12 October, 2014

Piers Gaveston's Illegitimate Daughter Amie

I've recently been re-reading some of the bizarre theories and wild speculations posted a few years ago on soc.genealogy.medieval about Piers Gaveston's illegitimate daughter Amie, and was inspired to write a post.  Not much is known about Amie; she cannot have been the daughter of Piers' wife and Edward II's niece Margaret de Clare as she was not, like her half-sister Joan Gaveston (born January 1312) an heiress to Margaret's third of the vast de Clare inheritance, and there is no record of Piers having been previously married before he wed Margaret in November 1307, so Amie must have been his illegitimate child.  The identity of her mother is unknown.  She was a damsel in the household of Edward III's queen Philippa of Hainault in the 1330s and married John Driby, with whom she had a daughter Alice Driby, who had (and has) descendants.  In one document of 1334, Amie is named as 'daughter (filie) of Petrus de Gaveston'.  The dates of her birth and death are unknown; Piers died in June 1312 so she cannot have been born later than nine months after that and may of course have been born much earlier, and the last known reference to her is in June 1340.  This is not necessarily when she died, though, and she may well have lived well beyond that.  Her daughter Alice Driby outlived three husbands, all of them knights, and died in 1412; Alice's eldest known child Elizabeth, was born in 1372, and she also had a son born in 1380/81 and several more children after that.

Some of the members of soc.genealogy.medieval came out with the weirdest stuff about Amie, that she was actually an illegitimate child of Piers' wife Margaret de Clare, which is massively, wildly, hilariously improbable; that she was the daughter of his father, claimed (wrongly) also to have been called Piers, and thus our Piers' half-sister.  It was even stated that a document calling Amie Piers' daughter doesn't prove a blood relation between them (??), by the same people who cheerfully indulged in flights of fantasy about Amie actually being Margaret de Clare's illegitimate daughter, though not a shred of evidence connects the two.  Fortunately there were also a few sensible members who made some eminently reasonable and knowledgeable posts about her.  See here.  And also see here for a reference to Amie on the Patent Roll of 1332, granted one of the late Roger Mortimer's manors in gratitude for her service to Queen Philippa.  When Amie joined Philippa's household, and how she came to be there, is unknown.  She is not named among the queen's five damsels in a list of the members of the king and queen's households of 24 June 1328, a few months after Philippa married Edward III (Calendar of Memoranda Rolls Michaelmas 1326-Michaelmas 1327, p. 373; the damsels were, in the original spelling, Johanna de Carru, Emmota Priour, Idonia de Clynton, Margareta de Peckebruge and Elena de Seckeville).

It's quite baffling to me that anyone would feel the need to go to such lengths to 'prove' that Amie Gaveston was not in fact Piers' daughter when a perfectly good fourteenth-century document says clearly that she was, and claim instead that she was the daughter of his wife, of his father, or of some other man called Piers Gaveston, though there is absolutely no record of anyone such.  It reminds me of the way some people are desperate to reassign Edward III's paternity to Roger Mortimer by inventing silly stories of Roger sneaking into England from Ireland in February 1312 and Isabella sneaking off to meet him on her way to York to be with her husband.  Or that Simon de Montfort was Edward I's real father.  Nonsense on stilts.  If people want to write fictional stories, great, but let's not pretend it has anything to do with history.  It would be like someone 700 years in the future seeing my birth certificate which identifies me as the daughter of Philip Warner, and solemnly declaring that there is no reason why this should mean that I was in fact Philip's daughter and the document doesn't prove that there was a family connection between us, and creating elaborate fantasies which they say are equally plausible about my true parentage, including that I was the illegitimate child of my stepmother.  Madness.

A fourteenth-century chronicle called the Polistoire wrongly says that Piers Gaveston's father was also called Piers, when we know from other sources that he was in fact called Arnaud.  It was therefore postulated on soc.genealogy.medieval that 'Amie daughter of Petrus Gaveston' was Piers' half-sister, daughter of his father of the same name.  The petition below of c. 1305 presented to Edward I by Piers and his older brother Arnaud-Guilhem de Marsan, now in the National Archives, leaves us in no doubt, however, that Piers' father (who actually died in 1302) was named Arnaud.  It begins "To our lord the king and his counsel plead Arnaud Guilhem de Marsan and Perrot de Gavastun, sons [fuiz] of Sir Arnaud de Gavaston, late knight of Gascony...".

Presumably Edward II knew of Amie's existence, though there is no documentary evidence to prove that he did.  Given the obscurity of most illegitimate children at this time period, even the king's own son Adam (died 1322) and the two sons of his wealthy and powerful cousin the earl of Lancaster, it is not in the least bit surprising that we find Amie in no record until 1332, when she was an adult.  There is no reason at all to think, as some members of soc.genealogy.medieval seem to do, that Amie's existence was deliberately hushed up or that there was some great conspiracy of silence around her or that her non-appearance on record means anything at all.  Presumably, as a document of 1334 names her as Piers Gaveston's daughter, Piers must have openly acknowledged her as such.

