Thursday, 26 January 2017

The following is my review of 'The Killing of Prince Llywelyn of Wales' by Paul Martin Remfry. The book is a bit pricey, but the most exhaustive and valuable study yet of the death of Llywelyn ap Gruffudd, Prince of Wales, in December 1282.

The first half of the book acts as build-up to the main event. The career of all the main players - Llywelyn, Edward I, John Pecham etc - is discussed, as well as every relevant Marcher and Welsh lord. The correspondence between Llywelyn, Edward and Pecham is given in full, and the religious nature of the final war of 1282 explained. This last is important, as it was one of the defining features of the war and something a modern, largely secular audience might neglect.

I'll cut the cackle and get to Cilmeri. Unless stated otherwise, the opinions expressed below are the author's rather than mine. Every single known medieval source for Llywelyn's death is listed and discussed in turn. Remfry sorts these into Early Primary/Secondary Primary/Secondary/Later. I've never read the sources in their proper date order and context before. The results are illuminating.

 The Early Primary consists of 12 sources, all written soon after Cilmeri, within months at most. Only 2 are Welsh: Aberconwy and the Annales Cambriae. Aberconwy is a likely 14th century copy of an original account dated before June 1283. It says that Llywelyn was 'captured and killed by Edmund Mortimer by a conceived deceit'. The Annales merely says Llywelyn was killed. 6 of the 10 English sources explicitly name Edmund as responsible.

Pecham's letters enforce Edmund's guilt. Edmund is described as in possession of the items found on Llywelyn's body after he was killed. Pecham's first letter to the king practically describes the method of death. Llywelyn had time to talk to his captors before he was killed. He asked for a priest and a white monk sang Mass to him. He was then beheaded in the presence of Edmund's valets, apparently out of their master's earshot; Pecham says they had to inform Edmund of Llywelyn's last requests. Thus Llywelyn was killed much as depicted in the famous drawing (attached). This picture appears in the margin of The Chronicle of Rochester Cathedral Priory, in a section dating 20-40 years after Cilmeri. It seems the manner of Llywelyn's death was no secret. Lured to a meeting, captured, shriven, beheaded. An almost formal execution/murder/assassination (delete according to taste).

Regarding the fate of his army. One of the English Primary sources (Dunstable) says that the prince was killed along with three of his magnates, up to 2000 of his infantry and not many of the cavalry. Dunstable Priory was under feudal obligation to send troops to fight in Wales, especially to the command at Montgomery. Hence the scribes took a great interest in Welsh affairs, military in particular, and this version may well be transcribed from the eyewitness account of a returning soldier.

Of the Secondary Primary, Remfry identifies the Peterborough account as the most valuable. Peterborough Abbey was also required to send money and men for the Welsh wars. This account was written c.1295 and is the first to provide a full list of the Marchers present at Cilmeri. It also provides casualty figures, though the 'Chinese Whispers' process means that by this time the number of Welsh dead had swollen to 3000 and all of the cavalry slain.

Peterborough is also the first to say that no English were killed. This is the basis for the recent theory that Llywelyn's men were all murdered under truce. The real problem here is the lack of a payroll for the English army; a comparison (my opinion) could fairly be made with the Hagnaby account for the Battle of Maes Moydog in 1295, which claims only 6 English were killed. The payroll for this battle does survive and shows that in fact 91 English lost their lives. In any case none of the earliest accounts claim that all of Llywelyn's men were slain.

Guisborough, the most oft-quoted source for Cilmeri, is bracketed among Secondary Primary. Remfry takes an axe to Guisborough, pointing out - quite correctly - the author's unreliability. His account of the history of England from 1066 onward is a tissue of errors, and hence his description of Cilmeri cannot be trusted. It's a fair point, though Remfry is perhaps a little too quick to sweep aside Helias Walwyn and Stephen de Frankton. At the time of writing he wasn't in possession of all the evidence for either, something I hope to discuss with him.

