19 June, 2012

19 June 1312: My Heart Is As An Anvil Unto Sorrow

700 years ago today, Piers Gaveston, earl of Cornwall, was run through with a sword and beheaded at Blacklow Hill in Warwickshire.  He was probably just under thirty*, and left his five-month-old daughter Joan as his heir as well as an illegitimate daughter, Amie, and his eighteen-year-old widow Margaret de Clare.  And, of course, the grieving and furious Edward II, and a very real chance that England would slide into civil war.

* EDITED TO ADD: After I wrote this post, more information about Piers and his family came to light, and I now believe he was older than thirty at the time of his death.

For more information, see: Piers' return to England; his execution; its aftermath.

"If I be England's king, in lakes of gore
Your headless trunks your bodies will I trail,
That you may drink your fill, and quaff in blood,
And stain my royal standard with the same,
That so my bloody colours may suggest
Remembrance of revenge immortally
On your accursed traitorous progeny,
You villains that have slain my Gaveston!"

Christopher Marlowe, Edward the Second, Act 3 Scene 3.  The title of the blog post comes from Act 1 Scene 4.

"This King Edward the Second after the Conquest bestowed great affection during his father's life upon Piers de Gaveston, a young man of good Gascon family; whereat his father became so much concerned lest he should lead his son astray, that he caused him to be exiled from the realm...Piers became very magnificent, liberal and well-bred in manner, but haughty and supercilious in debate..."  (Scalacronica).

"Piers was an alien of Gascon birth...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 his love and tenderness towards Piers...Piers was very proud and haughty in bearing.  All those whom the custom of the realm made equal to him, he regarded as lowly and abject, nor could anyone, he thought, equal him in valour."  (Vita Edwardi Secundi)

And this is my attempt to express Edward II's love for Piers, in a fictional scene set in 1316 where Edward is talking to his friend Donald of Mar:

"...He was the most perfect, radiant, desirable, extraordinary creature that ever lived. There was never anyone like him. Damn Thomas for killing him! It's three years, seven months and twenty-three days since he and Warwick had him slaughtered, and God, I still need him, I can't bear my life without him. Every day I've woken up without him has been pointless."
He sent the chess piece flying across the room, and it struck the wall above a tapestry and smashed. Tristan [the king's dog] jumped at the sound and Edward patted his head absent-mindedly, and took a few deep breaths to try to control himself. "One day, Donald, I'll have my revenge for Piers' murder."

And another fictional scene of mine where Edward goes to see his cousin Thomas of Lancaster the evening before having Thomas executed for treason, at Pontefract in March 1322 (the earl is in chains in one of the towers of his own castle):

"...And do you remember how you once swore you’d protect me against all comers, in battle if need be, when almost all the others had deserted Piers and me before they sent him into exile? You stood by me, and I loved you for your loyalty. What happened to us? What went wrong, Thomas? Why did you abandon me, you, of all people? I still don't know."
     Thomas fidgeted, and picked at a thread on his soiled cloak, one of the few movements his manacles would allow. "That was before I found out what a fool you were," he finally said, though his voice lacked rancour. "Good lord, you let that Gascon get away with anything. A king can't rule like that!"
     "You can't even say his name, can you, Thomas?" Edward said, almost under his breath. He shifted position on the cold floor. "Let me say it instead: Piers Gaveston. The man you murdered."
     "I didn't! I had him executed. He was an outlaw, an excommunicate! He was begging for death."
     "I loved him, Thomas," Edward said with quiet emphasis. "He was my life. You knew how much I loved him, how much I needed him, but you murdered him anyway. Whatever you might think of me, you must know how deeply I can love. Have you ever loved, Thomelyn?" he asked suddenly, and Thomas didn't answer. "For all your hordes of mistresses, have you ever truly loved? And been loved? Have any of your women ever loved you, the real Thomas, and not your wealth and influence? I think not. But Piers, he loved the real me, Edward, the man not the king. And you tore him from me, humiliated him, you and your crony Warwick, before you murdered him. And there isn't a day that I don't think about him." The torment of ten years before ripped into Edward, as he fought to keep his voice level.
     Thomas stared at the wall above Edward's head. "I didn't have a choice. The way you acted forced me into it – it was the only way to get him away from you!"
     Edward shook his head. "You had a choice – to be faithful to your king and cousin, or not. And I share some of the blame, because I had a choice too. I had the choice between my kingdom and my love, and I chose my kingdom. I see now that I made the wrong choice, and we all live with the consequences of that, don't we?"
     Thomas dropped his eyes to Edward's face. "You're going to sentence me to death tomorrow, aren't you? As I sentenced the Gascon? For revenge?"
     "Yes," Edward said, and to his credit, Thomas didn't flinch, but merely sighed.

