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Boadicea, Warrior Queen AD 61

The 10th Legion
Any British ‘king’ who lived under the Romans had to pay a price for his protection. So when Prasutagus, the leader of the Iceni people, died in ad 60 he prudently left half his wealth and territories to the emperor Nero as a form of ‘death duty’. The Iceni occupied the flat fenlands that stretched down from the Wash across modern Norfolk and Suffolk and, like other Celtic peoples, they accepted the authority of female leaders. Dying without a son, Prasutagus had left his people in the care of his widow, Boadicea (or Boudicca), until their two daughters came of age.

But women had few rights under Roman law, and Nero’s local officials treated Boadicea’s succession with contempt.

‘Kingdom and household alike,’ wrote the Roman historian Tacitus, author of the first history of Britain, ‘were plundered like prizes of war.’ The lands of the Iceni nobles were confiscated and Boadicea was publicly beaten. Worst of all, her two daughters were raped. Outraged, in ad 61 the Iceni rose in rebellion, and it was Boadicea who led them into battle.

‘In stature she was very tall, in appearance most terrifying,’ wrote a later Roman historian, Dio Cassius. ‘Her glance was fierce, her voice harsh, a great mass of the most tawny hair cascaded to her hips.’

Joined by other Britons, Boadicea with her rebel Iceni fell on Colchester in fury, slaughtering the inhabitants and smashing the white-pillared temple and other symbols of Roman oppression. Over eighteen hundred years later, in 1907, a boy swimming in the River Alde in Suffolk, deep in what had been Iceni territory, was astonished to discover the submerged bronze head of the emperor Claudius. Looking at the jagged edges of the severed neck today, one can almost hear the shouts of anger that have attended the satisfying ritual of statue toppling over the centuries.

The rebels now turned towards Londinium, the trading settlement that was just growing up around the recently built bridge over the Thames. The vengeance they wreaked here was equally bitter. Today, four metres below the busy streets of the modern capital, near the Bank of England, lies a thick red band of fired clay and debris which archaeologists know as ‘Boadicea’s Layer’. The city to which the Iceni set the torch burned as intensely as it would in World War II during the firebomb raids of the Germans.

Temperatures rose as high as 1000 degrees Celsius – and, not far away, in the Walbrook Stream that runs down to the Thames, has been found a grisly collection of skulls, violently hacked from their bodies.

Boadicea’s forces had wiped out part of a Roman legion that had marched to the rescue of Colchester. But the bulk of the Roman troops had been on a mission in the north-west to hunt down the Druids and destroy their groves on the island of Anglesey, and it was a measure of Boadicea’s self-assurance that she now headed her army in that north-westerly direction. Her spectacular victories had swollen her ranks, not only with warriors but with their families too, in a vast wagon train of women and children. She laid waste to the Roman settlement of Verulamium, modern St Albans, then moved confidently onwards.

Meanwhile the Romans had been gathering reinforcements and the two forces are thought to have met somewhere in the Midlands, probably near the village of Mancetter, just north of Coventry.

‘I am fighting for my lost freedom, my bruised body and my outraged daughters!’ cried Boadicea, as she rode in her chariot in front of her troops. ‘Consider how many of you are fighting and why – then you will win this battle, or perish! That is what I, a woman, plan to do! Let the men live in slavery if they want to.’

These fighting words come from the pen of Tacitus, who describes the fierce showdown in which the much smaller, but impeccably armed and drilled Roman army wore down the hordes of Boadicea. At the crux of the battle, it was the wagon train of British women and children that proved their menfolk’s undoing. The camp followers had fanned out in a semicircle to watch the battle, fully expecting another victory. But as the Britons were driven back, they found themselves hemmed in by their own wagons, and the slaughter was terrible – eighty thousand Britons killed, according to one report, and just four hundred Romans. Boadicea took poison rather than fall into the hands of the Romans, and, legend has it, gave poison to her daughters for the same reason.

It was only when some of Tacitus’ writings, lost for many centuries, were rediscovered five hundred and fifty years ago that Britain found out that its history had featured this inspiring and epic warrior queen. Plays and poems were written to celebrate Boadicea’s battle for her people’s rights and liberties, and in 1902 a stirring statue in her honour was raised in the shadow of the Houses of Parliament. There on the banks of the Thames you can see Boadicea thrusting her spear defiantly into the air, while her daughters shelter in the chariot beside her.

