Tuesday, 18 June 2013

June 19th - death of Piers Gaveston

My last post dealt with the capture of Piers by the Earl of Warwick.  Piers must surely have known that his fate was sealed.  On the morning of June 19th, Piers was taken from Warwick Castle some 2 miles towards Kenilworth.  It seems Thomas of Lancaster wanted Piers executed on his lands, not Warwick's.  Warwick himself did not attend the execution - no reason is given.  Lancaster waited whilst Piers was lead to the top of Blacklow Hill, where he was slain by 2 Welshmen - one plunged his sword into Piers' body, whilst the other cut off his head.  Lancaster insisted on seeing the head to ensure Piers was dead.  I do wonder why neither Warwick or Lancaster didn't observe the execution - or rather murder - of Piers.  After all, they hated him and his insulting nick-names for them.  Did they have a pang of conscience?  Unlikely, but it was one thing to condemn him to death in a farce of a trial and then to witness it.  I'm also intrigued as to why neither took charge of his body.  Lancaster and his retainers just left it there.  One chronicle, the Annales Londonienses, says 4 shoemakers recovered it, sewed the head back on, and took it on a ladder to the Earl of Warwick, who refused to admit it.  They then took it back to Blacklow Hill, where some Dominican Friars took care of it and returned it to the king at Oxford.  It was to be some time before Edward could bury his beloved Piers, who had died excommunicate.  

I shall raise a glass to Piers, and I hope Kathryn doesn't mind me posting her tribute to Piers from her blog - I can't think of a better one.

Piers Gaveston, a Notorious Royal Favourite

Piers Gaveston - only about thirty at the time of his death - was by no means a vicious or cruel man. He was handsome, athletic, bright, flamboyant, arrogant, and supremely confident (over-confident). He gave Edward the confidence that the young king lacked. In later centuries, Piers was often used as a salutary warning against kings' favourites, which has tended to obscure his own personality. He was about as far from the stereotypical image of him as an effeminate, perfumed court fop as it's possible to be: he was a very successful military leader in Ireland, King of the Joust, who could knock any man off his horse almost at will, a soldier as early as 1297 when he might only have been fourteen, or probably sixteen at the most.

It's difficult to see what he did to merit the death penalty, and I find it easy to imagine that the men who killed him were horrified by later events, when Piers was replaced in Edward's affections by men who were far worse.

A ruby worth the staggering sum of £1000 - perhaps a million or two in modern money - was found on Piers' body after his death. He was also famous for owning silver forks, for eating pears. Let it never be said that the man was lacking in style.

Saturday, 8 June 2013

Countdown to the death of Piers Gaveston

In my last post, I dealt with the capture of Piers Gaveston after he surrendered to, amongst other, Amyer de Valance, the Earl of Pembroke.  He had surrendered on good terms - he was taken to York where Edward II was, and there an agreement was made that the barons would negotiate with Edward II to reach some sort of agreement, and if no agreement was made, Piers was to be returned to Scarborough by August 1st.   At the worst, he probably expected another exile.  Pembroke swore an oath that Piers would stay in his custody and that he would protect him,  agreeing to forfeit all of his property if any harm were to befall him.  So favourable were the terms of his surrender, that one comtemporary chronicle described the arrangement as the virtual submission of the nobles to Edward and Piers. There were also rumours that Edward had given Pembroke £1,000 to keep Piers safe.    Pembroke decided to head south.

On June 9th, Pembroke reached Deddington in Oxfordshire.  He made arrangements for Piers to stay at the rector's house, leaving him with a small retinue of guards.  Pembroke then headed to his manor at Bampton, so that he could visit his wife.  I wonder why he didn't take Piers with him?  It was a huge mistake on Pembroke's part.  Somehow, Guy de Beauchamp, Earl of Warwick, and Piers' sworn enemy - his 'black dog of Arden' - learned of the plans and pounced.  The chronicler of Vita Edwardi Secundi describes what happened.

'Coming to the village early one Saturday, he entered the gate of the courtyard and surrounded the chamber.  Then the earl called out in a loud voice: 'Arise traitor, thou art taken'.  When Piers heard this, seeing that the earl was there with a superior force and that his own guard did not resist, he dressed himself and came down.  In this fashion Piers was taken and led forth not as an earl but as a thief; and he who used to ride on a palfrey is now forced to go on foot.

When they had left the village behind a little, the earl ordered piers to be given a nag that they might proceed more quickly.  Blaring trumpets followed Piers and the horrid cry of the populance.  They had taken off his belt of knighthood, and asa thief and traitor, he was taken to Warwick, and coming there was cast into prison.  He whom Piers called Warwick the Dog has now bound Piers with chains'.

Falling into the hand of Warwick was the worst think that could have happened to Piers - and I'm sure he recognised this.  Pembroke's role in the affair has been questioned - did he collude with Warwick?  By his actions after the death of Piers, I very much doubt it.  He had sworn an oath to keep Piers safe, and he to must have realised the danger of Piers falling into Warwick's clutches.  Warwick no doubt relished humiliating Piers, gleefully leading him on foot from Deddington, and much as he would have liked to make Piers walk the whole way, he needed to make all haste to get Piers inside Warwick castle, and hence placed Piers on 'a nag'. 

Warwick castle has a dungeon which you can visit, and a tower above it.  I would like to think of Piers being kept in the tower, but knowing how vindictive Warwick could be, he probably placed him in the dungeon. 

Pembroke was furious at what what Warwick had done, and did his best to try to regain custody of Piers.  Warwick seems to have bided his time until he could consult with some of the other magnates.  Pembroke appealed to Piers' brother-in-law, Gilbert de Clare, earl of Gloucester, to intercede.  Gloucester's response was defend Warwick's actions and inform Pembroke 'He did this with our aid and counsel'.  One can only imagine how Edward II must have felt. 

Thomas, Earl of Lancaster, arrived at Warwick alongside other nobles, to decide Piers' fate.  Lancaster clearly wanted Piers dead - 'while he lives there will be no safe peace in the realm of England'.  Piers was given a 'show trial', with the outcome already decided.  Lancaster and Warwick merely made a pretence of giving Piers his say.  The decision was made, and Piers sentenced to death.  The Vita describes how Piers was given the news. Warwick

 'sent a sharp-tongued message to Piers, telling him to look to his soul, because this was the last day he would see on earth.   (Piers replied)  '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 has 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 is 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'.

The Vita clearly believes Piers' rise and downfall was the result of patronage.  The sentence was to be carried out on June 19th.

Source: 'Piers Gaveston, Politics and Patronage in the reign of Edward II'.