20 January, 2011

It's That Man Again! Some Primary Sources Relating To A Certain Gascon Nobleman

Another post about Piers Gaveston, this one looking at some of the primary sources relating to his second exile from England in 1308.

Parliament met in the monks' refectory of Westminster Abbey shortly after Edward II's coronation on 25 February 1308, and according to the chronicles of Walter of Guisborough and the Annales Paulini  - there is no official parliamentary record - demanded Piers' exile.  Edward refused, and left Westminster with Piers and spent Easter preparing for war against his magnates* at Windsor Castle, fortifying it as a stronghold where his beloved could remain in safety.  As a further precaution, Edward ordered the nearby bridges at Staines and Kingston to be dismantled, which must have caused the locals considerable annoyance and inconvenience, and switched the custody of key royal castles to men he could trust, among them Hugh Despenser the Elder, John Haudlo, William Latimer and Piers Gaveston himself.

* Or most of them, rather; his cousin Thomas of Lancaster, later his greatest enemy and the man who had Piers Gaveston killed in 1312, was on his side at this point, and was rewarded by being appointed steward of England on 9 May 1308.

1) Here's my translation of a letter Piers wrote (or rather, his scribe did) to his retainer Sir Robert Darcy on 1 April 1308, at his castle of Wallingford, where Edward spent several days on the way from Westminster to Windsor.  It's one of the very few letters Piers wrote which still exists.  (Note: The 'we' and 'us' are conventional, not Piers using the royal plural; Easter Sunday fell on 14 April that year; Edward II's itinerary shows that he had left Wallingford on 30 March and arrived at Windsor, via Caversham, the following day.)
"Piers Gaveston, earl of Cornwall [Piers de Gavaston counte de Cornewayle], to our very dear and beloved bachelor Sir Robert Darcy, greetings and very dear affection.  Know that we have very well understood your kind letters which you sent us, by which we have understood that you are certain of having 20 armed men, some of them knights, some squires, and 100 footmen, and other people of whom you are certain.  Know that it is our wish that you remain occupied with this business, and we ask you especially to do it with all your power, as in this matter we have placed our trust in you entirely.  But we ask that you will come to us this next Easter at Windsor [Wyndelesoures], and do not leave us, for love of us [pur lamur de nous].  Regarding that which you have asked us, that we would be pleased to request our lord the king [nostre seynur le rei] for the custody and the marriage of the son and heir of Sir Joh' Moriet*, who is dead, know that Sir Hugh Despenser [sire Hue le Espenser, the Elder] asked for them three days before your letter came to me, and the king granted them to others, but inform us as soon as you can, should you discover anything you wish for yourself, and we will take pains that you will have it, as far as we are capable and able.  May our lord keep you.  Given at Wallingford, the first day of April."  (Cited in the original French in J.R. Maddicott, Thomas of Lancaster 1307-1322: A Study in the Reign of Edward II, p. 335.)

* Sir John Meriet, one of the men knighted with the future Edward II in May 1306, died shortly before 16 March 1308.  Edward granted custody of his son John (aged ten or eleven) and his lands in Somerset and Lincolnshire, and the marriage of his widow, to Sir Ingelram Berenger, household knight and close associate of Hugh Despenser the Elder: Calendar of Fine Rolls 1307-1319, p. 19; Calendar of Patent Rolls 1307-1313, pp. 94, 133; Calendar of Inquisitions Post Mortem, vol. 5, pp. 27-28.  The last part of Piers' letter is especially interesting because it demonstrates the great esteem in which Edward II held Despenser the Elder, one of the few magnates on his side at this juncture - the king didn't withdraw his offer to grant wardship of Meriet's heir to one of Despenser's retainers even when Piers Gaveston wanted it for one of his.  It's also interesting for the insight into royal patronage, to see Despenser using his closeness to the king to ask for a favour for one of his most loyal associates (and why not?).

2) These are the second and third articles of the famous Homage et serment declaration which the anti-Piers magnates, led by the earl of Lincoln, presented to Edward II on 30 April 1308, the day he returned to Westminster from Windsor.  (Two days late for parliament, which should have begun on the 28th; this would certainly not be the last time Edward arrived late for parliament.)  Notice how they pointedly didn't use Piers' name:

"As regards the person who is talked about [la persone dount home parle, i.e. Piers], the people ought to judge him as one not to be suffered because he disinherits the crown and, as far as he is able, impoverishes it.  By his counsel he withdraws the king from the counsel of his realm and puts discord between the king and his people, and he draws to himself the allegiance of men by as stringent an oath as does the king, thereby making himself the peer of the king and so enfeebling the crown, for by means of the property of the crown he has gathered to himself and put under his control the power of the crown, so that by his evil deeds it lies solely with him to determine whether the crown should be destroyed and he himself made sovereign of the realm in treason towards his liege lord and the crown, contrary to his fealty.

