Wednesday, 10 March 2010

Review of Piers Gaveston, A Chapter of Early Constitutional History by Walter Phelps Dodge

This book was originally published in 1899. It was re-published by General Books in 2009. I got it from Amazon. The book is available on-line, but I would much rather have the hard copy. Inside the cover, there is a blurb that explains how this book was re-published – the original book was scanned using Optical Character Recognition software and then printed. It does keep the cost of the book down, and as I have said, I prefer a ‘hard-copy’ of the book than reading it on-line. However, there are some drawbacks – namely the photographs cannot be reproduced - you are able to see them with the on-line version – and the OCR cannot always recognise the words, which leads to a corruption of some words and sentences.

Written in 1899, it is a product of its time, and avoids identifying the nature of the relationship between Edward II and Piers Gaveston. In some parts of the books, Piers is referred to as ‘the favourite’ or even ‘Edward’s nephew’. At one point, the relationship is referred to as ‘sordid’. However, in the Appendix, Dodge makes his viewpoint clear. He refers to ‘some 16th century obscure chroniclers’ have ‘characterised the relationship between Edward and his favourite as being like those attributed to Socrates and Alcibiades. There is, however, little authority for such a scandalous supposition.’ Dodge then cites Hume, who says their relationship was ‘innocent though frivolous’. Dodge obviously never considered that in Edward’s case, actions speak louder than words, and 14th Century chroniclers just may have been wary in their recording of events.

Dodge gives a good account of the life of Piers’ father and the early life of Piers. In his discussion for the reasons for Piers’ banishment, however, he makes light of the ‘Ponthieu’ incident, giving it only 3 lines. He cites the incident of the ‘legend’ of Piers being caught hunting in the ‘Bishop of Chester’s park’ or the abandonment of the border war with Scotland. He notes the King was concerned over the Prince’s attachment to Piers. And that’s it.

Dodge claims Piers birthday was in December – without giving the source – but says that Edward gave him 2 gold rings, one set with a ruby, the other an emerald, as presents. This just made me think Piers was re-acting like anyone else with a birthday in December – making sure he got 2 presents :)

Dodge believes the animosity of the barons was mostly based on Piers being a foreigner, and that Edward chose Margaret de Clare as his bride to try and neutralise this. He claims that Margaret appeared fond of her ‘handsome husband’ and ‘never lost her affection for him’. Later on in the book, however, he says Margaret is no more than a ‘plaything’ for her husband!

Regarding Edward’s marriage, whilst referring to Isabella as a ‘child bride’, he says ‘from the first the Queen took a violent dislike to Gaveston’. His evidence is Piers behaviour at the Coronation – his ostentatious clothes and of course, pocketing Isabella’s jewellery! Usual clich├ęs! He does go on to say though that Isabella had a malicious and spiteful character, and that Edward failed to spot her true character. In fact, the whole of Dodge’s book is based on ‘if only…’. If only Piers had realised he could be a good influence on Edward, if only Edward were not so childish around Piers, if only Piers could have distinguished himself in England as he did in Ireland. Dodge believes that Piers had the potential to be a ‘good favourite’, and blames Edward for being weak and the barons for being as greedy and corrupt as they accused Piers.

One baron who is blasted by Dodge is Pembroke. He lays the blame for Piers fate squarely on Pembroke’s shoulders. Either Pembroke knew Warwick was on his way and left Piers to his fate, or he was incredibly stupid to leave Piers at Deddington and poorly protected. He even accuses Pembroke of leading Piers further away from any of his supporters by heading south. He is scathing that Pembroke didn’t arm himself and head for Warwick castle himself and demand to speak with Warwick. I don’t think Dodge takes on board how Pembroke’s honour was slighted, and his response afterwards. It does make me wonder though why Pembroke didn’t at least try to go to Warwick and negotiate with the barons there. Maybe he knew it was futile? Or maybe the lack of response from Gloucester made him realise he would be very much on his own in defending his honour and prisoner, and no one else nearby was going to help.

