Wednesday, 20 December 2017

Merry Christmas!

It's that time of year again.   A very Merry Christmas to all and best wishes for 2018!

Sunday, 3 December 2017

Ludlow Castle - the apartments of Prince Arthur and Katherine of Aragon

 The eldest son of Henry VII, Prince Arthur, born in Winchester and named for glory and drawing on his Welsh ancestry, was sent to govern in Ludlow Castle at a very young age.  His father was following the example, set by Edward IV, of sending the heir to the throne to govern the troublesome Marcher lands on the Welsh borders.  It was deemed an ideal 'apprenticeship'.
 These photos show the inside and outside of the apartments occupied by Prince Arthur.

 In 1501, the young Prince was married to the Spanish princess, Katherine of Aragon.  It was a superb match for the Tudor family.
 The young couple were sent to Ludlow, to live, in my opinion, as husband and wife.   The idea of Prince Arthur being a sickly youth is a later invention.   No mention of sickliness was made at his wedding, when he and his bride were on view for all to see,and Katherine's parents would surely have enquired as to the health of the young prince.  There was no hint of the tragedy to follow.
Both Arthur and Katherine caught some type of sickness in April 1502.  Both were expected not to survive.   sadly, Arthur died, and Katherine was too ill to even know her young husband was dead.

The young couple seem to have been really happy here.  Years later, their private life would come under intense scrutiny.   Their apartments are currently under renovation.  If only walls could talk!

Sunday, 12 November 2017

Ludlow Castle

I've been very lucky to visit Ludlow twice this year.   The castle is spectacular, and of huge significance to anyone with an interest in Medieval history.
It has been held by the Mortimer family and the Dukes of York.
The chapel was added by the infamous Roger Mortimer, after helping Queen Isabella dethrone her husband Edward II.

Richard, Duke of York, abandoned the castle in the so-called 'Wars of the Roses', leaving behind his wife, Duchess Cicely, and her young children, including George, the future Duke of Clarence, and Richard, later Richard III.  He naturally made sure his eldest 2 sons were safe.

It was also the castle where the young Edward V was schooled as a prince, ready to take over from his father.   Henry VII subsequently sent his son Prince Arthur there and later, Henry VIII sent the Princess Mary there.

Sunday, 5 November 2017

Belated Anniversary Wishes

November 1st 1307 was the anniversary of the wedding between Piers Gaveston and Margaret de Clare, niece of Edward II.  Margaret was the second daughter of Gilbert de Clare and the daughter of Edward 1st, Joan of Acre.   This was Edward's way of bringing Piers into the Royal family.   The Vita Edwardi Secundi says it was Edward's aim to 'strengthen Piers and surround him with friends '.  Margaret was aged 14 and doubtless had no say in the marriage.   We don't know how Margaret felt about her husband but we do know she accompanied Piers to Ireland on his second banishment and that Piers returned from his third banishment when Margaret was due to give birth to their daughter Joan.  If Piers was as chivalrous, graceful and  magnificently dressed as he was described, it's not difficult to imagine Margaret being impressed with her husband.   Being made Countess of Cornwall no doubt helped.   Whatever the relationship between her husband and Uncle, Margaret must have recognised the importance of her marriage to the King's favourite and saw a bright and successful marriage ahead.  If only......

Sunday, 8 October 2017

Mortimer History Society - presentation by Kathryn Warner

Saturday, October 7th, is I date I will never forget!    The Mortimer History Society were holding a historical event in Ludlow.    One of the speakers was Kathryn Warner, who was to give a talk about Isabella of France, based around her book 'Isabella, Rebel Queen'.     I've 'known' Kathryn for about 10 years, but only through e-mail and her superb blog on Edward II.  After all this time, we were finally going to meet and I was going to hear her presentation.   And what a wonderful day it was!

Ludlow is such a picturesque town on the borders of England and Wales, and of huge importance to the Mortimer family.  Kathryn was due to talk for about 50 mins - and I wondered how on earth she would be able to keep to 50 minutes!    How Kathryn managed to paint a superb 'pen portrait' of Isabella in such a short time, I'll never know!    But it was all there - the history of her parents, her childhood, marriage and her relationship with Piers Gaveston and the collapse of her marriage which ended with the deposition of her husband, Edward II.   I'm amazed that for almost an hour Kathryn didn't stop for a sip of water and made use of just a couple of cue cards.   Her talk was riveting, informative and entertaining!      Myths such as Piers receiving Isabella 's wedding presents were dismissed and there was laughter as any notion of William Wallace being Edward III's father were demolished.    The complicated lineage of Edward and Isabella was expertly explained.