Remfry also has little time for the Hagnaby source favoured by J Beverly-Smith. The date given in the source is wrong (1283) and the idea that the Prince of Wales would be unidentifiable until he called out his name ludicrous. In addition, Hagnaby describes Llywelyn being killed after his army was defeated, while all the other sources put it the other way round.

The author's conclusion agrees with mine. Llywelyn was lured to his death and executed/murdered by the Mortimer brothers at dusk on 10th December 1282. Early on the morning of the 11th his army was ambushed by the forces of Roger Lestrange and worsted - or 'discomfited', to quote Lestrange - though half to two-thirds of Llywelyn's men got away.

Away from Cilmeri, Remfry makes the interesting suggestion that Roger Mortimer the elder (died October 1282) was in cahoots with Llywelyn and secretly passing supplies to Welsh forces. On closer inspection, this idea falls down a bit: the Welsh Rolls show that the problem of English merchants trading with the Welsh was a wide-ranging one, and Edward was frequently obliged to forbid the practice. Mortimer's excellent record of past service to the king would also argue against it.

It may well be that Mortimer had some pretension to the title of Prince of Wales. He had a decent blood claim, though far from the only one. Edward's failure to reward his son Edmund for killing Llywelyn also seems inexplicable. Remfry suggests the king was unhappy over the dishonourable nature of Llywelyn's killing, though this seems unlikely for the man who organised a death-squad at the Battle of Evesham. Remfry's other suggestion, that Edward was alarmed at Mortimer methods and could see himself going the same way as Llywelyn, is more convincing.

Monday, 9 January 2017

Medieval IV: Ring of Steel

So I swapped my writer's hat for the one marked 'critic' and posted a short review of Medieval IV: Ring of Steel by Kevin Ashman. This was an interesting effort to write a series of novels based on the revolt of Madog ap Llywelyn in 1295-5. It wasn't quite my thing, but the author can certainly write and others may like to give it a whirl:

'An easy read, and the author has a flowing prose style and good grasp of how to write battles and adventure fiction. Ashman is clearly a Welsh patriot and at times his patriotism shines through a little too brightly: his hero, Madog ap Llywelyn, is forever giving chest-thumping speeches that might have come straight from the mouth of Gwynfor Evans, John Davies or one of the angrier members of Plaid Cymru. The word 'nationalism' is often touted in the text, a term alien to the late 13th century.
Otherwise the story is reasonably accurate, though overtaken by more recent research. Ashman sticks with the traditional account of the Battle of Maes Moydog, supposedly won by the Earl of Warwick's clever mingling of archers with cavalry. In fact the muster rolls show that his army only contained 13 crossbowmen and archers, and the army itself was not large: no more than 2500 men, mainly from Shropshire. Madog's army was defeated, however, and suffered the loss of 700 men. Most of these were probably killed in the rout.
As someone with a deep interest in Edward I - Longshanks - and his reign, I was slightly disappointed with Ashman's depiction of the king. His Longshanks makes for a fairly bland villain, not much more than a one-dimensional bogeyman for proud (and loud) patriots to hurl insults at. Little is made of Edward's reckless dash from Conwy to Nefyn, an unnecessary and apparently suicidal foray that still baffles historians. The depiction of the Welsh attack on Conwy Castle is overcooked and places Edward in far more danger than was the case. Madog's army had no artillery or siege equipment and the castle was well-supplied by sea. The inclusion of the English raid on the Welsh camp, a little-known incident described in the Hagnaby chronicle, is a nice touch.
Madog himself, leader of the Welsh revolt, is painted in equally broad strokes. The author's desire to bring Welsh historical figures to wider notice is commendable, but Madog is basically Mel Gibson's William Wallace come again, albeit in chainmail instead of a kilt. He makes speeches (in fairness, the real man was said to be an effective speaker), slaughters hapless English soldiers by the score, and is generally wonderful and charismatic and heroic. Perhaps Madog was all these things, but a little nuance wouldn't go amiss. No mention is made (unless I missed it) of the awkward fact that his son, Maredudd, entered the service of Edward's personal Welsh bodyguard - the Wallenses Regis or King's Welshmen - and later rose to be a king's esquire under Edward II.
All in all, a good adventure read and nice introduction to a little-known (outside Wales) period of Welsh history, but a somewhat loose and biased interpretation of events.'

