28 January, 2014

The Tournament of Wallingford, 1307

A post about Piers Gaveston's jousting tournament held at Wallingford on 2 December 1307, with thanks to my friend MRats for the suggestion. :-)

Piers Gaveston was made earl of Cornwall by the new king Edward II on 6 August 1307, and married Edward's niece Margaret de Clare on 1 November that year.  (He would also be appointed regent of England on 26 December, to take effect when Edward travelled to France to marry Isabella.)  1307 was, in short, Piers Gaveston's year, and, being the great jouster and competitor he was, it's no surprise to find him holding a tournament to celebrate his good fortune.  The tournament was held at his castle of Wallingford, a dozen miles from Oxford, on 2 December 1307.  Edward II encouraged him to hold the tournament, though evidently he didn't attend himself, as his itinerary on that day places him firstly at Langley, forty-five miles away from Wallingford, then at Reading, twenty-five miles from Wallingford.  [1]  Edward had been at Langley since about 10 November, stayed at Reading for several days from 2 December, then travelled back to Langley via Bisham on the 6th.  There is nothing to indicate a ride to Wallingford to watch Piers jousting, unfortunately.

The tournament was, however, attended by the earls of Surrey (Edward II's nephew-in-law John de Warenne), Hereford (Edward's brother-in-law Humphrey de Bohun) and Arundel (Edmund Fitzalan), and apparently other earls and magnates who are not named, as the Vita Edwardi Secundi (ed. Denholm-Young, p. 2) says that "there were ranged on one side three or four earls with a strong troop...and not a few barons."  The Vita also says that "Sir Piers' side could not raise an earl, but almost all the younger and more athletic knights of the kingdom, whom persuasion or hope of reward could bring together, assisted him."  The Annales Paulini (ed. Stubbs, pp. 258-9) accuse Piers, whether correctly or not I don't know, of fielding 200 knights instead of the agreed sixty, and the St Albans chronicler 'Trokelowe' (ed. Riley, p. 65) says that Piers and his knights "most vilely trod underfoot" the opposition.  Oh dear, seems as though the high and mighty earls were defeated by Piers and his team and really didn't like it, and surely if Piers had tried to cheat by so dramatically increasing the number of knights on his side, the earls could simply have refused to compete.  Here's the Vita, which incidentally doesn't confirm the story in the St Paul's annals and Trokelowe that Piers cheated in some way: "So it was in this tournament his [Piers'] party had the upper hand and carried off the spoils, although the other side remained in possession of the field.  For it is a recognised rule of this game that he who loses most and is most frequently unhorsed, is adjudged the most valiant and the stronger."

The Annales Paulini say that Piers organised another tournament at Faversham to celebrate Edward's marriage to Isabella.  There is no other information about this, and nothing that I know of to confirm that this tournament did indeed take place, though Edward and Isabella's route from Dover (where they arrived on 7 February 1308) to London (where they arrived on 21 February) would have taken them past or through Faversham, so it seems possible.  The Annales also claim that this tournament caused anger among the barons, and that a third tournament which Edward II planned to hold at Stepney to celebrate his coronation on 25 February had to be cancelled when Piers told him he feared that the earls would have him killed if it went ahead and he participated.  For the record, I don't know of any occasion when Edward II is known to have jousted.  I wonder if his father forbade him from competing in his youth, given that the old king lost three sons in childhood and that for many years Edward of Caernarfon was his only male heir, and given the dangers of the sport.  The earl of Surrey's son and heir William de Warenne was killed jousting in 1286 when Edward was only two, and Duke John I of Brabant, father-in-law of Edward's sister Margaret, in 1294.

The Vita Edwardi Secundi says that the tournament of Wallingford "roused the earls and barons to still greater hatred of Piers."  Whether he broke the rules or not, the fact remained that he and his knights had destroyed the earls' dignity by knocking them off their horses into the mud, to their humiliation and anger.  Not only did Piers Gaveston dominate Edward II's favour to an incredible degree, the earls could match him neither in wit nor in military prowess.  Having said that, John de Warenne, earl of Surrey (whose father William was killed jousting in 1286), following a long period of hostility to Piers, changed his mind on Piers' return from his second exile in the summer of 1309: "Earl Warenne who, ever since the conclusion of the Wallingford tournament, had never shown Piers any welcome, became his inseparable friend and faithful helper."  No wonder the author of the Vita, who records this, exclaims in exasperation "See how often and abruptly great men change their sides...The love of magnates is as a game of dice, and the desires of the rich like feathers."  (pp. 7-8).