Since the lord king has undertaken to maintain him against all men on every point, entirely without regard to right reason, as behoves the king, he cannot be judged or attainted by an action brought according to law, and therefore, seeing that he is a robber of the people and a traitor to his liege lord and his realm, the people rate him as a man attainted and judged, and pray the king that, since he is bound by his coronation oath to keep the laws that the people shall choose, he will accept and execute the award of the people."  (Cited and translated in English Historical Documents, vol. iii: 1189-1327, ed. Harry Rothwell, pp. 525-526.)

3) Edward finally gave in, and on 18 May 1308 agreed to banish Piers:

"Edward, by the grace of God king of England, lord of Ireland and duke of Aquitaine, to all those who see or hear these letters, greetings.  We make known to you that between this day and the day that Sir Piers Gaveston [monsire Pieres de Gavaston] must leave our realm, that is, the morrow of the Nativity of St John the Baptist next [25 June], we will not do anything, nor suffer anything to be done, as far as within us lies, by which the departure of this same Piers [meisme celui Peres] might be impeded or delayed in any way, according to the counsel given to us by the prelates, earls and barons of our realm, with which we have agreed.  In witness of this, we have made these open letters.  Given at Westminster, the eighteenth day of May, in the first year of our reign."  (My translation; given in French in Foedera 1307-1327, p. 44, and Annales Londonienses 1195-1330, in W. Stubbs, ed., Chronicles of the Reigns of Edward I and Edward II, vol. 1, p. 154.)

Piers (with his wife Margaret de Clare) sailed from Bristol on or shortly after the deadline of 25 June to take up his position as lieutenant of Ireland, with a parting gift of 1180 marks from the infatuated king.*  Edward saw him off - he was in Bristol from 22 June to 2 July - and appointed Piers' elder brother Arnaud-Guilhem de Marsan seneschal of the Agenais (roughly, the modern French département of Lot-et-Garonneon 27 June.**  While in Bristol, on 1 July 1308, Edward remembered or was reminded that in six days it would be the first anniversary of his father's death, and wrote to his chancellor John Langton, bishop of Chichester: "As next Sunday, 7 July, will be the anniversary of the king's father, and the king wishes that the service for his soul on that day shall be done so well and solemnly on all points that nothing shall fail and it shall be to the king's honour; the king prays the chancellor dearly to be at the said service at Westminster, both at the Saturday before at placebo and dirige and on the Sunday at mass, and to take pains with the other bishops and the treasurer, who will be there, that the service be well ordered."  ***  Edward himself, however, was in Reading on 6/7 July, forty miles from Westminster.

[* C 81/60/249.
** Calendar of Chancery Warrants 1244-1326, p. 275.
*** Chancery Warrants, p. 276.]

4) And finally, three chroniclers give their verdict on Piers Gaveston...

"For the magnates of the land hated him, because he alone found favour in the king's eyes and lorded it over them like a second king, to whom all were subject and none equal.  Almost all the land hated him too, great and small, even the old, and foretold ill of him; whence his name was reviled far and wide.  Nor could the king's affection be alienated from Piers, for the more he was told, in attempts to damp his ardour, the greater grew the king's love and tenderness towards Piers...Piers remained a man of big ideas, haughty and puffed-up...For, scornfully rolling his upraised eyes in pride and in abuse, he looked down upon all with pompous and supercilious countenance...he scarcely ever condescended disdainfully to notice the magnates of the land, to whom he could not be necessary, yet whose help he needed.  And indeed the superciliousness which he affected would have been unbearable enough in a king’s son."  (Vita Edwardi Secundi, ed. N. Denholm-Young, pp. 1-2, 16.)

"Piers became very magnificent, liberal, and well-bred in manner, but haughty and supercilious in debate, whereat some of the great men of the realm took deep offence."  (Scalacronica: The Reigns of Edward I, Edward II and Edward III as Recorded by Sir Thomas Gray of Heton, knight, ed. Herbert Maxwell, p. 50.)
 "...confident he had been confirmed for life in his earldom, albeit he was an alien and had been preferred to so great dignity solely by the king's favour, [Piers] had now grown so insolent as to despise all the nobles of the land."  (The Chronicle of Lanercost 1272-1346, ed. Herbert Maxwell, p. 194.)


Anonymous said...

