Monday, 1 September 2014

What the Chroniclers said…….Part 1

OK, so they may not be the most reliable source, get dates wrong, confuse people and be heavily biased,  but they are one of our primary sources and their content has been used to either damn or praise people and most often, these comments stick.  These are my favourite Piers Gaveston quotes from assorted chronicles.  Read and enjoy!
1.        From the St Paul’s Annalist, describing Piers at the coronation of Edward II.  Piers was dressed in royal purple, and "so decked out that he more resembled the god Mars than an ordinary mortal".  My favourite quote ever!  More than likely Piers’ favourite as well!
2.       A classic from the Vita Edward Secundi - "I do not remember to have heard that one man so loved another. Jonathan cherished David, Achilles loved Patroclus. But we do not read that they were immoderate. Our King, however, was incapable of moderate favour, and on account of Piers was said to forget himself, and so Piers was accounted a sorcerer."   Roughly translated as ‘wow!  They really love each  other, just like others in the past.  Bit over the top most of the time.  The King needs to rein it in a bit!’.  No doubt the sorcerer reference led to stories later on that Piers’ mother had been a witch.
3.       From the Vita again.  Piers "alone found favour in the king's eyes and lorded it over them [the English barons] like a second king, to whom all were subject and none equal. Almost all the land hated him..his name was reviled far and wide...he was an object of mockery to almost everyone in the kingdom."  No-one of course could out-mock Piers, and being like a second king obviously made any insults bearable.  Being adored and raised high by Edward, Piers no doubt thought it was worth it;)
4.       Of course, his arrogance grew – and the Vita gives us this great description.   I can just imagine Piers "scornfully rolling his upraised eyes in pride and in abuse, he looked down upon all with pompous and supercilious countenance…indeed the superciliousness which he affected would have been unbearable enough in a king’s son." 
5.       From the Canterbury Chronicle we learn Piers came from  ‘the region of fine manners he was courteous’.   Gascony must be THE place to get your manners from;)
6.       Another chronicler, Geofffrey Le Baker, writing years later, recalls why Edward Ist had thought Piers was an ideal companion for his son.  Piers was  ‘graceful and agile in body, sharp witted, refined in manners, sufficiently well versed in military matters’  He sounds an ideal role model, doesn’t he?  Note the ‘well versed in military matters’ – yes, he really was an excellent soldier, not a languid fop!
7.       Another reference to Piers as a king – “two kings reigning in one kingdom, the one in name and the other in deed".   How pleasing that Edward had someone willing to help him reign.  And I’m sure he let Piers wear his crown as well, as it probably looked sooo much better on him;)  After all, digging ditches and thatching roofs is quite tricky wearing royal robes and jewels.
8.        An absolute classic from the Trokelowe Chronicler.   The alleged scene when Edward returned from France with his bride and greets Piers after his absence.  Edward was ‘giving him kisses and repeated embraces, he was adored with singular familiarity’.   The line that launched a thousand scenes in ‘historical’ trashy novels, with a helpless Isabella looking on.  Sort of like a medieval ‘From here to Eternity’ scene, with Edward and Piers crashing through the surf for a huge snog!  Yeah, right!   Personally, I’d like Isabella to have said to her maids ‘gosh, Ed’s friend is rather hot, isn’t he? ‘ Of course, what was missed out in these novels is that Trokelowe adds ‘ Which special familiarity, already known to the magnates, furnished fuel to their jealousy’.  So Isabella wasn’t offended at all, just the other nobles who wanted to be embraced firstJ 
9.        Yet again, from the Canterbury Chronicle, ‘He adopted such a proud manner of bearing towards them, that the earls coming before him were forced to kneel in order to bring their reasons before him, ‘  I do hope the Chronicler means Thomas of Lancaster and Guy of WarwickJ 
10.     And talking of Thomas of Lancaster, the Lanercost Chronicler mentions this scene – a meeting between Edward and Lancaster to reconcile, with Piers present.  Lancaster  "would neither kiss him [Piers], nor even salute him, whereat Piers was offended beyond measure."  Oh Piers, you surely don’t want a kiss from Lancaster?  Really?  Actually, it was highly unlikely Piers was there anyway – so hence he didn’t get a kiss from Lancaster.
Sources - Seymour Phillips 'Edward II'  ,   J.S. Hamilton  Piers Gaveston, Earl of Cornwall, 1307-12: Politics and Patronage in the Reign of Edward II      Kathryn Warner  Edward II
Part 2 to follow........