1) Elizabeth Hallam, The Itinerary of Edward II and His Household, 1307-1327, p. 26; Calendar of Patent Rolls 1307-1313, pp. 13-26; Calendar of Close Rolls 1307-1313, pp. 9-13.


Ann said...

An interesting read.

Kathryn Warner said...

Thank you, glad you liked it!

Sami Parkkonen said...

Of this sport: I can not remember the actual names of differentg types of these matches but there were several.

One was a melee, free for all, alla against everyone, and the last man standing was the winner.

Other was place two competing teams against one another and these types of matches had several ways of counting the winner, which could be different from event to event.

The most famous were the duels which are the most familiar for us.

I wonder if Edward I kept his son away from tournaments because they were indeed dangerous, particulary the melee type of orgy of violence, which coincidentally reminded most a real combat. Sometimes enemies engaged tournaments like these as in case scotts vs. english and english vs french.

MRats said...

Thank you, Kathryn! I'm flattered to be mentioned! I humbly kiss your toes for both granting my request and upholding Piers' honor! I never doubted him, but I hate to see those false accusations printed as fact in more modern-day works. If he had brought in extra men, I'm sure it would have been one of the charges leveled against him at his unlawful trial, since two of the four earls who murdered him were among his opponents at Wallingford. I also think that the author of the Vita would have recounted Piers' remorse over the alleged subterfuge as part of his (apocryphal) Shakespearean soliloquy in the dungeon of the Black Hound's kennel.

Sami raises an interesting point. I'd read about melees in the time of Edward I and wondered if the tournament at Wallingford was "a free for all". It might explain why Piers and his followers were able to vanquish so many of "the challenged", but if so, the earls took it far too personally. My guess is that they fought one-on-one.

I wonder if the joust at Faversham ever took place. It's an exciting thought, and probably the reason that Thomas Costain incorrectly states in "The Three Edwards" that Wallingford was held in honor of the king's wedding. A pity it wasn't, because then Edward would have been there! But after two and a half years of disappointment, I've finally come to grips with the fact that he wasn't. :-(

I never knew about the proposed tournament at Stepney, either. It's difficult for me to imagine Piers being afraid, but he was, after all, human. However, if the nobility was mad (just joking :-D) ANGRY at him about the joust at Faversham, who did he fight against there? I can't imagine any of the earls or barons attending after Wallingford. It's a shame we'll never know for certain.

Though Edward might not have ever competed in a tournament, he certainly mastered the skill of hand-to-hand combat and displayed it magnificently at Bannockburn in spite of England's defeat.

An absolutely splendid post, Kathryn!!!

Anerje said...

Obviously enjoyed this post! Have started a post on this a couple of times and fallen flat - don't think I'll bother now:> Excellent research!

I've always wondered why Edward didn't attend.

Sami Parkkonen said...

We all speculate why Eddie did not attend, but we forget one very simple and logical explanation: perhaps he was thinkin that tournaments are stupid waste of time?


C.K. said...

Thanks for the interesting read! Any chance you might have some insight as to why we don’t really see Piers in proper battle? He had both the capability and opportunity to fight yet ‘going on campaign’ for him (others did this too, not trying to single him out) seems to have meant staying in different castle rather than really chasing rebels. It’s not unheard of to fight exclusively in tournament, but it feels like a missed opportunity to show up the barons.

On a vaguely related note, I would caution against using Bannockburn as proof of Edward II having “mastered the skill of hand-to-hand combat”. Sources seem to agree that he used a mace (think short metal baseball bat) in that battle. An excellent and popular choice for mounted knights, particularly against foot soldiers whose grubby hands would’ve been trying to pull them from the saddle. Sources also agree that he acquitted himself well, so that mace defiantly saw battle and, given Edward’s well-known strength, I’m sure shattered more than a few peasant skulls. But skilled? No.

The mace was the most idiot-proof weapon a knight might wield. 1 handed and bladeless means that it could be swung in any direction, no tricky footwork, no grappling, and gravity/momentum almost constantly on his side. He already had the advantage of a 1 ton destrier and full plate armour against piece-meal or lightly armoured footmen. That equation is realllllly hard to screw up. I realize the point of this blog is to fixed the severe defamation of his character, but lets not overcorrect and equate swinging a glorified club to mastery/skill in personal combat.

