Wednesday, 24 December 2008

the 12 days of Christmas - according to Piers!

Inspired by some fun on Alianore’s brilliant Edward II forum – here is Piers’ favourite carol –

On the first day of Christmas Edward gave to me……….
a gold cup, enamelled with jewels (once belonged to his mother, apparently)

On the second day of Christmas Edward gave to me……….
a buckle of gold with two emeralds, two rubies, two sapphires and eleven pearls, with a cameo in the middle, (belonged to some German queen, I believe).

On the third day of Christmas Edward gave to me……….
sixty-three horses – and a rather splendid palfrey

On the fourth day of Christmas Edward gave to me……….
an enamelled silver mirror – never get tired of using it.

On the fifth day of Christmas Edward gave to me……….
A £1,000 ruby set in gold - I do like rubies.

On the sixth day of Christmas Edward gave to me……….
a gold crown encrusted with jewels – yes, my very own crown!

On the seventh day of Christmas Edward gave to me……….
a gold ring with a sapphire – matches nicely with the ruby.

On the eighth day of Christmas Edward gave to me………
silver ship with four gold oars – not quite sure why to put this.

On the ninth day of Christmas Edward gave to me……….
The Earldom of Cornwall and a marriage to his niece – who is rather pretty – can’t see him topping that.

On the tenth day of Christmas Edward gave to me……….
Wow – with the title, comes the Castle of Tintagel!

On the eleventh day of Christmas Edward gave to me………
100 silver shields, marked with an eagle, and a suit of armour – must hold another tournament soon to put those barons in their place – the dust!

On the twelfth day of Christmas Edward gave to me………..
a gold ring containing a great ruby. The ruby is called La Cerise – ‘the cherry’ – you can guess the size of it!

Alas, I don’t have much wealth to give Edward a present – but myself :) He seems happy with that – plus, he can share my silver forks for eating pears whenever he likes.

Sunday, 14 December 2008

New cover for 'Confessions'

My least fav fictional account of Piers Gaveston, but at least it now has a more appropriate cover. I will hopefully get around to posting my reviews of Piers in fiction soon.

Saturday, 13 December 2008

New book on the Princes of Wales

Well, it's new for me. It's by the eminent historian David Loades. It's the history of the princes of Wales, and starts obviously with Edward of Caernavon. Of course, I have focused on the Piers bits:)

I'm happy with Loades' interpretation. He doesn't focus too much on whether the relationship between Edward and Piers was a homosexual one, stating that both men married and had children. He says he thinks Edward Ist probably did think it was a homosexual relationship, and was alarmed - mainly because of the influence Piers would have.

Loades' makes the point that Edward was criticised for mixing with lowborn people and their pursuits - and then points out that Piers was very far from mixing with such company and their pursuits! Indeed, Piers was complimented on his courteous manners. So much for Piers' influence, eh? Although, I'm sure Piers just let Edward enjoy doing hat he wanted - and maybe that explains Edward's attachment to him. I just cannot imagine Piers thatching a roof!

I particularly like Loades' interpretation of Piers' murder. He doesn't go into great detail. He says Piers surrendered Scarborough castle with a guarantee of his safety, and was then seized and murdered on his way south. No talk of a trial or execution - Loades tells it how it was!

Monday, 1 December 2008

Ponthieu for Piers.......

Sorry to have neglected Piers for quite some time. Heavy workload is to blame. In this part of the blog, I shall look at the events leading up to Piers' first exile.

Piers had been in the service of Prince Edward since 1300 and had found favour. Everyone in the Prince’s service must have known how high Piers had risen, and indeed the king himself. It has been previously noted how King Edward 1st had hoped that Piers would be a good role model for the Prince. The king considered Piers to be of good manners and knew of his experience on the battlefield. However, it seems the king became concerned about the rise of Piers in 1305, because he removed Piers and Gilbert de Clare from the Prince’s household. Piers cannot have helped his cause when, in 1306, along with other members of the Prince’s household, he ‘deserted’ the Scottish campaign, ‘abandoning’ the King and Prince. Piers was amongst 22 knights who deserted. Gilbert de Clare and Roger Mortimer were part of the group. Why had they deserted? According to the sheriffs of London’s records, the knights ‘have crossed to foreign parts for a tournament…..without licence, while the king is engaged in the war of Scotland’. (Calendar of Fine Rolls). King Edward was furious, and ordered the lands of the knights were seized, they were to be arrested, and were to be treated as traitors.

