G is for Piers Gaveston

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.
Edward II and Piers Gaveston

An 1872 painting of Edward and Gaveston by English artist Marcus Stone

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.

The Charter granting Gaveston the earldom of Cornwall

The Charter granting Gaveston the earldom of Cornwall

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.

Gaveston's Coat of Arms

Gaveston’s Coat of Arms

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 II

Edward II

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.

Gaveston Monument

The Gaveston Monument erected in 1823 at Blacklow Hill

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.

Nobody’s prefect. If you find any spelling mistakes or other errors in this post, please let me know by highlighting the text and pressing Ctrl+Enter.

4 comments… Add yours
  • Kate 29th August 2012

    Gaveston certainly was a powerful man, but one whose judgment wasn’t always the best, considering the outcome! Kate, ABC Team

  • rose 29th August 2012

    Interesting piece of history!

    Golden Rule
    Rose, ABC Wednesday Team

  • King Pudding I 29th August 2012

    “Edward secured a papal absolution for his friend in 1315.” Funny that – I didn’t think Paypal was around in those days!

    This is Gaveston in Christopher Marlowe’s play “Edward II” (1593) feeling delighted after the old king has died and he can return from exile to be with his regal “friend”:-

    Sometime a lovely boy in Dian’s shape,
    With hair that gilds the water as it glides,
    Crownets of pearl about his naked arms,
    And in his sportful hands an olive tree
    To hide those parts which men delight to see,
    Shall bathe him in a spring; and there, hard by,
    One like Actaeon, peeping through the grove,
    Shall by the angry goddess be transformed,
    And running in the likeness of a hart
    By yelping hounds pulled down and seem to die.
    Such things as these best please his majesty.

  • Roger Green 29th August 2012

    Well, that was fascinating stuff. Palace intrigue and all.
    ROG, ABC Wednesday team


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