Piers Gaveston: Wikis


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Piers Gaveston, 1st Earl of Cornwall (c. 1284 – 19 June, 1312) was the favourite, and possibly lover, of King Edward II of England.

A Gascon by birth, Piers was the son of Sir Arnaud de Gabaston, a soldier in service to King Edward I of England, and of Claramonde de Marsan[1]. Arnaud had been used as a hostage by Edward twice; on the second occasion, Arnaud escaped captivity, and fled to England with his son. Both then entered the royal household, where Gaveston behaved so well and so virtuously that the King declared him an example for his own son, Prince Edward, to follow, making him a companion of Prince Edward in 1300. Prince Edward was delighted with Gaveston -- a man skilled in the arts of war and military tactics -- who was noted for his wit, rudeness, and entertaining manner, and gave him many honours and gifts. The Prince also declared that he loved Gaveston 'like a brother.' Gaveston was also a close friend of Roger Mortimer of Wigmore, Gaveston being awarded the wardship of Mortimer's property after the death of Roger's father – this was a great honour for Gaveston, since the wardship of such an estate would normally be awarded to a nobleman, and is thus an indication of the regard both the King and his son held for Gaveston.

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Gaveston and Edward I

Whilst King Edward I liked Gaveston, he strongly disapproved of the close relationship between the knight and the Prince, which was felt to be inappropriate due to Gaveston's rank. He became especially enraged with Gaveston when he, along with twenty-one other knights (including Sir Roger Mortimer), deserted the English army in Scotland after the 1306 campaign and went to a tournament in France.

Furious, the King declared the estates of all the deserters forfeit, issued orders for them to be arrested, and declared them traitors. Gaveston and his companions therefore asked Prince Edward to intercede with the King on their behalf; the Prince accordingly enlisted the support of his stepmother, Queen Margaret, who pleaded with the King to forgive the young men.

Most, including Mortimer, were forgiven in January of 1307 and returned their estates. Gaveston, however, remained disfavoured: the King had learned that Piers and the Prince were sworn brothers-in-arms, who had promised to fight together, protect each other, and share all of their possessions. To the King, this was unthinkable: not only was it inappropriate for a future King to be shackled by oath to a commoner, unable to be adequately secure against potential plots; but the oath threatened to share the government of England itself with Gaveston. His displeasure with Gaveston and the young man's friendship with Prince Edward only continued to increase.[2].

The Prince, determined to maintain his oath and companionship with Gaveston, next resolved to ennoble the other man by granting him the County of Ponthieu (one of Prince Edward's own Counties). He sent an extremely unwilling Treasurer William Langton to the King with this news. Langton announced it on his knees: "My lord King, I am sent on behalf of my lord the prince, your son, though as God lives, unwillingly, to seek in his name your licence to promote his knight Piers Gaveston to the rank of the Count of Ponthieu."

Unsurprisingly, the King was not pleased. Reportedly, he shouted back at Langton, "Who are you who dares to ask such things? As God lives, if not for the fear of the Lord, and because you said at the outset that you undertook this business unwillingly, you would not escape my hands!" The King then summoned the Prince before him, demanding to know why he had sent Langton before him. The Prince replied that he wished for the King's permission to grant Ponthieu to Gaveston.

According to historian Ian Mortimer, on hearing these words spoken by the Prince, the King flew into a rage, exclaiming, "You wretched son of a whore! Do you want to give away lands now? You who have never gained any? As God lives, if not for fear of breaking up the Kingdom, I would never let you enjoy your inheritance! As he spoke, the King seized hold of the Prince's head by the hair and tore handfuls of hair out, then threw the Prince to the floor and kicked him repeatedly until he was exhausted." [3]

King Edward then summoned the Lords gathering for the Parliament at Carlisle, and before them declared Gaveston banished. It appears to have been more a punishment of the Prince than of Gaveston – Gaveston's conduct having been largely irreproachable, the King granted him a pension to be enjoyed whilst abroad. He also forced Prince Edward and Piers to swear an oath never to see one another again without his permission. Gaveston then set sail for France, loaded down with many rich gifts from the Prince. But as soon as Edward I died in July 1307, the new King recalled his "Brother Perrot" and endowed him with the County of Cornwall (which had been intended for Thomas of Brotherton, Edward I's young second son).

First recall

Soon after his recalling, Edward II arranged the marriage of Gaveston to Margaret de Clare, a granddaughter of King Edward I, and sister of the Earl of Gloucester, another friend of both Edward and Gaveston.

Wallingford Castle 1913.

The marriage was held soon after the funeral of the old King: held at Berkhampstead, the Manor of Queen Margaret, it proved an excuse for the first in a string of feasts and hunts, being followed by similar entertainments at Kings Langley Palace in Hertfordshire, and a tournament held by the King in honour of Gaveston at Wallingford Castle, which had been presented to Gaveston by Edward. It proved an embarrassment for many of the older lords present: Gaveston's young and talented knights easily won against the older knights fighting for the Earls of Surrey, Hereford, and Arundel. This led to the enmity of these Earls.

