Wednesday, 18 June 2014

June 19th - death of Piers Gaveston.

Today is the anniversary of Piers Gaveston's death.   I can't bring myself to call it execution, as that would suggest some sort of trial and for Piers to be guilty of a crime that merited the death sentence.  To be snatched from the custody of someone sworn to protect his life with the sole aim to kill him cannot be termed an 'execution' - rather it was murder.  Piers certainly broke the ban on his exile - enforced by jealous nobles against the king's will.  His crime for being exiled?  Being a bad influence on Edward II, being a Gascon, not accepting his place in society, enjoying the good life and having a sharp tongue.  None of this merits a death sentence.

Guy of Warwick, who literally kidnapped Piers, quaked in his boots at murdering Piers on his land.  Piers was marched from Warwick Castle until he reached Blacklow Hill.  Warwick didn't even accompany him, leaving it to Thomas of Lancaster to carry out the deed.  According to one chronicle, Lancaster refused to witness the killing of Piers, asking only to see the head afterwards.   It had need decided to cut off Piers' head, awarding him this dignity because he had been an Earl.   Yet the chronicler says that first, Piers was run through with a sword first, then beheaded.  Why?   It could be because Piers might have tried to escape - highly unlikely, as once he fell into Warwick's clutches he must have known there would be no mercy.  Besides, it seems there was more than one 'executioner' given the task.  In my opinion, it was likely there was no-one who had actually beheaded someone before.  They are merely described as two Welsh archers.  I'm sure Lancaster didn't care how they did it, as long as head and body were eventually separated.  I can only hope it was quick.

Afterwards, neither Lancaster or Warwick could be bothered to bury Piers are even take charge of the body.  Lancaster left him where he died, and when some shoemakers came across the body and took it to Warwick Castle, Guy refused to accept it.  Thankfully, some Dominican Friars took charge of his remains.  The head was sewn back on and the body was taken to Oxford, where Piers literally lay in state until Edward could get his excommunication revoked and give him a Christian burial.

Today, there is a monument to Piers at Blacklow Hill, and surrounding streets/roads have been given his name.  There is even a Gaveston Lodge just before you cross the fields to get to Blacklow Hill.

Wednesday, 11 June 2014

Celebrating Kathryn's appearance on BBC Scotland!

Check out Kathryn's wonderful Edward II blog for news of her appearance on 'The Quest for Bannockburn'.  Can't wait for it to go national!   No doubt, Piers would send you a hearty congratulations!

Monday, 9 June 2014

June 10th – capture of Piers Gaveston by Guy of Warwick

Today marks the anniversary of the ambush and capture of Piers Gaveston by his deadly enemy, Guy, Earl of Warwick.  This was a disaster for Piers, Edward and enraged Aymer de Valance, into whose custody Piers had been placed.

Here’s a little background information about Pembroke – and his wives.  Aymer de Valence was the second Earl of Pembroke. He was born in 1275 and was one of the Lords Ordainers who had ensured that Piers Gaveston was sent into exile for the third time.  Pembroke had suffered from Piers sharp tongue, having been nick-named Joseph the Jew.  The reason was supposedly his appearance.  At the time of Piers’ surrender at Scarborough Castle, Pembroke was married to his first wife,  Beatrice, daughter of  Raoul de Clermont,  Lord of Nesle in Picardy (he later married  Marie de St Pol in 1321).  Beatrice was to play a part in the capture of Piers by Guy of Warwick.

In my previous post, I dealt with the favourable surrender of Piers to Pembroke.  It seems both Piers and Edward II were relieved that Pembroke had custody of Piers.  Pembroke was a man of honour, and had sworn an oath to protect Piers’ life.  Whether he had the full support of the other barons is questionable.  He may have acted without the support of Thomas of Lancaster and Guy of Warwick. 

