Piers de Gaveston, 1st Earl of Cornwall

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Piers de Gaveston, 1st Earl of Cornwall

Also Known As: "Peter", "Gascon", "Gabeston"
Birthplace: Blacklow Hill, Warwickshire, England
Death: circa January 19, 1312 (20-36)
Blacklow Hill, Warwickshire, England
Place of Burial: King's Langley, Herts, ENG
Immediate Family:

Son of Ernaud De Gaveston and Clarmunda de Marsau et de Louvigny
Husband of Margaret de Clare, Countess of Gloucester and Margaret De Audley (De Clare)
Father of Joan Gaveston and Amy de Driby
Brother of Guillaume-Arnaud Arnaud de Gabaston; Gerald de Gabaston and Raimond-Arnaud de Gabaston

Occupation: Earl of Cornwall
Managed by: Private User
Last Updated:

About Piers de Gaveston, 1st Earl of Cornwall

Piers Gaveston, 1st Earl of Cornwall (c. 1284 – 19 June 1312) was the favourite, and probably lover, of King Edward II of England.

On 1 Nov 1307 Piers married Margaret de Clare, niece of King Edward and sister of the earl of Gloucester, at Berkhamstead.

A Gascon by birth, Piers was the son of Sir Arnaud de Gabaston, a soldier in service to King Edward I of England, and of Claramonde de Marsan.

Arnaud had been used as a hostage by Edward twice; on the second occasion, Arnaud escaped captivity, and fled to England with his son. Both then entered the royal household, where Gaveston behaved so well and so virtuously that the King declared him an example for his own son, Prince Edward, to follow, making him a companion of Prince Edward in 1300.

Prince Edward was delighted with Gaveston -- a man skilled in the arts of war and military tactics -- who was noted for his wit, rudeness, and entertaining manner, and gave him many honours and gifts. The Prince also declared that he loved Gaveston 'like a brother.' Gaveston was also a close friend of Roger Mortimer of Wigmore, Gaveston being awarded the wardship of Mortimer's property after the death of Roger's father – this was a great honour for Gaveston, since the wardship of such an estate would normally be awarded to a nobleman, and is thus an indication of the regard both the King and his son held for Gaveston.

Gaveston and Edward I:

Whilst King Edward I liked Gaveston, he strongly disapproved of the close relationship between the knight and the Prince, which was felt to be inappropriate due to Gaveston's rank. He became especially enraged with Gaveston when he, along with twenty-one other knights (including Sir Roger Mortimer), deserted the English army in Scotland after the 1306 campaign and went to a tournament in France.

Furious, the King declared the estates of all the deserters forfeit, issued orders for them to be arrested, and declared them traitors. Gaveston and his companions therefore asked Prince Edward to intercede with the King on their behalf; the Prince accordingly enlisted the support of his stepmother, Queen Margaret, who pleaded with the King to forgive the young men. Most, including Mortimer, were forgiven in January of 1307 and returned their estates. Gaveston, however, remained disfavoured: the King had learned that Piers and the Prince were sworn brothers-in-arms, who had promised to fight together, protect each other, and share all of their possessions.

To the King, this was unthinkable: not only was it monstrous for a future King to be shackled by oath to a commoner, unable to be adequately secure against potential plots; but the oath threatened to share the government of England itself with Gaveston, and that was simply intolerable. His displeasure with Gaveston and the young man's friendship with Prince Edward only continued to increase.[2].

The Prince, determined to maintain his oath and companionship with Gaveston, next resolved to ennoble the other man by granting him the County of Ponthieu (one of Prince Edward's own Counties). He sent an extremely unwilling Treasurer William Langton to the King with this news. Langton announced it on his knees: "My lord King, I am sent on behalf of my lord the prince, your son, though as God lives, unwillingly, to seek in his name your licence to promote his knight Piers Gaveston to the rank of the Count of Ponthieu."

Unsurprisingly, the King was not pleased. Reportedly, he shouted back at Langton, "Who are you who dares to ask such things? As God lives, if not for the fear of the Lord, and because you said at the outset that you undertook this business unwillingly, you would not escape my hands!" The King then summoned the Prince before him, demanding to know why he had sent Langton before him. The Prince replied that he wished for the King's permission to grant Ponthieu to Gaveston. According to historian Ian Mortimer, on hearing these words spoken by the Prince, the King flew into a rage, exclaiming, "'You wretched son of a whore! Do you want to give away lands now? You who have never gained any? As God lives, if not for fear of breaking up the Kingdom, I would never let you enjoy your inheritance!' As he spoke, the King seized hold of the Prince's head by the hair and tore handfuls of hair out, then threw the Prince to the floor and kicked him repeatedly until he was exhausted." [3]

King Edward then summoned the Lords gathering for the Parliament at Carlisle, and before them declared Gaveston banished. It appears to have been more a punishment of the Prince than of Gaveston – Gaveston's conduct having been largely irreproachable, the King granted him a pension to be enjoyed whilst abroad. He also forced Prince Edward and Piers to swear an oath never to see one another again without his permission. Gaveston then set sail for France, loaded down with many rich gifts from the Prince. But as soon as Edward I died in July 1307, the new King recalled his "Brother Perrot" and endowed him with the County of Cornwall (which had been intended for Thomas of Brotherton, Edward I's young second son).

