29 October, 2009

Conwy and Beaumaris

Some pics of two more of Edward I's great Welsh castles, Conwy and Beaumaris! To my almost certain knowledge, Edward II never visited Beaumaris on the island of Anglesey, but he was at Conwy in April/May 1301, around the time of his seventeenth birthday, taking the homage of his Welsh vassals after being appointed prince of Wales that February.


In the pics above, the green area with the path down the middle is the outer ward, which leads through a gateway - originally there was a drawbridge - into the inner ward, where the royal apartments were. The fourth pic down is the well, 91 feet deep.

Construction began on Conwy in 1283; for the history of the castle, take a look at the page here. Interesting Conwy fact: in January 1326, Edward II appointed Aline, Lady Burnell, constable of the castle. It was most unusual for a woman to be put in charge of such an important stronghold, though no doubt the fact that Aline was Hugh Despenser the Younger's sister was a major factor in Edward's choice.

Pics of the king's hall and the king's chamber, in the inner ward.


The name comes from the Anglo- Norman beau mareys, 'fair marsh'. For the castle's history - it was begun in 1295, and never finished - see here.

The outer gatehouse and modern entrance to the castle.

The outer ward.

(Below) The enormous inner ward.

The chapel ceiling.

The battlements, with views over the Menai Strait to the Welsh mainland.

22 October, 2009

Blog Awards

I'd like to thank Carla Nayland for giving me a Kreativ Blog Award recently. Much appreciated, Carla! I was also lucky enough to receive an Outstanding Historical Fiction Blog Peer award from Gemini Sasson recently on Nan Hawthorne's blog. Thank you, ladies!

For the Kreativ award, I have to list: seven of my favourite things, seven of my favourite activities and seven things no-one knows about me. As this is a blog about Edward II, I'll let the lord king himself answer the questions...

Seven of my favourite things:

Can I just say 'Piers Gaveston' seven times? No? 'Piers Gaveston' four times and 'Hugh Despenser' three times, then? No? *Sighs* Well, OK, here goes.

- Seafood, especially oysters.
- Precious jewels on my fingers, my clothes, my hats and my Piers, the more the merrier. (Ostentatious? Moi?)
- Horses and dogs, especially greyhound puppies.
- Carpenters, cowherds, sailors, fishermen and anyone else of much lower birth than me.
- Music of all varieties.
- Naked dancers.
- The great outdoors, even when it's pouring down.

Seven of my favourite activities:

- Watching Piers Gaveston joust.
- Digging ditches and/or watching men dig ditches.
- Giving lands to Hugh Despenser.
- Laughing, joking around and shooting the breeze with said people of lower birth.
- Drinking excessive amounts of alcohol and spilling state secrets to all and sundry when I'm in my cups.
- Giving money and other gifts to my niece Eleanor Despenser.
- Imagining what I'm going to do with Roger Mortimer once I get hold of the treacherous git.

List seven things no-one knows about you:

- I bought two salmon, with my own hands, at the postern gate of the Tower of London on 24 September 1326 from a passing fisherman called Richard. You know what was happening that day, don't you? My wife and Mortimer's invasion force was landing in Suffolk. Was I completely oblivious? You bet.

- Every Good Friday I made an offering of five shillings before the Cross, which money was melted down and made into cramp-rings. I also offered three shillings on the same day to the thorn from the Crown of Thorns, which my clerk described as "a thorn from our Lord's crown in a gold box ornamented with diverse precious stones, together with a gold chain." Among many other precious relics, I owned a tooth of Grandad Henry's favourite saint Edward the Confessor, a bone of St George held in a "vessel of silver," and the blood and hair of St Stephen.

- In May 1326, I had a crimson hat decorated with bells made for myself. I also owned a black hat lined with red velvet powdered with butterflies and other animals, and a white one of beaver lined with black velvet and powdered with gold trefoils.

- I spent £130 in 1323 on a ship called La Nostre Dame de Seint Johan, which I immediately renamed La Despensere after you know who. A much better name, don't you think? I also owned a ship named after my niece, La Alianore la Despensere, and a barge called La Petite Mariot. The La Despensere turned out to have been stolen in Brittany before I bought it, and the crew killed! Would you credit it??

- In 1324, I flew into such a violent rage with my friend the archbishop of Canterbury that he pretended he had to make an urgent visitation to the cathedral in order to escape from me.

- I often asked the Dominicans of various cities around Europe - Paris, Vienna, Barcelona, Florence, Venice, Toulouse, Pamplona, Rouen, Marseilles, Citeaux - for their prayers on behalf of myself, my queen, my children, and my realm. To thank the Dominicans of Pamplona for praying for me in the spring of 1316, I gave them twenty pounds to put on entertainments for themselves for three days - one day in my name, one day in Isabella's and one in our son Edward's.