Sunday, 17 August 2014

Brother Perrot?

Whilst researching my posts on the death of Piers Gaveston, I hadn't quite realised how often Piers was referred to as Edward II's 'brother'.   The theory of a brotherhood pact between the two men was explored in depth in Pierre Chaplais' book Edward II's Adoptive Brother, published in 1994.  I looked at his work in one of my very first posts on this blog,  here .  I can't believe that was written 6 years ago.  I've read so much more since.  Here are some examples of Chronicles and other sources in which the idea of a brotherhood between the two men existed.  

According to one chronicle, Edward had used the term even as Prince of Wales. Throughout his reign he continued to use the term - and sometimes, even the word adopted was used.  Here's a quote from early on in the Vita Secundi, when Piers returns from Ireland after exile.  Edward greeted him at Chester and greeted him like a brother, - 

'indeed he had always called him his brother’.  This suggests Edward had been referring to Piers as brother for some time.  Had he been doing this in his father's reign to the extent that his father became concerned and banished Piers for his first exile?  The Vita also refers to Piers as - 

'a great earl whom the king had adopted as brother’,  and then adds that Edward loved him like a son, companion and friend, just to add confusion.  Piers as Edward's son?  seems strange to me, especially as Piers was older than Edward.  It seems to me the author was trying to find a way to explain how much Edward had loved Piers.  The word 'lover' was not used.  The Vita also quotes Edward as complaining that the Ordainers were persecuting his 'dear brother'.

Another chronicle, the Annales Paulini, quotes Edward as 'the king called Piers, because of much love, his brother', and also used the phrase 'adopted brother'.  

Edward himself uses the phrase in his own documentation - for example, in a letter to his treasurer Walter Reynolds, dated July 1308, Edward writes -

‘We are sending you enclosed herein a letter which our dear brother and faithful Peres de Gaveston….’

Chaplais points out that Edward used the same phrase 'our dear brother and faithful' in letters to his half-brothers Thomas and Edmund.   The implication is obviously that Edward thought of Piers as his brother in the same way as his real brothers.   

The Chronicle of the Civil Wars of Edward II also suggests that some sort of brotherhood existed between Piers and Edward.  When Edward first saw Gaveston, the king felt such love for him that he 'tied himself to him against all mortals with an indissoluble bond of love'.  The bond of love being the brotherhood pact, obviously. 

So, from the Chroniclers evidence, are we to conclude that Edward and Piers thought of themselves as brothers, a pact drawn up in their early teens, and based it on some chivalric code?  Or, did they feel such love for each other, that the only way they could express it publicly was to proclaim they had a brotherhood pact?  This to me seems more likely.  After all, the Chroniclers also refer to Piers as an ‘evil male sorcerer’, but that doesn’t mean that’s what he actually was.  It also adds for good measure that this sorcerer was keeping the king from his wife – what brother would come between the king and his wife, unless of course there was more to it.  Chroniclers of the time would not have been able to speculate on whether the nature of the relationship between Edward and Piers was sexual.  Certainly Edward and Piers would have been discreet about this if it were so - and yet we get all those protestation of love that Edward felt.  J.S. Hamilton  in his book ‘ Piers Gaveston, Earl of Cornwall, 1307-12: Politics and Patronage in the Reign of Edward II puts it perfectly for me –  

'The love that the King felt for Piers Gaveston has been described as greater than the love of women. It still seems more likely that it was also stronger than the love of brother'. 