First recall Soon after his recalling, Edward II arranged the marriage of Gaveston to Margaret de Clare, a granddaughter of King Edward I, and sister of the Earl of Gloucester, another friend of both Edward and Gaveston. The marriage was held soon after the funeral of the old King: held at Berkhampstead, the Manor of Queen Margaret, it proved an excuse for the first in a string of feasts and hunts, being followed by similar entertainments at Kings Langley in Hertfordshire, and a tournament held by the King in honour of Gaveston at Wallingford Castle, which had been presented to Gaveston by Edward. It proved an embarrassment for many of the older lords present: Gaveston's young and talented knights easily won against the older knights fighting for the Earls of Surrey, Hereford, and Arundel. This led to the enmity of these Earls.

When Edward II left the country in 1308 to marry Isabella of France, who was just 12 years old, he appointed Gaveston Regent in his place, horrifying the Lords; they had expected Edward to appoint a family member or an experienced noble. By this appointment of his favorite, Edward demonstrated his faith in Gaveston, but in the process increased his friend's unpopularity. Gaveston himself did little during his Regency, however; the only thing he did of note in his two weeks of rule was to take a proud attitude to those who came before him.

Gaveston also proved unpopular with the new queen consort. The two men, who were of approximately the same age, may have had a gay relationship, and Edward's preference for the company of Gaveston over that of his wife, whatever the motives, is generally agreed by historians as having created early discord in the Royal marriage.

Death When Gaveston returned in 1312, he was faced with hostility. Thomas Plantagenet, 2nd Earl of Lancaster raised an army against Gaveston and the King, and on 4 May attacked Newcastle, where Edward and Gaveston were staying. The pair were forced to flee by ship to Scarborough Castle. They left behind all of their money and soldiers, which were appropriated by Lancaster. Edward then went south to raise an army, leaving Gaveston in Scarborough. Lancaster immediately brought his army up to threaten Gaveston and to cut him off from the King. Fearful for his life, Gaveston was forced to surrender to Aymer de Valence, 2nd Earl of Pembroke, who swore an oath to surrender his lands and titles to protect Gaveston. However, in Oxfordshire, Gaveston was captured and taken to Warwick Castle by Guy de Beauchamp, 10th Earl of Warwick. He was held there for nine days before the Earl of Lancaster arrived; Lancaster then judged, "While he lives, there will be no safe place in the realm of England." Accordingly, on 19 June, Gaveston was taken to Blacklow Hill (which belonged to the Earl of Lancaster), and killed by two Welshmen, who ran him through with a sword before beheading him as he lay dying on the grass.

He was survived by his wife and a baby daughter, Joan. The Earl of Pembroke, who had sworn to protect him, was mortified by the death, having attempted to raise an army to free him, and having even appealed to the University of Oxford for aid. (The University, not known for its military strength in any case, had not the slightest interest in assisting either Gaveston or de Valence.) Edward II, on hearing of the murder, at first reacted with utter rage; later, this would become cold fury, and a desire to destroy those who had destroyed Gaveston. Ten years later, Edward II avenged Gaveston's death when he had the Earl of Lancaster killed.

Piers parents were Arnaud de Gabaston and Claramonde de Marsan. Arnaud was involved in the local politics of Bearne. The viscount of Bearn, Gaston VII, hd on occasion been something of thorn in the side of the English Kings Henry III and Edward Ist, particularly the latter. Edward 1st did not trust the viscount of Bearn, and one of his first acts as Duke of Acquitaine was to seize Gaston VII’s daughter as hostage for four years to ensure his loyalty. Even this was not enough to contain Gaston, and he himself was taken prisoner briefly in 1273. Edward Ist then forced him to do homage for his Gascon lands. Four knights were made to stand surety for Gaston’s oath not to leave Edward’s court without permission. One of these knights was Arnaud de Gabaston. Edward must have considered the important standing of the four knights.

Claramonde de Marsan was the daughter of Arnaud-Guillaume de Marsan, and she shared the estates of her father with her brother Fortaner de Lescun. Her marriage to Arnaud de Gabeston made him a substantial landowner. Castles held by Piers parents were Roquefort-de-Marsan, Montgaillard-des-Landes, Hagetmau, St. Loubouer, Louvigny and Gabaston. His mother also held other lands in her own right. Not quite the humble family the chroniclers would have us believe, eh?

Arnaude de Gabeston spent twenty years in the service of Edward Ist, accompanying him in war, at court and acting as a ‘hostage’.

Arnaud and Claramonde had 5 childen: 1. Arnaud-Guillaume de Marsan, 2. Piers, 3. Gerard de Gabaston, 4. Raimond-Arnaude de Gabaston and 5. Amy de Gabaston.

Piers also seems to have had an illegitimate brother, Guillaume-Arnaude de Gabaston .

The exact date of Piers birth is unknown, although most historians believe it to be around the early 1280’s. Piers' mother Claramonde died in 1287, when he would have been of a similar age when Edward II lost his mother – thus giving them a kind of bond. Claramonde’s death plunged the family into financial difficulties, and Arnaud spent the last years of his life serving Edward 1st, along with his sons, including Piers.

One of the most common myths about Piers’ mother Claramonde was that she was a witch and burned at the stake. In fictional accounts of Piers’ life, this story is a common thread – but there is not a shred of evidence for it. Medieval chroniclers despised Piers, and the accusation of witchcraft was often levelled at those who were unpopular and powerful – Piers himself was described by one chronicler as a sorcerer. The medieval mind was obviously soothed to think that Piers’ influence over the king was obviously due to witchcraft.


1. Hamilton, J.S. (1988). Piers Gaveston, Earl of Cornwall 1307-1312; Policies and Patronage in the Reign of Edward II. Wayne State University Press, Detroit, Michigan.

