13 July, 2008

Edward II and Piers Gaveston's Treasure, 1312

In early May 1312, Edward II and Piers Gaveston fled from Tynemouth to Scarborough - a distance of about ninety miles - in order to escape Edward's cousin, Thomas, earl of Lancaster, who was slowly making his way north in order to capture Piers after his return to England from his third exile. The Vita Edwardi Secundi says, poetically, about Lancaster's journey, "Thus Thomas flies by night and hides by day/And to check rumour slowly wends his way." (In the original Latin: Sic Thomas de nocte uolat, sub luce moratur/ Ut lateat, modicum cursum ne fama loquatur).

Lancaster's arrival took Edward and Piers completely by surprise, and they escaped him by only a few hours. In doing so, they were forced to leave behind their enormous baggage train, which Lancaster duly took possession of. Edward fumed over the loss of his many valuable belongings, and pointed out a few months later that "if any lesser man had done it, he could be found guilty of theft and rightly condemned by a verdict of robbery with violence." Lancaster made an inventory of the possessions and claimed that he fully intended to return them to the king, though Edward had to wait until the end of February 1313 before he received them.

The full list of Edward and Piers' possessions - most of them were Edward's - is given in Foedera, and is also printed (in the French original) in Pierre Chaplais' Piers Gaveston: Edward II's Adoptive Brother, and in English in J. S. Hamilton's Piers Gaveston, earl of Cornwall 1307-1312. Edward's possessions were finally returned to him on 23 February 1313, and four days later, he also received an inventory of everything Lancaster had taken.

The inventory includes many hundreds of splendid and costly items, including:

- sixty-three horses: forty-one destriers and coursers, one palfrey, nine pack horses and twelve cart horses.

- a gold cup, enamelled with jewels, bequeathed to Edward "with her blessing" by Eleanor of Castile, the mother he had barely known, which must have held great sentimental value for him.

- several items that Edward's sisters had given him: two "stones with enamelled sides" and a gold clasp from Margaret, duchess of Brabant; another gold clasp from Elizabeth, countess of Hereford; an enamelled silver mirror and relic from Eleanor, countess of Bar, who died in 1298 when Edward was fourteen.

- a buckle of gold with two emeralds, two rubies, two sapphires and eleven pearls, with a cameo in the middle, a present to Edward from the queen of Germany (I presume this means either Elisabeth of Görz-Tirol, wife of Albrecht I, or Margaret of Brabant, wife of Heinrich VII; Elisabeth attended Edward's wedding, and Margaret was the sister of Edward's brother-in-law Duke Jan II of Brabant).

- a gold ring containing a great ruby called 'the Cherry' (la cerise), belonging to Edward. The name gives a good indication of how big it must have been.

- another great ruby set in gold, worth a staggering £1000, which was found on Piers' body after his execution, I mean murder, and was probably a gift to him from Edward. Also found on Piers' body were "three large rubies in rings, an emerald, a diamond of great value, in a silver box," and "two vessels, a large and a small, and in the small a hanging key, a sterling cord and a chalcedony." (Whatever a 'sterling cord' is.)

- a belt "decorated with ivory, notched with a purse hanging down from it, with a Saracen face," a belt made of lion skin, decorated in gold with a cameo, one of silver with enamelled silver escutcheons, one with bands of silver and gold, and two of silk, covered with pearls.

- a gold crown encrusted with jewels, worth 100 marks.

- a gold ring with a sapphire, which St Dunstan (archbishop of Canterbury, died 988) supposedly "forged with his own hands."

- a gold eagle with rubies, emeralds, sapphires and pearls, containing relics of St Richard of Chichester (died 1253), and a gold dragon with enamelled wings.

- numerous silver salt cellars, spoons, cups, goblets, saucers and pots, numerous gold-plated silver pots and cups, and a pair of gold-plated silver basins, belonging to Piers, with his coat of arms on them.

-a silver ship with four gold oars, enamelled on the sides.

- three silver forks, for eating pears (trois furchestes dargent pur mangier poires; these belonged to Piers, and he was famous for them, a good 300 years before forks caught on in England!)

- 100 silver shields, marked with an eagle, a suit of armour belonging to Piers, and two pairs of iron leg-armour (jambers).

- various garments embroidered with Piers' arms, the shoulders decorated and embroidered with pearls, and twenty-five pieces of cloth from diverse garments, of diverse colours.