When Edward II left the country in 1308 to marry Isabella of France, who was just 12 years old, he appointed Gaveston Regent in his place, horrifying the Lords; they had expected Edward to appoint a family member or an experienced noble. By this appointment of his favorite, Edward demonstrated his faith in Gaveston, but in the process increased his friend's unpopularity. Gaveston himself did little during his Regency, however; the only thing he did of note in his two weeks of rule was to take a proud attitude to those who came before him.

Gaveston also proved unpopular with the new queen consort. The two men, who were of approximately the same age, may have had a homosexual relationship, and Edward's preference for the company of Gaveston over that of his wife, whatever the motives, is generally agreed by historians as having created early discord in the Royal marriage.

Gaveston's behaviour at the coronation feast is of especial note: he appeared in royal purple instead of an Earl's cloth of gold, spent the evening chatting and joking with Edward (who ignored his bride, her brother and her uncles in favour of Gaveston), and was eventually discovered to have been given all of the gold and jewellery Edward had received as wedding gifts.

Ireland and return

Having been forced by his lords to banish Gaveston following the embarrassment of the coronation, Edward instead appointed him Lord Lieutenant of Ireland, an office which allowed Gaveston much authority, honour and dignity. Gaveston may have also fought with Sir Roger Mortimer, 1st Earl of March, who was also in Ireland at that time. By the summer of 1309 he had gained a reputation as a sound military administrator, having strengthened Dublin and secured English rule there. After manipulations by Edward in England, Gaveston left Ireland on 23 July 1309 and made his way to Stamford via Tintagel, arriving at Parliament in Stamford in late July.

Unfortunately, Gaveston swiftly made more enemies: the moderate Aymer de Valence, 2nd Earl of Pembroke, whom Gaveston offended by referring to him as 'Joseph the Jew'; and Thomas Plantagenet, 2nd Earl of Lancaster, a cousin of the King and the most powerful Lord in the land after the King. He swore to destroy Gaveston when, after having already provoked the Earl many times, Gaveston persuaded Edward to dismiss one of Lancaster's retainers. Led by Lancaster, a powerful group of Earls demanded that he be banished again. Few stood by the King. Of those who did, the Earl of Surrey had sworn eternal hatred of Gaveston.

After a failed Scottish campaign in 1310–11, Edward was forced by his Earls to banish Gaveston once again.

Death

View of Warwick Castle from St Mary's Church

When Gaveston returned in 1312, he was faced with hostility. Thomas Plantagenet, 2nd Earl of Lancaster raised an army against Gaveston and the King, and on 4 May attacked Newcastle, where Edward and Gaveston were staying. The pair were forced to flee by ship to Scarborough Castle. They left behind all of their money and soldiers, which were appropriated by Lancaster. Edward then went south to raise an army, leaving Gaveston in Scarborough. Lancaster immediately brought his army up to threaten Gaveston and to cut him off from the King. Fearful for his life, Gaveston was forced to surrender to Aymer de Valence, 2nd Earl of Pembroke, who swore an oath to surrender his lands and titles to protect Gaveston. However, at or near Deddington Castle in Oxfordshire, Gaveston was captured and taken to Warwick Castle by Guy de Beauchamp, 10th Earl of Warwick.

He was held there for nine days before the Earl of Lancaster arrived; Lancaster then judged, "While he lives, there will be no safe place in the realm of England." Accordingly, on 19 June, Gaveston was taken to Blacklow Hill (which belonged to the Earl of Lancaster), and killed by two Welshmen, who ran him through with a sword before beheading him as he lay dying on the grass.

He was survived by his wife and a baby daughter, Joan. The Earl of Pembroke, who had sworn to protect him, was mortified by the death, having attempted to raise an army to free him, and having even appealed to the University of Oxford for aid. (The University, not known for its military strength in any case, had not the slightest interest in assisting either Gaveston or de Valence.)

Edward II, on hearing of the murder, at first reacted with utter rage; later, this would become cold fury, and a desire to destroy those who had destroyed Gaveston. Ten years later, Edward II avenged Gaveston's death when he had the Earl of Lancaster killed.

Gaveston in popular culture

  • Gaveston is the title character in Michael Drayton's 1593 play Piers Gaveston.
  • Gaveston tells the story of his life in the historical novel The Confession of Piers Gaveston by Brandy Purdy.

References

  1. ^ Fritze, Ronald H. (2002). Historical Dictionary of Late Medieval England, 1272-1485. Greenwood Press. p. 221. ISBN 0313291241. http://books.google.co.uk/books?id=INmdwCSkvIgC&dq=%22claramonde+de+marsan%22+gaveston&client=firefox-a.  
  2. ^ Mortimer, Ian (2004). The Greatest Traitor. Pimlico. pp. 29. "Mortimer cites 'Piers Gaveston', pp. 20-2, by Chaplais, as his source."  
  3. ^ Mortimer, Ian (2004). The Greatest Traitor. Pimlico. pp. 29. "Mortimer cites 'Edward of Carnarvon', p. 121, by Johnstone, and the Chronicle of Walter of Guisborough, p. 382, edited by Rothwell."  

Sources

Peerage of England
Vacant
Title last held by
Edmund Plantagenet, 2nd Earl of Cornwall
Earl of Cornwall
1307 – 1312
Vacant
Title next held by
John of Eltham, Earl of Cornwall

1911 encyclopedia

Up to date as of January 14, 2010
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