Piers Gaveston: Edward II's Adoptive Brother Hardcover – 19 Sep 1994 Pierre Chaplais

Piers Gaveston, Earl of Cornwall, 1307-12: Politics and Patronage in the Reign of Edward II J. S. Hamilton

Kathryn Warner’s Edward II blog

Monday, 28 July 2014

2014 – The year of Kathryn Warner

2014 maybe the 700th anniversary of the Battle of Bannockburn, the scene of Edward II’s allegedly biggest humiliation, but it also marks the year of the huge success of his greatest supporter, Kathryn Warner.

I will never forget the day I stumbled across Kathryn’s website/blog on Edward II.  I was suffering a serious bout of tonsillitis that kept me bedridden for a week.  During this time, I read the most abysmal novel on Piers Gaveston.  I’m not going to name it – suffice to say that it really upset me.  I’d developed an interest in Piers in the late 1980s, inspired by Jean Plaidy’s ‘Follies of the King’.  Not a very flattering portrayal of Piers, but it sparked my interest and then I devoured every book I could get hold of.  Except, there weren’t a lot around then, and those that were portrayed Edward’s reign as a disaster and it was nearly always Piers’ fault – both in fiction and non-fiction.  Reading the primary sources I could get hold of, the Piers in the non-fiction, usually romantic novels was not the Piers I knew – they were usually the pathetic fop, greedily pinching poor, faultless Isabella’s jewels, along with snogging her husband in full view of her.  With nothing new appearing, I put my interest to bed, so to speak.  And then Plaidy’s book was republished, and I bought my own copy, and then Amazon recommended that awful novel.  It really upset me, and made me think that all these years later, the same lies, and worse, were being published about Piers.  It was then I entered ‘Piers Gaveston and Edward II’ into my search engine – and there was Kathryn’s website and blog!

 The joy of reading those posts was indescribable!  I saved them, printed them off, put them in a file, and constantly re-read them.  I took note of book recommendations and ordered them.  Then I contacted Kathryn, and we’ve been cyber pals ever since.  I still print off posts and save them in a file, re-reading and checking them for info.  It was honestly one of my happiest days, finding that blog.  My interest was re-ignited.  Thanks to Kathryn’s blog,  I’ve read fresh interpretation of chronicles of the times, found hidden gems from chronicles that other academic books have ignored, totally re-thought Edward II’s fate and am convinced he survived – and that he definitely did not die by ‘red hot poker’ horror stories, read fascinating critiques of other historians work, found out interesting snippets from his chamber accounts, his extended international family, read about so-called facts being demolished, corresponded with Kathryn and shared my thoughts, as well as picking her brain – and most of all, found another person who didn’t see Edward and Piers as simpering, effeminate, inadequate men.

My interest re-ignited, I set out to find the Gaveston Cross, re-visit Warwick and Berkeley Castle, and Edward’s tomb in Gloucester Cathedral.  I also started this blog, and came across other fascinating and interesting blogs – my favourites being Gabriele’s  The Lost Fort , Kasia’s  Henry, The Young King   (both about subjects I knew very little about but have since learned a lot), and Susan Higginbotham’s History Refreshed, and whose books I’ve read the print off!  I love her portrayal of Piers and Edward in ‘The Traitor’s Wife’.

Kathryn’s research is truly outstanding, and now all her hard work has paid off.  There was the article published about the Earl of Kent in English Historical Review in 2011.  In June 2014, Kathryn appeared on the BBC’s ‘Quest for Bannockburn’ with Neil Oliver.  And later on this year, in October, Kathryn’s book, ‘Edward II – the Unconventional King’ (what a brilliant title) will be published!  I know Kathryn has been working on this book for several years, and I am so happy it is to be published this year!  I cannot wait to read it!

So, Kathryn, I’m dedicating this blog post to you – thank you for fighting to reveal the truth about Edward II and Piers Gaveston, and demolishing the ridiculous stories that have been passed on as facts.   You deserve your success and more.  Keep the posts – and dare I say – books – coming!  This is your year!

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!

Monday, 9 June 2014

June 10th – capture of Piers Gaveston by 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.