Thursday, 22 December 2016

Just to wish everyone a Merry Christmas and Happy New Year!

Nadolig Llawen a Blwyddyn Newydd Dda!

Peace and goodwill to all!

Tuesday, 1 November 2016

Wedding of Piers Gaveston and Margaret de Clare

November 1st, All Saints Day, marks the anniversary of Piers Gaveston and Edward II's niece Margaret de Clare.  The couple were married at Berkhamstead Castle in 1307.  Margaret was around the age of 14, and Piers was probably in his mid 20's.   It was a fine match for Piers - and Margaret!  Margaret was the second daughter of Gilbert de Clare, Earl of Hertford, and the king's sister, Joan of Acre.   She was a royal bride and could expect a worthy marriage.   What better, as far as Edward II was concerned, than to marry his favourite into the royal family?  According to the Vita Edwardi Secunda, Edward wanted the marriage to 'to strengthen Piers and surround him with friends'.Margaret also gained - her new husband was the Earl of Cornwall.

Whatever anyone thought of the wedding, Edward was determined to give the couple a wedding to remember.  Jewels were presented to the couple, Margaret received a palfrey worth £20, and pennies to the value £7 10s 6d  were thrown over the couples heads at the church door.  The ladies-in-waiting received cloth of gold and pearls as presents. The king himself attended, as did the Earl of Pembroke.  Edward was in a generous mood - he made a payment to Richard le Kroc of Berkhamstead of 5s for damages caused to the property during the celebrations.  

The historian Seymour Phillips makes the point that Gilbert de Clare would never have agreed to marrying his sister to Piers if Edward and Piers had been lovers.  Likewise, he says Phillip 4th would never have allowed his daughter Isabella to marry Edward if he knew of the relationship.   I think this is a very naive point of view.  Marriage contracts were usually arranged and signed without due regard to the bride's feelings.  Gilbert de Clare was close in age to both Piers and Edward, and would have known what the relationship between the pair was.  He would also have known both Edward and Piers would have wanted marriages - it was their duty to marry and hopefully provide heirs.   His sister was strengthening family ties by marrying the King's favourite.  The fact Piers was Earl of Cornwall, and his sister would now be a Countess, added to the honour and prestige of the family.  We don't know what Margaret's views were, though she if often portrayed in historical fiction as a naive, unwilling girl - but she was only 14, knew her duty to her family and her king, and who knows, she may have just found the charismatic, handsome and impeccably mannered Piers to her liking.

This is an aerial view of Berkhamstead Castle - all that remains of it.
Source: Hamilton's 'Piers Gaveston, Earl of Cornwall'.
Seymour Phillips 'Edward II'

Thursday, 6 October 2016

The Bastard Executioner on UK TV

The History Channel in the UK is currently showing 'The Bastard Executioner' on Tuesday nights.  I've been waiting for this show for a couple of months after first hearing about it on Kathryn's  Edward II blog.  I've read mixed reviews, and then that the show has been cancelled.  Still, any show that features Piers Gaveston HAS to be watched.  The actor playing Piers is called Tom Forbes.

The series focuses on Wilkin Brattle, a knight in the service of Edward Ist, who is betrayed and left for dead.  It's far too complicated to explain - and has nothing to do with Piers Gaveston - but Wilkin takes on the life and role of another man - the official punisher/executioner , based at Castle Ventris - hence he is 'the bastard executioner'.   , Piers has appeared in 3 episodes.   The episodes have Welsh and English titles.  The episodes are no.4 'A Hunger/Newyn'  no. 5 'Piss Profit/Proffidwyr Troeth' , and no. 9, 'The Bernadette Manuever/Cynllywn Bernadette'.

Episodes 4 and 5 focus on a character known as 'the Baroness', who has lost her husband and stands to lose her lands as she is childless.  She falsely claims to be pregnant - hmmm, the writers obviously knew about the widow of Gilbert de Clare, who tried the same ploy.  And guess who is after her lands?  yes, Piers Gaveston, who is called Sir Gaveston!  The Baroness is summoned by Edward II to Windsor, where she has to deal with Sir Gaveston, the king's chief adviser, who makes it plain she is not welcome.   Piers is referred to as a 'Frenchman', rather than Gascon.   Edward II makes only a fleeting appearance.  In episode 5, Piers travels to the home of the Baroness, where he behaves obnoxiously and takes 2 - yes 2! - women into his bedchamber to be entertained!  Who'd have thought it?  Piers a womaniser! haha!  He never gets that accusation flung at him.

