Friday, 19 June 2009

Aftermath of Piers' death

Edward’s re-action to Piers’ death was one of shock at first – according to the Vita, he burst forth with –

"By God’s soul, he acted as a fool. If he had taken my advice he would never have fallen into the hands of the earls. This is what I always told him not to do. For I guessed that what has now happened would occur. What was he doing with the earl of Warwick, who was known never to have liked him? I knew for certain that if the earl caught him, Piers would never escape from his hands."

Not exactly what one would expect Edward to say about his ‘beloved brother’ – but the shock and grief he must have felt probably made him lose control of his emotions. The Vita goes on to add “But I am certain the king grieved for Piers as a father grieves for his son. For the greater the love, the greater the sorrow." His actions following Piers’ death prove this. Piers had died excommunicate and as such could not be buried in consecrated ground. His body was dressed in cloth of gold and preserved with balsam and spices. Edward ordered Thomas de London and Philip de Eyndon to watch over Piers’ body whilst he ordered prayers to be said for Piers’ soul. He also appealed to the pope to repeal the act of excommunication removed from Piers, in which he was successful. Yet still he could not bury Piers until January, 1315, when a lavish funeral ceremony was carried out by the Archbishop of Canterbury, Walter Reynolds. The earls of Pembroke and Norfolk attended. In he years between the death and burial of Piers, Edward paid the considerable sum of over £600 caring for the body and soul of Piers. Edward never forgot Piers – continuing to pay for prayers for Piers’ soul and sending gifts of remembrance to his tomb, especially on the anniversary of his death. Hamilton says of him,

‘Regardless of his many failures as a Ruler, Edward may be commended for his sense of loyalty, a constancy clearly demonstrated in his devotion to Gaveston’s memory’.

Edward also made provision for the family of Piers and swore revenge on those who had murdered him. I will deal with these areas in a later post.

Whatever anyone may have thought of Piers, he didn’t deserve to be murdered on Blacklow Hill. Arrogance, favour from the king and witty insults were not crimes. The nobles did not give Piers a fair trial – they condemn themselves by their cowardly actions – Warwick in particular, ordering him to Blacklow Hill, away from his lands, and hiding in his castle, awaiting the wrath of the king.

Sources – ‘Piers Gaveston, Edward II’s Adoptive Brother’ by Pierre Chaplain

‘Piers Gaveston, Earl of Cornwall, 1307 – 13 12’ by J. S. Hamilton

Thursday, 18 June 2009

Revenge of the nobles

I have often wondered if Piers thought his fate was sealed when Warwick captured him. Edward II’s re-action to Piers’ murder was one of shock and anger. I find his re-action particularly telling in that he initially blamed Piers for falling specifically into the clutches of Warwick, as though he was the magnate Piers was most in danger of. Yet Warwick did not immediately carry out the death of Piers. He waited 9 days. Had he acted on his own initiative? Or was there a plot between the barons? In my opinion, Warwick was waiting to hear from the other powerful barons to see if they could all agree on a plan of action. Lancaster, Hereford and Arundel, along wit some of the lesser nobles, made their way to Warwick. Pembroke was frantically trying to assert his right to have Piers back in his custody. He had sworn on his honour to protect Piers, pledging his lands. He appealed to the earl of Gloucester, Piers’ brother-in-law, to intercede. Gloucester could only shrug off Pembroke’s concerns, informing him Warwick had acted with the agreement of the other nobles, and Pembroke’s lands were lost. Pembroke appealed to the University of Oxford, but received no support. If Pembroke had been involved in the plot from the outset, surely he would not have pledged his lands and fought hard to recover the custody of Piers? His honour was at stake.

The barons had Piers in their power – and all that they had previously threatened was within their power. Yet still they seem to have agonised over what to do. It seems likely that Warwick and Lancaster sat in judgment on Piers, whilst two royal justices, William Inge and Henry Spigurnel, were asked to examine the case. The Ordinances had not been repealed in Warwickshire – as Hamilton points out, this was very convenient for the nobles. Thus Piers was sentenced to death. Still the nobles were uneasy and did their best to assure one another of their loyalty. Hereford was guaranteed in writing that he would suffer no personal losses for his role in Piers’ murder. They surely knew what Edward’s re-action would be.

