Monday, 16 February 2015

Edward II and Neath Abbey

Neath Abbey was once the biggest abbey in Wales.  It was founded in 1129 on land given by Richard de Grenville to Savigniac monks, and in 1147, it became a house for Cistercian monks.  Like most religious orders, the Abbey was dissolved, and a Tudor manor house built amongst the ruins.    The site is now owned by CADW, and has recently featured as a backdrop for tv shows such as Dr. Who and Da Vinic's Demons.  On warm, sunny days people visit to walk through the vast grounds or climb the ruins.   I visited it last year, and was disappointed that there was no mention of one of the most dramatic events in history occurring there.  For it was here, on November 6, 1326, that Edward II and Hugh Despencer found themselves shortly before they were captured.   

Despencer, of course, held vast lands in Wales, including the impressive Caerphilly Castle, where Edward and Despencer sought refuge when Edward's Queen, Isabella, landed with an army to depose Edward.  Caerphilly Castle was a mighty fortress, and should easily have been able to hold out if under siege.  For reasons unknown, Edward and Hugh left Caerphilly for Neath Abbey.  It seems a foolhardy thing to do - leave a well-fortified castle for a religious house - but maybe Edward hoped the Abbey would provide him with sanctuary?  He sent the abbot to try to negotiate with Isabella, but when no compromise could be reached, Edward and Hugh set out to return to Caerphilly Castle.  It was on their return that Edward and Hugh were captured.  For many years afterwards, stories about Edward's possessions being 'stolen' or found around Neath Abbey have persisted.  There are stories of gold coins being found after being hidden in various nooks and crannies in the Abbey.  Rumour has it Edward had £30,000 with him.  And yet, visitors to Neath Abbey have no idea of this part of the Abbey's history, for no-where on the information boards is it mentioned.  How can such an important part of history be ignored?  Below are some of the pictures I took.

 Above - the Tudor Manor House.  Below are the ruins of the Abbey.

Sunday, 1 February 2015

It's all Sharon Penman's fault......

I'm afraid I've neglected this blog for a few weeks, and I'm blaming Sharon Penman:)   On the recommendation of  Kasia , I started reading 'The Devil's Brood', and have been hooked on it.  It's over 800 pages long, but once you pick it up, it's difficult to put it down, and if you can't devote at least an hour session to it, then don't pick it up.  Having studied the Angevins at university over 20 years ago, it's been some time since I did any reading on them, apart from the odd King John article.  It was very nice to be re-united with them, even in fiction.  'The Devil's Brood' is extremely well written and absorbing, detailing the squabbles amongst Henry II and his sons.  They all have their flaws.  I still can't help feeling sorry for Henry II with his grasping, never-satisfied sons.  

2015 marks the 800th anniversary of Magna Carta, and as expected, there will be a slew of new books on it.  I'm bracing myself for an onslaught of 'tyrannical' King John.  There's also a new book on William Marshal, 'The Greatest Knight: The remarkable life of William Marshal' by Thomas Asbridge, which I've just ordered. 

Magna Carta also features on the cover of the February issue of the BBC History magazine - and inside is a very good review of Kathryn Warner's   book on Edward II, by Nicholas Vincent, professor of medieval history at the University of East Anglia.

History Today magazine has an excellent article by Ian Mortimer on the DNA controversy of Richard III's remains see  BBC report on Richard III's DNA   Far from casting doubting on the paternity of John of Gaunt, Mortimer makes a convincing argument that the paternity of  Edward III's grandson, Richard of Conisbrough, the grandfather of Richard III, is far more questionable.

Hopefully a Piers-related post will follow soon!