, his wife, and that he spent his reign 'making out' with Piers.

  So I did a little research and found the 'lost' chronicle of Ralph and the 'Splendid Sun' - and yes, here was the missing evidence!  Here are some quotes from it.

On Piers being made his squire, Prince Edward immediately 'ceased all princely activities and made out constantly with his new squire Piers'.

On the knighting of the Prince and Piers, 'the ceremony was delayed, on account of said Prince Edward making out with Piers'.

Here we have the evidence again - when Edward Ist lost his temper  when the Prince asked his father for Ponthieu for Piers.   'The Prince was loathe to continually make out with Piers in Langley, and asked his father for Ponthieu where they might make out in the sunshine'.   When the old king asked his son if he and Piers acted as brothers, 'the prince replieth - come on Pa, we make out whenever we get the chance!'.  No wonder Piers was banished.

On Piers being made Earl of Cornwall, Ralph tells us 'the new King, liking Cornwall and it's magnificent castle, made Piers the Earl, and said how he couldn't wait to make out with Piers in the castle, hopefully with some role-play as King Arthur and Sir Lancelot.  However, the new Earl demandeth that he playeth the role of King Arthur, and such was the king's lust to make out, he agreed'.

Here we have the news that Piers was left as regent while Edward II went to France to marry Isabella.  On his return, Edward leapt from his ship, crashed through the waves 'and to the shock of all around, began to make out in the surf with Piers'.  And at last we have the truth about what went on at the Coronation banquet.   The food was indeed inedible,  'it burnt to a said crisp, for none could start as the king was late, too busy making out the Earl of Cornwall'.  Far from being upset, Isabella breathed a sigh of relief  ' forsooth I am grateful to the handsome Piers, as I am only but 12 years of age.  He may make out with Piers as oft as he wishes, otherwise, he may appear a said pervert'.

And so it goes on - 'the king loveth to thatch ye old roof, and invite up Piers onto the roof to make out',  'the king liketh nothing better than to make out with Piers after a good day's ditch digging' and the king spent his time with the common people 'except when he made out with the said Piers, who demanded to make out only in luxury'.

According to Ralph, to save the king's blushes, Thomas of Lancaster omitted from the Ordinances 'the king must stop making out with Piers Gaveston non-stop - give someone else a chance'.  So now we know the real reason why Piers was banished!

So far, this is all I have been able to find.  I shall keep on researching this fascinating topic;)

Saturday, 7 March 2015

What did Piers Gaveston look like?

How any times have I asked myself that question?  I find it incredibly frustrating that there is no physical description of Piers in his lifetime anywhere!  We're told about his arrogance, vanity, military skills, wit, gracefulness and good manners - but nothing about his physical appearance.   Undoubtedly, Edward II must surely have had a portrait/painting of him commissioned - possibly inter-grated into a mural or painting onto a wall of a palace.  Paintings from the time of Edward II are often crude in their portrayal.  Take this contemporary painting of Edward II.

At least we can see Edward had blonde hair and have some idea of his size and body shape.  Even a painting of Piers like this would tell us the same information - his hair colour and build.  Any paintings of Piers must have been destroyed after Edward's 'death' (or disappearance).  Either white-washed over of completely destroyed.  Of course, the best likeness for Piers would come from his tomb effigy - something else which frustrates me.
It's extraordinary that his father's tomb still has his effigy - even if it is in quite poor condition.  Edward II, however, would have ensured that Piers' tomb would have had a fine effigy, and when you see the effigy of the tomb of Edward II himself, it's clear that the artists of the time put more effort into 3D representations  than they did into paintings.

Of course Edward II was a king, and his son wanted a fitting tomb and effigy for his father.  But just look at the detail that has gone into the curl in the hair and the beard, as well as the serene expression on the king's face.  The writing on the face was carved by mischievous schoolboys in the 1800's - basically, graffiti.  Would Edward II himself commissioned such a fine effigy of Piers?  It seems more than likely that he did.  Although his father, Edward I, has no fine effigy on his tomb, Edward II was short of money when he ascended the throne, and there was little love lost between father and son anyway.  It was recorded that Edward held an elaborate funeral for Piers,  He spent a great deal of money on the tomb, and surely he would have had an effigy.   

Although we have no contemporary images of Piers, many Victorian artists reproduced what I call romanticised versions of what they thought historical personalities looked like.  So we have haunting portraits of Lady Jane Grey and the 'Princes in the Tower', and then we have this painting of Edward and Piers.

This painting is by the artist Marcus Stone, and was painted in 1872.  We don't even get to see Piers' face!  Just a highly amused Edward II, and undoubtedly a disapproving Queen Isabella and courtiers - and the back of Piers' head!  If only Piers' effigy was not destroyed, but lies somewhere, either underground, or wrongly thought of as someone else.

Btw, the BBC will be showing their new drama series Poldark on Sunday evening - with Kyle Soller playing Francis Poldark - Soller was the actor I saw playing Piers' at the National Theatre.