MRats said...

I knew that comment was going to rebound on me the moment I wrote it! But while I respect C.K.'s opinion, I stand by what I said. Maces were fashioned in many different ways, and while some resembled bats or batons, many examples I've found while investigating medieval warfare have been spiked and potentially dangerous to the wielder if not "swung" with skill. We really have no way of knowing the exact design of the one Edward carried.

I don't believe that I'm "overcorrecting" to say Edward acquitted himself magnificently at Bannockburn. "Gravity/momentum almost constantly on his side"? I don't think so. As Seymour Phillips quoted in "Edward II", "'When the Scottish knights, who were on foot, grabbed the caparison of the king's warhorse with their hands to bring him to a halt, he struck behind him with a mace so forcefully that there were none that he hit whom he did not beat to the ground.'" Bending down and backwards in heavy chain mail is hardly an advantageous angle but he hit his marks, nonetheless. ("Full plate armor" would not come into use until decades later.)

I'm only stating my own opinion based on the research I've done, and I realize others could read the same sources and arrive at a completely different conclusion. But more importantly, this is Kathryn's blog, not mine, and my comments should not define its purpose. In fact, there's a major aspect of Edward's life about which Kathryn and I don't even agree. (But I bask in her forgiveness.)

As for Piers, he did not fight "exclusively in tournament". His biographer, Walter Phelps Dodge wrote, "The service in which the Governor of Ireland was most frequently engaged was that of aiding the people of the districts south-east of Dublin in their contest with the septs of the Mi Tuathail or O'Toole, and the Mi Brainin or O'Byrne. These clans had their principal strongholds in the mountainous districts to the south of Dublin. The Viceroy Wogan marched against these septs in 1308, but was put to flight with the loss of several knights. Gaveston, with the army and the help of the colonists, defeated the hostile septs and made a thanksgiving offering for his success in the church of St. Kevin. Whatever his vices, the Earl of Cornwall was a good fighter." Seymour Phillips concurs, "Gaveston lead successful military expeditions against Irish rebels in the Wicklow mountains to the south of Dublin and saw to the defenses of the royal castles in the area. By the time he left Ireland in 1309, Leinster was more securely under English control." Piers succeeded where others had failed. He might have done the same in Scotland during the campaign of 1309-1311, but as Phillips also points out, "Bruce gave no opportunity for the English to bring him to battle".

Kathryn Warner said...

C.K., thank you for the comment, and welcome! Great to have you here taking part in the discussion. And thanks to everyone else too for sharing their thoughts...love reading them all ;-)

As MRats said, Piers had no chance to take part in any battles in Scotland in the 1310/11 campaign, as Robert Bruce refused to meet the English in pitched battle. Robert favoured guerrilla tactics and a scorched earth policy. Piers did take part in Edward I's 1297 campaign in Flanders, and I'm sure he would have relished fighting in a real battle in Scotland had he had the opportunity. The biography of Piers by J.S. Hamilton contains an excellent section on his activities in Scotland in 1310/11; he certainly wasn't just sitting around in a castle! Hamilton says (p. 86), also citing the chronicle of Guisborough, "The earl of Cornwall remained north of the Forth, campaigning from Dundee, so that, as Guisborough puts it, 'he might acquire a good reputation and praise'. In this he was disappointed, as the Scots refused to come out and fight. Instead, they 'constantly fled to their hiding places in the mountains and marshes'." I'm also absolutely certain Piers would have fought at Bannockburn if he hadn't been murdered two years previously.

As well as the chronicle MRats cites about Edward II at Bannockburn felling everyone he touched to the ground (written by Sir Thomas Gray, whose father fought with Edward at the battle and was captured, and who later served in the Despensers' retinue), there's also the St Albans chronicle which says that Edward "fought like a lioness deprived of her cubs." I don't think that I personally have 'over-corrected' Edward's abilities anywhere here, but I do very much want to dispel the common myth that he was a coward who fled from the field at the first sign of danger.

Sami Parkkonen said...


Well, we do know what Edward did at Bannockburn. So lets examine his actions that day.