Contrary to what a lot of people believe, the word 'damsel' in the fourteenth century did not necessarily mean that a woman was young; it meant a woman who was not married or whose husband was not a knight.  One of Isabella of France's damsels in 1311/12 was Alice de Leygrave, who had once been Edward II's wet-nurse (in 1312 on the Close Roll she is called "the king's mother, who suckled him in his youth") and therefore was old enough to have been given responsibility for feeding the future king of England in 1284 and evidently was already a mother then herself - so clearly was some decades older than Isabella, who was born in about 1295, and by no stretch of the imagination a young woman in 1312.  Alice's daughter Cecily was also one of Isabella's damsels at this time.  Amie Gaveston being a damsel of Queen Philippa in 1332 therefore does not tell us anything about her age, it only tells us that she wasn't married to a knight.

At some point in or around 1334, Amie married John Driby.  One theory that Amie can't have been Piers' daughter goes: she was 'too old' for marriage if she was Piers' daughter and born in or before 1312, because we know that women married in their early teens or even before.  Amie's daughter Alice Driby was still giving birth in the early to mid-1380s, which implies that she can't have been born earlier than about 1340 and probably later.  Let's say that Alice was born around 1345; this would mean that Amie, child of a man who died in 1312, was in her thirties when she gave birth to her, and that Alice continued to bear children until she was forty or more.  Not impossible, of course; Eleanor of Castile and Philippa of Hainault are two famous contemporary examples of women who bore children when they were over forty.  Alice, incidentally, is the only child of Amie we know about, though Amie may of course have had others, who either died young or who didn't make it to the written record.  Let's say for example that Amie was born in about 1310, gave birth to her daughter in the 1340s, and Alice gave birth between 1372 or earlier and about 1385.  The chronology certainly works, though some people have claimed that Amie was too young to have been Piers' daughter, given the childbearing in the 1380s of her own daughter.  Amie, however, was granted a manor by Queen Philippa for the first time in January 1332, for service to the queen.  She clearly wasn't a child then.

We know that royal and noble women generally got married in their early teens or before.  We have no way of knowing at what age women down the social scale - and Amie certainly was that, being illegitimate - got married.  For all we know, getting married in their twenties was entirely normal.  It's a myth that everyone in the past always got married really young.  What was the hurry for non-noble or royal people, after all?  No vital political alliances between countries or families to seal, no inheritances to secure.  Even thinking about noblewomen, I can think of some who got married later than the norm: Edward I's daughter Eleanor (married at twenty-four) and Edward III's daughter Isabella (married at thirty-three) are classic examples, and there's also Gilbert 'the Red' de Clare's daughter Isabel, who married the widowed Maurice Berkeley in 1316 when she was fifty-four, her first and only marriage.  The dates of birth of the general population, everyone except tenants-in-chief and their heirs, are not recorded in this era.  We can't state with certainty that 'women always got married in early puberty' as a general rule that applies to everyone in England at this time, and it's certainly not reason enough to assume that Amie can't have been Piers Gaveston's daughter because we have some vague idea that she was 'too old' to get married in her twenties and have a child in her thirties.

Another theory: the 1334 fine which identifies Amie as 'daughter of Petrus Gaveston' does not mean the famous Piers Gaveston, earl of Cornwall, but some other Piers Gaveston.  Even though there is no documentary evidence of another Piers Gaveston, apparently we should assume that he, rather than the famous Piers, earl of Cornwall, fathered Amie.  The small Béarnais village of Gabaston where the family came from has a population of barely 600 even today.  It is surely stretching credulity too far to think that there was another 'Piers of Gabaston' in England in the early fourteenth century.  In the absence of any evidence that such a person existed, I'm going to stick with the most plausible explanation, that the Piers Gaveston named as Amie's father was the Piers Gaveston.

There's one amazingly creative theory about Amie, that she was in fact the illegitimate daughter of Piers' widow Margaret de Clare.  Goodness only knows why or how that one came about - seemingly from the inability of many people nowadays to believe that Piers Gaveston, beloved of Edward II, would have had extra-marital sex with a woman.  I have no idea why that's implausible.  Edward himself had pre- or extra-marital sex with a woman that resulted in his son Adam, after all.  Let's just speculate here and say that Margaret de Clare became pregnant by another man while she was married to Piers, and this resulted in Amie.  By English law, Amie would still have been Piers' daughter and legitimate, unless he took formal measures to renounce her.  If Amie had been legitimate, she would have been one of Margaret de Clare's co-heirs to the vast Clare inheritance, with Joan Gaveston and, later, Margaret's younger daughter Margaret Audley (who ultimately received the entire inheritance as Margaret's only surviving child).  It is incredibly unlikely that Margaret gave birth to an illegitimate child after Piers' death.  Margaret's brother the earl of Gloucester was killed at Bannockburn on 24 June 1314, almost exactly two years after Piers' execution, and she and her two sisters Eleanor and Elizabeth became heirs to his fortune and lands in England, Wales and Ireland.  Eleanor was already married, and Elizabeth still in Ireland (her husband the earl of Ulster's heir died in 1313).  Edward II took Margaret into his own household, where she would - certainly - have been watched closely.  She was a great heiress and a great prize, and it is basically impossible to imagine that she had enough freedom of movement to sleep with a man and become pregnant without it being noticed.  Even before the death of her brother, it is hard to imagine that she had the freedom of movement to sleep with a man and become pregnant without it being noticed.  The lives of royal and noble women were, of course, considerably more curtailed than those of royal and noble men.

