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