He rode straight at the hardest fighting, fought untill his horse was killed from under him, fell into the ground in a crush that was killing hunderds of men around him at that very moment, he got up, fought his way out, took another horse and went back in the action. This is something that very very few kings ever did, before or after, as kings.

Now, during that day many knights were killed in similar situations, including Gilles d'Artagnan, who was considered at that time to be the third best knight in the whole christedom. Several other famous knights were also killed that day. Thousands of lesser men also. Edward was taken by force from that field by his underlings.

So not only he did survive when more famous kinghts perished, he actually fought were the battle was raging at its highest, for at least two to three hours straight, and that tells me about his skills as a warrior.

What about the mace? Yes, simple but very effective tool, particulary in a crush were, according the stories, the knights became so tightly packed that could not even wield their swords propely.

Now we had the luck having not only the third best knight of the world at Bannockburn but also the second best. Yes, Robert the Brice was considered to be the second best knight in the world at that time. And we also know what weapon was his first choice. It was not a sword nor a mace, but an axe, weapon of all commoners around the world.

With this simple weapon he chopped a steel helmeted head in half on previous day in the first encounter between the english and the scotts. The second best knight in the world chose an axe as his first choice weapon. And mind you, this axe broke its shaft so it was not whole steel war axe sometimes seen in war museums but an axe with a wooden handle.

Perhaps Edward did not attend the tournaments and jousts but he did show at Bannockburn what he could do when the s**t hit the fan in a big major way. Not a small feat in my eyes.

C.K. said...

Thanks for both of your replies, particularly about Piers. I’ve never read a biography devoted to him for fear that sensationalism would outweigh objectivism since he’s such an easy target for it. And naturally most historians discussing the period tend to gloss over unnamed skirmishes, though I am a bit surprised Barbour missed his chance to add a line or two about the ’enemy’s’ favorite getting the run around. Anyway, if either of you have recommendations for some balanced non-fiction about Piers, I’d love to hear them.

As for Edward II, I certainly wasn’t trying to malign his bravery or potential for prowess and I’m sorry if it came across as such. Again, every source has agreed that he fought well that day. My goal wasn’t to challenge that fact. And I’m trying really hard not to turn this into a Bannockburn thread because that’s a conversation I could happily have for hours (we all get our favorites, James Douglas is mine ;).

My whole point here is the Mace. A mace, regardless of its weight, material, or embellishments, is a one-handed bludgeoning weapon. There is no cutting edge. No thrusting, hooking, or grappling, and minimal ability to parry, if one were inclined to try. It is a club that could be wielded with immense martial talent or with entirely amateurish flailing and still hurt people. Stick the mace wielder on a stallion and every strike becomes less-fatiguing downward blows(hence my gravity/momentum comment, physics and physiology favor the mounted man) against a mob intent on capturing rather than killing.
That is what made it such a perfect weapon for Edward, or any valuable noble, at Bannockburn. But that is also the reason why I don’t think we can ascribe any sort of martial ability to Edward based on what he did that day. The talent needed to use mace ‘well’ is simply too ambiguous.

Re Edward fleeing the field: Perhaps that rumor spawned from what happened after Edward was denied entrance to Stirling? Douglas, commanding a group of some sixty men, harassed Edward’s far larger troop all the way to walls of Dunbar, yet couldn’t manage to draw them into battle. Anyone who could imagine themselves as an Englishman then would understand that decision. It makes 100% sense in context. But it’s not the sort of bloody, dramatic end that gets properly remembered so it’d be easy enough for a lazy, biased writer to sum up as ‘Then that loser Edward ran crying to Dunbar.’ Wholly unfair to all involved, but easy. And easy has the unfortunate tendency to stick in people’s memories.

MRats said...

Hi, C.K.,

There are two biographies of Piers which were written, I believe, within the last twenty years. I'm sure Kathryn and Anerje (whose blog, "Piers Gaveston" you might want to visit) would be able to evaluate them for you. I haven't read either one yet. Warning: when I attempted to order them, they were very expensive. "Piers Gaveston: A Chapter of Early Constitutional History", which I quoted, is over a hundred years old and extremely critical of both it's subject and Edward II. Hence the remark, "Whatever his vices, the Earl of Cornwall was a good fighter."

