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.