Dodge is also scathing with Lancaster. He says he was unpatriotic, didn’t have England’s interests at heart, and was avaricious and corrupt.

Dodge believes that Piers career could have been very different, and says that his epitaph could have been ‘wasted opportunities’. Overall, it is a positive biography of Piers, with good use made of sources. Brad Verity rightly pointed out that Dodge translated and examined sources not used by Chaplais or Hamilton, the most recent biographies. Definitely a Piers biography to be read.


Kathryn said...

Thanks for this detailed review, Anerje! I really must read the book very soon, as my Piers obsession is particularly strong at the moment. :)

Interesting claim that Piers' birthday was in December - I'd always assumed it was 18 July as Ed kept his anniversary then and on the date of his death. Dodge may be right, but I really don't think it had to be Piers' birthday for Ed to give presents to his beloved. :)

Sounds like Dodge is a bit unfair to Pembroke. Ed II's subsequent treatment of him makes it apparent that he didn't blame Pembroke at all for what had happened. Accusing him of leading Piers away from his supporters is odd; he was taking him to Piers' own castle of Wallingford.

Anerje said...

Oh yes Kathryn - you definitely need to read this book to feed your Piers obsession:>

I don't know why Dodge says Piers' birthday was in December - no source is given. For some reason, I can't imagine Piers being a 'winter baby' LOL!And you are quite right - since when did Ed need an excuse to give Piers a few presents! Very kind of him to chose a ruby and emerald ring - I'm sure Piers could colour co-ordinate them with his clothes - and red and green is so festive:>

I'll check Dodge's sources at the weekend again.

Anerje said...

As for Pembroke, Dodge just doesn't cut him any slack at all. He doesn't really seem to accept how Pembroke's honour was slighted and how deeply he felt it. He doesn't follow the aftermarth - Pembroke being driven to support Edward and Edward not holding hm responsible. Although it was a stupid thing to do to leave Piers so vulnerable at the rectory. And why didn't Pembroke go to Warwick?

Kathryn said...

I suppose maybe that Pembroke, being an honourable man himself, never considered that Warwick would do something like that? Naive maybe, but as Pembroke had sworn an oath to protect Piers, it might honestly have never occurred to him that a fellow earl would kidnap him (Piers). I wonder if Pembroke did in fact go to Warwick, but this didn't make it into the chronicles. Some of the chroniclers were a bit confused about what was going on, and wrote things that are almost certainly not true, like Piers was first taken to Elmley in Worcestershire (which is so many miles out of the way from Deddington to Warwick it's extremely unlikely), and that William Inge and another royal justice pronounced sentence on him. Inge was so close to Ed II in later years I find that impossible to believe.

Love the thought of Piers' festive red and green ring. :)

Queen Echo said...

Dodge thinks that Piers' brothers Guillaume Arnaud and Bourd were buried with him at Langley. Does anyone have more information about this?

Kathryn said...

Queen Echo: (I hope Anerje doesn't mind me responding to your question on her blog!) J. S. Hamilton's biography of Piers says that Ed II had prayers said for the soul of the recently-deceased Guillaume-Arnaud de Gabaston, Piers' half-brother (his father Arnaud's illegitimate son) in June/July 1312, while Piers' body lay at Oxford. I'm not sure what the source is for G-A and Bourd being buried at Langley. Bourd is mentioned as living at Wallingford Castle in late July 1312.

Queen Echo said...

Thanks Kathryn. It's sad that Guillaume Arnaud had to die in the same year as Piers.

Anerje said...

Of course you can answer Kathryn! Your knowledge is far, far better than mine. I think because the deaths occurred the same year, some biographers would think it natural they would be buried at the same place. Plus, Ed ensured that prayers were said for Piers' relatives, which could also give rise to this.

Dodge also takes on board the cliches of his time - he reports that Isabella openly rejoiced at the fate of Piers - which we know she didn't.