Over the last four years, I have had the great privilege of working alongside the Dean and Chapter at Gloucester Cathedral. The partnership first came about because of my research on my book Edward II the Man: A Doomed Inheritance, which in 2017 took me to the cathedral itself. There, I ended up by chance conversations supporting various behind the scenes projects or boards, helping in which ever way thought appropriate to aid the day-to-day operation of such a magnificent place. Gloucester Cathedral is where Edward II’s body lies, interred under a magnificent alabaster and marble effigy that is without question, the most beautiful of all the royal tombs, even among those found in the Plantagenet Royal mausoleum huddled around the Shrine of Edward the Confessor at Westminster Abbey. Over the years I have had many an opportunity to pause, reflect and make my devotions at Edward’s tomb while performing my duties, taking in the enormity of his history, and of course, the ongoing research around the mysteries surrounding his death.
So one can imagine that I was delighted when Ellie Fells, Digital Communications Officer, approached me with a proposal that sought to supercharge Edward’s story, bringing him and his natural playful character to life, and to a much larger public audience. This is the first time that the team at Gloucester Cathedral has sought to explore his history in this way and also to celebrate their connection highlighting the cathedral as the king’s final resting place. As the only royal burial after 1066 to be located in the south-west, Gloucester Cathedral therefore holds a place of national importance in royal and constitutional history. They also boast another important royal connection when the young Henry III (r.1216-1272), Edward II’s grandfather, was crowned in the Cathedral body, then known as St Peter’s Abbey in 1216, when England faced civil war and was subject to French invasion during the latter part of the reign and subsequent death of King John in October of that year. Gloucester Cathedral is therefore a very special place in the heart of the nation’s long and ever evolving story.
So this project is designed to unpack and explore the real character of Edward II as well as his specific links to the cathedral. Using contemporary evidence including the cathedral’s own Historia Monasterii Gloucestriae written in the 1390’s, and research undertaken for my book on Edward which was published in 2017, the realities of his daily life can be unearthed and explored, giving him back as much as possible, his authentic, contemporary voice. By adding a new dimension to the Cathedral’s digital platform on Twitter (@GlosCathedral) using the handle #KingEdwardIITweets the hope of the Communications team is to both draw new audiences to the cathedral’s digital platform as well as to the cathedral itself. Along the way, the project will raise awareness of Edward II’s story, something not generally taught on the curriculum, and forgotten by generations, who only ever hear about the lurid and often inaccurate tales surrounding his death. To help bring his character to life, Gloucester Cathedral have been working with the artist and illustrator Hannah Shaw to design a visual cue that in one thumbnail captures the heart and spirit of the king. Inspiration was drawn from both his effigy at the cathedral, as well as contemporary references both to Edward’s appearance and character, as well as known clothing styles available in early fourteenth century England. The end result as shown in the image above, I feel, really captures Edward’s playful, curious nature. Hannah Shaw and her amazing portfolio of work can be found at www.hannahshawillustrator.co.uk
The audience are most definitely in for a treat. Not only will the king’s story be told through his own character and that of another observer, the Saxon Princess Kyneburga founder of the cathedral and who has her own digital Twitter handle #KyneburgaTweets , but Edward’s Twitter character will comment on broader subjects, including the comings and goings of cathedral life, life beyond the precinct, including national and international celebrations. For the first time in nearly 700 years, the spirit of Edward, his vibrant personality, a king who was ahead of his time as ‘a man of the people’, will once more be allowed to shine through. I for one am looking forward to the adventure. Launched back in September of this year, already Edward has been tweeting about the building of his tomb, the transfer of his body to the Abbey, as well as some of the other suggestions put forward by historians about when and where his death actually took place.
Finally, as the pandemic remains part of our national life, it has never been more important for all the nation’s historic heritage, be they museums, castles, palaces, battlefield sites or places of worship, to reach out to audiences, new and old, seeking to connect us more than ever to our past. For it is in our roots, in the nature of history itself, that a culture finds its safe harbour. After successive lockdowns, in which these many important historic sites have been necessarily closed to public use, temporarily limiting our access to culture and places of worship, it has directly created significant financial burdens upon those very institutions we all love and need. Despite the hard work of their teams, many historic places face real and ever present financial hardship. Exciting projects like this seek to build platforms that will aim to celebrate existing audiences while building new ones, encouraging visitors and donors of the future across the threshold. I do hope that while scrolling through Twitter, you might take a moment to look up @GlosCathedral and follow the tweets of #KingEdwardIITweets and #KyneburgaTweets and which may inspire you, digitally or in person, to visit one the nation’s most majestic of cathedrals. Your direct support ensures that these magnificent places will be left for generations to come, and the stories of our collective past remain alive for centuries more for people to discover and be inspired by.
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Article: ‘The Tomb of Edward II’ by Stephen Spinks (November 2016) https://fourteenthcenturyfiend.com/2016/11/22/the-tomb-of-edward-ii/\
‘Edward II’ by kind permission of Hannah Shaw (www.hannahshawillsutrator.co.uk)