Sunday, 11 December 2016

Henry III: the Son of Magna Carta

Recently I was asked to write a review of a new book on Henry III of England - 'Henry III; the Son of Magna Carta', written by Matthew Lewis and published by Amberley. Below is my review and a link to the book on Amazon.

Henry III: the Son of Magna Carta 

Matthew Lewis’ new biography of Henry III of England seeks to fill, as the author puts it, ‘a huge, gaping hole in our understanding of medieval England’. Henry, he contends, has been dismissed in the past as a boring king, much overshadowed by the domineering personalities of his reign - Simon de Montfort, Hubert de Burgh, William Marshal, Prince Edward etc. This book is an effort to draw Henry out of the shadows and realign him as a ‘father of nations’.

Lewis follows a similar approach to Marc Morris’ treatment of Edward I i.e. he starts at the beginning and ploughs straight through to the end. This strictly linear narrative makes for a more easily digestible read, especially for non-experts. Some context is provided by a short prologue describing the death of Henry II in 1189 and the reigns of Richard I and John. This section could have perhaps been a little longer, since Henry III’s life and reign was so dominated by problems inherited from his forebears. However, at just 253 pages to cover a reign lasting 56 years Lewis can’t afford to get bogged down. The reader is very quickly pitched into the turmoil of 1216, with King John newly dead - poisoned, possibly - and England lost to the chaos and disorder of civil war. Prince Louis, son of Philip Augustus, had invaded with the intention of making himself King of England. Many of the English barons had rallied to his cause, and the prospects of John’s heir, the nine-year old Henry, looked bleak. Lewis’ account of the war that followed, and the prominent role played by the aged William Marshall, is brisk and exciting. Happily, he also gives long overdue credit to one William of Cassingham, an obscure country esquire who organised crucial guerilla resistance in the Weald forest against the invading French.

Throughout Lewis keeps the spotlight on Henry in an effort to weigh up the king’s personality. This is no easy task. Henry’s conduct was often baffling, and like most of the Angevins his character defies any glib summary. He seems to have had a dry sense of humour, highlighted by two anecdotes quoted in the book. Once, on the return journey from a distastrous campaign in France, Henry was cheerful enough to play an extended practical joke on a servant. At another time, he was confronted by four clergymen who angrily demanded the king should cease to promote men above their natural station in life. Henry pretended to agree, and then casually remarked he had better strip all four men of their office, since they themselves had been raised from nothing. Apart from his wry humour, Henry was also a devoted family man, with demonstrably close relationships with his wife, brother and eldest son.

Balanced against these pleasant traits are Henry’s explosive temper - typical Angevin - and a marked lack of sensitivity and judgement. His shabby treatment of Hubert de Burgh and the sons of William Marshal suggest a streak of ingratitude, perhaps envy. The story of de Burgh’s downfall makes for unpleasant reading: he was effectively framed on nine exaggerated charges of corruption, then imprisoned and subjected to at least one savage punishment beating. He was later released and permitted to live out his days in quiet retirement, a happier fate than many former royal favourites, but his calculated destruction was not Henry’s finest hour. Nor does his hostility towards the younger Marshals, Gilbert and Richard, do him much credit. 