- I carried on the most amazing vendettas against some of my bishops in the 1320s because of their support (real or only in my fevered paranoid brain) of my Marcher enemies, and asked the pope to translate the bishops of Hereford and Lincoln to sees outside England on the grounds that they were "the worst poison" and "descended from the race of traitors."

I'm meant to pass the Kreativ award on to seven other bloggers, but unfortunately I hate choosing and always end up feeling bad for people I don't give the award to, so I'll take a leaf out of Gabriele's book and pass it on to anyone who's reading this and has their own blog. :-)

18 October, 2009

Caernarfon Castle and the Birth of Edward II

This is the mighty and magnificent Caernarfon Castle in North Wales, begun by Edward I in 1283. Edward II, aka Edward of Caernarfon, was born here on Tuesday 25 April 1284, sixteen days after Easter Sunday in the twelfth year of his father's reign, as the youngest child of Edward and his first wife Eleanor of Castile. King Edward and Queen Eleanor had spent most of July and August 1283 at Caernarfon, so Edward II wasn't just born here, he may have been conceived here too.

Precisely where Edward II was born remains a matter for debate. Tradition has it that he was born in this small chamber on the first floor (i.e. the second floor for North American readers) of the Eagle Tower, but as work had only begun on the castle a few months before he was born, it seems more likely that only the ground floor of the tower had been completed by the time of his birth. It's also possible that Edward was born in the older timber castle which had previously stood on the site, or in a temporary timber building. Wherever the exact location, it can hardly have been a comfortable or pleasant experience for Queen Eleanor, who was about forty-two and a half at the time and was giving birth for at least the fourteenth, maybe the sixteenth, time - in the middle of what was basically a building site.

(Photo: the upper ward, with the Granary and North-East Towers and Queen's Gate.)

Unfortunately, Queen Eleanor missed giving birth to Edward II on the feast day of St George - patron saint of England - by two days, and he was born on St Mark's Day, then considered unlucky and a day of ill fortune. (Roger Mortimer was born on the same day, three years later.)

Edward II's elder brother, ten-year-old Alfonso, was still alive at the time of his birth - he was born at Bayonne in November 1273 and his premature death in August 1284 tragically deprived England of having a king named 'Alfonso of Bayonne' - so Edward wasn't in fact born as heir to the throne. Two other brothers, John and Henry, had died aged five in 1271 and aged six in 1274 respectively; a few kings of England, such as Henry VIII and Charles I, have been second sons, but Edward II was a fourth son.

(Photo: the lower ward, with the Queen's Tower and Eagle Tower on the right, with the flags flying.)

The often-repeated story that Edward I tricked the Welsh lords by promising them a prince who spoke no English and then presenting his infant son to them, is nonsense, by the way, and wasn't invented until centuries later. It makes no sense for a number of reasons, not least because Edward I and II and their courts spoke French rather than English, because Edward II's brother Alfonso was still alive when he was born and Edward would never have been appointed prince of Wales in preference to an elder brother, and because he wasn't even created prince of Wales until 1301 when he was almost seventeen.

(Photo: the Chamberlain Tower, with the Black Tower off to the left and King's Gate in the forefront.)

Edward was christened at Caernarfon on 1 May; if there's a record somewhere of who his godparents were, I've never seen it. His first wetnurse was the Welsh woman Mariota or Mary Maunsel, who only held the position for a few months until illness forced her to retire and she was replaced by the Englishwoman Alice de Leygrave, later a damsel of Isabella of France. As late as 1312, when Edward was twenty-eight, he granted Mariota an annual income of five pounds - a generous amount for a woman of her status - having previously given her 73 acres of land in Caernarfon rent-free for life. He also paid for her to travel from Caernarfon to visit him on occasion.
Edward and his retinue had arrived in England by the late summer of 1284, around the time that his brother Alfonso died on 19 August and he suddenly became far more important as the heir to the throne, and would not return to the country of his birth until he was created prince of Wales in 1301.

This used to be the Great Hall, flanked by the Queen's Tower (right) and Chamberlain Tower.

Looking towards King's Gate from the wall-walk near the Well Tower. The kitchens are below.

(Below) Eagle Tower seen through a window in King's Gate.

The last pics are of corridors, doorways and stairs in the castle. Caernarfon has more steep narrow winding staircases than any other castle I've ever visited, which is something of a problem when you're as scared of steep narrow winding staircases as I am. For Edward II's sake, I climbed up and down every single bloody one of them, and I hope he appreciates the sacrifice. You can just see me at the end of one corridor, in a light pink coat (yes, it's me, not a ghost).

For info on the history and building of Caernarfon Castle, see this page. I have a ton more pics of Caernarfon and I'll probably post more of them here at some point, as well as pics of Conwy and Beaumaris.