02 March, 2008

Piers Gaveston's Insulting Nicknames, and An Illegitimate Squire

After Piers Gaveston returned to England from his second exile in the summer of 1309 - he'd been in Ireland, proving surprisingly effective as Lord Lieutenant - he demonstrated that he'd learnt little from the experience and was as arrogant as ever. Secure in Edward II's love and favour, he proceeded to continue annoying the great men of the realm. The contemporary Vita Edwardi Secundi says "The earls and barons he despised, and gave them insulting nicknames" (turpia cognomina).

The only nickname that's strictly contemporary is the one Piers gave to Guy Beauchamp, earl of Warwick, which appears as 'the Dog' in the Vita and as 'the black hound of Arden' in Flores Historiarum, or noir chien de Ardene in the later French Chronicle. The other nicknames were not recorded until Edward III's reign, including 'Burst-Belly', boele-crevee, for Henry de Lacy, earl of Lincoln in the French Chronicle. Edward II's cousin Thomas, earl of Lancaster, was called 'the Churl' according to the English Brut, and 'the Fiddler' (vielers in the original) in the French Brut. The latter was said to have been inspired by Lancaster's appearance, because he was slim and tall (porceo quil est greles et de bel entaile).

The name Piers supposedly gave to Aymer de Valence, earl of Pembroke, 'Joseph the Jew', doesn't appear until Thomas Walsingham's chronicle at the end of the fourteenth century, around seventy years after Pembroke's death and a good eighty years after Gaveston's, and was said, in an echo of the Lancaster nickname, to have been inspired by Pembroke's appearance, pale and tall (eo quod pallidus esset et longus).

The most controversial of Piers' nicknames is given as filz a puteyne or 'whoreson' in the French Brut, and rendered as 'cuckold's bird' in the French Chronicle. This name is generally assumed to refer to Gilbert de Clare, earl of Gloucester, nephew of Edward II, because his mother Joan of Acre made a secret marriage in early 1297 to her late husband's squire, Ralph de Monthermer, against her father's wishes.

However, there are problems with this identification. Firstly, Gloucester's mother was also the mother of Gaveston's wife Margaret de Clare, and secondly and probably more importantly, Joan of Acre was Edward II's sister. I find it hard to believe that Gaveston would have maligned her so nastily, for Edward's sake if nothing else. And finally, the earl of Gloucester supported Gaveston for years, only giving him up in 1312 when Gaveston returned from his third, supposedly permanent, exile. Again, I find it hard to believe that Gloucester would have supported Gaveston for as long as he did if Gaveston had publicly called his mother a whore.

It's far more likely that the nickname 'whoreson' referred to Ralph de Monthermer, Gloucester's stepfather and Edward II's brother-in-law, earl of Gloucester in right of his wife Joan of Acre from 1297 to her death in April 1307. Ralph's parentage is obscure, but evidently he was illegitimate. In 1304, the writer of the Annals of London referred to him as 'the earl of Gloucester, called a bastard'.

In 1318, Ralph married Isabella, Lady Hastings, one of the sisters of Hugh Despenser the younger, without Edward II's permission. Edward fined them 1000 marks (666 pounds), but pardoned them and respited the debt in May 1321. ("Pardon to Ralph de Monte Hermerii and Isabella his wife, late the wife of John de Hastinges, tenant in chief, of the 1,000 marks by which the said Ralph made fine for the trespass committed by the said Isabella in marrying him without licence.")

In September 1324, Edward put Ralph and Isabella in charge of the household of his daughters Eleanor and Joan. Ralph had been part of Edward's family circle since Edward was twelve, and Lady Hastings was evidently a trustworthy, maternal sort: in December 1327, when Edward II's niece Elizabeth de Clare attended his funeral, she left her two young daughters in the care of Lady Hastings, despite her hatred of the lady's (dead) brother, Despenser.

Ralph died in January 1325, leaving four children by Joan of Acre, the eldest of whom, Mary, was married to the earl of Fife. Mary lived till after 1371, when she was well into her seventies, and Ralph's granddaughter Isabella, countess of Fife in her own right, married four times. Ralph's ultimate heir was his son Thomas's daughter Margaret de Monthermer, who lived to the mid-1390s. Margaret's son John Montacute succeeded as earl of Salisbury in 1397.

