Tag Archives: Edward I

The Great Hall of Winchester Castle

IMG_20190731_110532

The Round Table, Great Hall, Winchester

During a recent trip to Winchester I visited what remains of its medieval castle. The castle was built at the highest point of the town, which was also the furthest point from the river. The only remnants of the castle these days are some stumps of walls, some vaults which are closed to the public, and the Great Hall.

You’ve probably come across the Great Hall in photographs, even if you didn’t know what it was. It’s best-known today for housing the Round Table and that’s what tourists pay to see. There’s a bit more to the Great Hall than that, but it’s what we’ll start with.

Edward I had the Round Table built, probably around 1290 for a banquet. He didn’t have it painted with the portrait of King Arthur and the names of the knights, though. The Tudor Rose in the middle of the table is a clue to the identity of the king who did have it painted: Henry VIII. King Arthur’s face was originally that of the young Henry, which must have been a bit confusing for him, since his older brother, who would have been king had he lived, was called Arthur. Over the years, various renovations have changed the features of King Arthur into those of an old man. It was only because X-rays were used during one of the more recent renovations that we have any idea of what King Arthur originally looked like. The Victorians, as is usually the case, were probably the guilty parties here.

The table is massive. It’s 18 feet in diameter and weighs 1 ton 4cwt. It was made of 121 separate pieces of oak and had 12 legs. When it was renovated in the 1970s, the wood was dated by means of dendrochronology and the youngest tree-ring they found was dated to 1219, suggesting that the trees used were felled no later than the second decade of the fourteenth century.

There’s a model of its original construction on display just outside the hall.

IMG_20190731_111648

Model of the Round Table, Great Hall, Winchester

IMG_20190731_111627

Model of the Round Table, Great Hall, Winchester

The castle itself was originally built by William the Conqueror at the end of the eleventh century.  Henry III was born there in 1207 and it was he who had the Great Hall built. A fire during the reign of his son, Edward I damaged the royal apartments so badly that they were never repaired and the royal family thereafter stayed in the palace of the Bishop of Winchester whenever they visited.

The Great Hall was used as a courtroom from the reign of Henry III off and on until 1973. Famous trials that took place there included those of the Earl of Kent (a son of Edward I) in 1330 and Sir Walter Raleigh in 1603.

The Great Hall has other delights, not least a herber garden set out in a style that would have been familiar to Edward I’s queen, Eleanor, who brought a number of plants to England from her native Castile.

IMG_20190731_105144

Queen Eleanor’s Garden, Great Hall, Winchester

The Victorians tried hard with their renovation. This wall, where the Round Table was hung after it was no longer needed for its original purpose, is covered with the names of the parliamentary representatives for Hampshire from 1283 to 1868. For many years, possibly centuries, there was a medieval mappa mundi on this wall.

IMG_20190731_104910

Great Hall, Winchester

They also made an effort with the windows. Apparently the long walls of the hall were originally painted with heraldic devices. The Victorians put devices of kings, queens, bishops and others important to the history of Hampshire in the windows. Here’s the window with the devices of Edward III, his son Edward of Woodstock, and his great friend William Montacute.

IMG_20190731_104135

Great Hall, Wincester

The Great Hall is well worth a visit if you’re ever in Winchester.

 

April Munday is the author of the Soldiers of Fortune and Regency Spies series of novels, as well as standalone novels set in the fourteenth century.

Available now:

TheHeirsTale-WEB

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Amazon

 

 

21 Comments

Filed under Castle, Medieval Buildings, Thirteenth Century, Twelfth Century

Edward III and King Arthur

king_arthur_and_the_knights_of_the_round_table

From the time of Edward I English kings used the legends about King Arthur to bolster their claim to rule all the British Isles. Although Arthur was a British hero, by the thirteenth century he had come to symbolise the English, and the mythology was used, consciously or unconsciously, to unite Britons, Saxons and Normans. King Arthur represented many things: he was the ideal king, the ideal knight, the ideal husband and the ideal Christian.