- a fur-backed altar frontal of green cloth, powdered (poudre) with gold birds and fishes.

And many hundreds of other luxurious and expensive items. The sheer number of rings and jewels is truly astonishing. Edward II must have walked around positively dripping with wildly expensive jewellery. However, the inventory also lists a handful of rather less desirable objects:

- a helmet, brown with neglect (un bacenet burny od surcils).

- a remnant of green silk.

- an old banner embroidered with Piers' arms (six eaglets).

- a plate of scrap silver.

- an old enamelled vessel, and three chaplets "of little value."

For all Edward II's annoyance with his cousin Lancaster for seizing his belongings, I can only say, thank goodness he did, or otherwise we wouldn't have this fascinating insight into the kinds of things very rich people of the fourteenth century owned and prized.


Anonymous said...

For shame! A helmet, brown with neglect?

The servants must have been just about to clean it for the King when they had to drop and run. Or perhaps it was to be used as a disguise....

I agree Alianore - thank goodness Lancaster made the inventory. It makes great reading! Thanks for a great post.

Susan Higginbotham said...

Wouldn't it be great to see some of the treasure?

Kathryn Warner said...

Thanks, Kate! I know, Edward II of all men with a neglected helmet...who'd have thought it?? ;)

Susan: wouldn't it be fantastic? I'd love to see Piers' clothes, especially his garments with pearls on the shoulders and the ones he wore to Ed's coronation.

Anonymous said...

"- sixty-three horses: forty-one destriers and coursers, one palfrey, nine pack horses and twelve cart horses."
That's a fleet of Hummers, transport vans or lorries (and all their tack and wagons, certainly), worth more than a million dollars right there.

Lancaster couldn't exactly bank his booty, or collect interest on the treasure, but certainly holding it for months gave him bargaining power and made him a threat.

I'm reminded of the biblical David cutting the garment of King Saul as he slept and then taunting him that he could have killed Saul but wouldn't harm the anointed king, even a king who was hunting David?

Do you suppose that Lancaster kept two sets of account books? Like the inventory that he actually acquired, and the inventory that he delivered with the goods?

Carla said...

Thank goodness he wrote it down. What do you suppose happened to it all? I imagine Edward II's goods were take over by Isabella and Mortimer, and then what was left would have gone to Edward III. Is anything recognisable in later records?

"a gold ring with a sapphire, which St Dunstan (archbishop of Canterbury, died 988) supposedly "forged with his own hands.""
This must be 'forged' as in 'made', right? I got quite the wrong mental image the first time I read it :-)

Anerje said...

I'm afraid Kings of England were known for 'melting' down their gold/crowns/plate etc when in need of money or refashioning them. Who knows where Ed's jewels ended up? It would be love to think La Cerise is still adorning someone's finger. And many were sold by Cromwell. Btw, about a year ago, there was a story about a diamond set in a necklace owned by Elizabeth Tayor (who else?!) which was traced back to Mary Tudor.

And who else could Ed trust to take care of his jewels and plate than loyal Piers? And if Ed let him wear them, so what? I bet he looked splendid in them! and yes Alianore, I'm sure his clothes were magnificent as well. Such a shame there are no portraits in existence.

Anerje said...

btw, I love the comment about forks for eating pears - every time I read it, it puts a smile on my face! Very stylish and elegant of Piers:)

Gabriele Campbell said...

Those times must have been the dream of every haute couture creator. Not only the girls, but the guys dressed up really expensive as well. Double the customers. :)

Kathryn Warner said...

Christy: very true about the horses being worth a million or so in modern terms - a destrier could cost upwards of £50, more than an annual income for some knights. Yes, the negotiations with Lancaster regarding the return of Ed's goods dragged on for many months and gave him considerable bargaining power.

Not sure about Lancaster's accounts - whether he'd have dared to write 2 inventories and keep some of Ed's possessions.

Carla: unfortunately I'm not familiar with later records, but Pierre Chaplais says that a few of the items can be identified as having belonged to Ed I.
LOL, yes, 'forged' means 'made'. :-)

Anerje: good point, and it's been suggested that Ed took all his treasure to the north with him in case he needed to sell some of it, as the Ordainers, furious with him over Piers' return, had ordered that he was not to receive even 'a half-penny or a farthing' from the Exchequer, and supposedly he and Piers plundered York and environs to pay their expenses (according to one chronicler).