Lewis makes the point that Henry was trapped in a uniquely awkward situation. His father had sold England to the papacy, which made the Pope Henry’s feudal overlord. From the earliest days of the reign, Henry’s actions were constantly criticised and hamstrung by the meddling of successive popes, who regarded England as their treasure chest and the king their puppet. No other king had to submit to such outside interference. For instance, the firm action Henry took against Fawkes de Breauté, a foreign mercenary who had outstayed his welcome in England, was met with an angry rebuke from the Vatican. Throughout the reign England was plagued with a constant stream of greedy papal legates, who came to milk cash to fund new crusades. Their arrogant demands were met with outrage from English barons and prelates, while Henry was stuck haplessly in the middle, unable to mollify one party or the other. In other respects, Henry was often the architect of his own downfall. He repeatedly infuriated his barons by inviting a constant stream of foreigners to his court (many of them his Savoyard in-laws) and granting them rich manors and benefices. The king appeared to be incapable of appreciating the resentment this caused, even when the consequences threatened the peace of his realm. Lewis briefly mentions the revolt of Robert de Thweng, a Yorkshire knight, in the late 1220s, as an example of the popular unrest caused by Henry’s short-sightedness. Not enough is made of this, a serious revolt against the imposition of Italian clergymen into English church benefices, and an early example of aggressive English self-identity from a baron of Norman descent. Again, this may be down to lack of space.

The author is slightly less than fair in his judgement of Henry’s military capacity. Henry has traditionally been depicted as a poor soldier - his DNB entry claims he had no military talent whatsoever - and a limp contrast to his more able son, Edward I. In fact Henry’s military performance was as wildly erratic as the rest of his career. He performed spectacularly badly on the French campaign of 1240-1, where his defeat at Taillebourg recalled the worst personal failures of King John. At other times he did show ability. He was initially successful in Poitou in 1230, won a notable victory in Gascony in 1253, and up until the 1250s campaigned with reasonable effectiveness in Wales. At Northampton in 1264 he won a signal victory over the rebel barons under Simon de Montfort the Younger. Lewis gives the credit for this victory to Edward, which is inaccurate: R.F. Treharne’s detailed analysis of the battle clearly describes the King’s presence at Northampton, and the unfurling of the royal banner. At the Battle of Lewes Henry fought in the front rank of his army and had two horses killed under him, a remarkable - if unsuccessful - display of personal bravery for a man in his mid-50s, quite elderly for the time.

One of the best aspects of this book is Lewis’ account of Simon de Montfort, the Earl of Leicester who led a serious rebellion against Henry in the 1260s. After his death Simon was regarded by many as a saint, and in recent years this image has been resurrected in certain popular novels. Lewis has no truck with Saint Simon, and instead portrays the Earl as an ambitious, austere and unusually bigoted man who deliberately whipped up violent anti-Semitism in London in order to bolster popular support. As a soldier he was certainly competent, but not the genius often portrayed: Lewis highlights Simon’s multiple failures in Gascony, where his brutality and insensitivity to Gascon concerns threatened to destroy English authority in the region. Henry’s rage and disappointment at Simon’s calamitous performance, eloquently recounted by Lewis, were for once understandable. The greedy and selfish behaviour of Simon’s sons - one, Henry, was nicknamed ‘the woolcarder’ after his illegal seizure of English wool reserves - is also neatly described.

Lewis certainly succeeds in demonstrating that Henry and his reign were far from boring. I’m less convinced that Henry deserves to be remembered as a ‘father of nations’, largely because the author’s meaning escaped me. Perhaps, as Lewis suggests, the king did act as a ‘bridge between chaos and union’, but Henry would not have perceived himself as any kind of bridge or national parent figure. For me his kingship recalls RR Davies’ summary of Edward I:

“As to his power and status within Britain we need not assume that his attitude was unchanging, cynical, or conspiratorial. Like most men of power he was the servant of circumstances and, when he could be, the master of opportunities.”

In the end, for all his failures and misjudgements, it is difficult not to feel some sympathy for Henry III. Lewis’ biography suggests to me no underrated nation-builder, but a moderately intelligent man of limited ability, utterly convinced of the divine superiority of his royal status. In other words, an ordinary man conditioned to believe he was a great one. Like his father and son, Henry was imbued with a grim determination to cling onto absolute power by any means possible. At times this determination was an asset, at others a curse. Despite being essentially inadequate for his role, Henry clung on like a limpet, year after year, decade after decade, until he finally died in an agony of bodily pain and pious self-reproach.