The Vita says that Piers’ was told the news the morning of June 19th that he was to die. Piers’ re-action was a heartfelt lament – ‘Oh! where are the presents that brought me so many intimate friends, and with which I had thought to have sufficient power? Where are my friends, in whom was my trust, the protection of my body, and the whole hope of my safety;…….They had promised to stand by me in war, to suffer imprisonment and not to shun death. Indeed my pride, the arrogance that one single promise of theirs nourished, the king’s favour and the king’s court, have brought me to this sorry plight. I have no help, every remedy is vain, let the will of the earls be done.’

This paints Piers as realising all that he ever had or enjoyed in the past, his rise and fall, was through patronage, and now there was nothing to save him. He realises his pride and arrogance – and how grateful barons must have been to hear him admit it – which suggests to me, he never said it. He surely would not have given ‘the fiddler’ and the ‘black dog of Arden’ the satisfaction. No mention of Piers begging for mercy is mentioned – probably because he knew he would receive none. He must surely have known from his ‘trial’ that he could expect none. One chronicle does mention his vanity – claiming he was too handsome to have his head cut off. This sounds to me more like Piers’ wit, and was said ‘tongue in cheek’.

Piers was led out of Warwick castle and taken along the road to Kenilworth. It seems the ‘Black dog’ was worried – he didn’t want Piers blood shed on his land. Piers was marched out of Warwick’s lands, and as soon as he set foot in Lancaster’s, he was taken to Blacklow Hill. Warwick didn’t even accompany him. Was this a twinge of conscience? Or fear for what he had done? The Vita says Lancaster decided to take control because of his higher birth and he was more powerful. Lancaster handed him over to two Welshmen – ‘one of whom ran him through he body and the other cut off his head’.

Once Piers had been killed, his head and body were abandoned. No-one thought to put his remains on display – an example of the death of a traitor. According to one chronicle, the Annales Londonienses, some shoemakers found the body and placed it on a ladder, and brought it back to Warwick castle. Warwick refused point blank to receive the body, ordering the shoemakers to take it from his lands. This the shoemakers did, and a group of Dominican friars recovered the head and body, which were ‘re-united’ – the head was stitched back to the body. The friars then took the body back to the Dominican house in Langley.

Monday, 15 June 2009

Disaster at Deddington

Once Piers returned, both Edward and Piers decided to make a stand against the barons. On March 31st, Piers was made custodian of Scarborough and Carlise castles and it appears he asked Edward to make him keeper of Nottingham Castle. On April 4th, Piers swore a solemn oath – that he would never relinquish control of Scarborough castle to no one except Edward – except if Edward himself were a prisoner. The next day, Edward sent letters to Gascon leaders, commanding them to raise troops. There was a delay in their plans whilst Edward and Piers were at Newcastle – and it seems it was due to Piers suffering some sort of illness. A doctor, Master William de Burntoft, was paid £6 13 s 4d, along with Robert de Birmingham, a monk from Tynemouth. During this time, armies led by Lancaster, Percy and Clifford caused Edward and Piers to flee suddenly to Scarborough castle. That they left in such a hurry is evidenced by what they left behind (I’ll save that for future post).

What happened next was catastrophic, with the benefit of hindsight. Leaving Piers at Scarborough, with orders to hold the castle, Edward left for Knaresborough and then York to try and raise troops. Lancaster seized his chance, and placed his army between Edward and Piers. Lancaster laid siege from about a week to ten days. Edward ordered the barons to desist, but they took no notice. Whether Piers was disheartened, running out of supplies, or possibly even sick again, he arranged to surrender. Despite his surrender, Piers had actually achieved fairly good terms. He was to surrender to the earl of Pembroke who would take Piers to St Mary’s Abbey in York, where Edward and the Earl of Lancaster would negotiate. If they could not reach terms by August 1st, Piers would be returned to Scarborough Castle. Pembroke, along with Warenne and Percy, swore an oath to guarantee Piers’ safety until then. In my opinion, Piers must have been relieved to be in the custody of someone like Pembroke, rather than Lancaster or Warwick. Piers had to promise not to try and persuade the king to change anything in the agreement.

Various sources claim Pembroke had accepted a bribe to protect Piers, whilst he planned to appeal to the Pope and Phillip of France. Edward met with Pembroke, Warenne and Percy in York on May 26th. Was Piers with them? Did Edward and Piers meet for one last time? There is no record of this. Pembroke made the decision to take Piers South, possibly to further protect him. On June 9th, the party reached Deddington. It seems Pembroke decided to leave his prisoner here at the rectory so that he could visit his wife in nearby Bampton. Piers was left with only a few of the Earl’s retainers. Did Pembroke deliberately leave Piers here, vulnerable, ready for the Earl of Warwick to strike? Or had Warwick been tailing them, waiting for his chance? The latter seems more likely. While Pembroke was absent, visiting his wife, Warwick and his followers entered the courtyard early in the morning. The Vita quotes him as shouting out ‘Arise traitor, thou art taken’. One can only imagine the horror Piers must have felt, seeing Warwick in the courtyard below. The Vita says he dressed quickly and came downstairs, where he was treated ‘not as an earl, but as a thief; and he who used to ride on a palfrey is now forced to go on foot’.