Pretty impressive descendants for an illegitimate squire, albeit one who persuaded two highborn ladies to marry him without the king's permission. Ralph de Monthermer must really have had something.

20 comments:

Carole said...

Alianore, you are right, Ralph must have been really hot!

elflady said...

LOL, I can imagine Gaveston calling them names to their faces, with an ironic grin and a wink to Edward, and them, full of a terrible but impotent rage, muttering through gritted teeth: "You...,you!"

Alianore said...

Elflady: *giggles*. That's how I see it, too - not only could he knock them off their horses at will on the jousting field, he also had far more wit than they did, and they had no comeback! ;)

Carole: *faints at thought of Ralph's hotness* :-)

Gabriele C. said...

Piers should have been the mean judge in the British version of American Idol.

Btw, we have that show here as well, and Dieter Bohlen is the delightfully mean judge.

Alianore said...

Someone gave me a Dieter Bohlen doll a couple of years ago. (I still have no idea why.)

LOL, I can just see Piers on Pop Stars, or whatever the British version of the show is called, making the contestants cry with his scathing yet very witty comments. ;)

Carole said...

The current UK version is called The X Factor...

I think elflady is spot on!

I've always had a soft spot for Piers... he was hard done by.

I've always equated Lancaster, Hereford & co. with the boy who cried wolf... Got rid of Piers, who was basically guilty of nothing but arrogance and being too close to the king - correct me if I'm wrong, but I can't think of an instance of Piers doing any major interfering in politics...

Where as Despenser on the other hand... They must have wondered if they should have just left well alone...

Lady D. said...

LOL - Ralph certainly believed in keeping it in the family - didn't he?! First Eleanor's mum, then Hugh's sister! Guess he must have liked their Christmas parties or something!

And yes, Piers certainly knew how to ruffle feathers! Elflady - that is sooo right, I can just see the Earls getting all huffy now :-)

Alianore said...

It's like Eleanor de Clare marrying William la Zouche, who was the widower of Alice de Toeni, who was Hugh Despenser's aunt by marriage. ;) Crazy!

Carole: no, Piers wasn't interested in politics, unlike certain other favourites of the era we could mention. No doubt the men who killed him thought they'd done everyone a favour, then realised years later how much worse Ed's favourites could be.

Carole said...

And Lancaster and Hereford both paid for it... Hereford truly terribly.

I suspect that if Hereford had been able to think clearly through the pain as he was dying, he would have reflected that killing Piers had been jumping from the frying pan into the fire... And Lancaster, who definitely had time to think before he was executed, must have felt that he should have realised that by killing Piers he was creating a job vacancy - and that the man who filled it could be - and was, as events turned out - much worse...

elflady said...

Alianore: hehe, re jousting, remember when Piers and Roger and others smuggled themselves to France for a contest and were punished by Edward senior when they returned?

Alianore said...

Hehe, yes - "sod the war in Scotland, we're going jousting." :-) There was quite a lot of them - a couple of dozen, as far as I remember.

elflady said...

Wonder if the old king even cared to ask them if they had won before twisting their ears!

Lady D. said...

Tch tch, those youngsters! They never listen!

Kate Plantagenet said...

Of course Ralph had something....it is all in the genes!
*winks*

Pity there is no likeness of him....

elflady said...

LOL, Lady D! "You know, in my time things were quite different, there was a lot more discipline!"

Kate, I too would love to know what everyone looked like!

Alianore said...

I agree! Wouldn't it be great if we could know what all these people looked like? *Curses lack of portraits and descriptions*.

Kate, is there any famous person from this era you're not descended from?! ;) You lucky thing!

Kate Plantagenet said...

You know what it is like with all the marriages and intermarriages, once you find a little track in...the whole world of the nobility (and then almost definitely) royalty opens up!!!!

I promise I won't mention any more of my ancestors that you write about!!!!!

Alianore said...

Kate: nooo, please do! It's great to hear that you're descended from these fascinating people. I'm just jealous. ;)

Gabriele C. said...

Alianore, could you please pop over to my blog and sort out the problem of Roger Clifford's execution? :)

Anerje said...

Piers would have made Simon Cowell look like an amateur!