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.


Alianore said...

Oooh, so much I could say about this fascinating topic. :)

Chaplais's argument is strengthened by the Vita's description of Piers as "a great earl whom the king had adopted as brother," and the statement in the Annales Paulini that Piers was Edward's "adoptive brother." Five chronicles (Vita, Annales Paulini, Annales Londonienses (sp?), Lanercost, Polistoire) also say that Ed called Piers "my brother" in speech - and we have Ed's own letters calling him "our dear and faithful brother," which is the only direct evidence we have of Ed's feelings towards Piers.

The earl of Richmond's chaplain wrote in a letter that Piers loved Richmond (Ed's first cousin) "inordinately." Men bandied about non-sexual declarations of love far more freely than they mostly would today, for example, the earl of Lancaster wailing after Boroughbridge in 1322, after his closest friend Robert Holland had gone over to Ed's side, "How could he find it in his heart to betray me, when I loved him so much?"

We interpret the refs to David and Jonathan, and Achilles and Patroclus, as sexual today - but did they in the 14th century?

I'm not disagreeing with you at all - I do think Ed and Piers were lovers, and you know how much I'm in love with them as a couple, haha - just playing devil's advocate. ;)

Anerje said...

hi Alianore, I should imagine you can write reams on this! and yes, I know you're playing devil's advocate:) This was the age of chivalry - alledgedly - and yes, men did speak of how they loved each other - but in the context of honour, respect, friendship. Calling a friend 'brother' was meant to emphasis how high they were held in esteem. And we also know they'd gleefully stab each other in the back if it suited them. This part of the blog just dealt with Chaplais' book - but I will look further at Piers and Ed's relationship. I find it interesting that Chaplais received a backlash and agreed that his evidence could not prove the pact of brotherhood, just that it was possible interpretation.

Lady D. said...

Really enjoyable post. I'm certain that Ed and Piers were lovers too - but it is interesting that Chaplais saw himself as presenting an alternative view, rather than his own beliefs. It is good that he did and that we, can explore all sides of the argument and all possibilities.

I do find it odd that Chaplais' argument stems around his statement that their is no evidence for a sexual relationhip - and yet he tlks about them mingling blood, going through a 'bloood-brother' ceremony - of which there is also no evidence!