But the menacing curved blades on Boadicea’s chariot wheels are, sadly, the invention of a later time. Remains of the Britons’ light bentwood chariots show no scythes on the wheels. Nor is there evidence of another great myth, that Boadicea fought her last battle near London and that her body lies where she fell – in the ground on which King’s Cross Station was built many years later. Her supposed grave beneath platform ten at King’s Cross is the reason why Harry Potter’s Hogwarts Express leaves, magically, from Platform Nine and Three-Quarters.

In fact, the bones of the great queen probably do lie near a railway line – albeit more than a hundred miles north of King’s Cross, near Mancetter in modern Warwickshire. The trains on the Euston line between London and the north- west rumble through the battlefield where, historians calculate, Boadicea fought her last battle.

Elmer the Flying Monk AD 1010

Elmer the Flying Monk
Malmesbury Abbey, and who loved to gaze up at the stars. During the troubled early decades of the eleventh century, he would look to the heavens for signs and portents of things to come, but while many of his contemporaries were content to draw simple lessons of doom and disaster, Elmer gazed with a scientific eye. He noted that, if you were to live long enough, you could see a comet come round again in the sky.

Elmer applied his experimental mind to classical history, making a particular study of Daedalus, the mythical Athenian architect and engineer who was hired by King Minos to build his sinister labyrinth in Crete. To preserve the secret of his maze, Minos then imprisoned Daedalus and his son Icarus, who only escaped by building themselves wings of feathers and wax. Their escape plan was working beautifully until Icarus, intoxicated by the joy of flying, flew too close to the sun, which melted the wax in his wings. The boy fell into the Aegean Sea below, where the island of Ikaria perpetuates his legend to this day.

Elmer decided to test the story of Daedalus by making wings for himself, then trying to fly from the tower of the abbey. In an age when Britain was still suffering Viking raids, many Saxon churches had high bell-towers, both to serve as a lookout and to sound the alarm. Whenever the Vikings captured a church, the bell was always the first thing they tore down. Its valuable metal could be beaten into high-quality swords and helmets – and anyway, to capture the Christians’ unique sound was a triumph in its own right.

Modern aeronautic experts have recreated Elmer’s flight, and they calculate that his launch platform must have been at least 18 metres high, which corresponds to the height of surviving Saxon church towers. They also presume that he built his paragliding equipment from willow or ash, the most lightweight and flexible of the woods available in the copses of the nearby Cotswolds. To complete his birdman outfit, the monk must have stretched parchment or thin cloth over the frame, which, we are told, he attached to both his arms and his feet. Today the ravens and jackdaws that live around Malmesbury Abbey can be seen soaring on the updrafts that blow up the hill between the church and the valley of the River Avon, and Elmer may have tried to copy them as he leapt off the tower and glided down towards the river.

According to William of Malmesbury, the historian who recorded Elmer’s feat in the following century, the monk managed a downward glide of some 200 metres before he landed – or, rather, crash-landed. He did catch a breeze from the top of the tower, but was surprised by the atmospheric turbulence and seems to have lost his nerve.

‘What with the violence of the wind and the eddies and at the same time his consciousness of the temerity of the attempt,’ related William, ‘he faltered and fell, breaking and crippling both his legs.’

William of Malmesbury probably got his story from fellow-monks who had known Elmer in old age. The eleventh-century stargazer was the sort of character dismissed as mad in his lifetime, but later seen as a visionary. In his final years Elmer’s limping figure was a familiar sight around the abbey – and the would-be birdman would explain the failure of his great enterprise with wry humour. It was his own fault, he would say. As William told it, ‘He forgot to fit a tail on his hinder parts.’

Henry I and the White Ship AD 1120

The White Ship
Ten years before he became king, William the Conqueror’s youngest son Henry was helping to put down an uprising in the Norman city of Rouen. It was the late autumn of 1090, and after the fighting had ended he invited the leader of the rebellion to a high tower where he could look out over the walled city and admire the beautiful river and surrounding green fields and woods that he had been trying to conquer. Then he personally threw the man out of the window. Henry I was thirty-two when he became King of England, and had shown himself to be both decisive and single-minded after the mysterious shooting of his brother Rufus. Now he set about capturing Normandy from his other brother, Robert Curthose. In 1106 he defeated Robert at the Battle of Tinchebrai, south of Bayeux – fought, by coincidence, on 28 September, the date on which William the Conqueror had landed his troops in Sussex in 1066. So forty years later to the day, William’s youngest son had reunited his father’s cross-Channel empire. Henry consigned his brother Robert to successive prisons at Wareham, Devizes, Bristol and finally Cardiff, where the unhappy Short-stockings would spend the last months of his twenty-eight-year imprisonment learning Welsh.