2. Fritze, Ronald H. (2002). Historical Dictionary of Late Medieval England, 1272-1485. Greenwood Press. p. 221. ISBN 0313291241. http://books.google.co.uk/books?id=INmdwCSkvIgC&dq=%22claramonde+de+marsan%22+gaveston&client=firefox-a.

3. Mortimer, Ian (2004). The Greatest Traitor. Pimlico. pp. 29. "Mortimer cites 'Piers Gaveston', pp. 20-2, by Chaplais, as his source."

4. Mortimer, Ian (2004). The Greatest Traitor. Pimlico. pp. 29. "Mortimer cites 'Edward of Carnarvon', p. 121, by Johnstone, and the Chronicle of Walter of Guisborough, p. 382, edited by Rothwell."

5. Johnstone, Hilda. Edward of Caernavon, 1946 Mortimer, Ian. The Greatest Traitor, 2004


Piers Gaveston

From: The Columbia Encyclopedia, Sixth Edition | Date: 2008 | The Columbia Encyclopedia, Sixth Edition. Copyright 2008 Columbia University Press. (Hide copyright information) Copyright information Piers Gaveston , d. 1312, favorite of Edward II of England. Son of a Gascon knight at the court of Edward I, he was a boyhood playmate of the future Edward II and acquired great influence over him. Edward I exiled him (1307), but he returned on his friend's accession later in the year. He was made earl of Cornwall and married the new king's niece. When Edward was absent in France (1308), Gaveston was regent. His greed and arrogance and the king's reliance on his counsel aroused strong hostility among the barons, who forced (1308) Edward to banish him. He was made lieutenant of Ireland, but he returned to England the following year. In 1311 the lords ordainers, who temporarily controlled the government, exiled Gaveston again. When he returned within the same year, the barons rose in rebellion. He was captured and executed.

This was taken from http://speakitsname.wordpress.com/2007/12/30/review-the-confession-of-piers-gaveston-by-brandy-purdy/ Review: The Confession of Piers Gaveston by Brandy Purdy December 30, 2007 in 14th Century, five stars, history | by Erastes

Review by By Nan Hawthorne

Piers Gaveston (c. 1284-1312) is a historical person, one of the notorious and ill-fated favorites of English King Edward II. With this first novel, author Brandy Purdy has accomplished more than an evocative tale of the early 14th century. She has broken some barriers in publishing in the genre of Historical fiction and brought a compelling and thought-provoking character into the world of fiction as a whole. Thanks to indie publishing, her accomplishment was possible.

Though there is no historical proof for it, many authors have concluded that the historical Gaveston was in fact the lover of King Edward. There is a surprising “fandom” for the monarch, but Purdy’s Edward is not a particularly appealing character. Nor does Purdy make him a villain. The universality of this story is the give and take of joy and pain that two lovers experience. That the two lovers are both men has discomfited some blog reviewers (whose personal squeamishness doesn’t belong in a literary review) cannot obscure the complexity and eloquence of the writing of this novel, a remarkable first effort.

Gaveston, writing his memoir as a journal, is a complex character, intelligent, crafty, but prone to putting others off with his sharp tongue and wit. Having been orphaned quite young he is forced into prostitution at nine. His sad adolescence is the classroom where he learns how to play on the secret desires of others, both male and female. When as a soldier fighting in King Edward I’s army he is assigned to make a man of the indolent Prince Edward, Gaveston believes he has found what he has been missing: a friend, a companion, a peer, only to realize after succumbing to Edward’s seduction that he has lost his chance. Edward worships him, but that worship objectifies Gaveston, making a prize possession of him instead of a real partner. The largesse Edward now ladles on him proves to be both Gaveston’s and, eventually, Edward’s own undoing.

At heart Gaveston is a young man who wants to be loved and known for himself, but his childhood lessons in survival taught him how to sabotage his own efforts. He flaunts the favoritism of the king in the faces of the lords of the realm. He flirts incessantly with these men. Though he insists that he did not ask for all the riches and honors he receives and even says he feels cheapened by them, nevertheless he accepts them and rubs the noses of Edward’s Queen and the nobles in them. By rebelling against Edward’s pathological possessiveness by being unfaithful to him makes Gaveston’s own sexuality more of a puzzle not only to readers but to himself.

The use of the journal style of telling a story serves Purdy’s purpose well. Through it you experience Gaveston’s ambivalence about himself and the world he lives in. You have insight into his heart and into his impulsive actions that you cannot get from a third person narrative. Purdy is clearly aware that first person is the means to making the reader decide what is true and what is deceit. She gives you Gaveston and asks you to decide whether he is sympathetic or not.

I knew Purdy could write brilliantly about three sentences into the book. The language is smooth and eloquent, in period without being obscure. That Gaveston can be frank and even coarse about sexuality is a contradiction that lends well to the understanding of his ambivalence about himself. There are some rough spots where Purdy seems to reveal an insecurity about her art, but most of her choices and language in the novel show literary instincts for when to shock and when to soothe.

Purdy does not balk at explicit scenes between Edward and Gaveston, some of these scenes being public. My first reaction was that such open homosexuality was anachronistic, but then I remembered that in fiction if it could happen, it can happen. Who is to say a king in the fourteenth century could not do as he pleased? It was the other, lower classes that faced extreme condemnation for acts nobles could get away with. Further, as history bears out, they did not go unpunished in their narrow world. The book posits something I have always thought, that gay men and women have always been part of humanity and have found ways to stay alive throughout.