Alas, episode 9 sees Piers meet his doom.  He is now an outlaw, pursued as he's hiding out after being exiled.  He's being held in a castle, whilst the Earl of Pembroke romps with his mistress.  He's pursued by.............the bastard executioner and his master, Milus!   Milus has one of the best lines  - ' 'He's there, I can smell the arrogance'.  Naturally they catch up with him, and the executioner does his job. Pembroke's mistress is 'tortured' so that Pembroke will break and say he surrendered Piers willingly.  But not before Milus makes Piers pay for humiliating him on his visit to castle Ventris.  You can find out all about the episode here  here.

I don't expect these type of dramas to be historically correct.  So Piers having 2 half twin sisters doesn't bother me really.   However, the series is far too nonsensical in it's story lines, with a fantasy theme running through it,  and far too gruesome for me.   Thank goodness Piers only had his head cut off, compared to how some of the others suffered.  Piers has THE best line - 'I do not regret loving someone above my status.  Even if this is the fate'.  If only he had said that!  

Saturday, 10 September 2016

Scarborough Castle Part 2

In this post, I'll focus on the history of Scarborough.  There is evidence of  a fortification of some sort at Scarborough going back almost 3,000 years. It's in an ideal position, high up on solid rock that faces the North Sea.  The Romans built a fort there in the 4th Century.  The site was ideal for a signal station.  You can still see a mock signal station there when you visit.  

It seems the first castle was built by William le Gros, the then Earl of York. In 1155, Henry II took control of the castle, and it was he who built the great tower.  The tower overlooked the growing town, the North Sea and most important, anyone approaching the castle.  It was an impressive fortress.  His son, King John, added some royal lodgings and another great hall, but these had fallen into disuse by the 14th century and had been turned into the castle kitchens, brewhouse and bakery.  The only remaining stretch of curtain wall still standing was also built by King John between 1202 to 1212.

The view of the castle from the bottom of the town - it's a steep climb!

The great tower built by Henry II.  It contained a chapel, great hall and private chambers for the king.

The current barbican and gatehouse were built in around 1300.  The walls are about 5.5 metres.  Outside of these walls there was ditch.  Once entering the castle through the barbican, there was another gatetower with 2 drawbridges, both with a portcullis.

The remains of the well at Scarborough Castle.

The gatehouse and curtain walls before you reach the great tower.

By the time Piers Gaveston took shelter in to Scarborough Castle, it was ideal for a long term siege.  However, Edward II and Piers had been surprised by an attack on the royal baggage train whilst at Newcastle, and both escaped by boat with whatever they could.  It was not ideal preparation for a long term siege, and after 2 weeks, Piers surrendered on very favourable terms - including the promise of being allowed to return to Scarborough Castle and prepare for a siege.  I'm sure we've all seen films/documentaries with castle under attack using trebuchets and siege towers.  I've been fortunate enough to see the trebuchet at Warwick castle being fired.  It was amazing! 

A model of a wooden siege tower.  It took time to build and could be easily burned down.

The working trebuchet at Warwick castle, which is usually fired twice a day.

  Attackers could also try to dig and undermine castle towers, use catapults and battering rams, whilst they themselves were under attack from the castle.   far more common were castle sieges that could last for months.  What was required was a castle stocked with provisions - food obviously being the most important.   Sieges could often last for up to six months, and during that time, the besieging lords would have to supply their men with wages, food and ale - a very expensive, and often futile attempt, to capture a castle and it's occupants.  This is what Piers would surely have been hoping for.  But for the disaster of Newcastle, Piers may well have had time to dig in for a long siege.

Friday, 2 September 2016

Visit to Scarborough Castle part 1

This summer I finally made it to Scarborough Castle.   The castle played a huge part in Piers Gaveston's life.   It was at Scarborough Castle that Piers sort refuge after returning from his third banishment.    The castle seemed ideal to withstand a siege.   It stands high above the current  town of Scarborough, on an impressive cliff face.     It should have been the ideal place to keep Piers safe.   He could have actually fled the castle by boat, if the worst came to the worst.  Instead, Piers surrendered.    So what went wrong?   It seems Piers and the castle were woefully prepared for a long term siege, and the terms of his surrender were just too good.   Piers was to surrender to Aymer de Valence, Earl of Pembroke.   Pembroke swore an oath to protect Piers.  Pembroke was to take custody of Piers while negotiations were made to try to resolve the tense situation.   If no agreement was reached, Piers would be allow to return to Scarborough Castle and prepare for a long term siege.  The conditions were very favourable to Piers, and, without the gift of hindsight, he readily accepted.