‘Woe to him that is not old enough to die,’ declared Robert Curthose, who finally expired in 1134 at the age of eighty, and whose tomb can be seen today in Gloucester Cathedral.

‘Exchequer’ is a modern word that comes to us from the reign of Henry I – a king with a sharp eye for a penny. We have seen him counting the silver his father gave him on his deathbed for his inheritance, then galloping straight to the treasury when his brother died; he was the last king for four hundred years shrewd enough to die without any debts. Now, sometime after 1106, he introduced the exchequer as a revolutionary new method of government accounting and of centralising royal power. Based on the Middle Eastern abacus or counting-frame, the exchequer was a chequered cloth like a chessboard. Counters were piled on the different squares, rather as croupiers handle chips on a gaming table. Twice a year, at Easter and Michaelmas (the feast of St Michael on 29 September), the sheriffs and royal officials from the shires had to bring their money to be checked and counted. To this day, the cabinet minister in charge of the nation’s finances is known as the Chancellor of the Exchequer, and we all write and, if we are lucky, also sometimes cash ‘cheques’.

By 1120 Henry I controlled a well-financed empire on the two sides of the English Channel. He travelled quite frequently from England to Normandy in his own longboat or snecca, a Norse word literally meaning ‘snake’ or ‘serpent’. Merchants and nobles criss-crossed the channel on these medieval equivalents of the cross-Channel ferry, which, according to records from the next century, charged two pence for an ordinary passenger and twelve for a knight with his horse. In tapestries and paintings of the time the boats are depicted with striped sails, complete with masts, rigging, tillers and anchors. Often their prows were decorated with figureheads of dragons and other beasts.

As Henry was preparing to set sail from the Norman port of Barfleur at the end of November 1120, he was approached by a young seafarer, Thomas FitzStephen. Thomas’s father, Stephen, had been William the Conqueror’s personal sea captain, taking him on the historic voyage of 1066 to fight against Harold, and he had ferried him back and forth across the Channel to the end of his life. Now his son Thomas had a newly fitted-out snakeship of which he was particularly proud, the White Ship, and he offered it to the King for his voyage. Henry had already made his travelling arrangements, but he suggested it would be a treat for his son and heir, William, to sail on this state-of-the-art vessel. William was just seventeen and a young man on whom many hopes rode. He was popularly nicknamed ‘the Aetheling’, the old Anglo-Saxon title meaning ‘throne-worthy’ (see p. 65), because his mother Edith-Matilda was descended from King Alfred’s royal house of Wessex. Here was a part-Saxon heir – some much-cherished English blood – who would one day inherit the Normans’ empire.

Henry set sail for England, leaving William the Aetheling to follow in the White Ship, with many of the court’s most lively young blades, among them William’s half-brother Richard and his half-sister Matilda, two of the numerous illegitimate children that Henry had fathered outside his marriage to Edith-Matilda. Spirits were high as the White Ship loosed its moorings. Wine flowed freely among passengers and crew, and as darkness fell, the princely party issued a dare to the captain – that he should overtake the King’s ship, which was already out at sea.

The White Ship’s fifty oarsmen heaved with all their might to pull clear of the harbour, but as the vessel made its way through the night its port side struck violently against a rock that lay hidden just below the surface of the water. This rock was a well-known hazard of the area, uncovered each day as the tide ebbed, then submerged at high tide. It can be seen to this day from the cliffs of Barfleur, a dark shadow lurking beneath the water. But Captain Thomas FitzStephen, like his passengers, had been drinking, and the ship’s wooden hull shattered on the rock, the vessel capsizing almost immediately. It was still close enough to the shore for the cries and screams of its three hundred passengers and crew to be mistaken for drunken revelry. According to one account the passengers on the royal snakeship heard the cries behind them, but sailed on, unheeding, towards England, through the night.