Amie Gaveston was Piers' daughter, illegitimate and born to a mother whose identity we unfortunately do not know, and almost certainly never will unless new evidence comes to light.  I see no reason to think she was the daughter of anyone else.  I wish we knew more about her life and what, if any, arrangements Piers made for her upbringing.  I also wish we knew more about Edward II's son Adam.  Maybe one day...


Sonetka said...

Thank you so much for this post -- I'd read bits and pieces about Amie de Gaveston before but never anything this thorough. It sounds like Amie has been the victim of hindsight in many ways -- most obviously with regard to current views of what it means to be gay (Piers and Edward very likely didn't think of it as something which kept them from also falling in love with women) and also with regards to young marriage. It's easy to fall into the trap of imagining things like average age at first marriage as a constant upward trajectory, a bit like how the rates of literacy and numeracy have have steadily increased over the centuries. Of course, age at first marriage is something which bobs up and down instead, depending both on the social status of the person getting married and other factors like the economy. In the 1950s in the US, when going to work right out of high school wasn't unusual, it was reasonably common for an eighteen or nineteen-year-old girl to get married -- but her mother may have had to wait longer to marry thanks to the constraints of the Depression, and her daughter would also likely wait longer since a college degree had become more necessary for employment. All of this is pretty far away from Amie, but the fact that legimately-born royal women were getting married at fourteen doesn't mean that someone like Amie, who wasn't a peasant but also wasn't bringing, say, a duchy with her, couldn't have married in her early twenties. As for her daughter and her children, it's possible that they just tended towards fertility problems and late childbearing, but I'd put my money on there being other children who simply didn't live long enough to make it into the records, or who were mentioned in records which have since been lost or destroyed.

Anerje said...

Hi Kathryn, wonderful post! I've read so much about the supposed background of Amie - it's all very muddling and I'm amazed at the speculation about it. For such a minor person, there is so much written about her. It seems to me that because of the relationship between Piers and Edward more than likely being that of lovers, people just think it's impossible for Piers to have fathered a child outside of marriage - even though he fathered a child within his marriage? Trying to say it was his father's child, and ridiculously his wife's child by someone else - without a shred of evidence, is too silly for words. Edward fathered a child outside wedlock - so why not Piers? It's not that incredulous, surely?

Anerje said...

Regarding Margaret de Clare - she was only 14 when she married Piers, and it was certainly an arranged marriage, designed to bring Piers into the royal family. We don't know whether the marriage was happy or unhappy, but Margaret knew her duty, and I think the fact that she followed Piers to Ireland and that he returned when their child was due to be born perhaps shows there was affection between them. If she had had another child and tried to pass it off as Piers' , she didn't do a very good job, did she?

Amie would not have had the advantages of Piers legitimate daughter Joan at court. Her father had been murdered and disgraced - she would not have been an attractive match at court. We don't know the exact number of children she bore, for many may not have survived infancy.

I just find it amazing that there is so much speculation over whether Piers was her father, and why there are some people who just cannot accept it.

Brilliant post!

Brad Verity said...

Very thorough post, Kathryn - nice job! I don't think it's the nature of Edward II and Gaveston's relationship that made most genealogists believe Amie couldn't have been Piers's illegitimate daughter. Since the 1940s, when American genealogists first realized that Amie Gaveston existed and had living American descendants, there was the very strong desire for Amie to have been the daughter of Margaret de Clare, and so of royal blood from Edward I. Amie's descendants married into the minor gentry and yeoman classes, and had no such descent from Edward I otherwise unless she was Margaret de Clare's daughter. They couldn't care less about Gaveston.

Plantagenet descent is a siren that dashes many an overeager, new-to-medieval-era, genealogist on the rocks!

Anerje said...

Lol Brad! Isn't everybody descended from Edward III anyway? ;)

Brad Verity said...

LOL back, Anerje! You jokingly bring up one of my peeves - I go crazy when I hear it repeated that almost everyone in England today with British ancestors back three generations is descended from Edward III or Edward I. It shows such a poor knowledge of demographics. All you have to do is watch episodes of Who Do You Think You Are UK to realize how it's so not true! :-)

MRats said...

Well, s#!t on us, right, Kathryn? Who are we to think we might be Edward's descendants? But back to the subject. When Edward, after his alleged death, met with his son as "William the Welshman", is it possible that he asked Edward III to take Amie into Philippa's household to provide for Piers' only living child? (Or at least the only one of whom we're aware.) That would explain her late arrival on the scene. Also, in searching for evidence of Amie or Adam, would it be a waste of time to investigate any documentation that might still exist from the abbeys and monasteries dissolved by Henry VIII? Or is it only a myth that women would at times take refuge in the religious houses to give birth to children out of wedlock? If their mothers were even remotely noble, they might have gone into hiding. Of course it's moot if no records remain.

Excellent post, Kathryn!