26 August, 2011

Poems On Piers Gaveston's Death

According to the Vita Edwardi Secundi, the death of Piers Gaveston on 19 June 1312 was an enormously popular act throughout England: "When Piers had met his end, and the voice of the people had dinned his death into the ears of all, the country rejoiced, and all its inhabitants were glad…The land rejoices, its inhabitants rejoice that they have found peace in Piers' death."

It is surely an exaggeration to say that all the country rejoiced at Piers' death, though for sure some did, as demonstrated by two contemporary poems, which are in Latin in the original:

"Celebrate, my tongue, the death of Piers who disturbed England, whom the king in love for him placed over all Cornwall; hence in his pride he will be called Earl, not Piers.
This is the work of our salvation, that Piers is dead; all the artfulness of the multifarious traitor has perished;
Henceforth let the good omen rejoice our hearts, for sorrow is past; when the fullness of time which was fit for the thing came, his head is cut off from the juncture of his body; he who raised trouble within is now troubled from without.
He who was unwilling to have an equal, clothed in the extreme of pride, against his will bends his neck to the executioner; of whose merited death this hymn is set forth.
He who placed himself as a head above his equals, loses his own head; justly his body is pierced, whose heart was so puffed up; both land, sea, stars and world, rejoice in his fall.
Ferocious and cruel among all men, he ceases now from his pomp,
Now he no longer behaves himself as an earl, or a king;
The unworthy man, worthy of death, undergoes the death he merits…
May the house of Piers, in which he is held, not be supported in strength;
May the other place [the Dominican friary of Oxford, where Piers' body was taken] be profane, and may it be in disgrace, which the filthy gore spilled from Piers’ body has defiled!
Glory be to the Creator!  Glory be to the earls
Who have made Piers die with his charms!
Henceforth may there be peace and rejoicing throughout England!"


"The bad tree is cut down, when Piers is struck on the neck;
Blessed be the weapon which thus approached Piers!
Blessed be the hand which executed him!
Blessed the man who ordered the execution!
Blessed the steel which struck him whom the world would not bear any longer!
O Cross, which allowed to be suffered this wretched misery, do thou take from us all the material of misery.
Thee, highest God in Trinity, we pray earnestly, destroy and crush forever the maintainers of Piers."

(Both poems cited in T. Wright, The Political Songs of England (1839)pp. 258-261.)

According to the Vita, Edward II issued an edict ordering everyone to refer to Piers by his title, earl of Cornwall, rather than by his name (as mentioned in the first poem above), and talks of Piers "scornfully rolling his upraised eyes in pride and in abuse, he looked down upon all with pompous and supercilious countenance…indeed the superciliousness which he affected would have been unbearable enough in a king’s son."  The somewhat later Scalacronica agrees that the "great affection" which Edward bestowed on Gaveston made him "haughty and supercilious" – although the author also calls him "very magnificent, liberal and well-bred" – and Lanercost says that Gaveston "had now grown so insolent as to despise all the nobles of the land."  His behaviour evidently alienated many...


Rowan Lewgalon said...

Those poems make me sad somehow. =/

Kathryn Warner said...

Me too. :-(

Susan Higginbotham said...

Poor Piers!

Gabriele Campbell said...

I wonder how far those poems spread. This was before the invention of print, after all, let alone We Hate Piers-groups on Facebook or whatnot. ;) On the other hand, I suspect the writers of those poems hoped for distribution of some sort.

Undine said...

I agree with the first comment. Whatever grudge they may have had against the man, spreading such verses once he was dead seems...unsporting, to say the least. I take it "De mortuis nihil nisi bonum" was a phrase that had yet to take hold in England.

Anerje said...

A massive HISS at those poems!(but not of course at Kathryn). I expect they were really secretly written by Lancaster :> Piers Forever I say! Anyone wuld be proud if they were as handsome/brilliant as Piers;>

Kathryn Warner said...

Thanks for the comments, everyone! :-) Poor Piers. :(

Rowan Lewgalon said...

I'd love to "like" your comment, Anerje :)

Anonymous said...

Piers' biographer Hamilton shows that there is no real evidence that he harmed anyone unjustly! There were serious problems in England at this time, but they had been ongoing for decades and mostly had nothing to do with Piers. The idea that "everything will be fine now that Piers is dead" was certainly shown to be ridiculous.