As I read through this book, the sheer grinding horror of being born into such a position, with no way out save death, gradually became apparent. To quote Oscar de Vill - a descendent of John de Eyvil, another of the baronial rebels who made Henry’s life a misery:

“I have sometimes wondered whether, in writing our history, we allow for the awful demands of top jobs…all day, every day, for years on end. Henry III has been heavily criticised, understandably, in that he did not shine in hard politics, or waging war. But he seems to have been a decent man, an idealist even, in a lonely job at a difficult time. It is sobering to think he had already been on the throne for thirty years at the time of the Provisions, six years before Simon de Montfort struck for power.”

Overall, in spite of a few quibbling reservations, I would highly recommend Henry III: the Son of Magna Carta. The book is a fine example of ‘popular history’ rather than dry academic analysis, and a useful and eloquently written general overview of a long, complex reign. Newcomers to Henry III and his times should glean much from it.

Tuesday, 22 November 2016

REIVER reviews

The first couple of reviews are in for REIVER, and they are goodies.

'Set in the 16th century in the March lands between England and Scotland, 'Reiver' is a very enjoyable blend of fact and fiction. It is a fast-paced, captivating novella, packed with action, intrigue, blood-feuds and exciting battles.

The characters, a colourful mixture of real and fictitious ones, are both realistic and engaging. I particularly liked the author's portrayal of Sir John Forster, but also his Richie Reade and his mate Ruth.
The story is well-told. I enjoyed the regional dialogue and reading about the weapons of the day. The occasional flashes of humour also brought a smile.

In short, a great read about a fascinating period in British history!'

'It's got it all going on, for a novella. Action, intrigue, love and politics - all in 190 fact, my main problem with Reivers is that it wasn't long enough - not only in that I wanted to know more, but that I was left with a strong sense of questions unanswered at the end, as if this was a prequel to a full novel.

There's a strong sense of the Robin Hood about Richie o'the Bow, the young hero - he very young hero, aged all of sixteen, we meet in the opening pages with his equally-young lover, Ruth. (As an aside, I liked Ruth a good deal. She's that rare thing in the world of historical adventure, a young woman with her head screwed on, whose femininity is not germane to the plot.) And the reader is lulled into a false sense of Wolfshead security: that when Richie and his Bairns hole up at Hope's End, we are venturing into the territory of Merrie Men, with Ruth in the sweet guise of Marian under the greenwood tree.

Nah. This is a much harder, much darker, story than that.
Richie is a “broken man” but he's not by any stretch broken by his outlawry.
These are not a band of tragic outcasts and misfits. They're rough fighting men who - for the most part - are the instruments of their own destruction, part of a society with all the moral rectitude of a weasel in rut. At one point, Richie suggests that they ought to stop fighting and try and work towards a society where they can all live in peace. His lads look at him blankly…He can't see it happening, either. It's the only world they know, every man for himself and Devil take the hindmost. And they quite enjoy wrestling with conscience here, thank you.

David Pilling writes with a zest and a very appealing black humour, and a firm grip of the chicanery of 16th century Scots and English politics. Wonderful, vicious action sequences vy with regional dialogue that thrums with colour and threat. Most of my knowledge of the Border reivers - to my shame, my mother being a McLellan, descended from this brawling knot of amoral cattle-rustlers! - comes from George Macdonald Fraser, and the author is kind enough to give his source material for those who want to go further.

I can see this as an early episode in the career of Richie’s Bairns, despite its completeness as a work in its own right. Is the Countess going to be Richie’s own Milady de Winter, in future books? Will the Bairns come to acquire a moral compass, under the shadow of the English?

I do hope we’re going to find out.'

Friday, 11 November 2016


Mane tossing, nostrils flaring, hooves flailing - my new novella, REIVER, has just plunged out of the stable. Set in the late 16th century, during the reign of Good Queen Bess (or Bad, depending on one's preference), REIVER follows the adventures of Richie Reade or Crowhame, otherwise known as Richie O'the Bow or Richie Crow-Bait.

