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.


Alianore said...

Great post, Anerje! I looked up Gabaston on the map recently, and it's very close to the Pyrenees - bet it's really nice there. Wonder if that's where Piers grew up...

I found out recently that Piers had a cousin called Guillemin de Fenes, who came from Bouglon but lived in England, and was constable of one of the Scottish castles seized from the English by Robert Bruce in 1314 - I think Roxburgh, off the top of my head. Apparently he was killed in the Scottish attack. And Piers' Caillau cousins were well-known at the English court in Ed II's reign, too.

Anerje said...

Thanks Alianore - Hamilton has so much on Piers' family background - too much! I just picked through it. I think Piers was probably older than Ed, but only by a year or 2. I expect you'd know if there were any descendants of Piers still alive?

Alianore said...

Yes, I expect Piers was probably born about 1282. He was certainly born by July 1283 at the latest.

His (presumed) illegitimate daughter Amie has descendants alive today, as far as I know - there are a lot of threads about her in the archives of soc.genealogy.medieval, on Google groups. It's a shame that his daughter Joan died unmarried...:(

Susan Higginbotham said...

Enjoyed the post! So tired of hearing the same old Piers'-mother-was-burned-as-a-witch stuff!

Lady D. said...

That was really interesting to learn of his family's esteemed background. Does anone know what became of his brothers and sister?

Anerje said...

Hi Susan - I think the 'mother-burned-as-a-witch' was a way to discredit Piers by his peers, and it makes great fiction!

Anerje said...

Lady D - I know his eldest brother was with him at Scarborough - and his sister is mentioned as being there as well. Of course, if we believe the chroniclers and nobles of the time, Piers aranged for them all to have titles and lands! I expect Alianore will know - but it's something I will try and research in future.

Heraus said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Heraus said...

Hi !

Alianore might be interested in knowing what the region around Gabaston (to which I'm autochtonous) looks like : this is not the prettiest area in Gascony, it's a severe plateau facing the Pyrenees but those are quite probably the landscapes of Piers' infancy.

The area that I named "Pèys dous Aubiscous" ("Land of Melic Grass in Gascon) in Béarn (it's the "crossed out" area):

The pics :

(Sorry for double posting)