Having read Kathryn's book and her blog, Kathryn's talk was still thought-provoking.   I hadn'I realised that Isabella's last child was born when she was only 25 - still at the height of her fertility.   It begs the question why?    Was it because of her fertility or her husband's?   Or did Isabella and Edward cease sharing a bed?   As Kathryn has shown, the marriage was happy and the couple were rarely apart and shared a bed frequently.   Isabella was an ideal Queen and provided huge support for her husband.   It may well be fertility problems weren't issue - or was it the influence of Hugh Despencer that changed Edward's attitude to his wife?   It's an intriguing thought.

It was a wonderful day and I really enjoyed chatting away to Kathryn about Piers, Edward, Isabella, Hugh........Made me realise once again how happy I was when recovering from a severe bout of tonsillitis, confined to bed, having just re-read Jean Plaidy's 'The Follies of the King', I googled 'Piers Gaveston ' and found Kathryn 's superb blog!

Saturday, 23 September 2017

Long Live the King!

This is the book I've been waiting for from Kathryn Warner for a long, long time!  I'm sorry it's taken me some time to post this review, but I've had a very busy summer and am only now getting round to posting it.  I've been a longtime fan of Kathryn Warner's Edward II blog and have been intrigued by the possible survival of Edward II.  The sheer number of books about Richard III and the disappearance of his nephews has dominated royal mysteries for  years.  We'll never, ever know what happened, and in my opinion, it's obvious Richard had them killed to ensure his survival.   But the mystery of Edward II's supposed survival has far more evidence than any you can find on the mystery of the Princes.  Edward's possible survival needs far more attention than it's been given - and Kathryn does so in her marvelous book.   Biographies of Edward focus on his weaknesses and his tyranny, and any reference to his survival is quickly brushed over, usually dismissed, and even if not, deemed as unworthy of further investigation.   But it's a fascinating possibility, and anyone who likes a good detective story will find it here.  I won't give a way too much, but for me the most intriguing parts of the story are -

  • that such a personage as the Archbishop of York, Melton, someone who knew Edward, was utterly convinced Edward was a live.  An intelligent and powerful man was willing to commit to paper his belief that Edward was still alive and wanted to raise money to gather support for Edward.
  • the whole plot to 'entrap' the Earl of Kent, who believed his brother to be alive and was trying to gather support for him.  Why would Roger Mortimer and Isabella, having given out the news that Edward was dead, seek to 'entrap' Kent into believing his brother was alive?  Surely the last thing they would want was any speculation that Edward was alive?
  • We're not told what killed Edward at Berkeley Castle.  From being in good health, and we have evidence he was treated well in captivity, and with descriptions of him being strong and no sign of poor health, what exactly did he die of?
  • Whatever killed Edward, his body was never put on public view.  Think of when Henry VII paraded the body of the defeated Richard III, and how Edward IV and Richard put the bodies of Henry VI and Warwick the Kingmaker on view to prove they were dead.  Interestingly, it's the first royal funeral to use a wooden effigy.
  • The Fieschi letter.   I've read and re-read it so many times, and it's fascinating.  Is it a fake?  and if so, why would anyone want to fake it?  What would there be to gain?  If it was genuinely written by Fieschi and is a 'blackmail' attempt by the Papacy - it's a pretty flimsy attempt.  If Edward III ever received it as such, it seemingly had no effect.  There is one detail in particular that Kathryn has linked with her research - and I won't say what it is - but it certainly lends weight to the Fieschi letter being genuine.   
  • Key for me for the survival of Edward is his attitude to the crown.  In my opinion, he didn't want his crown back.  He knew he was unpopular, and I'm sure he wouldn't have wanted a Civil war for his son, so what better than to surrender his person into the hands of the papacy and live a simple life as a hermit?

This is a thought-provoking book and I literally could not put it down - constantly referring back to it and re-reading passages again and again.