 The impressive keep at Scarborough Castle.   The main feature of the castle that remains.
                                  The view of the castle from the town of Scarborough.

                                           Information on the building of the castle.
                                                 The entrance to the castle.

There is a legend at the castle that the headless ghost of Piers haunts Scarborough castle and apparently 'pushes' people down a steep slope.  No sign of Piers and no pushing on my visit.

In my next post, I'll look more at the history of the castle and castle sieges.

Friday, 12 August 2016

A little bit of Shakespeare (sort of)

As it's summer here, I've been travelling around visiting some of my favourite places and those places on my wish list.  I love going to Stratford-Upon-Avon, and find myself going to re-visit every couple of years.  Of course, with it being the 400th anniversary of Shakespeare's death, Stratford was on my to do list.  For a start, there was a new exhibition at the birthplace, with Shakespeare's actual will on show, borrowed from the National Archives. (unfortunately, it's now been returned ).   Also, for the first time, Shakespeare's grammar school was open to the public, and is well worth a visit (more on that in a later post).   However, for me, the real gem was a visit to Harvard House.  I must have walked past it many times, and just thought it another Tudor house in Stratford.   It's in High Street.   It has no actual connection to Shakespeare, other than he would have known the occupants of the house.  It was built in 1596 by Thomas Rogers.  Rogers was an Alderman and served alongside Shakespeare's father.   He was a successful cattle and corn merchant.   Rogers daughter Katherine married Robert Havard of Southwark.  Their son John emigrated to  America.  John founded an education establishment that went on to be Harvard University.  Unbelievably, in the early 1900s, Stratford council wanted to 'modernise' the property, and thanks to novelist Maria Corelli's campaign to save it, it was purchased and given to Harvard University.  It's been restored and is now part of the Shakespeare's Birthplace Trust.   It's well worth a visit to see how a Tudor house actually was in the 1590s.  Here are some of my pictures.

 Here's the house from the outside.  Note the US flag.
 Inside the house, an example of wattle and daub used to build the house.
                                                        A bedroom in the house.  
 An escape hatch built into the roof.  The house did not have a thatched roof, but being aware of fires in the house in general, an escape hatch was built.
 Some of the original 'wallpaper', made of a certain paste and a stencil used to draw a repeating pattern.  Using the original, the rest of the wall has been restored.
Original Tudor furniture commonly found in merchant houses.

And yes, I did go to Warwick castle, scene of Pier's downfall.   I visited the dungeon, shuddered, and hoped once again that Guy of Warwick kept him in the prisoners rooms above.  Somehow, I doubt it.

Tuesday, 12 July 2016

Oystermouth Castle

I'm going to dedicate this blog post to my blog friend Gabriele  from The Lost Fort/.     I know Gabriele has a big interest in castles and their defences, and has been blogging about the castles of Wales.   Well here's another one for her to view - and it's quite unique.  

This is Oystermouth castle in the small village of Mumbles, near Swansea.  It was originally built in the early 12th Century by William de Londres.  It later became the chief residence for the Lords of Gower.  The oldest part of the castle is the keep.

If you haven't spotted it already, the reason Oystermouth is unique is that the towers at the front of the castle are square, not round.  I've been told it's the only medieval castle to have square towers still standing.  I suspect the others long fell victim to the battering rams and siege machines of the middle ages.

The castle stands on the top of a hill with fantastic views of the coast and sea.  Here's the view from a window at the top of the castle.

One of the castles claims to fame is that Edward Ist spent Christmas there is 1284.   In recent years, the castle has benefited from a grant from the Welsh Assembly to carry out conservation work at Oystermouth, and it was during this work that the very feint remains of a painting in the chapel was discovered.   it appears to be the outline of an angel, and dates from the 14th Century.  It's been badly damaged by exposure to the elements.  

Here's a picture of the restoration work.  A glass walkway allows access to this floor, and the painting of the angel is near the arch on the right. It's a fabulous castle with access to storerooms and staircases that lead underground.

