Saturday, 7 March 2015

What did Piers Gaveston look like?

How any times have I asked myself that question?  I find it incredibly frustrating that there is no physical description of Piers in his lifetime anywhere!  We're told about his arrogance, vanity, military skills, wit, gracefulness and good manners - but nothing about his physical appearance.   Undoubtedly, Edward II must surely have had a portrait/painting of him commissioned - possibly inter-grated into a mural or painting onto a wall of a palace.  Paintings from the time of Edward II are often crude in their portrayal.  Take this contemporary painting of Edward II.

At least we can see Edward had blonde hair and have some idea of his size and body shape.  Even a painting of Piers like this would tell us the same information - his hair colour and build.  Any paintings of Piers must have been destroyed after Edward's 'death' (or disappearance).  Either white-washed over of completely destroyed.  Of course, the best likeness for Piers would come from his tomb effigy - something else which frustrates me.
It's extraordinary that his father's tomb still has his effigy - even if it is in quite poor condition.  Edward II, however, would have ensured that Piers' tomb would have had a fine effigy, and when you see the effigy of the tomb of Edward II himself, it's clear that the artists of the time put more effort into 3D representations  than they did into paintings.

Of course Edward II was a king, and his son wanted a fitting tomb and effigy for his father.  But just look at the detail that has gone into the curl in the hair and the beard, as well as the serene expression on the king's face.  The writing on the face was carved by mischievous schoolboys in the 1800's - basically, graffiti.  Would Edward II himself commissioned such a fine effigy of Piers?  It seems more than likely that he did.  Although his father, Edward I, has no fine effigy on his tomb, Edward II was short of money when he ascended the throne, and there was little love lost between father and son anyway.  It was recorded that Edward held an elaborate funeral for Piers,  He spent a great deal of money on the tomb, and surely he would have had an effigy.   

Although we have no contemporary images of Piers, many Victorian artists reproduced what I call romanticised versions of what they thought historical personalities looked like.  So we have haunting portraits of Lady Jane Grey and the 'Princes in the Tower', and then we have this painting of Edward and Piers.

This painting is by the artist Marcus Stone, and was painted in 1872.  We don't even get to see Piers' face!  Just a highly amused Edward II, and undoubtedly a disapproving Queen Isabella and courtiers - and the back of Piers' head!  If only Piers' effigy was not destroyed, but lies somewhere, either underground, or wrongly thought of as someone else.

Btw, the BBC will be showing their new drama series Poldark on Sunday evening - with Kyle Soller playing Francis Poldark - Soller was the actor I saw playing Piers' at the National Theatre. 


Kasia Ogrodnik said...

I know what it feels like, Anerje! Information about Henry the Young King's appearance is also scarce. Although, we know at least that he was "tall in stature" and that his face "expressed merriment".

Perhaps Piers's tomb effigy was destroyed after Edward's abdication. Do you think sb might have dared to do that?

Kathryn Warner said...

I agree, it's so frustrating that we have no idea what Piers looked like! The only ref I know of is Geoffrey le Baker, writing about forty years after Piers' murder, who called him 'graceful and agile in body'. Not very helpful!

Anerje said...

Kasia - I don't think anyone would have destroyed the tomb effigy after Edward's abdication. After all, Isabella's wrath was directed at Despencer, not Piers. Plus, desecrating a tomb was something to be wary of in those superstitious times. It was bound to be done in the Reformation. Am really shocked the remains of Jasper Tudor and his tomb were lost. At least you have the effigy of the Young king - although it's a replica, I believe?

Kathryn - a programme on BBC4 about the Reformation revealed there's a huge warehouse in the North where pieces of stone - all shapes, sizes, carvings etc taken from monasteries and religious houses are stored - there are thousands of pieces. They haven't all come from the North but right across the U.K. Just maybe, something survives from the effigy?

Anerje said...

If I win big on the lottery, I'm starting my own quest to search for anything to do with Piers - never mind the king in the car park!:)

Kasia Ogrodnik said...

Yes, Henry' tomb in Rouen Cathedral is replica. The original was destroyed in 1736, alongside with those of his brother Richard and his uncle William, for some comparatively trivial purpose, namely the then chapter's great desire to "erect more magnificent altar, and to elevate it considerably above the level of the choir. To effect this it was necessary to take up the old pavement, to remove the monuments, and to disturb the soil underneath to the depth of 15 feet. It must be menioned, however, to their credit, that they had great respect to the mortal remains of these illustrious persons, which they replaced in their original positions; and when the new pavement was put down, squares of white marble were inserted over the graves of each, bearing simple and appropriate inscriptions...' Sorry, I just copied a snippet of one of my previous posts :-)

As for Richard III, I'm sure he himself must be tired - so much ado about his earthly remains and burial. You know I am Yorksist at heart, but the whole media fuss is enough even for me... I don't read the articles anymore. The "mass hysteria" - as I call it myself - is bordering on grotesque, at least IMHO.

Kasia Ogrodnik said...

If I win on the lottery, I would do exactly the same to learn as much about Henry as possible :-)

Anerje said...

Kasia - by 1736 they should surely have realised what they were doing was wrong! I dare say they thought they were 'improving' the effigy. It's such a shame. Even John's tomb has been disturbed. The effigy is original, but the tomb base is from the Tudor period and has been moved from it's original site. Apparently John's thumb bone was removed! It's in the archives at Worcester Cathedral.

Richard III is lucky in that he attracts a lot of supporters with money:). No-one will seriously chip-in for Piers. We must hope our lottery numbers come up:)