Warwick must have realised Piers travelling on foot would slow down his party, and once out of the village he ordered Piers to be placed on an old nag. Along the route, he was jeered as he was taken to Warwick’s castle. ‘He whom Piers called Warwick the Dog has now bound Piers with chains’.

Sources – ‘Piers Gaveston, Edward II’s Adoptive Brother’ by Pierre Chaplain

‘Piers Gaveston, Earl of Cornwall, 1307 – 13 12’ by J. S. Hamilton

Sunday, 14 June 2009

The events of June, 1312

Pressures of work have overtaken me lately, so that I’ve neglected Piers. However, I cannot let the month of June go by without posting about Piers' murder on Blacklow Hill.

Piers had first been exiled by Edward Ist, and recalled by his son when he became king. Piers was again exiled, this time to Ireland for bout a year, before Edward recalled him yet again. Edward had worked hard for Piers to be allowed to return, and within weeks of his arrival back in England, he regained his former titles and lands. The Vita records ‘Once he had been reinstated, his behaviour went from bad to worse. He showed his content for the barons by giving them vile nicknames. He took offices and dignities from others to bestow them on those close to him. The magnates of the land began to resent this, particularly the earl of Lancaster, because one of his retainers had been removed from office at the instigation of Piers’. In this particular post, I won’t discuss the charges of Piers taking offices etc. His so-called insulting nicknames may seem tame and childish in today’s society, but at the time, they infuriated the barons. Piers attacked their physical features, lineage and showed a real lack of respect. Why he chose to do this, we simply don’t know. It may have been a childish response to their lack of respect for him, possibly mocking his low birth. It my have been a way to entertain himself and Edward, and also to show them he wasn’t afraid of them. Lancaster was known as ‘the churl’ or ‘the fiddler’, mocking his lineage. Lincoln was ‘burst belly’, for obvious reasons. Pembroke was ‘Joseph the Jew’ and Warwick was ‘the dog of Arden’. The fact that these nicknames were recorded and seen as a genuine insult to the barons show how they must have wounded and stung them.

Armed with their evidence, the barons once again demanded that Piers be banished. Piers was ordered to leave from Dover by November 1st 1311. He was forbidden to take refuge in any of the king’s lands. England, Ireland, Wales, Ponthieu and Gascony were all forbidden to him. If Piers remained after November 1st in any of these lands, he was to be treated as the king’s enemy and to be arrested and punished.
Typically of Piers, he actually sailed 2 days later, and from the Thames. There is no way of knowing where Piers sailed to, but Flanders has been identified as a possibility. We also don’t know the intentions of Piers and Edward – though in my opinion, neither would have seen it as a permanent exile.

The Annales Paulini states Piers spent his exile in Flanders and returned to England shortly around Christmas. There seems to be much speculation as to how long he left England for, or if indeed, he ever did. I shall save this speculation for another post. Why did Piers return? He may not have taken the threat by the barons seriously, placing his faith in Edward. Perhaps Edward recalled almost immediately. And of course, his wife Margaret was expecting their first child. Piers would surely have wanted to be present at the birth. The canon of Bridlington records ‘Not long after Epiphany, he arrived, in the king’s company, in York, where the countess, his wife, gave birth to a daughter, for which he stayed there for some time’.

Piers Chaplais argues that Piers had come back for the birth of his daughter and no other reason, and would have surely headed back to his exile. He wasn’t defying the barons – it was simply a personal matter. And if this were indeed true, it makes his capture and murder poignant – well, it does for me.

I want to meet the anniversary of Piers’ death, and this means I won’t have time to go into detail of Edward and Piers ‘abandoning’ Isabella at Tynemouth and the siege at Scarborough. Those events will keep for another post. I will move on to the events at Deddington.

Sources – ‘Piers Gaveston, Edward II’s Adoptive Brother’ by Pierre Chaplain

‘Piers Gaveston, Earl of Cornwall, 1307 – 13 12’ by J. S. Hamilton