The White Ship was the Titanic of the Middle Ages, a much-vaunted high-tech vessel on its maiden voyage, wrecked against a foreseeable natural obstacle in the reckless pursuit of speed. The passenger list constituted the cream of high society, cast into the chilly waters. Orderic Vitalis, an Anglo-Norman chronicler of the time, described the scene:

The rays of the moon lit up the world for about nine hours, showing up everything in the sea to the mariners. Thomas, the skipper, gathered his strength after sinking for the first time and, remembering his duty, lifted his head as he came to the surface. Seeing the heads of the men who were clinging somehow to the spar, he asked, ‘The king’s son, what has become of him?’ When the shipwrecked men replied that he had perished with all his companions, he said, ‘It is vain for me to go on living.’ With these words, in utter despair, he chose rather to sink on the spot than to die beneath the wrath of a king enraged by the loss of his son, or suffer long years of punishment in fetters.

Orderic was wrong about the full moon. Sky tables show that on 25 November 1120 the moon was new, so the night must have been dark. But the chronicler does seem to have gathered his information, directly or indirectly, from the wreck’s only survivor, a butcher from Rouen who had jumped on to the White Ship to collect some debts that were due to him from members of the court. The butcher was saved from the exposure that killed the others on that still, frosty night by the thick, air-retaining ram-skins he was wearing. Three fishermen plucked him out of the water next morning and took him back to dry land.

Over in England next day, King Henry became puzzled when the White Ship did not dock or even appear on the horizon. But the news of the catastrophe reached the nobles at his court soon enough, and everyone discovered they had lost family and friends. Stewards, chamberlains and cupbearers had all died – wives and husbands, sons and daughters. As the court mourned, no one dared break the dreadful news to the King, and a whole day and night went by before a young boy was finally pushed into the royal presence, weeping, to throw himself at the King’s feet. When Henry realised what had happened, he fell to the ground himself, grief-stricken at the news. He had to be shepherded away to a room where he could mourn privately – this stern Norman king did not care to display weakness in public.

In the years following the death of his cherished son, King Henry I governed his realm as busily as ever, and also found time for his pleasures. He founded England’s first zoo, where he kept lions and leopards, and a porcupine of which he was particularly fond. But he did confess to nightmares that terrified him so much that he would leap out of his bed and reach for his sword. He dreamed that his people – those who worked, those who fought, and those who prayed – were attacking him. The Conqueror’s shrewd, harsh, penny-pinching youngest son had provided England and Normandy with firm government, but the wreck of the White Ship meant that Henry left no legitimate male heir to succeed him. The drowning of William the Aetheling was not just a personal tragedy – it would lead to England’s first real and prolonged civil war.

Piers Gaveston and Edward II AD 1308

Piers Gaveston
‘Fair of body and great of strength’, Edward of Caernarfon, England’s first Prince of Wales, was widely welcomed when he came into his inheritance as King Edward II at the age of twenty-three. But as he made his way down the aisle of Westminster Abbey at the end of February 1308 with his young queen Isabella, daughter of the French king Philip IV, all eyes turned to the individual behind him – Piers Gaveston, a young knight from Gascony. The new king had awarded Gaveston pride of place in his coronation procession, bestowing on him the honour of carrying the crown and sword of Edward the Confessor, and Gaveston, in royal purple splashed with pearls, was certainly dressed for the occasion. His finery was such, wrote one chronicler, that ‘he more resembled the god Mars, than an ordinary mortal’. According to the gossips, King Edward was so fond of Gaveston that he had given him the pick of the presents that he had received at his recent wedding to Isabella. The Queen’s relatives went back to France complaining that Edward loved Gaveston more than he loved his wife.

Edward’s father, Edward I, the pugnacious ‘Hammer of the Scots’, had been infuriated by his son’s closeness to the flamboyant young Gascon. The old king had made Gaveston, the son of a trusted knight, a ward in the prince’s household, but there were complaints that the two men got up to mischief together, frequenting taverns and running up debts. On Edward I’s last unsuccessful campaign against the Scots in Carlisle in the winter of 1306–7, the prince had suggested giving Gaveston some of the royal estates in France. His father exploded, seizing Edward by the hair and tearing it out in tufts. He ordered Gaveston into exile.

On coming to the throne, Edward II’s first concern had been to expedite the return of his friend Piers. When he went off to France to marry Isabella in January 1308, a few weeks before the coronation, he placed Gaveston in charge of England, and, to the fury of just about every baron in the land, he also bestowed on him the rich earldom of Cornwall.