If there is one discordant theme in The Confession of Piers Gaveston it is Purdy’s portrayal of the protagonist as a Goddess worshipper. More than that the “Old Religion” is largely a romantic myth exploited in many novels about the era, it just is not necessary to understand the character or his life. This would have been as complete or even a more complete work without that element. It does not, however, truly lessen the book.

Purdy is a fine writer, an insightful storyteller, and her work deserves serious consideration.

A Gascon by birth, Piers was the son of Sir Arnaud de Gabaston, a soldier in service to King Edward I of England. Arnaud had been used as a hostage by Edward twice; on the second occasion, Arnaud escaped captivity, and fled to England with his son. Both then entered the royal household, where Gaveston behaved so well and so virtuously that the King declared him an example for his own son, Prince Edward, to follow, making him a companion of Prince Edward in 1300. Prince Edward was delighted with Gaveston, who was noted for his wit, rudeness, and entertaining manner, and gave him many honours and gifts. The Prince also declared that he loved Gaveston 'like a brother.' Gaveston was also a close friend of Roger Mortimer of Wigmore, Gaveston being awarded the wardship of Mortimer's property after the death of Roger's father - this was a great honour for Gaveston, since the wardship of such an estate would normally be awarded to a nobleman, and is thus an indication of the regard both the King and his son held for Gaveston.


to Piers Gaveston and Margaret de Clare, who married on 1 November 1307, All Saints Day, at Berkhamsted Castle. Edward II was present, of course, as was Margaret's brother Gilbert, earl of Gloucester, and probably her sisters Eleanor and Margaret. The earl of Pembroke attended, and also 'several magnates', sadly not named.

The wedding took place only a few days after Edward I's funeral, which attracted a great deal of criticism, as did the 'disparagement' of Edward's granddaughter, married to a man far beneath her by birth. Still, Margaret became countess of Cornwall at marriage, Piers was one of the richest men in the country, and was high in the king's favour, so she might not have considered herself disparaged at all.

By all accounts, it was a lavish affair. Edward II provided the extremely generous sum of seven pounds, ten shillings and six pence - more than most people in England earned in a year then - in pennies, to be thrown over the happy couple at the door of the church. (His almoners later collected the money to distribute to the poor.) Edward gave Margaret a palfrey worth twenty pounds, jewels worth thirty pounds to both Piers and Margaret - I can't escape the conclusion that most of them were for Piers - gifts to a value of over thirty-six pounds for Margaret's ladies-in-waiting, and spent twenty pounds on minstrels to entertain the guests.

Whether Piers and Margaret began living together as husband and wife is uncertain, but I would suspect not, as she was almost certainly only thirteen at the time, possibly just turned fourteen. Their only child, Joan, was born in January 1312. In November 1307 Piers was somewhere between twenty-four and twenty-six. This age difference attracted no criticism at the time, and was of course entirely normal by the standards of the age.

Piers and Margaret would be married for less than five years; he was beheaded on 19 June 1312. Nothing at all is known about their marriage, whether they were content together, adored or detested each other, were indifferent, but given Piers' close relationship with Margaret's uncle, it would make a fascinating fictional study.


Piers Gaveston, 1st Earl of Cornwall (c. 1284 – 19 June 1312) was an English nobleman of Gascon origin, and the favourite of King Edward II of England. At a young age he made a good impression on King Edward I, and was assigned to the household of the king's son, Edward of Carnarvon. The prince's partiality for Gaveston was so extravagant that Edward I sent the favourite into exile, but he was recalled a few months later, after the king's death led to the prince's accession as Edward II. Edward bestowed the earldom of Cornwall on Gaveston, and arranged for him to marry his niece Margaret de Clare, sister of the powerful Earl of Gloucester.

Gaveston's exclusive access to the king provoked several members of the nobility, and in 1308 the king was forced to send him into exile again. During this absence he served as the king's Lieutenant of Ireland. Edward managed to negotiate a deal with the opposition, however, and Gaveston returned the next year. Upon his return his behaviour became even more offensive, and by the Ordinances of 1311 it was decided that Gaveston should be exiled for a third time, to suffer outlawry if he returned. When he did return in 1312, he was hunted down and executed by a group of magnates led by Thomas of Lancaster and Guy de Beauchamp, Earl of Warwick.

It was alleged by medieval chroniclers that Edward II and Piers Gaveston were lovers, a rumour that was reinforced by later fictional portrayals, such as Christopher Marlowe's play Edward II. This assertion has received the support of some modern historians, while others have questioned it. According to Pierre Chaplais, the relationship between the two was that of an adoptive brotherhood, and Gaveston served as an unofficial deputy for a reluctant king. Other historians, like J.S. Hamilton, have pointed out that concern over the two men's sexuality was not at the core of the nobility's grievances, which rather centred around Gaveston's exclusive access to royal patronage.

Family background and early life Piers Gaveston's father was Arnaud de Gabaston, a Gascon knight in the service of Gaston VII of Béarn.[1] Gabaston had come into a substantial amount of land in Gascony through his marriage to Claramonde de Marsan, who was co-heir with her brother of the great landowner Arnaud-Guillaume de Marsan.[2] Through the possessions of his wife, Gabaston also became a vassal of the king of England, in the king's capacity of Duke of Aquitaine.[3] His service to Edward I of England stretched over a long period of time, starting in the Welsh Wars of 1282–83, in which he participated with a substantial contingent.[3] Sometime before 4 February 1287, Claramonde died, and for the rest of his life Gabaston struggled to retain his wife's inheritance from rival claims by relatives and neighbours. Because of this, he became financially dependent on the English king, and was continuously in his service.[4] He was used as a hostage by Edward twice: first in 1288 to Aragon, secondly in 1294 to the French king, when he managed to escape and flee to England in 1297.[5] After returning home, he was back in England in 1300, where he served with Edward I in the Scottish Wars. He died at some point before 18 May 1302.