Pembroke decided to take Piers South.   They arrived in Deddington on June 9th.  Piers was housed in the rectory house at Deddington.  Leaving Piers with some guards, Pembroke headed off to see his wife at Bampton.  It seems incredible that Pembroke would leave Piers at Deddington and then go on to see his wife.  What could be so important that Pembroke needed to see his wife?  And it begs the question – why didn’t he take Piers with him?   It seems Pembroke decided to make use of the opportunity of being so near his wife, and possibly he felt Deddington offered more protection to Piers than his manor house.  Or maybe, he was in contact with Guy of Warwick, and knew that Guy would seize Piers as soon as Pembroke left.  Had Warwick been in touch, and told Pembroke that he did not have the support of all the Lords Ordainers, and pressured him into literally handing over Piers?  Pembroke used the ‘excuse’ of going to visit his wife.  It seems very unlikely.  Pembroke had sworn a chivalric oath, with the threat of forfeiting his estates.   He had given his word, and ensured Piers and the king were separated.  This was a time for negotiation – not to betray his sovereign, whatever he may have thought of Piers. 

How Warwick found out about Pembroke’s actions remains a mystery.  He must surely have heard Pembroke was in his vicinity.  He may have had his men ‘spying’ on what was happening, keeping him informed of Pembroke’s movements.  Or did one of Pembroke’s men betray him?  Warwick may have suspected that Pembroke would visit his wife.  Pembroke trusted his men to guard Piers, and could surely never have guessed his authority would be challenged.  Warwick seized his chance, and ordered that the guards hand Piers over.  We don’t know how many men Pembroke had left guarding Piers – but it wasn’t enough to protect him.  I’ve often wondered why, if he was poorly guarded, why Piers didn’t plan some sort of escape.  However, he had surrendered to Pembroke on favourable terms, had been treated respectfully by Pembroke, and no doubt felt safe in his custody.  He too had given his word.  Piers was undoubtedly horrified to be taken by Warwick, and Pembroke was enraged.  His honour had been tainted.  Warwick’s actions ensured that after the death of Piers, Pembroke sided with the king from then on.  Warwick’s coup was a stain on the Chivalric code. 

Today in Deddington, Piers’ short stay is recognised – there is a Piers Row and Gaveston Gardens.

Sunday, 1 June 2014

Countdown to the death of Piers Gaveston, part 1.

May 19th, 1312, had seen the surrender by Piers Gaveston  at Scarborough Castle.  Initially, Piers and Edward II  had agreed that Piers would stay at Scarborough Castle and prepare for a siege, whilst Edward would do his best to rally support.  For whatever reason,  (and I’ll discuss this in another post),  there was no long term siege.  

Piers had surrendered to Aymer de Valence, Earl of Pembroke, and the Earl of Surrey, after returning without permission from his third exile.  The terms of the surrender were most favourable to Piers (the most likely reason he surrendered, maybe).  Pembroke would take Piers to St Mary’s Abbey in York, where it was hoped the king, Edward, and either Thomas of Lancaster or his someone chosen by him, would come to an agreement about Piers. If an agreement could not be reached by 1 August, Piers would be allowed to return to Scarborough.  Pembroke, Surrey and Percy of Northumberland swore an oath that they would protect Piers and return him unharmed to Scarborough.  All 3 promised to forfeit their property if they broke the oath.  Piers himself swore that he would not try to influence the king.   Edward and Piers surely had no doubt such a serious oath would be kept.

When Pembroke arrived in York, there is no mention of Lancaster being present.  Seymour Phillips, in his biography of Edward II, says the lack of Lancaster being mentioned may mean that Pembroke had not consulted the other nobles when agreeing to the surrender of Piers.  This could well be true, as the terms of the surrender were so favourable, and Lancaster, and Guy of Warwick, may have felt they were not bound by the agreement.  The chronicler of the Vita Edwardi  Secundi says that Edward was playing for time, and hoped to ensure the support of his Queen’s father, Philip of France, and the Pope,  who would come to his aid and help to save Piers.

There’s no mention of whether Edward and Piers met for the last time at York.  In fact, we don’t even know if Pembroke took Piers to York.   Edward must surely have been relieved that Piers was in the custody of someone like Pembroke, and having sworn to protect Piers, Edward now assumed his efforts could be fully focused on finding a way to keep Piers with him and to appease his barons.   Of course,  his plans came to nothing, as by June 19th, Piers had been killed.  In my next post, I’ll look more in depth at the role of Pembroke’s oath and actions.