13 October, 2006
My Edward II Pilgrimage
I had a great time in Gloucestershire, visiting sites associated with Edward II. The thing I most wanted to see was Edward II's tomb, in Gloucester Cathedral - a magnificent canopied shrine described by the Cathedral as 'one of the great monuments of England'. The shrine is currently covered in scaffolding, as it's being restored, at a cost of £70,000, apparently. The Cathedral is planning a 'series of events to commemorate Edward II' in 2007 and 2008.
I found it really moving to be so close to Edward - I stood there for ages, until one of the men working on the tomb started giving me funny looks. The day before, we'd visited Berkeley Castle, where Edward was imprisoned in 1327 (and freed by some of his supporters - see the comments on this post). I'm afraid to say I found Berkeley rather disappointing, at least from an Edward point of view. Much of the castle is closed to visitors, and the guided tour barely mentions Edward and focuses instead on the later Berkeleys. You can see the cell where Edward was held, but not enter it - you can only peer through a rather narrow window. I was hoping to get some idea of how the Dunheveds might have entered the castle in 1327 and freed Edward, but unfortunately I couldn't picture it at all. Still, Berkeley is well worth a visit (it's closed till next April, however) for anyone interested in later periods of history. I did enjoy seeing the Great Hall, which was rebuilt by Thomas Berkeley, Edward's jailor, around 1340.
In the photo (left, above) Edward's cell is above the doorway on the right.
We also visited Tewkesbury Abbey, a superb building consecrated in 1121, bigger than fourteen English cathedrals, which was saved during the Dissolution when the townspeople bought it for £453. The Abbey is practically the mausoleum of the Despenser family - the notorious Hugh the Younger was buried here in late 1330, in five pieces, after Edward III finally gave permission for his rotting remains to be removed from London Bridge, York, Carlisle, Bristol and Dover four years after his execution. His wife Eleanor de Clare is here (burial place unfortunately unknown) as are numerous descendants of theirs.
Another site associated with the Despensers is Hanley Castle, in Worcestershire. Sadly there's absolutely nothing left of the castle itself - except the flat hill where it once existed - but Hanley Castle, the village, is very pretty with a lovely old church and a school founded in 1326. Edward II and Queen Isabella were guests of Hugh Despenser here in January 1324, and Eleanor de Clare was abducted from Hanley by her second husband, William la Zouche, in early 1329.
We also took the opportunity to visit other historical sites in Gloucestershire and Worcestershire. Evesham is the site of a battle of 1265, where Edward II's father defeated Simon de Montfort, earl of Leicester - his uncle by marriage. Roger Mortimer - grandfather of Edward II's Roger Mortimer - sent de Montfort's head to his wife as a present! Worcester Cathedral contains the tomb of Edward II's great-grandfather King John (died 1216) as well as the chantry of Prince Arthur, elder brother of Henry VIII. The village of Deerhurst, a mile or so from where we were staying, contains two pre-Conquest buildings, astonishingly enough: Odda's Chapel, of 1056, and the Church of St Mary, which dates back to before 804. We didn't go in, but saw Sudeley Castle, former home of Henry VIII's last wife Katherine Parr, and spent a morning in the driving rain looking around Hailes Abbey - founded in 1246 by Henry III's brother Richard of Cornwall. Hailes was a very important place of pilgrimage in the Middle Ages.
All in all, I had a great holiday in a lovely, really interesting part of England!