Saturday, 19 August 2017

Caerphilly Castle Visit

It's been a couple of years since I visited Caerphilly Castle.  It's always a pleasure to visit  and I managed a visit a few of months ago.  It really is a magnificent castle and is best known for it's incredible 'leaning tower'.

The castle has gone under some restoration since my last visit, and the Great Hall has been restored to what it would have looked like in the time of Hugh Despencer, favourite of Edward II and married to his niece, Eleanor de Clare.  The inside of the roof was most impressive.

The hall has been set up as if the Lord and Lady were dining, with 2 chairs at the head of the table.  The table itself is covered with a cloth which tells the story of Hugh Despencer.  It's the first time I've seen it and I managed to take some photos.

First up, the wedding of Hugh and Eleanor.

The story of Llewelyn Bren.  Not Hugh Despencer's finest hour!

 The alterations carried out by Hugh Despencer at Caerphilly.

An unhappy Isabella heads to France as Edward is seemingly ruled by Despencer.

 Isabella and Roger Mortimer prepare to invade England.

Edward and Despencer flee to Despencer's castle at Caerphilly before making their way to Neath Abbey where they surrender to Isabella.  Below is the execution of Despencer.  Those familiar with this famous depiction of Despencer's dreadful execution will realise the embroiders  for this cloth have respected Despencer's modesty!

Sunday, 9 July 2017

Pride, Power and Politics

Pride, Power and Politics is an exhibition touring Royal Historical Palaces and was at the Tower of London from May 26-27.   Here's a review from History Revealed magazine.

'See how this formidable fortress has played a role in Britain's LGBT+history.  From the days of Edward II and his betrayal of companion Piers Gaveston to Henry VIII's and Queen Victoria's attitudes towards homosexuality, learn why the Tower has been a symbol of prejudice in our nation's gay history '.

Erm, I'm puzzled by Edward's betrayal of Piers.   This is History Revealed's error, not the Tower's. I haven't been able to attend the exhibition, unfortunately, but I cannot see how Edward could be responsible for a betrayal of Piers, when in fact he did everything he could to save him.   I'd be interested to hear if anyone saw the exhibition and how exactly Piers and Edward were portrayed.   

A similar exhibition, Pride at the Palace, runs at Hampton Court sometime in July.

Here's Edward II when I 'met' him at the Tower a few years ago.

Monday, 19 June 2017

June 19th - death of Piers Gaveston.

I have been so busy lately and have neglected this blog, but of course I cannot let today pass without mentioning the anniversary of the shameful 'execution' of Piers Gaveston.    Both Guy of Warwick and Thomas of Lancaster let their jealousy get the better of them and had Piers killed without a proper trial.   Little did they know they would unleash the vengeance of Edward II.   RIP Piers.

Sunday, 21 May 2017

Remembering May 19th

May 19th is of course the day Piers Gaveston surrendered to Amyer de Valance at Scarborough Castle on very favourable terms.  From a Tudor point of view, it's also the anniversary of the execution of Anne Boleyn - my heroine from very early childhood.  A remarkable woman, who had flaws and many virtues.   I've been to the Tower of London on May 19th previously, to see the famed basket of roses that have appeared for many, many years and the other bunches of flowers that have begun to appear over the years.   This year there were many more bunches of flowers than I've ever seen.  Here's a selection of photos from May 19th.   

And in my own garden, my Anne Boleyn rose bush was in bloom!

Sunday, 14 May 2017

The Royals magazine

The new issue of The History of the Royals has a fabulous article about Edward II by Kathryn Warner.    It's a 2 page article and focuses on the possible survival of Edward II.   It's a forerunner to Kathryn's book 'Long Live the King', out on June 1st.   Can't wait!

Monday, 1 May 2017

Gaveston Cross Update


As promised, here is an update on the Gaveston Cross.  And it's not good news, I'm afraid.   I contacted the Leek Wootton and Guy's Cliff History Society, who were very helpful.  Bertie Bertie Greetheed was responsible for the monument, completing it in 1821.  The Greatheed family had purchased the land in 1720 from Dame Charlotte Beaufoy.  Samuel Greatheed was a Whig politician and married Lady Mary Bertie, daughter of the Duke of Ancaster.  Bertie Bertie Greatheed was their son.   It was his ambition to build the Gaveston Cross, inspired it seems by a previous commemoration carved into a rock.  The original inscription was:

beheaded here.

