Friday, 19 June 2015

Ah, June 19th.....

Today marks the anniversary of the death, or should we say, murder of Piers Gaveston at Blacklow Hill, near Warwick.  Local legends claim that the sounds of bells, trumpets and jeering can still be heard.   I hope not - Piers deserves to rest in peace.

I found this post from Kathryn's old Edward II forum from the Leek Wootton History Society -

Hi everyone,
I have only just heard about this forum from someone who has researched Edward II, would like to visit the site and was directed to our website as well this one.
I've been reading the postings and would like to reply to a couple of things.
Piers Gaveston is the only person who is recorded as having been executed on Blacklow Hill - this is because (as Anejre says) the Earl of Warwick did not want him to be executed on his own land and Blacklow Hill was the nearest suitable location - it was never a regular site of execution. As for the legend that on some mornings you can hear the bells on Gavestons horse passing down the road from Warwick, a friend of mine rented a nearby farm cottage at one time and told me she heard them once - before she'd heard the legend.
Bertie Greatheed of Guy's Cliffe (a nearby ruined manor which can bee seen from the R Avon behind the Saxon Mill pub) had the monument built in 1821. It is understood that he was a regency 'romantic' character. He had a telescope through which he could read the inscription on the cross from the house. During the Victorian period there are many postcards of the cross standing proudly on top of a hill with no trees around - it must have been magnificent! The cross is on top of a rock that has an older carving on it stating it to be the spot where Gaveston was beheaded.
With reference to the 1312 date on the plaque and 1311 carved in the rock, we've always put this down to the change in calendars causing inconsistent dates. The older carving in the rock says 1311.
As Chazza said, it is overgrown and vandalised and has been a secluded spot where kids have gathered for many years - tucked away as it is. I know that the Parish Council would have liked to have done something about its condition, especially for this year, its anniversary. The woodland is owned by the descendants of Bertie Greatheed, but the farmer who owns the surrounding fields does not want a public footpath across his land. Personally I think that if the trees between it and the A46 were taken down and perhaps the cross were spotlit, it would discourage groups of kids from hanging around up there at night. We believe it is really only since the bypass was built in the early 70s that it has been so overlooked, before that, there was an established footpath past it, but the road cut that off. There is reference in a wartime diary to the writer taking a walk up there.
But if you can visit during the snowdrop or bluebell seasons, then Blacklow Hill is a really beautiful sight - I was up there once when it was carpeted with bluebells and saw a fox meandering through them.
If anyone needs guidance to find the monument, contact Leek Wootton History Group (

Wednesday, 17 June 2015

Trial of Piers Gaveston - what trial?

Having been captured by Guy of Warwick, it seems Piers' fate was sealed.  He was taken to Warwick Castle and kept prisoner there.  And yet it took 10 days from Piers' capture until his 'execution'.  Why?   It is not known if Warwick was acting alone - but once he had Piers in his custody, it wasn't long before some of the other nobles rallied to Warwick.  Thomas of Lancaster undoubtedly travelled to Warwick with relish - he may well have known Warwick's intentions, although Lancaster would surely have loved to have taken Piers prisoner himself.  The Earls of Hereford and Arundel followed.  Lancaster seems to have taken control of the situation.

Meanwhile, Aymer de Valence, Earl of Pembroke, was in a state of panic.  He'd sworn an oath to protect Piers, with his lands forfeit if he failed to do so.  His first action was to appeal to Edward II's cousin Gilbert de Clare, Earl of Gloucester, and Piers' brother-in-law.  I am still shocked at Gloucester's callous reply.  'My lord earl,  the wrong done to you is not to be imputed to Earl Guy.  He did this with our aid and counsel; and if, as you say, you have pledged your lands, you have lost them anyhow.  It only remains to advise you to learn another time to negotiate more cautiously'.  Pembroke was as concerned about his lands as he was Piers.  Why Gloucester abandoned Piers is not known - but perhaps he was jealous of the honours and access to the king Piers had. 