Although the actions of Piers and the others seem serious, in reality, the campaign in Scotland had reached stalemate, and the young knights had sought the excitement and lure of money to attend a tournament across the channel. Prince Edward apparently knew that Piers and other members of his household had gone to the tournament. The Prince’s step-mother, Queen Margaret, did her best to pour oil on troubled waters, and in January, 1307, the deserters were pardoned. All except for Piers. Not only was he refused a pardon; he was to be sent into exile. So, why wasn’t Piers pardoned? And sent into exile?

It is likely that King Edward recognised how important Piers had become to his son. He had intended Piers to be a good role model for his son, but perhaps the relationship between Piers and the prince had gone too far. One of the chroniclers of the time, Walter of Guisborough, Piers was banished because the prince had asked his father for Ponthieu for Piers. Ponthieu was part of the Prince’s inheritance. Rather than ask his father himself, Prince Edward sent Treasurer William Langton to ask. Piers and the prince has previously been on bad terms with Langton, and I have to wonder whether he was sincere in his quest. Most likely, he probably realised what the king’s reaction would be. Edward Ist was furious. He sent for his own, and has been quoted as shouting '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!' The king must have been in such a terrible temper to utter such words – he obviously would not have insulted his wife in such a way otherwise. He then grabbed the prince by his hair, pulling out a handful, pushed his son to the floor, and kicked him.

Why would Edward ask for such a high favour for Piers? And why did his father re-act in such a way? Would Piers have been aware of his influence over the prince, and seek to exploit it by asking for such a prize as Ponthieu? I doubt it. He knew he had angered the King, who had branded him a traitor, and surely to egg on Prince Edward to ask for Ponthieu was asking for trouble. My guess is Prince Edward’s depth of feeling for Piers, and the urge to assert himself at court, led him to think this was a great idea. He would show Piers how much he cared for him, and as he was the Prince, and Ponthieu was his, he could do what he liked with it. For the King, already concerned about the prince’s close relationship, it was the final straw. Parliament was summoned, and both Edward and Piers were forced to swear on the Host and other relics that they would never see each other again unless they had permission. It must have been humiliating for both young men. The fact that the king made them swear such an oath, is, in my opinion, evidence at how concerned he was regarding the friendship between them. If he thought the prince had developed a ‘crush’ on Piers, he must have become alarmed the crush had developed into something stronger.

The king’s anger seems to have been directed more at the Prince than Piers. Piers was exiled to Gascony, given a pension, plus was given time to leave England. The prince lavished gifts of tapestries, clothes and money upon Piers for his exile. Undoubtedly, both men must have been upset, even distraught, at being forced apart. Knowing the king’s health as deterioating, I wonder if, when they parted, they were already making plans for Piers return. Or did Piers think, once out of sight, he would be out of mind? Maybe Prince Edward even had such thoughts. And King Edward was certainly hoping so.

Monday, 10 November 2008

courtesy of Lady D.......

Ten Top Trivia Tips about Piers gaveston!

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Wednesday, 29 October 2008

Russell's other claim to fame

Russell Brand has also confessed to being a sex addict, and been voted by the Sun 'Sh*gger of the Year'. I guess only Ed could comment on that comparison. Here is the lovely Russell for those who don't know him.

Piers Gaveston – the Russell Brand of his day?

Once again, that modern day outrageous dandy, Russell Brand, is in the news. This time, the object of his sharp, and insulting, some might say, wit, is ‘Manuel’s grand-daughter’ – i.e., the actor Andrew Sachs' grand-daughter, with whom Brand alleges he slept with and left offensive messages informing the actor Sachs of this on his answering machine. Sachs is best remembered for playing Manuel in Fawlty Towers. Said granddaughter is a member of the dance troupe ‘The Satanic Sluts’. The BBC has been inundated with complaints, with demands for Brand – and his co-host for that show, Jonathan Ross, to be sacked, questions have been asked by all political parties and even parliament has raised the issue, culminating in Prime Minister Gordon Brown having his say. Russell has been splashed all over the newspapers, tabloids and broadsheets, all vilifying him for his insulting behaviour.