There is evidence of this inscription being here from at least 1656.    It could well have been there many, many years before.  So does this mean that the spot where Piers was killed was well known?  Bertie Bertie Greatheed was obviously keen to commemorate the historical event that happened on his family's land, rather than having a personal interest in Piers Gaveston.  Blacklow Hill was known to be the site of ancient settlements, with coins dating from Roman Britain found there.  From the picture above, you can clearly see how the surrounding trees and wood that have now grown around it.    The Gaveston Cross remains the property of Greethead's descendants and is on private property.   It is a Grade II listed  monument, but it is up to the landowner, not the local council, to maintain it.  So it seems it has been left to decay.   Such a shame!

Friday, 14 April 2017

Cardiff Castle

Cardiff Castle consists of 2 main buildings - an old, Norman Keep and a Victorian Gothic mansion, very much influenced by the history of the Norman keep.  The original castle was a wooden motte and bailey castle, built by Robert Fitzhamon at the command of William the Conqueror.  The castle's most famous prisoner was Robert of Normandy, the eldest son of William the Conqueror, who was held in custody by his nephew Robert the Consul.  Robert the Consul built the current stone keep in 1135.  Inside the Victorian building is a superb fire place telling the story of the 2 Roberts.

Robert the Consul is shown on his horse, whilst Robert of Normandy, or 'Robert Curthose' as he is known, is shown in his prison cell.  As the eldest, it might have been expected that Robert Curthose would inherit the crown of England from his father.  However, typical of the times, Robert had fallen foul of his father after a quarrel with his 2 younger brothers, William Rufus and Henry.  He openly rebelled against his father, meeting him on the battlefield and even unseating him.  There were attempts to reconcile, and when William I died, Robert was made Duke of Normandy, William Rufus the crown of England, and the youngest, Henry, was given money to buy lands.  Both Robert and William eyed each other with suspicion, and made a pact to name each other as the other's heir.  Robert was considered the more pliable of the brothers, and allowed himself to be drawn into plots and proved himself untrustworthy to all. Robert went to fight in the first crusade, and it was then that his brother William Rufus died - and younger brother Henry was there to seize the throne.  Worse was to follow when Henry captured Robert after a decisive battle and seized Normandy from him.  Robert was imprisoned in Cardiff castle for over 20 years, and died in 1134, when he was in his 80's.   he was buried in the church of St. Peter in Gloucester - later re-named Gloucester Cathedral.  His tomb is very striking, with the effigy dated to be put in place about 100 years after his death.

 Of course he lies in the same cathedral as Edward II.   Being buried in Gloucester Cathedral, I used to confuse him with the illegitimate son of Henry Ist, Robert of Gloucester, who later added to the Norman keep at Cardiff.

Saturday, 18 March 2017

The Gaveston Cross

Having read Rob's comment on the previous post - as to whether there is a way of raising funds to restore the Gaveston Cross - I had a quick look back through my notes and photos on the day I found it.  I was reminded of the difficulty I had searching from it, being armed with a map and a very patient friend who saw it as some sort of quest!  We left Warwick by bus and soon arrived at the village of Leek Wootton.  On arrival, we soon discovered there were no signposts or any information on the Gaveston Cross.  Thankfully, we were able to ask some of the locals, who initially seemed puzzled and then asked 'do you mean the old monument?'  They did their best to direct us, and I was excited as I found a sign with Gaveston Lodge.   We trekked along a path.  And here's what we were greeted with - yes, somewhere, in that wood, was the Gaveston Cross!
 We walked across the field - luckily it wasn't raining!   The wood was fenced off but there were gaps in the fence.  It was these gaps that gave us a clue.   The monument used to be a local place for gangs of youngsters to meet.
 This was my first glimpse of the Gaveston Cross.  I can't tell you the excitement I felt.
 The monument is very tall, so the cross on the top is undamaged.

Even from this view, it looks in good condition.  It's the bottom of the monument that has suffered, where people have sat at it's base and scrawled graffiti on it.  There were lots of drinks cans around it.

