Saturday, 5 July 2014
Re-action of Edward II on the death of Piers Gaveston
Edward II loved Piers Gaveston - no historian can doubt there. It is the nature of the relationship which comes under discussion. Whatever the relationship, Edward was devastated at the loss of Piers, and the circumstances of it. It is therefore perhaps surprising to read the chronicler of the Vita Edwardi Secundi report Edward’s words as the following -
"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."
It sounds as though Edward was furious with Piers, for what had happened. As if he blamed him, and cursed him for it.
If he had taken my advice he would never have fallen into the hands of the earls...... What was he doing with the earl of Warwick, who was known never to have liked him?
It was hardly Piers' fault that he had been kidnapped by the Earl of Warwick. If, as has been suggested, Piers and Edward agreed the surrender of Piers to the Earl of Pembroke on very favourable grounds, both Edward and Piers must have felt they could resolve the situation. But the intervention of Warwick was a disaster. Panic must surely have set in for both Edward and Piers, and Edward did everything he could to secure Piers' safety. But it wasn't enough, as Edward seemingly knew it wouldn't be.
I knew for certain that if the earl caught him, Piers would never escape from his hands.
Edward did as much as he could, but he, Piers, Warwick and his cousin Thomas of Lancaster knew Piers’ fate was sealed. Edward’s re-action was surely one of shock and grief, and in his state of distress, as so often when tragic events occur, he didn’t think what came out of his mouth. Desperately trying to secure Piers safety, looking for support, knowing he was virtually up against a ticking clock, waiting for the news he didn’t want to hear, Edward must surely have been overcome with grief, and quite literally, didn’t know what he was saying. I’m sure in the previous days, Edward had cursed the Earl of Pembroke, his relative Gilbert de Clare, Warwick, Lancaster, and probably himself for the situation. Hearing the news he didn’t want to hear, he cursed Piers. He surely didn’t mean it – it was anger, terror and grief talking.
‘Wuthering Heights’, by Emily Bronte, is a masterpiece of literary achievement. Regarding Edward’s words I’m reminded of Heathcliff’s re-action to the death of Catherine Earnshaw/Linton - it is hardly what we would have expected – he curses her, and says may she never rest in peace – but we, the reader, understand his grief. Likewise, I can understand why Edward uttered those words on hearing of the death of Piers.
Edward’s actions after the death of Piers speak volumes. Edward swore revenge on his killers, and was true to his word. His treatment of Piers’ body clearly shows the love he felt. Piers lay in state almost – he had been previously excommunicated and Edward would not have buried him without getting it revoked. Although this was done in late 1312, Edward still could not bring himself to bury Piers. The Vita says he had sworn revenge on the rebels before burying Piers. It may also have been because he couldn’t bring himself to be so finally separated from Piers.