And all this has put me in mind of perhaps the 14th century Russell Brand – Piers Gaveston. Yes, really. If Piers were around today, I could certainly see him wearing skin-tight leather trousers, with wild hair and dripping jewellery – who knows, maybe he did in the 14th century? And all those accusations of sorcery and witchcraft – maybe he had his own Satanic Sluts? And as for insults, well, he would make Brand look like a beginner. Brand may have attacked George Bush, Manual’s grand-daughter and the Jonas brothers – but Piers went for the jugular – The Fiddler/or Churl, (Duke of Lancaster), the Black Hound of Arden (Earl of Warwick) and Joseph the Jew (Earl of Pembroke) just to name some. Brand would have to insult the whole cabinet and be in fear of pain of death to even try and compete.

Brand merely confined his insults to verbal, but Piers went one better – holding a tournament at Wallingford, inviting all the magnates and grinding them into the dust. Throw in taking pride of place at the King’s coronation and Brand pales into significance.

Thankfully for Russell, I can’t see him being forced into exile or being marched to Blacklow Hill in a covet operation to be murdered.

Monday, 22 September 2008

More thoughts on the relationship between Piers Gaveston and Edward II.

Before reading this part of the blog, you may wish to read a full narrative of the life of Piers. You can find an excellent one on Alianore’s Edward II blog.

I intend to comment on events/people in the life of Piers' in later posts.

If you ever read a book or article about Edward and Piers, there is one quote sure to appear –

"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." (Vita Edwardi Secundi)

Both the relationships between the Biblical Jonathan and David and the classical Achilles and Patroclus have been viewed as homosexual, and this quote has been used as ‘proof’ that Edward and Piers were lovers. Personally, I find it striking that the author of Vita would mention both those relationships to describe the relationship between Edward and Piers. The chroniclers of the time would have found it very difficult to discuss the sexuality of the king. In the recent BBC 4 documentaries on ‘The Medieval Mind’, homosexuality, and the act of sodomy, seems to have been the ultimate taboo. The rich and powerful were often destroyed through being accused of sodomy and witchcraft. Hell awaited them, and images of sodomites with roasting spits inserted through their anus and turned by demons were typical of the time (sound familiar?). No one accused Piers of sodomy in his lifetime and Edward was only accused in 1326, after his deposition. Whatever the depth of feeling between Edward and Piers, I doubt they would have openly flaunted their relationship to the extent it would be openly commented on. Hence the chroniclers can only subtly hint at the relationship. So we have the descriptive comparisons with David/Jonathan, Achilles/ Patroclus, and the accusation that Edward ‘forgot’ himself and Piers accused of sorcery (in another chronicle, Edward is said to love an ‘evil, male sorcerer’.)

In 1307, Edward Ist banished Piers Gaveston , seemingly because he and Prince Edward had become too close. It seems the prince had asked his father for Ponthieu for his friend. Or rather, he sent the king’s Treasurer, Walter Langton to ask. Edward 1st allegedly replied "'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!' This was followed up by a physical attack on the Prince.

The fury felt by the king seems to have been directed more at the prince than Piers, who was banished with an annual salary from the king and gifts of money and clothes from the Prince. Why should the king be so concerned about a relationship between his son and Piers? If he felt Piers was avaricious and manipulative of the prince, then why not banish him immediately and why give him a salary? It seems to me that the king may have thought the prince had some sort of ‘adolescent crush’ on Piers, and that by removing him from the Prince’s company, the ‘crush’ would be forgotten. The king’s plan didn’t work, because the new king’s first act was to recall Piers.

Edward II made Piers Earl of Cornwall, married him to his niece Margaret de Clare and showered gifts upon him. Edward would surely want to give gifts to his lover, and raise him as high as possible. Marrying him to his niece would be a further way to honour Piers and bind them together through a blood relationship. Both Edward and Piers fathered children before their marriages and also had children by their wives. It’s obvious that neither found women abhorrent and were able to have sexual relationships with women. Both men would have wanted to provide heirs, and in Edward’s case, he knew what his duty was. His relationship with Piers was no threat to his wife, Isabella of France, and didn’t prevent him from doing his duty.

