Wednesday, 5 January 2022

Best Books of 2021

 As is usual for me this time of year, here are my ‘best reads’ of 2021.  Been a bit of a struggle for me in 2021, as I know it has been for many people.  It’s times like this that had me reaching for some old favourites.  So here is my list, in no particular order, of the best books I read in 2021.

1.  The White Ship by Charles Spencer.   A period of history I knew very little about.  It concerns the only legitimate son of Henry 1st who drowned on a crossing from France to England aboard the White Ship.  The tragedy had a huge effect on the line of succession, plunging England into civil war.  

2.  ‘The Life and death of Anne Boleyn: The Most Happy’ by Eric Ives.  Quite simply the best book ever written about Anne Boleyn, no matter how many times you read it.  Never been bettered.

3.  ‘The Daughters of Edward 1st’ by Kathryn Warner.  Again, I knew very little about the lives of these fascinating women, which is typical of medieval women.  I often think of Edward 1st as the controlling, bullying father of Edward II.  But where his daughters were concerned, he was an indulgent and doting father.  Their stories were not quite what I was expecting.

4.  ‘The King’s Painter, The life and times of Hans Holbein’ by Franny Moyle.  Exactly as described.  A superb look at the life of Henry VIII’s painter, Hans Holbein and his extraordinary, detailed portraits.  

5.  ‘Henry VII and the Tudor Pretenders’ by Nathan Amin.  A look at the 3 pretenders who threatened Henry VII’s new reign - Lambert Simnel, Perkin Warbeck and Edward, Earl of Warwick.  I’ve previously read boooks on Perkin Warbeck but knew very little about Simnel.  The inclusion of the Earl of Warwick is a tragic tale of a miserable life, a young man imprisoned through no fault of his own and subject to the treacherous plans of others.

6.  ‘The Song of Simon de Montfort’ by Sophie Therese Ambler.   I knew practically nothing about Simon de Montfort and decided to purchase this book as a starting point.  Ambler’s detailed and meticulous research of Simon and his family is excellent.  This book is very academic but I learned so much about Simon and his circumstances.  I’d be surprised if there’s a more detailed book on him.

7.  ‘Eleanor of Aquitaine Queen of France and England, Mother of Empires’ by Sarah Cockerill.  The best biography of Eleanor of Aquitaine.  Eleanor was an incredible woman, and would have been whenever she lived.  Queen of France and England, and mother of the Young King, Richard 1st and King John.  Amazing!

8.  ‘Henry VIII in 100 objects’ - by Paul Kendall.  A fabulous collection of photos of objects and places associated with Henry VIII, some well known, others less so, and all in glossy colour.

There were some books I started but didn’t finish, some I wish I hadn’t bothered to finish, and I indulged in re-reading my favourite fictional historical novelist, Jean Plaidy.  Hadn’t read any of her books for years, but still got my copies.  Just fantastic to lose myself in them all over again.

Monday, 1 November 2021

November 1307 - Marriage of Piers Gaveston and Margaret de Clare

 As soon as Edward II recalled Piers Gaveston from exile he set about making Piers part of his family - the Royal family.  The best way to do this of course was marriage.  The bride chosen was Margaret de Clare, the king's niece from his sister Joan of Acre and her husband Gilbert de Clare, Earl of Gloucester.  Piers had been made Earl of Cornwall in August, before his marriage to Margaret de Clare.  What is interesting to note is that Piers' Coat of Arms as Earl of Cornwall already had the arms of the Clare family as part of it's design - before the marriage had taken place.  It seems clear the marriage had been planned for some time.

The marriage itself took place at Berkhamstead on November 1st.  The King himself attended, along with some of the nobility.  Naturally, Edward's generous character was on show.  There's very little mention of the wedding ceremony in the chronicles, but we do know Edward gave £30 of jewels to the couple, gave Margaret a palfrey worth £20, another £20 on minstrels, gifts for her ladies worth £36 and he even arranged for coins worth over £7 to be thrown over the couple at the church entrance.  It must have been a day of great celebration for Edward and Piers, and hopefully Margaret.  Whether her brother approved, we just don't know, but then his sister would now be Countess of Cornwall, and married to the King's favourite.