Little is known of Piers Gaveston's early years; even his year of birth is unknown. He and Prince Edward of Carnarvon (born 25 April 1284) were said to be contemporaries (coetanei), so it can be assumed that he was born in or around 1284.[6] Though one chronicle claims he accompanied his father to England in 1297, the first reliable reference to him is from Gascony later that year, when he served in the company of Edward I.[7] In 1300 he sailed to England with his father and his older brother, Arnaud-Guillaume de Marsan. It was at this time that he became a member of the household of the young Prince Edward – the future Edward II.[8] The king was apparently impressed by Gaveston's conduct and martial skills, and wanted him to serve as a model for his son. In 1304, the king awarded Gaveston the wardship of Roger Mortimer of Wigmore, after the death of Roger's father, on the request of Edward, Prince of Wales.[9] This put Gaveston in charge of Mortimer's possessions during the latter's minority, and served as proof of the king's confidence in his son's companion.[10]

As part of the circle around the prince, however, Gaveston also became entangled in conflicts between the king and his son. These difficulties first materialised in a dispute between treasurer Walter Langton and Prince Edward. The case enraged King Edward to the point where he banned his son from court, and banished several men from the prince's household. Though the two were reconciled at a later point, the king still prevented Gaveston from rejoining the prince. This matter was settled before 26 May 1306, however, the date when Gaveston was knighted, four days after the prince.[11] Later that year Gaveston was once more in trouble, when he and twenty-one other knights deserted a Scottish campaign to attend a tournament. An arrest order was sent out for the deserters, but, at the insistence of Queen Margaret, they were all pardoned in January 1307.[12]

First exile and return Gaveston's return to grace was only temporary. On 26 February 1307, Edward I announced that the prince's favourite had to leave the realm shortly after 30 April that year. This time it seems the punishment was not intended for Gaveston, though, but for the Prince of Wales.[13] According to Walter of Guisborough, the prince appeared before the king to request that his own county of Ponthieu be given to Gaveston. Edward I, enraged, tore out handfuls of his son's hair and threw him out of the royal chambers.[14] Though Guisborough cannot necessarily be trusted on the details of the events, the story reflects the general exasperation the king felt with the prince's favouritism towards Gaveston, and the lavish gifts bestowed on the favourite.[15][16] This extravagance was clearly seen on Gaveston's departure, when Prince Edward equipped him with horses, luxurious clothes, and £260 of money.[17]

Gaveston's first exile was to be a short one. In early July 1307, Edward I fell ill while once more campaigning in the north, and lay dying at Burgh by Sands near the Scottish border. According to one chronicle, he gathered some of his most trusted men around him, including Henry de Lacy, Earl of Lincoln, Guy de Beauchamp, Earl of Warwick, and Aymer de Valence, soon to be Earl of Pembroke. Edward entrusted the magnates with the care of his son, and instructed them particularly to prevent the return of Piers Gaveston from exile.[18] Nevertheless, when the king died on 7 July, one of Edward II's first acts as king was to recall his friend. Gaveston returned almost immediately, and the two were reunited by early August.[19]

Earl of Cornwall On 6 August 1307, less than a month after succeeding, Edward II made Piers Gaveston Earl of Cornwall.[20] According to contemporary narrative sources, this was a controversial decision. Gaveston came from relatively humble origins, and his rise to the highest level of the peerage was considered improper by the established nobility. Furthermore, the earldom of Cornwall had traditionally been the reserve of members of the royal family, and Edward I had intended it for one of his two younger sons from his second marriage.[21] The discontent reported by the chronicles may have been the result of hindsight, however; there is no sign that the established nobility objected to the ennoblement of Gaveston at the time.[22] The earldom gave Gaveston substantial landholdings over great parts of England, to the value of £4,000 a year.[23] These possessions consisted of most of Cornwall, as well as parts of Devonshire in the south-west, land in Berkshire and Oxfordshire centred on the honour of Wallingford, most of the eastern part of Lincolnshire, and the honour of Knaresborough in Yorkshire, with the territories that belonged to it.[24] In addition to this, Edward also secured a prestigious marriage between Gaveston and Margaret de Clare, sister of the powerful Earl of Gloucester.[25] The possessions and family connection secured Gaveston a place among the highest levels of the English nobility.[24]

Even though the new king was initially met with goodwill from his subjects, it was not long before certain members of the nobility became disaffected with Gaveston and the special relationship he enjoyed with Edward. On 2 December 1307, exactly one month after Gaveston's marriage, the king organised a tournament in Gaveston's honour at Wallingford Castle.[26] Here Gaveston and his companions in arms handed a humiliating defeat to the earls of Warenne, Hereford, and Arundel.[27] Gaveston won, according to various accounts of the events, either by bringing too many knights to the field, or simply by having a better contingent. From this point on Warenne – and possibly also the other two earls – became hostile to Gaveston.[28]