Sunday, 19 June 2016

Death of Piers Gaveston

June 19th marks the death of Piers Gaveston.   Quite what made Guy of Warwick break a chivalrous code, abduct Piers and take part in a mock trial with only one outcome, remains a mystery.   No doubt driven by hatred, Warwick none the less committed an atrocious breach of chivalry.   Surely it could not be Piers’ mocking nickname for him, ‘the Black Hound of Arden’?  It fuelled Warwick’s hatred, but hatred already existed – probably to do with jealousy and his contempt for Piers as a Gascon.  And yet Warwick did not attend the ‘execution’ of Piers, and it was carried out on Thomas of Lancaster’s lands.   Neither would Warwick admit the body of Piers into Warwick Castle afterwards.  The story says that some shoemakers found the head and body of Piers – no doubt they knew who it was – and took it to Warwick Castle, probably hoping for some kind of reward.  It seems they thoughtfully sewed the head and body back together.  Why Lancaster left the body at Blacklow Hill remains a mystery.  Did he think that Warwick would return for it?   He seems a strange thing to do.  Warwick would not accept the body, and commanded the shoemakers take it back to the place of execution – knowing it would end up back on Lancaster’s land.   It was a bit late if Warwick was feeling guilty – more likely he feared the re-action of the king, and sought to make Lancaster take the bulk of the blame. 

Having heard of the discarded body of Piers lying at Blacklow Hill, the Dominican Friars, a religious order much favoured by Edward II, took possession of the body.   They took the body to Oxford, where it was washed and prepared for burial, preserved with spices and wrapped in cloth of gold.  However, Piers could not be buried as he had been excommunicated.    Edward II would seek to remedy this, and unbelievably, it took 2 years before Piers was able to have an honourable burial.  Until that time, the body rested at Oxford, with Thomas de London and Philip de Eyndon appointed by Edward to watch over it.   Edward ordered prayers to be said for the soul of Piers.   Whilst Edward fought to get the sentence of excommunication revoked, no doubt he had in mind to bring the rebels who murdered Piers to justice before he buried him.

The monument at Blacklow Hill marking the site of the death of Piers Gaveston.

Thursday, 9 June 2016

June 9th - disaster strikes Piers Gaveston

June 9th marks the beginning of the end for Piers Gaveston.   Having surrendered on very favourable terms to Amyer de Valance, Earl of Pembroke, Piers was no doubt in good spirits.  Pembroke had sworn an oath of honour to protect Piers whilst he was in his custody.    He no doubt treated Piers with respect.   But somehow, Guy of Warwick, Piers Black Hound, knew of Pembroke 's plans.    He must have had spies tracking Pembroke.    When he knew Pembroke was off to visit his wife at Bampton, leaving Piers at Deddington Priory with a small guard, he seized his chance.  Piers and Edward II obviously trusted Pembroke.    Edward II made no attempt to rescue Piers from Pembroke and Piers made no attempt to escape despite the small guard - after all, he was safer in Pembroke 's custody rather than roaming through the English countryside.   Piers must have felt doomed when he heard Warwick had come for him, and Pembroke 's token guards were no match for him and his soldiers.   I have to wonder - did he have a glimmer of hope?

Thursday, 19 May 2016

May 19th anniversaries

Today marks the anniversary Piers Gaveston surrendered to Amyer de Valance, Earl of Pembroke, after a short siege at Scarborough Castle.  The castle was probably not prepared for a long siege and Piers surrendered on very good terms.   He would accompany Pembroke to York where some sort of 'deal' would be done.  Edward II was at York and if no deal could be reached, Piers would be returned to Scarborough Castle and no doubt be prepared for a long siege.  As we know, things turned out differently.  

Today also marks the execution of Anne Boleyn at the Tower of London in 1536.

Not a great day for this history fan!

Monday, 9 May 2016

Rhys ap Thomas - the man who killed Richard III?

My last post dealt with my visit to Leicester and the Richard III centre, as well as to Richard's tomb in the Cathedral. In the exhibition centre there was a mock-up of Richard's skeleton and the wounds inflicted upon it. In particular, there was focus on the wound at the back of Richard's head - the fatal blow that killed him. Legend has it, this blow was struck by Sir Rhys ap Thomas. He became one of Henry VII's most powerful supporters - and yet he had sworn his allegiance to King Richard and vowing that Henry Tudor would never set foot in Wales. This is the vow he allegedly made -

'Whoever ill-affected to the state, shall dare to land in those parts of Wales where I have any employment under your majesty, must resolve with himself to make his entrance and irruption over my belly.'