The myths and legends of King Arthur and the Knights of the Round Table were known all over Europe and were recorded very early in ‘romances’, long poems which are often regarded as the prototype of the novel. Even though Arthur was associated with Britain, works about him were written in many countries. Geoffrey of Monmouth was a twelfth-century cleric, from or based in Wales, whose book Historia Regium Britanniae contains a very early version of the Arthur stories. Later in the twelfth century, Chrétien de Troyes, who served at the court of Marie de France, Coutness of Champagne, wrote four complete and one incomplete romances about Arthur (Erec et Enide, Cligès, Yvain, Lancelot and Perceval). He is also credited with inventing the character of Lancelot. Another French poet of the late twelfth century, Robert de Boron wrote Josephe d’Arimathe about the Holy Grail, and Merlin. Around the same time Wolfram von Eschenbach was writing Parzival in Bavaria (probably), claiming that Chrétien de Troyes had got the story wrong. In the 1360s the Italian poet Boccaccio wrote a long poem about Arthur. Sir Gawayn and þe Grene Knyȝt was written in England in the late fourteenth century by an unknown poet referred to either as ‘the Pearl poet’ or ‘the Gawain poet’. Possibly the best known version of the stories is Le Morte d’Arhur written by Sir Thomas Malory in the middle of the fifteenth century. Ironically, given the chivalrous nature of Arthur and his knights, Malory was a less than savoury character, being a thief and possibly a murderer. He changed sides during the Wars of the Roses and wrote down the stories while in prison.

Edward I was obsessed with Arthur, even taking his new bride to see Arthur’s tomb at Glastonbury.  He usurped the Arthurian mythology when he conquered Wales. To the Welsh Arthur was the British hero who would return to beat back the English, but Edward I used him to bolster his own legend and to demonstrate to the Welsh that Arthur wasn’t coming back.

His grandson, Edward III, was similarly obsessed. Edward venerated his grandfather, and this was probably why he was interested in Arthur, although, as we shall see, there were other reasons for him to pursue this interest. From boyhood Edward III studied the lives of great kings from the past in order to be a good king and these included King Arthur. He studied the histories about Arthur, rather than the romances. Even though Edward III probably did not read the romances himself, it’s probable that he either heard the stories read aloud or told as entertainment. Both his mother and his wife were fond of the romances.

After he had overthrown his mother, Queen Isabella, and her lover, Roger Mortimer, in 1330 Edward III’s contemporaries began to talk of him as King Arthur returned, fulfilling the prophecies of Merlin. He, however, was careful to claim no more for himself than the rôle of Sir Lionel, which had been assigned to him by Mortimer during a tournament. In this he learned from Mortimer himself. Mortimer had made himself unpopular by (amongst other things) identifying himself with Arthur.

Mortimer’s family held that they, being descendants of the Welsh kings were also descendants of Arthur. In 1329 Mortimer played the part of King Arthur and Isabella played Guinevere at a tournament, while Edward, the king, was a mere knight, Lionel. Mortimer was clearly putting himself above the king and this was probably one of the many things that made Edward III feel threatened and led to his coup against his mother. Lionel could be understood to mean ‘little lion’ and Edward later used it as a reference to the lions on his standard.  He named his third son Lionel.

When Edward III came to found his order of chivalry in the 1340s, his original vision was that his band of knights should have a round table at Windsor. He even planned a round building to house it. It was Edward I who had ordered the construction of the Round Table which is now in Winchester Castle and Edward III was probably thinking of this when he ordered his own Round Table to be built. Although there is nothing specific in the way the Order of the Knights of the Garter was set up that refers to Arthur, the mere fact that Edward set up an order of chivalry with a small number of knights was enough to make his subjects see the comparison.

Other medieval monarchs used the mythology of Arthur to their own ends. Henry VII named his first son Arthur. Henry was Welsh and, like Mortimer, was claiming descent from King Arthur. He did this in order to legitimise not only his own reign, but that of his son. The use of Arthur as a name for the Prince of Wales is not limited to medieval times; the current Prince of Wales also has Arthur as one of his names, as does Prince William.

 

18 Comments

Filed under Fourteenth Century

Queen Isabella and the Downfall of Edward II

Isabella and her father and siblings

Isabella of France was the daughter of Philippe IV (best known for wiping out the Knights Templar).  Each of her three brothers became king of France, but died without producing any heirs. Isabella was born in 1295 and married Edward II in 1308, a year after he had become king. Isabella was a very intelligent woman and occasionally carried out negotiations on behalf of her husband, especially with her father and brothers.

Edward II is generally regarded as not having been much of a king. He was almost the antithesis of his father, the great warrior Edward I. He did not much like hunting, although he was interested in both horses and dogs. He did not joust, but he liked rowing. He also liked music. All of this set him apart from his barons. He was, however, very generous and he loved his family.