The reckless passion of Edward II for Piers Gaveston ranks as the first of the momentous love affairs that have shaken England’s monarchy over the centuries. Homosexuality was deeply disapproved of in medieval England. It was considered by many a form of heresy – a ticket to hell – though there is enough evidence to make it clear that many a monk and priest might have been seen at the ticket barrier. ‘The sin against nature’ was usually referred to indirectly, with comparisons to the Old Testament love of King David for Jonathan – ‘a love beyond the love of women’. When writing specifically of Edward’s love for Gaveston, the chroniclers of the time would call it ‘excessive’, ‘immoderate’, ‘beyond measure and reason’. But one source referred directly to a rumour going around England that ‘the King loved an evil male sorcerer more than he did his wife, a most handsome lady and a very beautiful woman’.

It should be stressed that the details of Edward’s physical relationship with Gaveston are as unknowable as those of any other royal bedchamber, and we should not forget that the King had four children by Isabella. It has even been argued that the two men were totally chaste, cultivating their relationship as devoted ‘brothers’. Certainly, none of this would have been an issue if Edward had not allowed his private affections to intrude so fiercely into his public role. Other kings had no problems with same-sex relationships. It is generally assumed that William Rufus (who ruled from 1087 to 1100) was gay – he produced no children and kept no mistresses – and the same has been said of Richard Coeur de Lion, though this is hotly denied by recent biographers. Whatever their predilections, these monarchs did not allow their private passions to impinge on their royal style or, more important, to influence their decisions when it came to handing out land and other largesse.

Edward II, however, displayed an assortment of characteristics that were viewed as unkingly. For a start, he dressed like his friend Piers, a little too extravagantly. He enjoyed the unusual sport of swimming and also rowing, which was considered demeaning – kings traditionally showed their power by getting others to row them. He kept a camel in his stables. He pursued a whole range of ‘common’ pursuits such as digging, thatching, building walls and hedges, and he enjoyed hammering away at the anvil like a blacksmith. Nowadays England might welcome a DIY king, but in the fourteenth century such activities, not to mention the pleasure Edward took in hobnobbing with grooms and ploughmen, were considered abnormal.

The major grievance, however, was the disproportionate favour that Edward showed Piers Gaveston. When the barons in Parliament called for the exile of the favourite, Edward’s response was to endow him with still more castles and manors. He did agree, reluctantly, that Gaveston should go over to Ireland for a while as his representative, but he was clearly unhinged by his departure. The King took his entire household to Bristol to wave Gaveston off and pined for him in his absence, getting personally involved in such petty problems as the punishment of trespassers on Gaveston’s property on the Isle of Wight. When, in an attempt to curb the King’s aberrations, Parliament presented him with a set of ‘Ordinances’ in 1311, along the lines of Simon de Montfort’s Provisions of Oxford, Edward took the extraordinary step of offering to agree to any restriction on his own powers provided that his favourite was in no way affected.

The muscular Gaveston did not make things any easier. He took delight in defeating the barons in jousts and tournaments, and then rubbed salt in their wounds by mimicking his critics and giving them derisive nicknames. The Earl of Gloucester was ‘whoreson’, Leicester was ‘the fiddler’, and Warwick the ‘black hound of Arden’.

‘Let him call me“hound”,’ the earl exclaimed. ‘One day the hound will bite him.’

As approved by Parliament and reluctantly agreed by the King, the Ordinances of 1311 imposed stringent controls on royal power. Building on Magna Carta and the Provisions of Oxford, championed by Simon de Montfort, it was now laid down that the King could not leave the kingdom without the consent of the barons, and that parliaments must be held at least once or twice a year and in a convenient place. Clearly, the immediate purpose of the Ordinances was to deal with Gaveston, who was promptly sent out of the country for a second time. But he sneaked quietly back, and by the end of November there were reports of the favourite ‘hiding and wandering from place to place in the counties of Cornwall, Devon, Somerset and Dorset’. That Christmas he appeared openly at Edward’s side at Windsor.

For the indignant barons, this act of defiance was the last straw. Using the authority of the Ordinances, they summoned troops, while Edward and Gaveston headed north to rally forces of their own. Cornered at Newcastle, they managed to escape, Edward to York and Gaveston to Scarborough, where the barons besieged him. Lacking supplies, Gaveston surrendered, and under promise of safe conduct he was escorted south. But just beyond Banbury the party was ambushed by the Earl of Warwick, who whisked the favourite back to his castle and delivered the promised ‘bite’. On 19 June 1312, Piers Gaveston was beheaded at Blacklow Hill on the road between Warwick and Kenilworth. The killing of Edward II’s beloved ‘brother’ devastated the King and prompted a backlash of sympathy in his favour. But two years later, finally doing what a king was supposed to do and leading his army north against Scotland, Edward was heavily defeated between Edinburgh and Sterling in June 1314. Robert the Bruce’s brave and cunning victory at Bannockburn is one of the great tales of Scottish history, but in England its consequence was a massive further blow to Edward’s authority. Early in 1316 at the Parliament of Lincoln, the King humbly agreed to hand over the running of the country to the barons.

