Saturday, 5 July 2014

Re-action of Edward II on the death of Piers Gaveston


Edward II loved Piers Gaveston - no historian can doubt there.  It is the nature of the relationship which comes under discussion.  Whatever the relationship, Edward was devastated at the loss of Piers, and the circumstances of it.  It is therefore perhaps surprising to read the chronicler of the Vita Edwardi Secundi report Edward’s words  as the following -

 

"By God’s soul, he acted as a fool. If he had taken my advice he would never have fallen into the hands of the earls. This is what I always told him not to do. For I guessed that what has now happened would occur. What was he doing with the Earl of Warwick, who was known never to have liked him? I knew for certain that if the earl caught him, Piers would never escape from his hands."



It sounds as though Edward was furious with Piers, for what had happened.  As if he blamed him, and cursed him for it.  


If he had taken my advice he would never have fallen into the hands of the earls...... What was he doing with the earl of Warwick, who was known never to have liked him? 


 It was hardly Piers' fault that he had been kidnapped by the Earl of Warwick.  If, as has been suggested, Piers and Edward agreed the surrender of Piers to the Earl of Pembroke on very favourable grounds, both Edward and Piers must have felt they could resolve the situation.  But the intervention of Warwick was a disaster.   Panic must surely have set in for both Edward and Piers, and Edward did everything he could to secure Piers' safety.  But it wasn't enough, as Edward seemingly knew it wouldn't be. 


I knew for certain that if the earl caught him, Piers would never escape from his hands. 


Edward did as much as he could, but he, Piers, Warwick and his cousin Thomas of Lancaster knew Piers’ fate was sealed.  Edward’s re-action was surely one of shock and grief, and in his state of distress, as so often when tragic events occur, he didn’t think what came out of his mouth.  Desperately trying to secure Piers safety, looking for support, knowing he was virtually up against a ticking clock, waiting for the news he didn’t want to hear, Edward must surely have been overcome with grief, and quite literally, didn’t know what he was saying.  I’m sure in the previous days, Edward had cursed the Earl of Pembroke, his relative Gilbert de Clare, Warwick, Lancaster, and probably himself for the situation.  Hearing the news he didn’t want to hear, he cursed Piers.  He surely didn’t mean it – it was anger, terror and grief talking.

‘Wuthering Heights’, by Emily Bronte, is a masterpiece of literary achievement. Regarding Edward’s words I’m reminded of Heathcliff’s re-action to the death of Catherine Earnshaw/Linton - it is hardly what we would have expected – he curses her, and says may she never rest in peace – but we, the reader, understand his grief.  Likewise, I can understand why Edward uttered those words on hearing of the death of Piers.  

 Edward’s actions after the death of Piers speak volumes.  Edward swore revenge on his killers, and was true to his word.  His treatment of Piers’ body clearly shows the love he felt.  Piers lay in state almost – he had been previously excommunicated and Edward would not have buried him without getting it revoked.   Although this was done in late 1312, Edward still could not bring himself to bury Piers.  The Vita says he had sworn revenge on the rebels before burying Piers.  It may also have been because he couldn’t bring himself to be so finally separated from Piers.

Wednesday, 18 June 2014

June 19th - death of Piers Gaveston.

Today is the anniversary of Piers Gaveston's death.   I can't bring myself to call it execution, as that would suggest some sort of trial and for Piers to be guilty of a crime that merited the death sentence.  To be snatched from the custody of someone sworn to protect his life with the sole aim to kill him cannot be termed an 'execution' - rather it was murder.  Piers certainly broke the ban on his exile - enforced by jealous nobles against the king's will.  His crime for being exiled?  Being a bad influence on Edward II, being a Gascon, not accepting his place in society, enjoying the good life and having a sharp tongue.  None of this merits a death sentence.