R.I.P. Piers Gaveston, oh thou beloved of a king.


Paula Lofting said...

Kathryn this is so moving. I love it. You must so continue with this. You are the only person in the world who could do justice for Edward. Please write that novel!!

Kathryn Warner said...

Thanks so much, Paula! So glad you like it. I really must find the time to do more writing sometime!

Rowan Lewgalon said...

This brought me to tears, Kathryn.
Deeply moving and marvellous.
Yes, I agree, you HAVE to find more time for your writing. Its is wonderful and I'd love to read (and illustrate ;)) all of it.

Kathryn Warner said...

Thanks so much, Rowan! xx I'm so glad you think so!

Anerje said...

OMG I know this is a sad day, but what wonderful writing! Thank you so much for sharing! I found it very moving. More please!!!!!

Kathryn Warner said...

Thank you, Anerje! OK, will post some more soon! :)

Anonymous said...

Absolutely beautiful!!! Thank you Karen !

Kathryn Warner said...

So glad you like it, thank you!

Gabriele Campbell said...

Ouch, the evil word verification is back. Your blog must be pretty popular if you get so much spam. Having it off didn't make a difference for my little corner in the Bloggiverse.

Lovely writing indeed. Though I wonder about the part where Edward says he should have chosen love over the crown - it strikes me as too modern. Medieaval kings thought they got their position by the grace of God and it was not in their power to abandon it (except to join a monastery). Is there any hint that Edward may have thought along the lines he does in your snippet. That would make him even more interesting.

Kathryn Warner said...

I get inundated with spam, to the point that I can't stand it. :(

Thank you! Throughout my fictional writing about Edward, he has a tendency to hyberbole and to dramatise himself, and at one point says he should abdicate in favour of his 3-year-old son - he doesn't really think he has that option or that he could have left England for Piers - it's just his way of expressing himself, expressing a wish he doesn't think could ever come true. :)

Gabriele Campbell said...

Ah, that makes sense in context then. He's a bit of a drama king, eh? :)

Kathryn Warner said...

Exactly :) :)

karacherith said...

I REALLY like the speech you wrote for Edward! It sounds like (what I imagine) he sounded like! Why do you have him call Thomas "Thomelyn"? Was that a common nickname at the time?

The only criticism I have is that you spell things out too neatly at the end (You're going to sentence me to death tomorrow? ... For revenge?). A lot of historical fiction spells things out too clearly for the reader--probably because historical novelists are used to nonfiction writing styles!

Kathryn Warner said...

Thank you! So glad you like it. Yes, because 'Thomelyn' was the usual nickname for Thomas at the time. I prefer to use contemporary names wherever possible.

It's not the end of a chapter or their conversation, just the end of a very short extract I copied and pasted here. :) I'm trying to explore their states of mind and how Thomas feels about sentenced to death in revenge for Piers. He has quite a bit to say about it. :)

Gabriele Campbell said...

You tease. Now post the rest of that scene, too. :)

Kathryn Warner said...

Mwhahaha, maybe I will sometime...*cackles evilly* :-) :-)