Richie is one of the Border Reivers, those famous criminal gangs who made the Anglo-Scottish border a living hell and left a tremendous legacy in the form of the Border Ballads, first compiled by Sir Walter Scott in the 18th century. Bold, brutal, belligerent, the reivers lived by the sword and generally died by it, assuming the hangman didn't get them first. Richie is just such a man, and he and his followers, known as Richie's Bairns - Richie's Children - must survive treachery, blood-feud, raid and counter-raid, even as the clouds of war pile high over the Marches....

REIVER is currently available on Kindle only, but a paperback version should be available soon.

Tuesday, 1 November 2016

Wedding day

Today is the anniversary of the marriage of Edward I and Eleanor of Castile, married at the monastery of Las Huelgos, Burgos, on 1st November 1254. Edward was 15, Eleanor just 12.

 Theirs was one of the more successful royal partnerships. Over the course of their 36-year marriage the couple produced 16 children, though only 6 lived to adulthood. The sheer number of stillborn and infant deaths may have induced a certain emotional detachment in the parents: for instance, they made no effort to visit their 6-year old son Henry as he lay dying at Guildford in 1274. Of their adult children, the longest-lived was Margaret, Duchess of Brabant, who achieved the grand old age of 58.

Eleanor was unpopular in England. She didn't bother to learn English and amassed a fortune by buying up cheap or encumbered manors and squeezing maximum profits out of them. This made Eleanor very rich and the English very annoyed. As a popular rhyme had it: "The king desires to get our gold, The queen our manors fair to hold..."

When Eleanor died in 1290, aged 49, the annalist of Dunstable recorded her passing with a terseness that spoke volumes: "A Spaniard by birth. She acquired many fine manors."

One person at least adored the Queen. Edward, extreme in all his passions, clearly loved Eleanor with deathless intensity. After her death in 1290, aged 49, he said thus of his late wife in a letter to the abbot of Cluny in France: "My harp is turned to mourning. In life I loved her dearly, in death I cannot cease to love." 

Edward seems to have been paraphrasing Job 30:31, a modern translation of which reads thus and may give an insight into his state of mind:

'When I hoped for good, evil came,
When I looked for light, then came darkness.
The churning inside me never stops,
Days of suffering confront me.
I go about blackened, but not by the sun,
I stand up in the assembly and cry for help.
I have become a brother of jackals,
A companion of owls,
My skin grows black and peels.
My body burns with fever,
My lyre is turned to mourning,
And my flute accompanies those who weep.'

Monday, 24 October 2016

Once again, I've been very slack recently with updates for this blog. Below is another piece on a little-known aspect of the reign of Edward I, taken from the Facebook page. In the near future I hope to post articles and commentary more directly related to my books. Stay tuned!


 Fancy a holiday? Somewhere nice in the sunny Dordogne, perhaps? Look no further than the Hotel-Restaurant Edward 1 in Monpazier, a delightful region of Aquitaine in south-west France. The hotel offers stunning views, ensuite bedrooms with flatscreen television, a fine restaurant offering a choice of local delicacies, as well as…

…here endeth the advert. The hotel in Monpazier, otherwise known as the Hotel Edward Premier, really exists and is named after King Edward I (reigned 1272-1307). Unlike Wales and Scotland, where the only building likely to be named after Edward is a public toilet, the king’s reputation in his former duchy of Gascony is still golden. Monpazier was part of the duchy, and one of the fifty bastide - meaning ‘to build’ - towns constructed in Gascony during his reign.

Of all the bastides, Monpazier is the one that still retains most of the original features. It was founded in 1285 and visited by Edward himself during his tour of the region the following year. The town is built to a quadrilateral plan, with a regular gridwork of streets that open onto a central square. At one end of the square is a market hall, where the original metal bins used for measuring grain can still be seen. The square is lined with vaulted archways known as ‘cornières’, another distinctive medieval feature.

All of the Edwardian bastides were built to this pattern. Edward himself was personally involved in the construction of Burgus Reginae - or Queensborough - built in 1288 at a confluence of the Garonne and Dordogne, the two major commercial arteries of Gascony. The new settlement was named in honour of his wife, Eleanor of Castile. Another new bastide, named Baa, was built on royal command in the winter of 1286-7. One Gerard de Turri was sent to plan the town, and Edward paid a visit to the site, during which he bought the workmen a round of drinks.