Saturday, 16 October 2021

Piers Gaveston's First Exile

 Piers Gaveston had been appointed to Prince Edward's household in 1300 by his father, Edward Ist.  It seems Piers was chosen because of his chivalrous attitude and good manners, a suitable role model for the young prince.  Yet in 1307, he was banished by Edward Ist, for an incident described by Walter of Guisborough, the only chronicler who mentioned it.  According to Guisborough, the Prince had asked his father for the county of Ponthieu for Piers.  Or rather he asked his father's treasurer, Walter Langton, Bishop of Coventry and Lichfield, to ask him.  Edward Ist summoned his son, grabbed him by the hair, tearing it out, and yelled 'You wretched bastard, do you want to give lands away now?  You who never gained any?'  He then called his council together and banished Piers from the Kingdom.  Having read this account, you would assume that Piers was promptly marched to Dover and sent on his way.  But this is not what happened.  Edward 1st appears to have calmed down enough to order Piers leave the country three weeks after the next tournament, to return to Gascony, and stay there until he was recalled.  Not the actions of someone who was in such a foul temper, abused his son and ripped out his hair because he thought his son's favourite companion had the audacity to ask for the county of Ponthieu.  The official court records give a different account.  The Prince and Piers were to swear on Holy relics they would respect the terms of the exile.  The exile wasn't even permanent - Piers would be recalled.   Piers was even given time to arrange his exile, and did not even go to Gascony - he actually went to the much disputed Ponthieu.  Neither Piers or the Prince were denied the opportunity to meet up before the exile. Prince Edward accompanied Piers on his journey to Dover.  They even traveled at a leisurely pace.  They traveled with members of the Prince's household and even took along 2 minstrels with them.  The Prince also gave Piers many costly gifts.  He was given a number of expensive tapestries, two costly tunics and 5 horses and a cash gift of £260.  Monies were also given to the members of the household accompanying Piers. Edward 1st promised him 100 marks a year for each year he was in exile.

Even after he had left England, the Prince sent on more costly gifts.  Piers obviously intended to make his exile as comfortable as possible.  It seems he would spend his time entering a number of tournaments and the Prince sent him 2  expensively made tournament outfits - one of green velvet embroidered with pearls and gold and silver piping, and also another outfit in green.  Green obviously suited Piers!  Both were decorated with the arms of Gaveston.  He would make quite a spectacle in tournaments.  Far from leaving England in disgrace, Piers also took with him 2 knights, a chamberlain, 2 falconers , some servants and several grooms from the Prince's household.  Maybe even the 2 minstrels went as well!

It was a very generous exile.  Piers was well supported by his household, had been given lavish gifts by the Prince, with the intention he would busy himself entering tournaments.  At some point, he hoped to be recalled by the king.  Prince Edward had felt the full force of his father's fury - even if the story of having his hair pulled out wasn't true.  So, was the reason for the exile an argument over Ponthieu?  Or was it something else?  Was the King angered by the Prince entering in to some sort of brotherhood pact with Piers?  Or had he realised his son was besotted with Piers?  Did he suspect they were lovers?  And if so, was this the reason for his anger?  Or was it the influence he thought Piers would exert over the Prince?  From the King's actions, it would appear his anger was with the Prince, and not Piers - hence the fine send off he was given - and knowing the exile was not forever.  Perhaps the King hoped Piers would enjoy his life in exile and be content to stay there.  Or that whatever 'hold' he had over the Prince, it would evaporate - out of sight, out of mind, so to speak.  But it was not to be.  Within 3 months, the King was.  His son became Edward II and he immediately set out to bring Piers Gaveston back to England.

Sources - 'Edward II' by Seymour Phillips

'Piers Gaveston, Politics and Patronage in the Reign of Edward II' by J S Hamilton 

Saturday, 4 September 2021

A Visit to Hever Castle

 Hever Castle is the ancestral home of Anne Boleyn.  I've been fortunate enough to visit it a few times.  Obviously the castle has changed over the years but you definitely get a feel of what life was like for the Boleyns.