Guy of Warwick, who literally kidnapped Piers, quaked in his boots at murdering Piers on his land.  Piers was marched from Warwick Castle until he reached Blacklow Hill.  Warwick didn't even accompany him, leaving it to Thomas of Lancaster to carry out the deed.  According to one chronicle, Lancaster refused to witness the killing of Piers, asking only to see the head afterwards.   It had need decided to cut off Piers' head, awarding him this dignity because he had been an Earl.   Yet the chronicler says that first, Piers was run through with a sword first, then beheaded.  Why?   It could be because Piers might have tried to escape - highly unlikely, as once he fell into Warwick's clutches he must have known there would be no mercy.  Besides, it seems there was more than one 'executioner' given the task.  In my opinion, it was likely there was no-one who had actually beheaded someone before.  They are merely described as two Welsh archers.  I'm sure Lancaster didn't care how they did it, as long as head and body were eventually separated.  I can only hope it was quick.

Afterwards, neither Lancaster or Warwick could be bothered to bury Piers are even take charge of the body.  Lancaster left him where he died, and when some shoemakers came across the body and took it to Warwick Castle, Guy refused to accept it.  Thankfully, some Dominican Friars took charge of his remains.  The head was sewn back on and the body was taken to Oxford, where Piers literally lay in state until Edward could get his excommunication revoked and give him a Christian burial.

Today, there is a monument to Piers at Blacklow Hill, and surrounding streets/roads have been given his name.  There is even a Gaveston Lodge just before you cross the fields to get to Blacklow Hill.






Wednesday, 11 June 2014

Celebrating Kathryn's appearance on BBC Scotland!

Check out Kathryn's wonderful Edward II blog for news of her appearance on 'The Quest for Bannockburn'.  Can't wait for it to go national!   No doubt, Piers would send you a hearty congratulations!


http://edwardthesecond.blogspot.co.uk/

Monday, 9 June 2014

June 10th – capture of Piers Gaveston by the Guy of Warwick


Today marks the anniversary of the ambush and capture of Piers Gaveston by his deadly enemy, Guy, Earl of Warwick.  This was a disaster for Piers, Edward and enraged Aymer de Valance, into whose custody Piers had been placed.

Here’s a little background information about Pembroke – and his wives.  Aymer de Valence was the second Earl of Pembroke. He was born in 1275 and was one of the Lords Ordainers who had ensured that Piers Gaveston was sent into exile for the third time.  Pembroke had suffered from Piers sharp tongue, having been nick-named Joseph the Jew.  The reason was supposedly his appearance.  At the time of Piers’ surrender at Scarborough Castle, Pembroke was married to his first wife,  Beatrice, daughter of  Raoul de Clermont,  Lord of Nesle in Picardy (he later married  Marie de St Pol in 1321).  Beatrice was to play a part in the capture of Piers by Guy of Warwick.

In my previous post, I dealt with the favourable surrender of Piers to Pembroke.  It seems both Piers and Edward II were relieved that Pembroke had custody of Piers.  Pembroke was a man of honour, and had sworn an oath to protect Piers’ life.  Whether he had the full support of the other barons is questionable.  He may have acted without the support of Thomas of Lancaster and Guy of Warwick. 

Pembroke decided to take Piers South.   They arrived in Deddington on June 9th.  Piers was housed in the rectory house at Deddington.  Leaving Piers with some guards, Pembroke headed off to see his wife at Bampton.  It seems incredible that Pembroke would leave Piers at Deddington and then go on to see his wife.  What could be so important that Pembroke needed to see his wife?  And it begs the question – why didn’t he take Piers with him?   It seems Pembroke decided to make use of the opportunity of being so near his wife, and possibly he felt Deddington offered more protection to Piers than his manor house.  Or maybe, he was in contact with Guy of Warwick, and knew that Guy would seize Piers as soon as Pembroke left.  Had Warwick been in touch, and told Pembroke that he did not have the support of all the Lords Ordainers, and pressured him into literally handing over Piers?  Pembroke used the ‘excuse’ of going to visit his wife.  It seems very unlikely.  Pembroke had sworn a chivalric oath, with the threat of forfeiting his estates.   He had given his word, and ensured Piers and the king were separated.  This was a time for negotiation – not to betray his sovereign, whatever he may have thought of Piers. 

