Sunday, 19 June 2016
Death of Piers Gaveston
June 19th marks the death of Piers Gaveston. Quite what made Guy of Warwick break a chivalrous code, abduct Piers and take part in a mock trial with only one outcome, remains a mystery. No doubt driven by hatred, Warwick none the less committed an atrocious breach of chivalry. Surely it could not be Piers’ mocking nickname for him, ‘the Black Hound of Arden’? It fuelled Warwick’s hatred, but hatred already existed – probably to do with jealousy and his contempt for Piers as a Gascon. And yet Warwick did not attend the ‘execution’ of Piers, and it was carried out on Thomas of Lancaster’s lands. Neither would Warwick admit the body of Piers into Warwick Castle afterwards. The story says that some shoemakers found the head and body of Piers – no doubt they knew who it was – and took it to Warwick Castle, probably hoping for some kind of reward. It seems they thoughtfully sewed the head and body back together. Why Lancaster left the body at Blacklow Hill remains a mystery. Did he think that Warwick would return for it? He seems a strange thing to do. Warwick would not accept the body, and commanded the shoemakers take it back to the place of execution – knowing it would end up back on Lancaster’s land. It was a bit late if Warwick was feeling guilty – more likely he feared the re-action of the king, and sought to make Lancaster take the bulk of the blame.
Having heard of the discarded body of Piers lying at Blacklow Hill, the Dominican Friars, a religious order much favoured by Edward II, took possession of the body. They took the body to Oxford, where it was washed and prepared for burial, preserved with spices and wrapped in cloth of gold. However, Piers could not be buried as he had been excommunicated. Edward II would seek to remedy this, and unbelievably, it took 2 years before Piers was able to have an honourable burial. Until that time, the body rested at Oxford, with Thomas de London and Philip de Eyndon appointed by Edward to watch over it. Edward ordered prayers to be said for the soul of Piers. Whilst Edward fought to get the sentence of excommunication revoked, no doubt he had in mind to bring the rebels who murdered Piers to justice before he buried him.
The monument at Blacklow Hill marking the site of the death of Piers Gaveston.