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!