Piers played a prominent part in the coronation of Edward and Isabella – even wearing royal purple. He carried the crown and organised the banquet. He had even served as regent – unopposed by the barons – when Edward had sailed for France to marry Isabella. There’s no doubt that Edward trusted him completely and wanted to honour Piers as much as he could. Was it also an attempt to show Piers he was still as important to him even though he was married?

Piers was banished twice more – with the barons using him as leverage against the king. Edward was utterly devoted to him, and could not bear to be parted from him – so much so that he made concessions to the barons to do everything he could to keep Piers with him. Is this the action of a friend or a lover?

After the third banishment, Piers returned, possibly because his wife was due to give birth and because he did not want to be parted from Edward. Without going into a full narrative account at this point, Edward and Piers were separated and Piers’ fell into the hands of his nemesis, Guy, Earl of Warwick, who took him to Warwick Castle, gave him the pretence of a trial and passed sentence of execution, in reality, murder.

That the barons were opposed to Piers, there is no doubt. The problems between Piers and the barons, I shall save for a further blog – but what strikes me about Piers’ murder is the desire by the barons to strike at the king and hurt him in the only way they could – to kill the man he loved. Whatever Piers was accused of, he didn’t deserve to die. Did the barons, like the king’s father before them, think of Piers’ influence as unnatural, and to blame for all the woes that had befallen the country? Did they, in their ‘medieval minds’, think by removing Piers the king’s passion would die, and their jealousies over intimacy, titles and lands would be allayed?

Edward was devastated – and it is his treatment of Piers in death that also convinces me they had been lovers. Edward had a strong affinity to the Dominican friars, and he brought Piers’ body to the friary at Langley. The Dominican friars had the head sewn back and the body embalmed. Edward worked tirelessly to have the excommunication passed on Piers reversed, and even when this was done, it was a further two years before Piers was buried. Why did Edward wait so long before burying Piers’ body? Possibly because he could not bear to place his body in the ground. Edward ordered that prayers were said for the soul of Piers, and he never forgot the treachery of the barons. The execution of his cousin, Thomas of Lancaster, in many ways was a ‘parody’ of Piers’. Edward also made frequent references to Piers throughout the remainder of his reign.

Saturday, 13 September 2008

The World of Celebrity – 14th century style.

Overwhelmed with work this week, I can’t write what I wanted to. So I’ve decided to ‘lighten up’ a little. After a discussion with Alianore and Lady Despencer at Alianore’s excellent Edward II forum about 21st century celebrity, I thought I’d have go at some articles that might have appeared in the glossies in the 14th century had they existed. So, move over Colleen Rooney, Jade Goody and Jordan and Peter.

1. Exclusive! Why Purple is THE colour for the perfect coronation outfit – exclusive interview with Piers Gaveston.

2. Exclusive photo shoot at the Earl of Cornwall’s fabulous new home - Tintagel Castle. Plus, Piers gives you tips on how to decorate your castle with style.

3. ‘Why Gaveston and I will never be friends’ – exclusive interview on the feud between the Earl of Cornwall and Duke of Lancaster.

4. ‘Kiss and tell’ exclusive – country peasant girl reveals ‘How I made an man out of Ed and had his lovechild’.

5. Isabella of France models her range of bridal clothes, and tells how why she’s happy to set up home in Westminster.

6. Ed’s top ten garden tips – exclusive photos of his gardens at Langley. We learn the secrets of his enormous turnips!

7. Isabella tells all! ‘There are three of us in this marriage’.

8. You’re invited to the social event of the year, with ‘Hark!’ magazine – we preview the Earl of Cornwall’s plans for a fabulous tournament at Wallingford.

9. Piers’ interview, on why diamonds are an Earl’s best friend, and rubies, and emeralds etc.

10. King Edward presents his new favourite at court – meet Hugh Despencer! ‘He may not have Piers’ wit, but he looks damned hot in his hose!’