The castle is set amongst some fabulous gardens and is surrounded by a moat.
This is the church near the castle.  Anne Boleyn's father, Sir Thomas Boleyn, is buried here.
Hever Castle has some wax figures at the castle.  This model is of Anne Boleyn, clutching in her hand the locket snatched from Jane Seymour after Anne reportedly found her with her husband, Henry VIII.  There is also a model of Henry and Jane in the background.
The elaborate fire place at Hever Castle.

A coif stitched by Anne Boleyn.

Another scene with models, this time Anne reads a love letter sent by Henry VIII.

A tapestry on show at Hever.
Portraits of Anne Boleyn, above, and Mary Boleyn below.

For me, the highlights of Hever Castle - 2 prayers books owned by Anne Boleyn.  Priceless!

Wednesday, 18 August 2021

A Visit to Hampton Court - The Field of Cloth of Gold

 It's been a long time, but at last I was able to to visit Hampton Court again.  I have visited the palace many times, and one of the things that keeps me going back, as with the Tower of London, are the changing exhibitions.  In 2020, the exhibition was to celebrate the 500th anniversary of the Field of Cloth of Gold, the event commemorating  the meeting between Henry VIII and Francis 1st organised by Cardinal Wolsey.  Obviously, it was unable to take place last year and has opened this year.  Tickets for the palace now have to be bought online and the palace has taken every measure to safeguard the public.  The exhibition is well worth seeing and some of the exhibits are amazing.  There's a link on the palace website to the exhibition page - Field of Cloth of Gold with a short video of some of the exhibits.   The official painting of the event was commissioned by Henry VIII later in his reign, as you can see by his portrayal.  There is so much detail in the painting and it tells the story of the preparation, the people who attended and the events that took place.   Every time I look at it, I'm fascinated and find something new.

The painting is always on show at Hampton Court (unless it is lent to other exhibitions).  The wine fountain is replicated at Hampton Court.  For me, the highlight was to actually see 'Henry VIII's hat'.   I've seen it many times on television, but never actually on show.  Just standing there thinking 'this has been on Henry VIII's head' gave me goosebumps!  Other highlights for me were the tools on loan from the Mary Rose exhibition, and the elaborate robes worn by Cardinal Wolsey.

The exhibition runs until September.   If you can't make it, check out the video on the Hampton Court website.

Friday, 23 July 2021

Piers Gaveston's 'treasure'

 After the death of Piers Gaveston on June 19th 1312, a list of his possessions and treasure was made by Thomas of Lancaster.  It is a very detailed list, and can be found in J S Hamilton's 'Piers Gaveston, Earl of Cornwall' book.  It makes fascinating reading, and not just because Piers was accused by one chronicle of stealing from the Royal treasury and hiding it abroad.  The fact that Edward II had basically put him in charge of the treasury is over-looked.  And if Piers was smuggling items abroad from the treasury, he didn't do the job very well, as the list of royal treasure is vast!   Of course, Lancaster's aim was to try to prove Piers had the treasure illegally, so there are lots of mentions of gold and silver cups and basins belonging to the Queen and other members of the royal family, including a cup that had belonged to Edward II's mother, Eleanor of Castile.  Kathryn Warner's excellent Edward II blog has a superb post about some of the items that were returned to the king by Lancaster.  Here's a link to the post -  Piers Gaveston and the Royal treasure.

Clearly some of these silver and gold cups etc did belong to Piers - they had his coat of arms on them.  There were also embroidered pearl encrusted tunics and rich fabrics, including green silk.  The list of gold and silver buckles and clasps is astounding!  Most of the items are given a value as well.  Lancaster was obviously making a point - that Piers had illegally acquired the jewels and treasure, many of which did not belong to him.   But of course, Edward II already knew this - after all, he had put Piers 'in charge' .  

I think by favourite items from the list are the 3 forks, which belonged to Piers and were used for eating pears!  Forks were unknown in England at the time, as people ate with a knife and their fingers.  The idea of the graceful and elegant Piers eating pears with his own forks makes me smile.