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'. 


Kathryn Warner said...

Great post, Anerje! A very sad time of year :-(

Kasia Ogrodnik said...

I love your post Anerje! So informative. And I do agree: a very sad time of year. In two days I am posting of Henry's last moments and how he "delivered his soul to God" :-(

Kasia Ogrodnik said...

Did really Piers respond to the news of his death sentence the way the Vita noted? Judging by what I have learned about him thanks to you and Kathryn, his response quoted in the text seems highly unlikely. At least this is how I see it :-)

Anerje said...

Thanks Kasia and Kathryn. I should have added a bit about Piers' response when I thought about it later. The Vita obviously wants to see Piers' demise as the result of patronage/corruption. I doubt very much he actually said that. More than likely, Warwick and Lancaster said it to him! I daresay he would have pleaded for his life at first, but was probably resigned to his fate and accepted it. Falling into the clutches of Warwick/Lancaster was the worst thing that could have happened to him. I'll post more on what happened on June 19th in my next post.

Kathryn Warner said...

To me, Piers' last speech as recorded by the Vita sounds very much like something the author thought Piers should have said, rather than being anything remotely similar to what a witty and courageous man like Piers actually did say!

Anerje said...

Yeah I totally agree. I'm sure once he knew his fate was sealed, he re-acted with the grace and dignity he was praised for - and with a devastingly stinging quip, I hope!

Gabriele C. said...

But why did Pembroke make a detour to Oxfordshire to get Piers from Scarborough to York which is only a day or two ride from York in the first place.

BTW I got a castle for you on my blog. :-)

Anerje said...

Hi Gabrielle - after Pembroke took Piers into custody, he went to York, and then headed South with Piers. Hope you made it to Scarborough castle!

Gabriele C. said...

I did, check the photos on my blog (a few posts down by now since I had so much for my usual introductory What I've Seen posts)

Anerje said...

OMG - I missed all those pix - only now catching up with them! Sounds like a fantastic holiday - all those castles and cathedrals!