Saturday, 6 September 2008

The friendship between Piers and Edward

Piers transferred to Prince Edward’s household around 1300. Piers was one of the prince’s squires. Piers is usually credited as being the eldest of the squires. Edward Ist may have been initially pleased with Piers fitting into the prince’s household. In 1302, Edward Ist instructed his wardrobe clerk, Ralph de Stokes to provide Piers with clothes for each season and to increase his pay to 15d a day. His horse was now valued at £20, and he was given the ward ship of Roger Mortimer.

In August 1303, Piers was now referred to as the prince’s companion, rather than squire. Piers had indeed found good fortune in Prince Edward’s household. The obvious question asked over and over is just what was the nature of the relationship between Piers Gaveston and Edward, Prince of Wales?

The 2 most recent bios on Piers take opposing views. J. S. Hamilton published ‘’Piers Gaveston, politics and patronage in the reign of Edward II’ in 1988. He takes the more accepted view that Piers and Edward were lovers. Pierre Chaplais’ ‘Piers Gaveston, Edward II’s adoptive brother’, published in 1994, takes the, erm, view that the relationship was based around a ‘blood pact of brotherhood’.

Both books are excellent bios of Piers’ life, and I’d recommend reading them both. In this part of the blog, I’ll deal with the Chaplais viewpoint.

Chaplais argues that there isn’t any actual evidence from any chronicler at the time accusing Ed and Piers of being lovers, although we do have the famous quote –

"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." (Vita Edwardi Secundi)

The reference to the Biblical Jonathan and David is often used to describe a gay relationship, as is the reference to Achilles and Patroclus. A chronicler from the 14th century would not have been able to describe freely the relationship between Edward and Piers, but chooses comparisons that indicate they were lovers – and adding that they were ‘immoderate’, which in my opinion indicates that far from being discreet in their relationship, Ed and Piers may well have flaunted it. Then we have the classic reference that Ed was under the spell of Piers, an accounted sorcerer, which suggests to me the writer of the chronicler was drawing on age-old prejudices, and that sorcery had made the king what he was, ie, gay.

Chaplais also says that Philip of France, the father-in-law of Ed, voiced no reservations that Ed was gay when he had denounced the Templars and Pope Boniface as sodomites. This doesn’t hold water either – all Philip would have been concerned with was making his daughter Queen of England and ensuring she produced an heir to inherit the throne. It wouldn’t matter to him what Edward’s sexuality was, as he knew that Edward knew his duty was to provide an heir. He must have known that Edward had an illegitimate son, and that consummating the marriage with his daughter wouldn't be a problem - sex with women did not revolt Edward.

So what does Chaplais believe? He thinks that Ed and Piers had a chivalric friendship, an adoptive brotherhood. Both had lost their mothers at a young age, and perhaps had a lonely childhood. They would both have known tales of chivalry. Edward did not have a brother near his own age – although he did have his cousin, Thomas of Lancaster. Chaplais believes that Edward and Piers were involved in a ceremony where they shed and mingled their blood, and whereby they promised to be adoptive brothers. As such, Edward elevated Piers to the royal title of Earl of Cornwall and married him to his niece, Margaret de Clare, to bring Piers into his family. Edward was quoted as referring to Piers as his ‘brother’. Chaplais suggests they would have kept the ‘blood brothers’ ceremony a secret in order not to annoy the king and his nobles. Chaplais says that such ceremonies were common at the time. And yet there is no report of such a ceremony and it’s significance so high up as to include royalty in England. Edward, once king and having made Piers an earl and married him to his niece, didn’t tell the magnates why he had done so. Blood brothers were meant to care and help each other, and do their best to promote the needs of the other – what could Piers Gaveston do for Prince/King Edward? And why would Edward need an adoptive brother anyway? They may well have gone through some sort of ceremony – but in my opinion, it would have been for completely different reasons – maybe some sort of commitment ceremony. Edward could hardly have referred to Piers as his ‘lover’ – ‘brother’ would put a more respectable title to the relationship.

Chaplais received criticism for his interpretation. His response was to say that he was offering an alternative viewpoint of the relationship, and moving way from the assumption that the relationship was a gay one. He states that he did not deny the relationship was homosexual – just that it could be viewed differently.