When Edward II left the country early in 1308 to marry the French king's daughter Isabella, he appointed Gaveston regent in his place. This was a responsibility that would normally be given to a close family member of the reigning king.[29] There is no sign that Gaveston exploited the regency for personal gains, but the other nobles were still offended by his arrogant behaviour.[30] This behaviour continued at the coronation feast after the king's return, during which the king largely ignored his new wife in favour of Gaveston.[31] The collective grievances first found expression in the so-called 'Boulogne agreement' of January 1308, in which the earls of Warenne, Hereford, Lincoln and Pembroke expressed concern about oppression of the people and attacks on the honour of the crown. Though not mentioned by name, Gaveston was the implied target of this document.[32] Later that year, in the April parliament, the so-called Declaration of 1308 demanded the renewed exile of Gaveston, again without explicitly mentioning the favourite by name.[33] The king initially resisted, but had to give in to the demand once it became clear that the barons had the support of King Philip IV of France, who was offended by Edward's treatment of his daughter.[34] On 18 May, Edward consented to sending Gaveston into exile.[35]

Ireland and return Gaveston was not exiled immediately; he did not have to leave the realm until 25 June, but faced excommunication by the Archbishop of Canterbury, Robert Winchelsey, should he return.[36] Edward used the intervening period to provide for his favourite's continued prosperity and political importance. As a compensation for the loss of the earldom of Cornwall, which was another condition of the exile, Gaveston was granted land worth 3,000 marks annually in Gascony, and land amounting to the same value in England.[37] Further to this, he was appointed the king's Lieutenant of Ireland, so that a certain amount of honour could be maintained despite the humiliation of the exile.[38] The appointment came the day after Richard de Burgh, Earl of Ulster, had been given the same position, indicating that it was an improvised measure.[39] Gaveston's appointment came with wider authority than Ulster's, however, for he had full regal powers to appoint and dismiss any royal officers.[40]

Gaveston's lieutenancy was primarily of a military nature; by the early 14th century, Ireland had become a rebellious and unruly dominion for the English crown. In this capacity Gaveston had considerable success, killing or defeating several major insurgents. He fortified the town of Newcastle McKynegan and Castle Kevin, and rebuilt the road from Castle Kevin to Glendalough. This helped pacify the county at least as far as the Wicklow Mountains, west of Dublin.[41] In the field of administration he made less of a mark. The most notable issue with which he was involved concerned a dispute over murage – a toll on the town walls – between the citizens of Dublin.[42] As during the regency, though, there is no evidence that Gaveston exploited his position for his own advantage and he did nothing to alienate the local elite.[43]

Edward II began working towards a recall before Gaveston had even left.[44] Through distribution of patronage and concessions to political demands, he won over several of the earls who had previously been of a hostile disposition.[45] Lincoln, who was the leader of the baronial opposition, due to his age and great wealth, was reconciled with Edward by late summer 1308. Even Warwick, who had been the most unyielding of the king's enemies, was gradually mollified.[46] Significantly, though, Thomas, Earl of Lancaster, who had not been involved in the campaign to exile Gaveston, seems to have become disaffected at this time.[47] Nevertheless, by 25 April 1309, Pope Clement V was satisfied that the difficulties between the king and his magnates had been settled, and agreed to lift the interdict against Gaveston.[48] At the parliament that met at Stamford in July, Edward had to agree to a series of political concessions. The so-called Statute of Stamford was based on a similar document Edward I had consented to in 1300, called the articuli super carta, which was in turn based on Magna Carta.[49] Before the Stamford Parliament, however, on 27 June, Gaveston had returned to England.[50]

Ordinances and final exile On 5 August 1309, Gaveston was reinstated with the earldom of Cornwall.[51] It did not take long, however, for him to alienate the earls once more. The chronicles tell of how Gaveston gave mocking nicknames to other earls, calling Lincoln 'burst-belly', Pembroke 'Joseph the Jew', Lancaster 'the fiddler' and Warwick 'the black dog of Arden' (from the forest of Arden in Warwickshire).[52] Gaveston also began to exploit his relationship with the king more ostentatiously, obtaining favours and appointments for his friends and servants.[53] The political climate became so hateful that in February 1310, a number of the earls refused to attend parliament as long as Gaveston was present.[54] Gaveston was dismissed, and, when parliament convened, the disaffected barons presented a list of grievances they wanted addressed. On 16 March, the king was forced to appoint a group of men to ordain reforms of the royal household.[55] This group of so-called Lords Ordainers consisted of eight earls, seven bishops and six barons.[56] Among the earls were supporters of the king, like Gloucester and John of Brittany, Earl of Richmond, as well as strong opponents, like Lancaster and Warwick.[57]

While the Ordainers were at work drafting their reform document, Edward decided to address one of the main causes behind the discontent: the Scottish situation.[56] Edward II had, almost immediately after his accession, abandoned the relentless Scottish campaigns of his father.[58] As a result, Robert the Bruce had been able to regain the initiative in the war, reconquer lost territory, and stage destructive raids into the north of England. To aggravate matters, Edward had continued to raise extortionate taxes, ostensibly for the war in Scotland, but without showing any result.[59] If the king could produce victory against the Scots, this would go a long way towards undermining the work of the Ordainers.[60] In June, the king summoned the magnates for a military campaign, but most of the Ordainers refused on the basis of the work they were performing.[61] When the king departed for Scotland in September, only Gloucester, Warenne and Gaveston among the earls accompanied him.[62] The campaign proved frustrating for Edward, when Bruce refused to engage in open battle, or even get involved in negotiations. In February, Gaveston was sent with an army north from Roxburgh to Perth, but he failed to track down the Scottish army.[63]