Rhys ap Thomas got round this vow by hiding under Mullock Bridge, so Henry Tudor did cross into Wales over Rhys' belly! Rhys quickly joined Henry Tudor's army and marched with him to Bosworth. The story that Rhys slew Richard is written about by the poet Guto’r Glyn (1412-1493), referring to King Richard’s emblem of a boar, wrote contemporaneously that Rhys “killed the boar, shaved his head”. Richard's skull was indeed shaved. Rhys was knighted on the battlefield and went on to serve Henry VII loyally, becoming a knight of the Garter in 1505 and becoming a privy councillor. He celebrated with a grand tournament at Carew Castle. Here are some photos from my last visit.

Approaching Carew Castle from the main road.

The Arms of Henry VII and Prince Arthur at Carew Castle.

The arms were put in place for a visit by Henry VII.

Stained Glass Window added recently.
The castle is now mainly a ruin, but well worth a visit.

Inside the restored Great Hall.
Sir Rhys lived out his days, surviving Henry VII and dying in the reign of his son, Henry VIII. He died in 1525, near Carmarthen and was buried at the Greyfriars church there. Here's a picture of his tomb at St Peter's Church.

Above is the famous carving from Sir Rhys ap Thomas' bed which shows him at the Battle of Bosworth.

You can read more about Rhys ap Thomas in Susan Fern's book 'The Man Who Killed Richard III'.

Tuesday, 5 April 2016

A visit to the Richard III centre in Leicester

Ever since the remarkable story of the discovery of 'The King in the car park', Richard III's remains discovered  in a Leicester car park, I have planned to visit the site/Richard III centre.  Plans have fallen through at least twice, so this Easter, I decided I was going to go.  I'm a 'traditionalist' when it comes to Richard III, seeing him as a man of his times, and either re-acting to or instigating the circumstances he found himself in.   Whatever you think of Richard, the story is a remarkable one, and I understand plans are afoot to make some sort of film about the project.  Anyway, the Richard III centre is right opposite the Cathedral where Richard is buried, where the famous statue of Richard and his crown are sited.

I paid the admission price and headed into the centre.   It was easy to spend an hour and a half there, so good is the exhibition.   There's a film introducing Richard's story, seen from those around him - his brother, Edward IV,  the Earl of Warwick, his mother Cecily Neville, his armourer and Anne Neville, his wife.  To the left of the screening is a room charting the dig and project in pictures.

You then head off to the lower floor of the exhibition, featuring a timeline of Richard's life and his links with Leicester, culminating in the battle of Bosworth and his burial.  Upstairs, it's all about the dig, with various models showing Leicester at the time of Richard's burial and mini documentaries telling the story of the dig.   I appreciate all Philippa Langley has achieved, but my favourite Richardian is John Ashdown Hill and his meticulous research into the final resting place of Richard.  Both Langley and Ashdown Hill feature heavily in the exhibition.  There's a mock-up of Richard's skeleton with an interaction section, telling you about the wounds he suffered, and of course, the famous reconstruction of Richard's head, and how it was made. 

  Back downstairs you enter a room with a glass-topped floor - yes, it's the infamous car park, and you can look down into Richard's grave.  The effect of a projection of a skeleton in the position of the body every few minutes is quite disconcerting at first!

A case of now you see him, now you don't!     It's all very respectful and the volunteers I met there were expert in their knowledge - they really made my visit!   The Grey Friars Church was actually very small in size, and the building of a Tudor house after the friary was dissolved meant that Richard's remains lay beneath the garden/orchard of the house - and the garden remained there for many years, even surviving the buildings of a school and the Victorian houses later built around the site.   Richard's feet were lost with the building of a Victorian outhouse, but the rest of the garden survived until the site was covered in tarmac to provide parking for the staff working for Leicester City Council!   Here's a picture of the rest of the car park - yes, it's still in use!

Whether you are a Ricardian or not, 'into' history or not, this centre is well worth a visit.  It's a fascinating story.  

Richard was re-buried in Leicester Cathedral, right opposite the centre.  I was surprised at how small the cathedral is, but it's a fitting site for Richard to be buried.  I personally feel he should have been re-buried in Leicester, as it's a few hundred metres from where he originally lay, and after all, he had been buried there 500 years previously.  Here are the pictures I took.