Monday, 1 September 2008

Was Piers Gaveston a blonde or brunette?

One of the most important pieces of information missing about Piers is his appearance. No likeness of him survives. There is no record of any official portrait. Even the chroniclers of the time do not describe a physical likeness of him unless you count the description of him at Edward’s coronation, where he is described as looking like the God Mars.

We know roughly his age when he met Edward of Caernavon and that he had seen military service – and gained some success. Perhaps then we can deduce he was in good, physical shape. Edward 1st considered him a role model for his son, and his good manners and grace were commented upon. The one piece of information that could give us any detail about how Piers looked is probably lost to us. After his death, Edward built him an elaborate tomb near his palace at Kings Langley. Needless to say, the Reformation accounted for the destruction of the Dominican friary and church. I contacted the historical society of Langley, and was told that a school now occupies the site of the friary, but it is possible the tomb survives underneath the school – though goodness knows what condition it would be in. It’s tempting to think that Edward would have wanted a fine effigy of Piers to adorn the tomb – and if so, and it survived, what a find it would be!

So we are left to fiction and the imagination of authors for a physical description. However, even they can’t agree on whether Piers was a blonde or a brunette. I always enjoy the anticipation of reading a novel with Piers in to find out whether he’ll be fair or dark haired. In most cases, he is dark haired, sometimes with a reddish tinge. He’s usually described as having dark skin – olive being a favourite adjective. Maybe this is to do with him being from Gascony, from the South of France (though Gascony was in English hands at the time), and bordering Spain. It doesn’t follow though that he has brown eyes to match his hair colour and dark skin – he often has green or blue eyes as well. When he’s blonde, he inevitably has blue eyes. He is of course always described as handsome. And anyone reading Chris Hunt’s ‘Gaveston’ will be quickly made aware that he has the most wonderful arse :)

The Hunt cover at least has a rather good-looking illustration of Gaveston on the cover – with dark hair and green eyes, and smooth, olive skin. A very blonde Edward II looks over his shoulder.

On the cover of a novel called Alice – well, Piers, in my opinion, looks like a 1970’s Mills and Boone hero – dark-haired and hairy chested! Sort of like Tom Jones in the 1970’s!

The worst cover by far is Brandon Purdy’s ‘Confession of Piers Gaveston’ – with a sinister, caricatured dark-haired Piers leaning over the shoulder of what looks like a 12 year old Edward II. Maybe the dreadful cover serves as a warning to the dreadful contents inside.

In a future post here I'll discuss my favourite portrayals of Piers in fiction - and erm, those that, frankly, irk me - and that's putting it mildly!

Thursday, 28 August 2008

Piers' early life.

Piers Gaveston – Early Life

Very little is known about Piers’ early life. He was born in the early 1280’s, and was the son of Arnaud de Gabaston and Claramonde de Marsan. His mother died either in 1287 or 1288, when Piers was very young. In the 1280’s and 90’s, his father was busy in the service of Edward 1st . Thus Piers had a common link with Edward II – his childhood must have been very lonely, having lost his mother and his father frequently absent. There is no evidence to say what happened to Piers at this stage in his life – where he lived, and who looked after him.

The first evidence of Piers in the service of Edward 1st is in 1297. His father had been held by the King of France, and managed to escape to England, bringing the young Piers with him. Piers was probably in his early teens. He seems to have taken part in Edward 1’s campaign in Flanders. His status is given as a yeoman. Edward 1’s son, Edward of Carnarvon, did not accompany his father on this campaign, so Piers was still unknown to him. As a yeoman, Piers was paid 12d. a day. Another piece of information from the Flanders campaign is that Piers owned a horse valued at 12 marks. After the Flemish campaign, Piers’ father returned to Gascony – but Piers did not. He returned to England, still in the service of Edward 1st. From household accounts, we know that he and his horse were listed in a possible campaign for Scotland, and both he and his father served Edward 1st in the Scottish campaign of 1300. Piers’ brothers, the illegitimate Guillaume-Arnaude de Gabaston and Arnaud-Guillaume de Marsan, accompanied their father as his squires. However, Piers did not – for he had risen in status. Edward 1st must have been very pleased with the young Gascon – so pleased, that he believed him to be a suitable role model for his own son, Edward of Carnarvon. Piers transferred to the Prince of Wales’ household in1300. A contemporary chronicle says that Piers was chosen because he came from ‘the region of fine manners and was courteous’. Edward 1st knew of his military skills from Flanders and the Scottish campaign, and this was probably a factor in transferring him to the Prince’s household.