His besetting problem was that he had favourites whom he promoted at the expense of his more senior barons. The first was Piers Gaveston, an obscure Gascon, who became like a brother to the then Prince of Wales. He had been exiled by Edward I and recalled on the king’s death. Edward II was forced to exile him twice more. Gaveston was not above taking advantage of the king’s generosity and humiliating the barons who should have had the preference that he received. None of this seemed to worry Isabella, despite persistent rumours that the two men were in a homosexual relationship.

The third time Gaveston returned from exile, in 1311, he was captured before he could reach Edward II and killed. The king was heart-broken.

After four years of marriage, Isabella gave birth to her first child, the future Edward III, in 1312. England was on the brink of civil war as Edward II sought vengeance for the murder of Gaveston. The king also had problems with the Scots, losing the Battle of Bannockburn in 1314. Edward was now rumoured to have a new lover, Hugh Despenser, who was also a great enemy of those who had murdered Gaveston, although for different reasons. The two of them exacted revenge on their enemies, which led to a time of tyranny. Civil war erupted in 1321.

The end came for Isabella in 1322 when Edward and Despenser, fighting in the north, retreated from the Scots, abandoning her, so that she became cut off from them and the army, and had to make her own retreat. In 1324 fighting broke out with the French over Gascony. Much of Isabella’s property was taken from her on the basis that she was French. Despite this, in 1325 Edward sent her to France to negotiate with her brother, Charles IV, with a view to ending the fighting. Whilst in her brother’s court she became involved with an exile from England, Roger Mortimer, Earl of March.

Mortimer was eight years older than Isabella. Initially Mortimer had been a supporter of Edward II, but the king awarded Despenser land belonging to Mortimer and to other Marcher lords (those who had land on the border with Wales). In 1322 he led the Marcher lords against Edward and Despenser and was captured. His death sentence was reduced to life imprisonment in the Tower. In 1323 he escaped. His cause was still very popular and his escape to France was aided by many supporters. Isabella and Mortimer quickly became lovers, ironically, since she had, a few years earlier, exposed her adulterous sisters-in-law to her father.

The situation for Edward II became increasingly difficult. Isabella had managed to negotiate an agreement to end the fighting, but it required that the king pay homage for Aquitaine to Charles. Edward found himself in a quandary. If he left the country, the chances were good that war would break out while he was gone and he might not be able to return. Instead, he made his son Duke of Aquitaine and sent him in his place.

The young prince was duly sent to France where, after he had paid homage, he remained in his mother’s care. He wrote to his father begging to be forgiven for what must have appeared to be treachery, but the prince had no means of escaping from his mother.

When the scandal of their liaison made it impossible for them to stay in France, Isabella and Mortimer went to Flanders, where they negotiated with the Count of Hainault for the provision of troops to support their invasion of England. In return, Isabella promised that Prince Edward would marry the count’s daughter, Philippa. With the prince an unwilling figurehead, they landed in England on 24th September 1326. They were successful in gaining support once in England and Edward II tried to escape to Wales. He was captured and deposed. He was imprisoned in Berkeley Castle, where he was either murdered or died in 1327. His younger brother Edmund, Earl of Kent, somehow came to believe that he had been removed to Corfe Castle, so the legend of his survival after 1327 persists.

Isabella and Mortimer took their revenge on those who had harmed them, usually in a cruel and bloody manner, particularly in the case of Hugh Despenser, and became little more than wealth grabbing tyrants. Prince Edward was crowned king, but did not rule. Since he was still a minor, this was not unusual in itself, but it could not have taken the new king long to realise that where his father had gone, he could soon follow.

As he did for the rest of his life, Edward III managed to gather people around him whom he could trust. They entered Nottingham Castle on 19th October 1330 and captured Isabella and Mortimer. Mortimer was tried and executed in November. He wasn’t given a second opportunity to escape from the Tower. The king’s mother, however, posed a different problem. For two years she was held at Windsor Castle, then she moved to Castle Rising in Norfolk, where she lived for most of the rest of her life continuing her extravagant ways unabated until she died in 1358.

If you want to know more about Isabella and Mortimer, two very good starting places are The Greatest Traitor by Ian Mortimer and Isabella and the Strange Death of Edward II by Paul Doherty.

 

 

14 Comments

Filed under Fourteenth Century