|This is my contribution to Round Eleven of ABC Wednesday and again I am focusing on people, some famous, some infamous and some half-forgotten.|
Piers Gaveston was the son of Arnaud de Gabaston, a Gascon knight in the service of Gaston VII of Béarn who became the lover of a king (allegedly) and the object of jealousy by the royal court and who gave his name to a secret dining club at Oxford University.
Gaveston was born around 1284 and little is known about his early life, but he came to England in 1300 and impressed Edward I with his conduct and martial skills. ‘Longshanks’ took him into the royal household to serve as a role model for his son, the future Edward II.
The prince and Gaveston became very close and infuriated the king with the favouritism being shown to the Gascon. Walter of Guisborough tells us that the prince appeared before the king to request that his own county of Ponthieu be given to Gaveston and that this so enraged the king that he tore out handfuls of his son’s hair and threw him out of the royal chambers.
Edward I died in 1307 and less than a month later his son, now the king, made Gaveston Earl of Cornwall, a controversial decision for the established nobility who considered the Gascon’s relatively humble origins made him unfit for an earldom that had traditionally been reserved for members of the royal family.
The earldom gave Gaveston a substantial income of £4,000 a year from lands stretching from Cornwall to Knaresborough in Yorkshire and effectively gained him entry to the highest levels of the nobility and resulted in a growing disaffection among their ranks at his ‘special relationship’ with the king.
Edward further offended his court by making Gaveston his regent when he left the country in 1308 to marry Isabella, daughter of the King of France.
There was growing pressure by the earls, and indeed the French king, to clip Gaveston’s wings and Edward was forced to exile his favourite who was threatened with excommunication should he return.
However, Edward was plotting this very thing before Gaveston had even left the country and did so by winning over key members of the opposing nobility with patronage and concessions. Gaveston returned to England and his titles were restored.
Perhaps he had become to think of himself as fireproof, but it didn’t take long for Gaveston to again alienate the influential in quite a childish way. He gave the earls mocking nicknames, such as Lincoln ‘burst-belly’, Pembroke ‘Joseph the Jew’, Lancaster ‘the fiddler’ and Warwick ‘the black dog of Arden’.
He also used his relationship with the king to win favours and appointments for his friend and by 1310 a number of earls refused to attend parliament while Gaveston was present.
Edward was forced to appoint a group of men to recommend reform of the royal household which they did, including a demand that Gaveston again be exiled. The king resisted the proposal, but the nobles were adamant and Gaveston left England for the last time in November 1310.
It is likely that he spent this time in Flanders, but he defied the nobles by returning to England at Christmas 1311. He was reunited with Edward who declared the judgement against him unlawful, putting the country on the brink of civil war.
The opposition forces were lead by the Earl of Lancaster and one of their primary objectives was the capture of Gaveston which they achieved in June 1312 at the rectory in Deddington.
He was condemned to death for violating the terms of the reforms and was taken as far as Blacklow Hill, which was on the Earl of Lancaster’s land. Here, two Welshmen ran him through with a sword, before beheading him.
A proper burial could not be arranged while Gaveston was still an excommunicate, but Edward secured a papal absolution for his friend in 1315.
Whether Edward and Gaveston enjoyed a homosexual relationship is a matter of debate. It is quite possible that it was what we today might call a ‘bromance’. Whatever it was, Edward’s relationship with Gaveston and later with Hugh Despenser would eventually lead to the king’s abdication and murder.
As mentioned at the start of this post, the king’s favourite is remembered in the Piers Gaveston Society, a secret dining club at Oxford University, although how it can be ‘secret’ with a Wikipedia entry is another matter.
The society has a reputation for indulging in bizarre entertainments and sexual excess and notable members include Darius Guppy, the friend of the Spencer family convicted of fraud in 1993, and Count Gottfried von Bismarck, descendant of Otto.