While the royal army was in the north, Edward received news from London that the Earl of Lincoln had died on 6 February 1311.[64] This meant that a moderating influence on the baronial party had been lost, at the same time as the antagonistic Earl of Lancaster – who was Lincoln's son-in-law and heir – emerged as the leader of the Ordainers.[65] With the Ordainers ready to present their programme of reform, Edward had to summon a parliament. In late July he appointed Gaveston Lieutenant of Scotland, and departed for London.[66] Bruce still evaded the English successfully, in early August even staging a raid into northern England, and shortly after this Gaveston withdrew to Bamburgh Castle in Northumberland.[67] When parliament met on 16 August, the king was presented with a set of proposed reforms of the royal household, as well as specific attacks on individuals, including a demand for the renewed exile of Piers Gaveston.[68] Edward initially offered to agree to the reforms as long as Gaveston was allowed to stay, but the Ordainers refused. The king held out for as long as he could, but eventually had to agree to the Ordinances, which were published on 27 September.[69] On 3 November, two days after the allotted deadline, Gaveston left England for the last time.[70]

Return and death It is not quite clear where Gaveston spent his time abroad; the conditions of his exile banned him from staying in any of the lands of the English king. This precluded both Aquitaine and Ireland, where he had spent his previous exiles.[71] There is some evidence that he might have gone to France initially, but considering the French king's hostile attitude towards him, he is not likely to have stayed there long. Flanders is a much more likely candidate for Gaveston's third and final exile.[72] This time his absence was even shorter than the second time, lasting no more than two months. Returning around Christmas 1311, he was reunited with the king early in 1312, probably at Knaresborough on 13 January.[22] The reason for his quick return might have been the birth of his child, a daughter named Amie, around this time. On 18 January, Edward declared the judgement against Gaveston unlawful, and restored all lands to him.[73]

The royal and baronial parties now both began preparations for war. In March, Gaveston settled at Scarborough, and began to fortify the castle.[74] Around the same time, he was pronounced excommunicate by Archbishop Winchelsey at St Paul's. At the same meeting the barons – under the leadership of Lancaster – divided up the realm to oppose the king. Pembroke and Warenne were given the responsibility of capturing Gaveston.[75] On 4 May, the king and Gaveston were at Newcastle, and barely escaped a force led by Lancaster, Henry Percy and Robert Clifford.[76] Gaveston then returned to Scarborough, while the king left for York. Scarborough was soon besieged by Pembroke, Warenne, Percy and Clifford, and on 19 May Gaveston surrendered to the besiegers.[77] The terms of the surrender were that Pembroke, Warenne and Percy would take Gaveston to York, where the barons would negotiate with the king. If an agreement could not be reached by 1 August, Gaveston would be allowed to return to Scarborough. The three swore an oath to guarantee his safety.[78] After an initial meeting with the king in York, Gaveston was left in the custody of Pembroke, who escorted him south for safekeeping.

On 9 June, Pembroke left Gaveston at the rectory at Deddington in Oxfordshire, while he himself left to visit his wife.[80] When Warwick found out about Gaveston's whereabouts, he immediately rode out to capture him. The next morning he appeared at the rectory, where he took Gaveston captive and brought him back to his castle at Warwick.[81] Pembroke, whose honour had been affronted, appealed for justice both to Gaveston's brother-in-law Gloucester and to the University of Oxford, but to no avail.[82][83] At Warwick, Gaveston was condemned to death for violating the terms of the Ordinances, before an assembly of barons, including Warwick, Lancaster, Hereford and Arundel.[84] On 19 June, he was taken out on the road towards Kenilworth 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.[85]

Aftermath Gaveston's body was simply left behind at the site of his execution. One chronicle tells of how four shoemakers brought it to Warwick, who refused to accept it, and ordered them to bring it back outside his jurisdiction. Eventually, a group of Dominican friars brought it to Oxford.[86] A proper burial could not be arranged while Gaveston was still excommunicate, and it was not until 2 January 1315, after the king had secured a papal absolution for his favourite, that he could have his body buried in an elaborate ceremony at the Dominican priory at Langley.[22] In 1823, a cross was erected at Blacklow Hill by local squire, Bertie Greathead, at the place believed to be the location of Gaveston's execution.[87]

Edward also provided a generous endowment for Gaveston's widow Margaret, who in 1317 married Hugh de Audley, the later Earl of Gloucester.[88] The king tried to find a suitable marriage for Piers' and Margaret's daughter Joan, but these arrangements came to nothing when Joan died in 1325, at the age of thirteen.[89] There is also some evidence that Gaveston might have fathered another, illegitimate daughter; one contemporary document refers to an "Amie filie Petri de Gaveston". This Amie was a chamberlain of Edward III's wife, Queen Philippa, and later married John Driby, a yeoman of the royal family.[90]

Edward's initial reaction to the news of Gaveston's execution was rage; according to the Vita Edwardi he swore to avenge the act.[22] Circumstances, however, prevented him from taking immediate action against the executioners.[91] During the previous raid on Newcastle, the king and Gaveston had to flee quickly, leaving behind horses and jewels worth a great amount of money.[92] At the same time, the barons' extralegal action had alienated many of their former associates; the Earl of Pembroke in particular became strongly tied to the king's cause after the affront to his honour.[93] Through the arbitration of the Earl of Gloucester and others, a settlement was finally reached on 14 October 1313, whereby the barons were given a pardon and the horses and jewels were returned to the king.[94] The following years were marked by a constant power struggle between Edward and Lancaster, centred on the maintenance of the Ordinances. The matter was not finally settled until 1322, when Lancaster was defeated at the Battle of Boroughbridge, and executed.[95]