On contacting the local council, to complain that there were no signposts/information on the monument, I was sent an e-mail with a link about trespassing!  Whilst the monument is a Grade II listed monument, the land on which it stands belongs to a farmer who I've since discovered is not a local.   It is not his responsibility to maintain the monument.     It's a strange situation - a monument dedicated to Piers some 500 years after his death - it was erected in 1821 - but officially no-one can access it and no-one has to maintain it - and neither can it be demolished.  It makes me wonder just how many other such monuments exist, hidden away.  Of course, we can't know whether this is exactly the spot on which Piers was killed, but it must have been nearby.  I would like to know why the person who commissioned the monument, Bertie Greatheed, actually did so.  Why was he so keen to have the killing of Piers commemorated?   Especially with that awful inscription - 

'In the Hollow of this Rock, was beheaded, On the 1st Day of July, by Barons lawless as himself, Piers Gaveston, Earl of Cornwall;  The Minion of a hateful King:  In life and death, A memorable Instance of Misrule'

Greatheed didn't write the inscription, the local curate did, but he agreed to it.  No doubt Piers would be delighted to be remembered as Earl of Cornwall.  The day I visited the monument, it was a pleasant summer's day, and looking around at the greenery of the wood, it was hard to believe that such a violent crime has been carried out there.

Thursday, 23 February 2017

A Tale of 2 History magazines

Over the last few years, there has been a surge in History magazines.  'History Today' is firmly established, and has what I would term more 'academic' articles.  The BBC History magazine is always a good read with a mix of academic and family articles.  The newer titles include 'History Revealed' and 'All About History', that cover popular subjects such as the Tudors and in my opinion give you lots of glossy 'artist impressions' of historical characters and the basic background of people and events.  

BBC History also provides 'specials' - and the latest is on Medieval Kings and Queens.  I was delighted to find an article by Kathryn Warner, (Website Edward II  )featured inside with an excellent article on Isabella, wife and Queen of Edward II.  Those who have read Kathryn's book, 'Isabella, Rebel Queen', will know how meticulous Kathryn's research is, and how hard she has worked to show that Edward and Isabella had a reasonably happy marriage, with Isabella tolerating Edward's favourites, such as Piers Gaveston and Roger Damory, before falling foul of Hugh Despencer.  So many myths were debunked.  So it was a real shame to see another new history magazine, 'The History of the Royals', feature an article on Isabella cast in her role as the she-wolf.  And of course, with that, the old myths are repeated - namely that -

  • Edward gave his wedding presents to Piers Gaveston, thus humiliating Isabella.
  • Isabella 'endured' years of humiliation by her husband and Piers.
  • Edward gave Piers Isabella's lands!
  • Despencer/Edward deprived Isabella of her 4 children.(I know Kathryn is particularly dismayed about this myth).
  • Isabella and Roger Mortimer were lovers - no doubt about it.
  • They met in the Tower of London earlier, and Mortimer escaped.  
  • Edward blamed Mortimer for putting his marriage in jeopardy!  
Worst of all, the article is called 'The Royal Lovers' Conquest'.   Throughout the article, Isabella and Roger Mortimer are presented as lovers.   Their behaviour scandalises  the French and English courts.  The article does not make it clear that this is one interpretation of their relationship, with little supporting evidence, and of course, Mortimer's wife and children fade into the background.    The best thing that can be said about this article?  At the end,  for further reading, is recommended Kathryn's book.  What a shame the author of this article didn't read it first.

Thursday, 2 February 2017

February 1312

February 1312 saw Piers Gaveston reunited with Edward II - and his wife, Margaret de Clare.  Piers was returning from his third exile.  It was his shortest exile - a matter of a couple of months.    There were even rumours he had not left the country at all, and was in fact in hiding.  Was this because he expected Edward to defy his nobles and gain the upper hand and allowing him back as soon as possible?   More likely is the fact that Piers was expecting his first child with his wife Margaret.   It may have been that because of her condition that Margaret could not follow Piers into exile - she had certainly accompanied him when he had been sent to Ireland.   We don't know if the pregnancy was a difficult one, but surely Piers would have wanted to be as close to his wife as possible, so that when she went into labour, he could quickly reach her and see his child.   It would make sense for him to lie low in England.   It's doubtful he would have been safe in France, and Flanders may have just been too far.