 Richard's tomb and his heraldic symbols at Leicester Cathedral.

 This cloth covered Richard's coffin during his re-burial service, and the crown below was placed on it.

Sunday, 20 March 2016

Thank you Mr Postman!

I'm delighted to announce my postman arrived yesterday with Kathryn Warner's new book, 'Isabella of France: The Rebel Queen'.  Congratulations to Kathryn, on her second book.  Have to say, what a fantastic introduction, demolishing the many myths around Isabella, and reminding us to see her story in the context of her times.  Currently on Chapter 4 and loving it!

Saturday, 5 March 2016

A few thoughts on the relationship between Piers Gaveston, and Isabella, Queen of England. Part 1.

Any fiction book, and even some non-fiction books, portrays the relationship between Piers Gaveston and Isabella, wife and Queen of Edward II, as one of either dislike or hatred.  There are tales of Isabella watching in horror as her husband disembarks on his arrival back in England, crashing through the surf, to embrace and kiss Piers, not caring what anyone thinks.  Isabella is then humiliated during the Coronation, where Piers holds centre stage, and then the banquet when even more humiliation is heaped on her as the arms of Edward II and Piers Gaveston adorn the hall and Edward ignores his wife, the food is burnt, Isabella’s uncles, the counts of Valois and Evreux storm out in disgust, Isabella writes to her father bemoaning the neglect her husband has for her, and that he has even given all her wedding presents to Piers, who flaunts her jewels in front of everyone.   No wonder Isabella hated Piers, right?  Except all is not quite what it seems.
Isabella never saw her husband embrace Piers as soon as he set foot back in England, her uncles, although they did complain on their return to France, did not storm out of the banquet, there are no letters written by Isabella to her father from this time and of course, the wedding gifts were Edward’s, and he could do with them what he wished – even give them to Piers for safe keeping.  The negative stories emerge from chroniclers from the time or later, and we actually don’t know how Isabella or Piers felt about each other.  So in this post, I will offer my interpretation, which are just as valid as Thomas Walsingham’s or Agnes Strickland’s.
Isabella was only 12 when she married Edward – both Edward and Piers were in their 20s and already had a life-long bond – whether as a brotherhood or lovers.  Both men had illegitimate children, both married and had legitimate children with their wives.   So even if they were lovers, they both had had relationships with women and knew society’s expectations of them – to marry and produce heirs.  What better way for Edward to show his affection to Piers and bring him into the royal family by marring him to his niece, Margaret de Clare.  Edward himself showed no reluctance to marry Isabella.  But as she was only 12, what interest could she have held for him?   She was still a child, and far too young to share the royal bed.  Surely Isabella herself did not expect to share her husband’s bed at such a tender age?  And her father, King Philip, would surely never allow it.  At 12, her body was too young to bear a child, and she may not even have started her periods.  There must surely have been some agreement to wait.  Philip must also have been aware of Piers Gaveston.  He would have known about the exile of the favourite by Edward 1st, and the indecent haste in which Edward II recalled him after his father’s death.   While he may not have cared about any sexual relationship between Edward and Piers, hoping it would be discreet, he would have wanted to know how the relationship affected the court.   Would he send his daughter totally unprepared to England without any inkling of who Piers Gaveston was?  I doubt it.  Sending her uncles to support her, Isabella may even have been advised to try to please Gaveston, or to try to get along with him.  There is no way she could have insisted as a 12 year old that her husband banish his friend. 
Of course, Edward’s actions at the Coronation and the banquet were insensitive to his wife and no doubt offensive to the English nobility.  It’s my opinion that Edward saw his Coronation as almost his and Piers – he certainly didn’t want to share the limelight with a 12 year old girl, and he wanted to send a message to his nobles – Piers might have been exiled by his father, but now he was exalted above all.  Married into the royal family, allowed to wear purple (a royal colour), and taking a lead role in the Coronation, Edward couldn’t have made his thoughts clearer.  Displaying the Royal arms and Gaveston’s at the banquet, and making such a public display of his affection for Piers in front of everyone, Edward was setting the tone for his reign.  No doubt he was thoughtless and tactless towards his wife – but this was more about sending a message to his nobles.  Isabella had had her introduction to life at the English court and Piers Gaveston – no doubt she felt humiliated, but she knew she would find a way to live with Edward – and Piers.