Edward also founded bastides in England, at New Winchelsea and Kingston upon Hull, and in Wales as part of his programme of colonisation. However the scale of bastide-building in Gascony was far greater than anywhere else. The project was driven, as usual, by Edward’s constant need for revenue: Gascony was a much smaller and poorer land than England, and generated far less cash. The new bastides acted as centres of commerce. To quote Marc Morris: ‘they were a source of profit, both direct (in the form of local tolls and taxes) and indirect (they increased trade that was taxed at other points, such as Bordeaux).’

Initially the bastides met with opposition from Gascon nobility. As landlords, they objected to these new towns being built on their territory, largely because it gave their tenants the opportunity to run off and become free towsnmen. A clever compromise was reached whereby the bastides were founded on the system of ‘paréage’, a form of public-private partnership. Local lords agreed to put up the land, Edward as duke gave the necessary permission, and subsequent profits were shared by all, including the townspeople. The promise of enrichment lured the rural poor to the bastides, which in turn helped to reduce lawlessness. New towns also meant new roads, which led to the clearing of forests and conversion of fallow ground into rich pasture. Thus the bastides were perceived as a way of generating commerce and profits for all - duke, lords and peasants - as well of pacifying unruly parts of the duchy. For once Edward behaved with a light touch, and his bastide scheme was both popular and successful.

Edward spent several years in Gascony and was evidently fond of the place, if not the inhabitants. In a letter of March 21st 1278 to the Bishop of Bath & Wells, he makes clear his opinions on Gascons and their unreliable ways:

‘As the Gascons are reputed to be very full of quibbles and changeable in their agreements, proposals, promises and deeds, the king believes it very necessary that the bishop… shall cause all and singular the things that shall be agreed upon, or ordained, and done by them with the Gascons…so that in times to come they shall not presume in their insolence boldly to contravene their own deeds, and so that their own deed and surety may be objected to their faces eye to eye to repress their malice forever.’ 

This last line is eerily similar to Edward’s later declaration regarding the Welsh, in which he promised to ‘put an end to their malice now and for all time.’

The king was not directly involved in the construction of all the bastides. Over two-thirds of them were partially founded by the crown, but only half were solely royal ventures. Nor were they intended to buttress the defence of Gascony against the French. Many never had any defences at all, and those with defences only had them added in the reigns of Edward II and III. They were founded during a period of relatively cordial relations between England and France, and Edward appreciated that the widespread construction of fortified towns would provoke French hostility. Besides which, they were mostly built on fertile, low-lying land near rivers, ideal for commerce but useless as military sites. One exception was Bonnegarde, where Edward revamped and enlarged an already existing castle, but the main purpose of the bastides was undoubtely to generate income.

Edward’s enthusiasm for bastides was also demonstrated in Wales and England. In Wales, after the war of 1277, he laid out new settlements on the familiar grid pattern at Flint, Rhuddlan and Aberystwyth. After the war of 1283 more were created at Conwy, Caernarfon, Criccieth, Bere and Harlech. Unlike Gascony, however, the new bastides in Wales were not built in a spirit of lucrative cooperation. Instead they were fortified colonial outposts, homes for imported English settlers, from which the native Welsh were largely excluded. Towns such as Nefyn and Llanfaes, which had been centres of commerce under Llywelyn ap Gruffudd, were allowed to become backwaters. Edward had no desire to develop native Welsh settlements, and at Llanfaes the population was forced to emigrate to a new town called, rather unimaginatively, Newborough. Llanfaes itself was replaced by another bastide, Beaumaris.

Today very little survives of Edward’s bastides in Gascony. Other than Monpazier, not one has survived into modern times as a settlement, though the outline of vineyards, banks and ditches can still be seen at the site of Burgus Reginae. Still, I have heard that the Hotel Edward Premier (see attached pic) does excellent cocktails…