How Warwick found out about Pembroke’s actions remains a mystery.  He must surely have heard Pembroke was in his vicinity.  He may have had his men ‘spying’ on what was happening, keeping him informed of Pembroke’s movements.  Or did one of Pembroke’s men betray him?  Warwick may have suspected that Pembroke would visit his wife.  Pembroke trusted his men to guard Piers, and could surely never have guessed his authority would be challenged.  Warwick seized his chance, and ordered that the guards hand Piers over.  We don’t know how many men Pembroke had left guarding Piers – but it wasn’t enough to protect him.  I’ve often wondered why, if he was poorly guarded, why Piers didn’t plan some sort of escape.  However, he had surrendered to Pembroke on favourable terms, had been treated respectfully by Pembroke, and no doubt felt safe in his custody.  He too had given his word.  Piers was undoubtedly horrified to be taken by Warwick, and Pembroke was enraged.  His honour had been tainted.  Warwick’s actions ensured that after the death of Piers, Pembroke sided with the king from then on.  Warwick’s coup was a stain on the Chivalric code. 

Today in Deddington, Piers’ short stay is recognised – there is a Piers Row and Gaveston Gardens.

Sunday, 1 June 2014

Countdown to the death of Piers Gaveston, part 1.


May 19th, 1312, had seen the surrender by Piers Gaveston  at Scarborough Castle.  Initially, Piers and Edward II  had agreed that Piers would stay at Scarborough Castle and prepare for a siege, whilst Edward would do his best to rally support.  For whatever reason,  (and I’ll discuss this in another post),  there was no long term siege.  

Piers had surrendered to Aymer de Valence, Earl of Pembroke, and the Earl of Surrey, after returning without permission from his third exile.  The terms of the surrender were most favourable to Piers (the most likely reason he surrendered, maybe).  Pembroke would take Piers to St Mary’s Abbey in York, where it was hoped the king, Edward, and either Thomas of Lancaster or his someone chosen by him, would come to an agreement about Piers. If an agreement could not be reached by 1 August, Piers would be allowed to return to Scarborough.  Pembroke, Surrey and Percy of Northumberland swore an oath that they would protect Piers and return him unharmed to Scarborough.  All 3 promised to forfeit their property if they broke the oath.  Piers himself swore that he would not try to influence the king.   Edward and Piers surely had no doubt such a serious oath would be kept.

When Pembroke arrived in York, there is no mention of Lancaster being present.  Seymour Phillips, in his biography of Edward II, says the lack of Lancaster being mentioned may mean that Pembroke had not consulted the other nobles when agreeing to the surrender of Piers.  This could well be true, as the terms of the surrender were so favourable, and Lancaster, and Guy of Warwick, may have felt they were not bound by the agreement.  The chronicler of the Vita Edwardi  Secundi says that Edward was playing for time, and hoped to ensure the support of his Queen’s father, Philip of France, and the Pope,  who would come to his aid and help to save Piers.

There’s no mention of whether Edward and Piers met for the last time at York.  In fact, we don’t even know if Pembroke took Piers to York.   Edward must surely have been relieved that Piers was in the custody of someone like Pembroke, and having sworn to protect Piers, Edward now assumed his efforts could be fully focused on finding a way to keep Piers with him and to appease his barons.   Of course,  his plans came to nothing, as by June 19th, Piers had been killed.  In my next post, I’ll look more in depth at the role of Pembroke’s oath and actions.

Friday, 23 May 2014

At last! Judgement on burial of Richard III

The High Court has reached a decision on the final resting place of Richard III.  It has been decided he should have a 'dignified burial' in Leicester Cathedral.   The Justice Secretary blasted  the 'Plantagenet Alliance' for wasting public money.  The Alliance had wanted Richard re-buried in York Minster.  I totally agree with the judgement - including the remark about wasting public money! 


To begin with, Leicester University had funded part of the search for Richard's remains.  They always intended to re-bury Richard in Leicester - with dignity and honour.  As far as I know, York didn't pay anything towards the search, and didn't voice an opinion on what would happen if the remains were found.  It was only after the discovery that the debate began.


Richard himself never intended to be buried in York.  He was preparing a tomb in St George's Chapel, Windsor, alongside his brother Edward IV.  His Queen, Anne Neville, was buried in Westminster Abbey - clearly Richard had no plans for a joint tomb, and today her burial place is marked with a simple plaque. 