And as we've discussed before, contemporaries accused Piers of sending the royal treasure out of the country - which, given this inventory, he obviously didn't!

The silver forks are soooo Piers, aren't they?? :-)

Gabriele: yes indeed! Male clothing was in fact more splendid than female clothing in this era.

Gabriele Campbell said...

The whole affair shows how little power the king had, or he'd have told Lancey to give the stuff back. Now. Or he'd be hanged like the next highway robber.

Gabriele Campbell said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Gabriele Campbell said...

Can't type. :(

I wonder if burny od surcils can't translate differently as 'burnished at the rim above the eyes', which would fit better with the rest of Ed's equipment than a poor, neglected helmet. ;) My Anglonorman dictionary gives a use for sorcil(s) derivating from Latin supercilia not only as 'eyebrow' but also as 'rim above' - I haven't looked up the context in the Aenid, but I think it means the helm-rim.

Anonymous said...

"What happened to the treasure?"

I'm sure some of it fell down the cracks of Isa and Mort's boudoir after they were rolling around in it making treasure angels after they snatched the throne.

Kathryn Warner said...

Gabriele: I was a bit puzzled by that bit, as the only meaning I knew for so(u)rcils was 'eyebrows'. But I couldn't make that fit the context, so went with JS Hamilton's translation in his bio of Piers. (Forgot about the Anglo-Norman dictionary - doh!)

Paul: *giggles*. Yeah, that's definitely what happened! :-)

Gabriele Campbell said...

I wonder how she got 'neglect' out of sourcils. I think some sort of eye protection or a rim above the eyes on the helmet makes more sense, and that can easily have been decorated by burnished ornaments. A king surely would not wear a plain helmet, but maybe he had sense enough not to pack his fancy, jewel incrusted gala thing, but one that acutally worked. :) It would still be a valuable item.

Gabriele Campbell said...

I checked my good old Stowasser for the meanings of supercilium which is the root for the French word, and, as usual, it can mean several things: eyebrows, highbrow, haughty, but also a rock promotory or outcrop in a landscape. One may wonder how much of the original meanings was still alive, but if you look at a basquinet helmet and combine eyebrows with 'protruding feature', you get an eye protection; probably varnished. :)

Gabriele Campbell said...

Btw, how flexible is the syntax in the 14th century (I deal with slightly older texts)? Could it read as: a (basquinet) helmet, varnished (and) with an eye protection?

Here's a fine example for a varnished helmet, albeit moiron style, and the upper three helmets in this pic are basquinets.

Jules Frusher said...

Great post! Talk about Daylight robbery! That list sounds a bit like the contents of my attic (I wish!).

Loved the forks - like you said, so Piers!

I was quite surprised to see only one palfrey in the list though - I would have expected a few more at least. The number of coursers and destriers sounds about right for someone expecting to do battle - but somehow I think the warlike effect is rather spoiled by having to leave them all behind!

Gabriele Campbell said...

He didn't want to have sticky fingers when holding hands with Ed. :)

I wonder if Ed did use the forchette, too.

Jules Frusher said...

"He didn't want to have sticky fingers when holding hands with Ed. :)"

Or anything else lol!

Kathryn Warner said...

Gabriele: it's weird, because it's the only helmet mentioned in the list, and military equipment is rather lacking overall - so it doesn't seem as though Ed and Piers were expecting to have to fight, despite the large numbers of war-horses. ;) Maybe it means 'burnished with eye-rim' (hence: eye protection), although the A-N dictionary only gives 'eyebrows' as a translation of 'surcils'. Damn, Anglo-Norman gets on my nerves sometimes. ;) I used Hamilton's translation as I assumed he was probably better at Anglo-Norman than me - but seems as though in this particular case he might have been mistaken.

Thanks, Lady D! I wonder if they'd left the palfreys with Margaret (Piers' wife), wherever she was - no record I know of gives her whereabouts (typical!!), so I don't even know if she was at Tynemouth with her baby when Lancaster arrived. Lancaster took Ed and Piers completely by surprise, so they wouldn't have had time to send her elsewhere, presumably. Wish contemporary records had taken a bit more notice of women. (/rant).

Gabriele Campbell said...

Alianore, what I wonder how od surcils can be translated as 'by/with neglect' - there is even less proof for that in the dictionaries as far as I know.