Question of homosexuality It was hinted at by medieval chroniclers, and has been alleged by modern historians, that the relationship between Gaveston and Edward was homosexual. The Annales Paulini claims that Edward loved Gaveston "beyond measure", while the Lanercost says the intimacy between them was "undue".[96] The Chronicle of Melsa states that Edward "particularly delighted in the vice of sodomy", without making special reference to Gaveston.[97] The portrayal of Gaveston as homosexual continued in fictional portrayals, such as Christopher Marlowe's play Edward II from the early 1590s, and the 1924 adaptation of that work by Bertolt Brecht and Lion Feuchtwanger.[98]

Modern historians have been divided on the issue. T. F. Tout, writing in 1914, rejected the idea.[99] J.S. Hamilton, who wrote a biography of Gaveston in 1988, on the other hand says that "there is no question that the king and his favorite were lovers."[97] Pierre Chaplais, writing a few years later, had more reservations. Chaplais cites the fact that Edward had four children with his wife — and even an illegitimate son — as well as the relative silence of contemporary commentators on the topic.[100] He also finds it hard to believe that Philip IV of France would have allowed the English king to marry his daughter Isabella if Edward was known to be homosexual.[101] Mark Ormrod has pointed out the inherent anachronism of speaking of homosexuality in a medieval context. Instead Ormrod suggests the focus should be on the motivation behind the use of sexuality in contemporary attacks on the king and Gaveston.[102]

If the king and Gaveston were indeed lovers, the question remains of what effect this had on their respective careers and eventual downfalls. John Boswell, in his Christianity, Social Tolerance, and Homosexuality, calls Gaveston Edward's lover, and writes that there is little doubt "that [Edward's] wife and the barons of England were violently hostile to Edward's sexual proclivities, although he more than fulfilled his royal duties by fathering four children with Isabella."[103] Boswell argues that Edward and Gaveston fell victim to a new-found concern about sexual morals among the secular powers of Western Europe, manifested shortly before in the trial of the Knights Templar in 1307.[104] This interpretation is disputed by Hamilton. "The favorite was murdered because of his control of patronage," writes Hamilton, "not because of his access to the king's bedchamber".[105] This same view is also expressed by Roy Martin Haines, in his 2003 biography of the king.[106]

Historical assessment Contemporary and near-contemporary chroniclers were generally negative in their attitudes towards Gaveston, blaming the royal favourite for many of the problems of the reign. Gaveston was accused of such various crimes as draining the treasury, orchestrating the arrest of treasurer Walter Langton, and filling the court with foreigners.[98] According to the Lanercost Chronicle, "There was not anyone who had a good word to say about the king or Piers."[107] Nevertheless, the chroniclers did not deny that he had certain good qualities. Irish chroniclers were appreciative both of his military and his administrative skills during his period in Ireland. Likewise, Geoffrey the Baker called him "graceful and agile in body, sharp witted, refined in manner, [and] sufficiently well versed in military matters."[98] Marlow, however, focused exclusively on the negative aspects of Gaveston's biography, portraying him – according to Hamilton – as "a sycophantic homosexual with a marked tendency towards avarice, nepotism, and especially overweening pride." This was the impression that lived on in the popular imagination.

The first modern historians to deal with the reign of Edward II – William Stubbs, Thomas Frederick Tout and James Conway Davies – added little to the understanding of Gaveston. While generally agreeing with the chronicles, they allotted him no importance within their own main field of interest, that of constitutional history. For later generations of historians, the focus shifted from constitutional to personal issues. From the 1970s onwards, the topic of study became the personal relations between magnates and the crown, and the distribution of patronage. It is to this school of thought that Hamilton's biography belongs, in which he argues that it was Gaveston's exclusive access to royal patronage that was the driving force behind the baronial animosity towards him. Chaplais, on the other hand, takes a different approach to the study of Gaveston and his place in the reign of Edward II. According to Chaplais, Edward was more or less indifferent to the practice of kingship, and essentially delegated the job to Gaveston. As an alternative to a homosexual relationship, Chaplais suggests that the bond that existed between the king and Gaveston was that of an adoptive brotherhood. This concept had a Biblical precedent in the traditionalist, platonic interpretation of the relationship between David and Jonathan, and also existed in the Middle Ages, as exemplified in the story of Roland and Olivier.

In modern popular culture, Gaveston has been portrayed in a variety of ways. In Derek Jarman's 1991 film, based on Marlow's play, Edward and Gaveston are presented as victims of homophobia and prejudice. In the 1995 movie Braveheart, on the other hand, Gaveston (thinly disguised as the character 'Phillip') is again caricatured as arrogant and effeminate. There is also an Oxford University dining club called the Piers Gaveston Society, that is notorious for its debauchery.

About Piers Gaveston, Earl of Cornwall A Frenchman, the arrogant Piers was a favorite of Edward II, indeed he was believed to be the king's homosexual lover. The nobles hated him, particularly Guy de Beauchamp who Piers mockingly referred to as "The Black Dog of Arden." The insult would eventually cost Gaveston his life. De Beauchamp and others seized Piers, took him to Warwick Castle, and after a quick trial executed him in 1312. Guy eventually received a royal pardon for the murder. The first reference to the game of cricket being played was in 1300, when Prince Edward (later Edward II) played Piers Gaveston.

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Piers de Gaveston, 1st Earl of Cornwall's Timeline

Blacklow Hill, Warwickshire, England
January 6, 1312
Age 28
Tunbridge, Kent, England
January 12, 1312
Age 28
Tunbridge Castle, Kent, , England
January 19, 1312
Age 28
Blacklow Hill, Warwickshire, England
January 2, 1314
Age 28
King's Langley, Herts, ENG
Earl of Cornwall