Of course, the irony of Edward 1st’s actions won’t be lost on those that know how the relationship between Prince Edward and Piers developed.

Sunday, 24 August 2008

Piers Gaveston – birth and family.

According to the chroniclers of Edward II’s reign, Piers Gaveston was an upstart son of a Gascon knight, and his so-called ‘low birth’ was part of the reason for his unpopularity. J. S. Hamlton in his book ‘Piers Gaveston, Politics and Patronage in the reign if Edward II’, says it is possible to trace Piers’ family back to the mid 11th century, and that his father was no humble knight but descended from the ‘leading barons’ of Bearn. The name Gaveston comes from the name Gabaston, a village in Bearn, which takes its name from the nearby river Gabas.

Piers parents were Arnaud de Gabaston and Claramonde de Marsan. Arnaud was involved in the local politics of Bearne. The viscount of Bearn, Gaston VII, hd on occasion been something of thorn in the side of the English Kings Henry III and Edward Ist, particularly the latter. Edward 1st did not trust the viscount of Bearn, and one of his first acts as Duke of Acquitaine was to seize Gaston VII’s daughter as hostage for four years to ensure his loyalty. Even this was not enough to contain Gaston, and he himself was taken prisoner briefly in 1273. Edward Ist then forced him to do homage for his Gascon lands. Four knights were made to stand surety for Gaston’s oath not to leave Edward’s court without permission. One of these knights was Arnaud de Gabaston. Edward must have considered the important standing of the four knights.

Claramonde de Marsan was the daughter of Arnaud-Guillaume de Marsan, and she shared the estates of her father with her brother Fortaner de Lescun. Her marriage to Arnaud de Gabeston made him a substantial landowner. Castles held by Piers parents were Roquefort-de-Marsan, Montgaillard-des-Landes, Hagetmau, St. Loubouer, Louvigny and Gabaston. His mother also held other lands in her own right. Not quite the humble family the chroniclers would have us believe, eh?

Arnaude de Gabeston spent twenty years in the service of Edward Ist, accompanying him in war, at court and acting as a ‘hostage’.

Arnaud and Claramonde had 5 childen, Arnaud-Guillaume de Marsan, Piers, Gerard de Gabaston, Raimond-Arnaude de Gabaston and Amy de Gabaston. Piers also seems to have had an illegitimate brother, Guillaume-Arnaude de Gabaston .The exact date of Piers birth is unknown, although most historians believe it to be around the early 1280’s. Piers' mother Claramonde died in 1287, when he would have been of a similar age when Edward II lost his mother – thus giving them a kind of bond. Claramonde’s death plunged the family into financial difficulties, and Arnaud spent the last years of his life serving Edward 1st, along with his sons, including Piers.

One of the most common myths about Piers’ mother Claramonde was that she was a witch and burned at the stake. In fictional accounts of Piers’ life, this story is a common thread – but there is not a shred of evidence for it. Medieval chroniclers despised Piers, and the accusation of witchcraft was often levelled at those who were unpopular and powerful – Piers himself was described by one chronicler as a sorcerer. The medieval mind was obviously soothed to think that Piers’ influence over the king was obviously due to witchcraft.

Next part of the blog will deal with Piers’ early life at court.