With the Battle of Bosworth actually taking place in Leicester, surely Richard and Henry Tudor would have expected to be buried in Leicester, whichever one of them fell in battle.  Margaret of Anjou's son, Edward of Lancaster, fell at Tewkesbury, and is buried in the Abbey there.  Edward II is said to have died at Berkley Castle, and was buried in nearby Gloucester, and the same for Prince Arthur, who died at Ludlow and was buried in nearby Worcester Cathedral.


Most importantly - Richard was actually given a Christian burial and a tomb in Leicester - why remove remains that have lain in Leicester for 500 years, over some romanticised notion that Richard 'belongs' in York.


I find it somewhat ironic that all this fuss has been made, when the bones of Edward V and his brother Richard of York, were shown scant respect by Richard and buried in a chest under a staircase in the White Tower.  Though if Thomas More is to be believed, a priest was summoned to say prayers, and their resting place may have been a temporary measure.  Thankfully, after the bones were discovered, they were re-buried in Westminster Abbey.


If the remains of Piers Gaveston are ever found, I wonder where he would be re-buried............

Saturday, 3 May 2014

Oh dear, new book, old prejudices......


‘One of the best examples of the brutal and brainless athlete established on a throne’ – Thomas Federick Tout.  So begins the chapter on Edward II in Desmond Seward ‘The Demon Brood’, a history of the Plantagenets.  It might be a new book on the Plantagenets, but the same old bias regarding the reign of Edward II is present.
  The chapter on Edward is called ‘The Changeling’, and begins with the Battle of Bannockburn before delving into Edward’s character.  There isn’t a kind word for Edward.  He was ‘incapable of facing the world without a strong man at his side, invariably someone whom everybody else detested.’  Edward was a weakling all his life, terrified of his father with crippling self-esteem.   Later in the chapter, Seward says that Edward was ill-equipped to be king because of his panic attacks – erm, what panic attacks?  Edward is portrayed as some sort of shambling wreck.  Apparently even his beard hid his 'weak face'.  Huh? 
 Regarding Piers Gaveston, the old prejudices soon surface.  So we get the re-hashed story of Edward giving him the ‘royal’ title of Earl of Cornwall, which had been promised to his younger half-brother – not true.  Piers making off with all the wedding presents – again, not true.  Oh, and of course Edward jumping ship to race through the surf and embrace Piers in front of a horrified Isabella, Edward’s new wife.  He wrecked the Coronation banquet by burning the food and keeping Edward all to himself. 
 Seward  denies the relationship between Piers and Edward was that of lovers.  He sees Edward totally dependent on Piers because Piers had the ‘front’ and confidence he lacked.  And it’s here that the most distasteful description of Edward – and Piers – appears – Piers dominance ‘is the power of a strong mind over a weak one and the support he gave to a man who suffered from panic attacks – not unlike the reassurance given by an understanding male nurse to a mental defective’.  Yes, you read that right!  Worst of all, he says the chroniclers of the time thought Edward was mentally incompetent to rule.  Annoyingly, he quotes from various chronicles but uses ‘modernised English’ to do so, as if the reader couldn’t cope with the actual version.  He speeds through history without offering full explanations.  We’re not even told that Edward Ist banished Piers – just that Edward recalls him after his father’s death.  So no mention of exile number 1.  Exile number 2 is because Piers has been pilfering the royal coffers, and Edward dares not refuse his exile – without fully explaining Piers’ role in being sent to Ireland.  Exile number 3 is due to Piers giving the king bad advice and stopping the magnates from seeing the king.  The magnates also apparently demanded he take all his ‘hangers on’ with him.  On his return, Pembroke was sent to ‘capture’ Piers –  this is how it is written.  And then Piers gets sick and Edward leaves him at Scarborough, where he surrenders to Pembroke.  Piers’ fate takes only a paragraph.  It’s all written in a style I can only call ‘chatty’, as if someone is recounting a prĂ©cis of the daily news.  I can’t believe this is actually meant to be a ‘serious’ history book.  Another annoying aspect is quoting from Victorian historians - who have done an awful lot of damage to reputations and are hardly the most reliable sources. 
 I’ve given up reading the rest of Edward’s chapter, and not sure I’ll be able to bring myself to read any more of the book.   

Ok I read the last page of Edward's chapter - unsurprisingly it's the red hot poker story.