According to the chronicle of Trokelowe, Lancaster warned 'while he lives there will be no safe peace in the realm of England, as many proofs have hitherto shown us'.  Lancaster and Warwick dominated proceedings.  Piers' 'trial' was a farce - he was not even allowed to speak in his defence, and no doubt the verdict was already reached.  The canon of Bridlington claims two royal justices, William Inge and Henry Spigurnel, were called in to examine the evidence and pronounced Piers guilty.  Yet Kathryn Warner points out that Edward II took no action against them.   No doubt they were pressured into a 'verdict'. The nobles seem to be more concerned that they would suffer no repercussions, with Lancaster and Warwick promising Hereford they would support him against any losses he incurred.  No doubt many deals were committed to parchment and seals attached.   What a shame they don't survive.  Everything was agreed - Piers was to die on June 19th.

Piers was taken out of Warwick by Lancaster and some of his followers.  Guy of Warwick stayed in his castle.  I have to wonder why he did not accompany Piers on his journey to Blacklow Hill.  Surely witnessing the destruction of his hated enemy would be a chance not to be missed?  Or did his conscience trouble him?  Not for the death of Piers - but the cowardly manner of it.  It was not an execution - it was murder.  Warwick seems to have insisted that Piers' 'execution' take place away from his lands - Blacklow Hill was on Lancaster's lands.  And yet, even Lancaster's resolve seems to have been shaken.  It was agreed that Piers would suffer a 'noble' death - beheading, out of respect of his kinship to Gloucester.  But Lancaster chose not to witness it himself and handed Piers over to 2 of his Welsh soldiers, who took Piers out of sight of Lancaster.  One soldier ran him through with his sword, and the other cut off his head.  Not exactly a 'noble' death.  Lancaster only required to see the head to make sure, and Piers body and head were abandoned.  Neither Warwick or Lancaster wanted to take responsibility for Piers' remains.  Where was their bravado and courage now?  No doubt Warwick trembled in his castle, whilst Lancaster  waited for the rage of Edward II.

Below - the wood surrounding Blacklow Hill.

The monument at Blacklow Hill where Piers Gaveston was killed.


Piers Gaveston, Earl of Cornwall, 1307-12: Politics and Patronage in the Reign of Edward II, Hamilton

Edward II: The Unconventional King  Kathryn Warner

Tuesday, 9 June 2015

June 9th - disaster strikes Piers Gaveston

June 9th, 1312, was the beginning of the end for Piers Gaveston.   After surrendering on very good terms to Aymer de Valence, Earl of Pembroke, Piers was on his way to his own castle at Wallingford, where he would be kept under guard by Pembroke.   Pembroke made perhaps the biggest mistake of his life, when he left Piers at Deddington Priory, so that he could spend the night with his wife at nearby Bampton.   Piers' deadly enemy, Guy, Earl of Warwick, had somehow found out about Pembroke's plan, and seized his chance.  The Vita Edwardi Secundi  tells us what happened when Piers' 'black hound of Arden' arrived:

 '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 a sa 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'.

Having visited Warwick Castle, I have seen the dungeon at Warwick.   It forms part of a tower where the noblest prisoners were kept.  We're merely told that Warwick has Piers thrown into prison - and I have the feeling it was not the tower where the noblest prisoners were kept.   Vindictiveness and hatred of Piers, particularly regarding his elevation to Earl of Cornwall, surely meant that Warwick cast him into the dungeon at Warwick.  He certainly took pleasure in stripping Piers of his belt, which signified his earldom, and humiliating him all the way to Warwick, so why stop at Warwick castle?  Piers, no doubt, must have surely known he was doomed, and no doubt was in deep despair.

Inside the dungeon at Warwick castle.  This is not the dungeon where prisoners of noble blood were kept.

In the dungeon is a small hole, in which the lowest rank of prisoners were kept.   It is to be hoped that Warwick showed some mercy to Piers and did not keep him in this 'oubliette'.