That was great! I can picture Piers dictating his letter to a scribe as he probably didn't write the letter himself - even if he could read and write - surely their were servants/clerks to do such things!


Kate Plantagenet

Kathryn Warner said...

Kate, isn't it great to see Piers' own words?? I love it.

Anonymous said...

Glad to see something about Piers!Do you think his brother Guillaume Arnaud went to Ireland with him?

Susan Higginbotham said...

Great stuff!

Kathryn Warner said...

Thanks, Susan!

Anon: ohhhh, plenty more posts about Piers to come in the future, I'm sure! :-) I'm not sure about his half-brother - I haven't seen any refs on the patent roll to his accompanying Piers (as there is for Robert Darcy, for example), but I think it's quite likely that he did. I'd love to know more about Piers' family...

Anerje said...

you just know I enjoyed this post! Thanks for sharing the letter with me previously. I'm sure Edward would have let Piers use the 'Royal we' if he'd wanted to anyway:> I note the last chronicler you quote from obviosly dislikes the fact that Piers holds rank, because he is 'an alien' - jealousy?

Anerje said...

any reason why Piers wasn't mentioned by name by the nobles? Are they slighting him by calling him 'the person who is talked about'? Is it a subtle way of not referring to him as Earl of Cornwall?

Kathryn Warner said...

You're welcome, Anerje - glad you liked it! ;-)

That's actually a pretty silly statement by the chronicler, to call Piers an 'alien' - as a Gascon, he was a subject of the king of England!

I think calling him 'the person who is talked about' was a way of disparaging him, not acknowledging his title or even his right be called Sir. Ed's proclamation exiling him obviously wasn't drafted by Ed himself (as Pierre Chaplais points out in his book about Piers) as he's not called earl of Cornwall or addressed as 'our dear and faithful'.

Anonymous said...

I wonder how Piers felt when Edward gave in and allowed him to be exiled without a fight. Also, it is clear that Piers' friends and followers remained very loyal to him, so they obviously did not find him "haughty and puffed up" -Piers must have been very gracious and charming to those who had the good sense to appreciate him.

Kathryn Warner said...

Piers must have realised that Edward had no choice (it took him almost three months to agree to the exile, late February to 18 May) and that the king was doing everything he possibly could to get him back - Edward was in touch with the pope before Piers had even left England, and spent the next few months intriguing, successfully, with the pope, the king of France and his own barons to get Piers back to England. As, of course, he did,a year later. Edward didn't go to war in the end - he didn't have enough barons on his side to make a victory plausible - but it's not fair to say he let Piers go without a fight.

Definitely agree with the rest of your comments though! :-)

Gabriele C. said...

Those nobles make it sound like Piers was some Lord Voldemort. :) And the nicknames surely must have irked them quite a bit to call Piers haughty, and 'lording over them' just because he had a brain.

Anerje said...

Yes, Kathryn, Edward was forced into 'banishing' Piers - and they both knew it. And of course, he made sure it was a very comfortable exile and that Piers was not too far away. As soon as Piers went, Edward was already making plans to recall him, and with his success in Ireland, Piers was able to return in some glory.

I'm sure the fact that as a Gascon Piers was not 'an alien' was ignored and was just another stick to beat him with. Jealousy over his closeness to Edward and his attitude to the nobles surely played their part. Ian Mortimer says Piers gave Edward the confidence to stand up to the nobles and be happy in himself - but what they would take from a king, they would not take from his favourite.

Anonymous said...

About Piers' family - maybe you could do a post about Arnaud Guillaume de Marsan as there does seem to be quite a bit about him in various sources.

Kathryn Warner said...

Gabriele: so true! :-)

Anerje, thanks for that great comment!

Anon, yes, I might do that sometime!

Anonymous said...

According to Hamilton, in 1291 Piers' father Arnaud sued Edward I for the restoration of properties that had been taken into the king's hands on the death of Piers' mother. He says the suit was filed jointly by Arnaud, his son Arnaud Guillaume and his "brother in law" Fortaner de Lescun. Now that it is known that Arnaud and Claramonde had a son called Fortaner de Lescun, I wonder if the Fortaner in the lawsuit was actually Arnaud's son. Is there any legal reason why Claramonde's brother would have been involved in this affair? The properties involved had been her inheritance. (And how did Arnaud and Claramonde manage to get into so much debt? Is that how Piers developed his taste for extravagant living?)

Rowan Plantagenet said...

A letter of Piers himself!
Thanks so VERY much for sharing here!

"For the magnates of the land hated him, because he alone found favour in the king's eyes"....I guess this was the main problem. :-(