The trouble was that Edward had found himself another Gaveston. Hugh Despenser was an ambitious young courtier whose father, also named Hugh, had been an adviser and official to Edward I and still wielded considerable power. The Despensers came from the Welsh borders or Marches, and they used their influence shamelessly to extend their lands. Once again the barons found themselves rallying together to restrict the power of a royal familiaris – a favourite – and this time a new element came into play. In 1325 Edward’s long-suffering wife Isabella seized the chance of a journey to France to take a stand against the husband who had humiliated her, first with Gaveston and now with the younger Despenser. She took a lover, Roger Mortimer, another powerful Welsh Marcher lord, who had taken up arms against the King and the Despensers in 1322, and who, after being imprisoned in the Tower of London, had been lucky to escape to France with his life.

When Mortimer and Isabella landed in England in 1326, they had only a few hundred men, but they held a trump card – Isabella’s elder son by Edward, the thirteen-year-old Prince Edward. As heir to the throne, the boy represented some sort of hope for the future, and London welcomed the Queen, whose cause, according to one chronicler, was supported by ‘the whole community of the realm’. In a widespread uprising, the hated Despensers were tracked down and executed – in the case of Edward’s favourite, at the top of a ladder in Hereford, where his genitals were hacked off and burned in front of his eyes.

England now set about doing something it had never attempted before – the deposition of a king by legal process. Prelates prepared the way. Early in January, the Bishop of Hereford preached to a clamorous London congregation on the text ‘a foolish king shall ruin his people’, and a parliament of bishops, barons, judges, knights and burgesses was convened in Westminster. Preaching to them on 15 January 1327, the Archbishop of Canterbury took as his text ‘Vox populi, Vox dei’ – ‘The voice of the people is the voice of God.’ By the unanimous consent of all the lords, clergy and people, h e announced, King Edward II was deposed from his royal dignity, ‘never more to govern the people of England’, and he would be succeeded by his first-born son, the Lord Edward. So Edward III would be the first English monarch appointed by a popular decision in Parliament.

It remained to break the news to the King himself, then imprisoned at Kenilworth Castle, and a deputation of lords, churchmen, knights and townsfolk set off forthwith for the Midlands. Dramatically clad in black, Edward half fainted as he heard William Trussell, a Lancastrian knight, read out the verdict of the whole Parliament. It grieved him, he said in response, that his people should be so exasperated with him as to wish to reject his rule, but he would bow to their will, since his son was being accepted in his place. Next day Trussell, on behalf of the whole kingdom, renounced all homage and allegiance to Edward of Caernarfon, and the steward of the royal household broke his staff of office, as if the King had died. The deputation returned to Parliament and the new reign was declared on 25 January 1327.

Now formally a non-king, Edward was imprisoned in the forlorn and ponderous Berkeley Castle overlooking the River Severn just north of Bristol. It is possible that, with time, his imprisonment might have been eased so as to allow him to potter around the grounds, digging his beloved ditches and hammering out a horseshoe or two. But in the space of just a few months there were two attempts to rescue him, and the Queen’s lover, Mortimer, decided that he was too dangerous to be left alive. In September 1327 a messenger took instructions down to Berkeley, and two weeks later it was announced that Edward of Caernarfon, only forty-three and of previously robust health, was dead. Abbots, knights and burgesses were brought from Bristol and Gloucester to view the body, and they reported seeing no visible marks of violence. Edward had had ‘internal trouble’ during the night, they were informed.

But in the village of Berkeley, tales were told of hideous screams ringing out from the castle on the night of 21 September, and some years later one John Trevisa, who had been a boy at the time, revealed what had actually happened. Trevisa had grown up to take holy orders and become chaplain and confessor to the King’s jailer, Thomas, Lord Berkeley, so he was well placed to solve the mystery. There were no marks of illness or violence to the King’s body, he wrote, because Edward was killed ‘with a hoote brooche [meat-roasting spit] putte thro the secret place posterialle’.

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