Piers and Margaret's daughter was born in mid-January.   Piers was quickly at her side - after meeting up with Edward first, naturally.   Edward had taken Margaret North in late pregnancy.   There must have been a plan in which Edward thought the North would be the safest place for Piers to return.   There was surely great celebrating when Joan Gaveston was born - named for Margaret 's mother, Edward's sister.  Joan would never know her father, for within months of Piers return from his third exile disaster would strike - Piers would fall into the hands of his enemies and face death.   Whether Edward had a genuine plan/idea to ensure the safety of Piers or they both acted recklessly, we'll never know.   However, February 1312 would be a time of celebration for Piers, his wife and Edward.

Saturday, 14 January 2017

Best Books of 2016

Here's a list of some of the best books I read in 2016.  Most are non-fiction, although I did read a lot of non-fiction, but only 1 makes my list.

1.  Isabella of France, Rebel Queen, by Kathryn Warner.  A superb book about Edward II's Queen and how her marriage was actually happy, to begin with!  In hindsight, we have the benefit of knowing that Isabella was successful in her coup, but she was treading an unknown path.  As usual with Kathryn Warner, there is a great deal of supporting evidence from exemplary research.

2.  Game of Queens, the women who made 16th Century Europe, by Sarah Gristworth.  A superb book that makes you realise the 16th Century had many powerful women, who though they may not be Queens, acted as regents or wielded immense power behind the throne.  Their names were well-known to me, but I knew very little about the life of Margaret of Angouleme and Margaret of Austria - I do now and their lives were fascinating.

3.  The Private Lives of the Tudors by Tracy Borman.  Borman's 'Thomas Cromwell' made it onto a previous list, and this book is a great read as well.  Lots of facts about the Tudors - some hidden, some well-known, and some, erm, not quite true.   

4.  In the Footsteps of the Six Wives of Henry VIII  by Sarah Morris.  A comprehensive guide to all the places that have a connection to the wives of Henry VIII.   

5. Red Roses: from Blanche of Lancaster to Margaret Beaufort by Amy Licence.  Really enjoyed this book about the 'Red Roses' of Lancaster.  I knew very little about Blanche of Lancaster and found her story intriguing, while my admiration of Margaret Beaufort grew even more!

6.  Prince Arthur, the Tudor King who never was, by Sean Cunningham.  A superb account of the life of Prince Arthur.  I often feel Arthur is a maligned figure in Tudor history, written off as a sickly youth, when this is far from the truth, but this myth continues to be perpetuated in both fiction and non-fiction. 2016 saw yet another novel about Katherine of Aragon and her 'sickly' bridegroom.  Cunningham shows how Arthur was vital to the plans of Henry VII and Elizabeth of York, and the training that was invested in him to be king.  Arthur and his family knew his destiny from birth.  If Arthur were the sickly bridegroom so often reported, how strange no-one commented on it on his wedding day, when he would be 'on view' to the public.   It served the interests of others to proclaim Arthur as sickly.  Arthur is one Tudor personality I often think about 'what if....?'  He would have been far more capable than his brother Henry.

7.  Crown of Blood:  the deadly inheritance of Lady Jane Grey, by Nicola Tallis    Superb account of the life of Lady Jane Grey - whose life was clearly not her own.   Quite rightly puts the blame where it deserves to be - on the shoulders of the Duke of Northumberland.

8.  'Wars of the Roses - Ravenspur' by Conn Iggulden   I cannot find the words to say how much I enjoyed this series of books by Conn Iggulden, and mourn the fact there will be no more.  The tension builds towards the Battle of Barnet and even though you know what is going to happen, it's almost unbearable.  Although fiction, it enhanced my admiration for Warwick the Kingmaker.  I will miss Derry Brewer!

9.  'The Wars of the Roses - the Key Players' by Matthew Lewis.  An account of who and where that makes everything clear in this confusing period of history.

10.  The King's Bed - Sex, Power and the court of Charles II, by Don Jordan and Michael Walsh.  Made me realise how fickle and weak Charles II actually was.

Thursday, 5 January 2017


Something a bit different today.   The tale of a Welsh New Year custom - Mari Llwyd - it has 2 meanings - either 'The Grey Mare' or 'Holy Mary'.  I've actually attended a 'performance' of 'Mari Llywd' in recent years.  Here's an article from the Museum of Wales which explains the customThe Mari Llywd