I hope to write a follow-up to this post soon - how the relationship developed, and what did Piers think of Isabella.

Monday, 15 February 2016

Kings Langley - resting place of Piers Gaveston

The royal residence at Kings Langley was probably the favourite residence of Edward II, and it could possibly be the place where he clapped eyes on Piers Gaveston for the first time. 

   There had been a hunting lodge at Langley from the time of Henry III, but it wasn’t until the time of Edward’s mother, Eleanor of Castile, that a ‘royal residence’ became firmly established. Most of the building was done between 1279-1281. In 1302, the palace was given to Eleanor’s son, Edward II. Edward had in fact spent a great deal of time there anyway.

    In 1308, Edward II established a Dominican Priory at Kings Langley. The Dominicans were a personal favourite of Edward II out of the many ecclesiastical orders in England at the time. It was this priory that would become the eventual resting place for Piers Gaveston after his murder in 1312. The priory and church were built to the north of the palace. The building was not completed until the 1360s, but in 1312 Edward, not surprisingly, had the church consecrated. Piers himself was not laid to rest there until 1315 (more on this in a later post). Kings Langley also became a favourite residence of Edward III, and throughout his reign he continued to add to the Priory and Church. Six large stained glass windows were added and a large bell were installed in the church during his reign. His grandson, Richard II, would also be buried here. With the exception of Blackfriars, the church at Kings Langley was the largest Dominican house in England.

    Whilst at University at Reading, I did my best to find any evidence of the priory/palace at Kings Langley – and this was in pre-Internet days! There was very little information to be found, and I never got to visit what remains. The English Reformation saw to that – the friars were dismissed and the church fell into decay. The remains of Richard II had been reinterred by Henry V in Westminster Abbey. The land was sold to William Houlker and he demolished the priory – all that remained was one room which was used as a barn. The church itself was reduced to rubble. We have some idea of the dimensions of the priory/church due to a farmer in the nineteenth century – ‘Farmer Betts’ , who in 1831 recorded the dimensions and as much detail as he could. Sir Gilbert Scott, visiting the site that year, wrote ‘the Church must have been as fine as Westminster Abbey,’ and there was evidence of Purbeck marble bases to the pillars. Farmer Betts decided not to restore what was left, but flattened what was left to use as farm land. Enough to make you weep, eh? 

      Today, the site is home to by the Rudolf Steiner School. I did write to the Kings Langley historical society a few years ago asking what actually remained, and whether there was any evidence of Piers Gaveston’s tomb. I was told that if anything did exist, it was below the school. A friend of mine who lives not far from the school set off for a walk around it, but could see nothing. Who knows, one day, when I win the lottery, it may be a case of the Favourite Under the School, rather than the King in the Car Park.

Here's a sketch of the priory - or all that remains of it -
from the 19th century.   Opposite is the Rudolf Steiner School,
built on the site of the priory/church.