Thursday, 21 August 2008

The top of the monument.
The not-very-nice inscription at the base of the cross.
First sighting of Gaveston's Cross.
Like looking for a needle in a haystack. The wood surrounding Gaveston's cross.
Gaveston's Cross, August 2008
We then decided to knock on a local’s door. A young girl answered, and we made our quest known. She knew of ‘the old monument’! She’d last been there a year ago, and said the local kids hung around there. Only problem was, she couldn’t quite remember how to tell us to get there. We had to go across the field – not along it - and we’d come to a fence which the farmer had put up. I asked if we’d be able to see it from the field, to which she replied ‘not a chance’. We decided to try – and realised the difficulty as we set out across the field – the monument is hidden not high on a hill, but in a small wood! Why the 2 locals neglected to tell us this, I don’t know! No wonder it was so difficult to find. My heart sank – how on earth would we find it? There was a wire fence alongside of the field, with several parts of it damaged, so we could get into the wood – but where to start? I admit I felt really downhearted – but not ‘Katerina’, who was determined to find it. We walked alongside the field, and Katerina made a decision to enter the wood at one of the broken parts of the fence. ‘Come on, we might as well try this part’. We climbed over the broken fence – what made her choose that particular broken part, I don’t know. I envisaged us spending hours in the wood, Katerina getting fed up and giving up.

I cannot believe our luck! Within 30 seconds of entering that wood, I SAW the Gaveston Cross! Katerina didn’t see it, but then she didn’t know what she was looking for, but I spotted it straight away. No pathway led to it, it was dwarfed by the trees, but I could see it! We raced over to it, and on the far side, is the awful inscription, which leads to a sheer drop – this was ‘Blacklow Hill’ – and the direction Piers would have taken. The monument was really tall, with a set of uneven steps which we managed to climb a little. It was covered in moss, and, unfortunately, kids had carved their names and initials into it. It was obviously a place kids hung out at in the evenings. It’s a fine monument, and would be easily spotted on a street – but tucked away in the middle of a wood, with no footpath, no sign even, it was neglected, with locals knowing it only as ‘the old monument’. Must admit, I felt quite emotional seeing it, and even Katerina said she was disgusted that such a superb looking monument was hidden away.

If anyone reading this account would like to visit the monument, I wish you the best of luck finding it – because I, like the locals, just know it’s in the woods alongside of a local farmer’s field. Legend has it that at certain times, bells can be heard – the bells belong to the horse on which Gaveston was placed to take him to Blacklow Hill. I don’t think Lancaster would have made him walk – it’s too far from the cowardly Warwick’s land to make him walk – it would have taken too long, and I have the feeling they wanted it over as soon as possible. Another legend says that on the far side of the monument, where the drop is, ie, at the foot of Blacklow Hill, voices are often heard – men’s and women’s – that formed part of the procession that Piers took.

The Search for Gaveston's Cross

This is an account of my recent visit to Warwickshire to find the monument which marks the site of the murder of Piers Gaveston.I first tried searching for this elusive cross when I visited Warwick Castle in the late 80’s with my parents. I managed to find out it was in Leek Wooten and foolishly assumed it would be a monument on view. How very wrong I was. In all, I made 3 attempts to find the cross in the 1980’s on 3 visits to Warwick, and had given up. It didn’t help that anyone at Warwick didn’t know anything about it. This year, I decided to have a short break in Stratford, and was determined to find the elusive cross. I felt hopeful, as it was even marked on local maps of Warwick.

First problem, I didn’t have my car. Then, in Stratford tourist office, no one had heard of the monument still. In Warwick, a lady there confirmed she had heard of it, but had no idea where it was – except it was near Leek Wooten and gave me a bus timetable. A friend of mine had decided to come to Stratford with me – and she had no interest in history at all. Her interest was stoked, (thank goodness!) because no one seemed to have heard of this monument.We caught the bus to Leek Wooten, and the driver was amazed that we wanted to get off there. To say it’s a tiny hamlet is an understatement. I felt a little hopeful because we had passed street road signs with ‘Gaveston’ and ‘Piers’ in them. We walked the length of Leek Wooten in under 5 mins, and could not make head nor tail of the map. No signs for the monument, and no mention of Blacklow Hill. Then we came across a postman, and at last! – someone who knew what I was on about! Yes, he knew about ‘the old monument’, but his memory was a little rusty as to how to get to it. He gave us some directions, but warned us that a local farmer had fenced off his land, and we’d find it difficult to get to the cross. We had to trudge across a field, which he warned us would be muddy, and then we’d come to a ‘gate’ which sealed off the land. We followed his advice, and I was heartened to find a house with the name ‘Gaveston Lodge’. We got to the end of a row of newly built houses, and found a field! Gazing along the field, we couldn’t see anything that resembled a hill or a monument.