Wednesday, 20 January 2016

Joan Gaveston - daughter of Piers and Margaret de Clare

January 1312 saw the birth of Piers Gaveston's and Margaret de Clare's only surviving child - a daughter named Joan. Joan was born at a perilous time for her father. He had been banished for the third time by the barons for his 'influence' over Edward II. As his wife was pregnant, it's likely Piers did not go far, and with the birth due in January, he was back in England - re-called once again by Edward II. Margaret was born around the 12th or 13th of January. She was named Joan after the king's sister, Joan of Acre. Edward II collected his niece, Piers' wife Margaret, possibly from Wallingford castle, and took her to York to meet up with her husband. Of course, it seems Edward met up with Piers before Margaret did, which I'm sure Piers didn't object to! Typical of both of them! It may be Piers only ever intended to see his child born and spend time with his wife, before heading off back into exile, with plans for Margaret and his daughter to join him later. This all-changed. On January 18th, Edward II flouted the authority of the barons, and restored the Earldom of Cornwall to Piers. This set in motion a chain of events which would end in the killing of Piers on Blacklow Hill. On the death of her father, Joan was only 5 months old. Fortunately for Joan, Edward II became her guardian. This was due to Piers' lands being granted by the king, so Edward becoming her guardian was expected. It is hard to imagine that Edward would ever have abandoned the child of his beloved Piers anyway. Plus, her mother was his niece, so there was a blood relationship. No doubt Edward would have wanted to protect her and ensure she had a comfortable life and made a good marriage. Joan was sent to live at Amesbury Priory in Wiltshire. The king's sister Mary was a nun there. Joan was placed in the custody of Eleanor de Bohun, another niece of Edward's. Joan was generously provided for. Despite being the daughter of a perceived traitor, Joan was also a member of the king's family and had good marriage prospects. When she was barely 4 years old, Edward had the idea of marrying her to his ward Thomas, Lord Wake. Thomas was about 18 at the time. Such an age gap wasn't unusual for the times, and no doubt Edward was anxious to secure her future. Unfortunately for Thomas, he had married elsewhere without Edward's permission. Naturally, Edward was furious and imposed a heavy fine upon Thomas. Edward continued the search for a husband for Joan, and in 1317, his choice settled on John Multon. John was the son of Thomas Multon, lord of Egremont in Cumberland. John was nearer in age to Joan, being 9 in 1317. It was agreed the couple would marry at a suitable age, and there seems to have been plans for Joan to live with her bridegroom's family. Edward agreed to pay a dowry of £1,000. So anxious was Edward to provide Joan with a suitable marriage, that he extracted from Thomas Multon the promise of £10,000 should he fail to ensure the marriage took place. Joan's future had been secured. There's no doubt Edward expected his niece Margaret to re-marry. She was too young and valuable a widow not to. She would then more than likely bear her new husband children, hopefully a son, and would have little time for Joan. It was vital for Edward to ensure Joan was taken care of. Sadly, all these plans came to nothing. Probably on her birthday, in 1325, Joan Gaveston died of an unknown illness. She would have been just 13 years old. We have no idea what the illness was. Nor do we know how Edward re-acted, though no doubt he mourned Piers' daughter. It was another break from Piers. We don't know how often Edward ever saw Joan. We have no records of her attending court, though she may have attended with her relatives at some point. We obviously don't know what she looked like, but I have to wonder, if she took after her father, and that if he ever did see her, how much she reminded Edward of her father. If only she had survived, married and had children, the direct legitimate descendants of Piers would be around today. I'm sure Piers would have been very proud. Below is the Church of St Mary and St Melor in Amesbury, all that is left of the priory.

Saturday, 9 January 2016

Happy New Year - and the 'best books of 2015'

At the start of 2015, I made a vow to read more historical fiction. After all, there's only so many times you can read the same information on the Tudors over and over again - when in fact, there's very little new information on them - maybe some long forgotten facts if you are lucky. And of course, historical biographies on Edward II and his court are few and far between. I was spurred on by Kasia, from the Young King's blog. Here's my top reads of 2015. 1. Colin Iggulden's 'Bloodline', the third part of his trilogy on the Wars of the Roses. I was impressed with the other 2 previous novels, but Bloodline was outstanding! I literally couldn't put it down. The battle of Towton was described in every horrific detail, bringing the battle to life and bringing the horror of medieval warship home to me. I also enjoyed the portrayal of Warwick the Kingmaker, and cannot wait for the next instalment. 2. I finally got around to reading the Sharon Penman trilogy on Eleanor of Acquitaine. I ended up reading them in reverse order - 'The Devil's Brood', 'Time and Chance' and 'When Christ and his Saints slept', and for me, it was the latter that really stood out. I found myself having sympathy for both Stephen and the Empress Maude, particularly her plight at Oxford. I also enjoyed the fictional Welsh characters and the portrayal of Henry Ist's illegitimate son. 3. 'Jasper Tudor' - Debra Bayani. A superb biography on an important character in the Wars of the Roses. 4. 'The Greatest Knight' by Thomas Asbridge. A fascinating account of the life of William Marshal and his relationship with 5 Kings of England. 5. 'King John' by Marc Morris. There were a lot of books out on King John last year, marking the anniversary of Magna Carta. This was a very honest account of John's character and reign. What more can I say? John is one of history's real bad boys. 6. 'Richard III - the king in the car park' by Terry Breveton - really enjoyed this unromantic biography of Richard III, another of history's 'bad boys'. The author uses many of the old Welsh sources, and also attacks the many myths that have grown up around Richard and his 'saintly character'. He also rebuts many of the Ricardian propaganda against Henry V II. Apologies for the way this post is set out - nothing I do will 'unblock the text'.