As for the mace, I respect your opinion but I simply can't agree. How was Edward to know those soldiers didn't intend to kill him? And as for expertise, you said it yourself, "It is a club that could be wielded with immense martial talent". Why assume it wasn't? And Edward swung down and BACKWARD with the mace--regardless of its design--which I maintain can't have been as simple as you suggest with his balance threatened by heavy chain mail. (And I've read that a hauberk could weigh up to 60 or even 100 American pounds, depending upon the source of reference.) But again, it's all open to individual interpretation and I do acknowledge yours, even though I can't go along with it. And I won't be overpowered.

For instance, Sami states that Robert the Bruce "was the second best knight in the world at that time" and I concur that Bruce could perform acts of awesome military prowess, as Sami describes. But at the risk of bringing down the curse of the Bruce enthusiasts upon my head, his so-called "guerilla tactics" or striking and then fleeing to, as Kathryn quoted, "'hiding places in the mountains and marshes'" always struck me as cowardice. Sensible, certainly, and the commonly held belief is that the Scots were clever to do so. (Even staunch Anglophiles often seem to change sides when it comes to the activities of the medieval Scottish army.) But I find nothing admirable about it, even though I understand the value of "living to fight another day". My point here is that there can be two views of any event and who is to say which one is valid?

Sami Parkkonen said...

@mr Rats;

I think Edward fought as well as any man at Bannockburn, his survival is a testimony of that.

Now I am not a fan of Robert the Bruce, but he was at the time in early 1300's ranked as nro 2 in the world in the knightly rankings so that describtion is of the medieval minds not mine.

Robert the Brice was certainly not a knight in a shining armor in the classical sense. He was cold and calculating, pretty savage and brutal, but when compared to our Edward, he was a "better" king in a macchiavellian style. Simply because he was able and willing to use any means to his advantage.

Robert the Bruce was not happy that his brother had waged a bet as a knightly game about the Stirling castle and did not want to fight a massively superior army of the english, but he was stuck and did the only thing he could: he drove the massive english army into to the carse between Pellstream Burn and Bannockburn rivers with his schiltrons.

As an individual Bruce was able to raise loyal supporters but as a man he was a real life badass if there ever was one. He was a murderous fighter in battles and always aimed for maximum damage for the enemy and face to face he was a killer.

He killed one of his enemies in church on the altar despite the church being recognised universally as a holy place and safe haven. For him it was a place to trap his enemy off guard.

He did not mind being excommunicated by the pope nor he was too concerned by the threaths made against him by Edward I, another badass.

At the lowest he had only about dozen loyal followers with him but he never quit his claim to the scottish crown. And when he had thousands he invaded England time and time again and turned a fairly normal countryside of norther England into a rather barren landscape which we know now adays.

MRats said...

Hi, Sami!

I agree with your assessment of Robert the Bruce and I realize that your statement about him being the "second best knight in the world" was contemporary opinion and not your own.

I notice that you wrote the post on Bannockburn, and now that it's been brought to mind, I plan to skip ahead in the archives, which I've been going through in reverse chronology, in order to read it. I'm looking forward to your rendition of the battle.

Please don't think that I was calling Bruce himself a coward. As I wrote, I'm aware that he was a skilled warrior. It's the "strike and hide" tactic that's always disgusted me. What valor is there in that? And yet even historians on the British side will "defect" to praise the Scots. While reading Thomas Costain's "The Three Edwards" I lost track of whose side the author was supposed to be on! (Is there a single word left in the portion of that book devoted to Edward II that I haven't criticized in this section?) Costain did, nevertheless, praise Edward's bravery at Bannockburn. (Ah! There's the love! I said something nice.)

By the way, if Bruce was the second, and Giles d'Argentine was the third, who was considered the best knight in all of Christiandom?

An interesting and informative comment, Sami!

Sami Parkkonen said...


Thank you. If my mind does not fail me here, it was the emperor himself.

I would have to check that one out from one of the books but have no time just right now.

I did not think you held Bruce a coward. I just wrote the piece to bring up my view of him. I doubt if he cared about honor or valor as it has been later said. In my eyes he seems to be pretty macchiavellian guy, ready for anything, though there are other takes on him and his carachter.

Despite of that, he was regarded as #2 in the rankings of the knights by his comtemporaries. But then again, nobody thoughed that Henry V was a bad man when he gave the order to kill all the prisoners after Agincourt, not even the french commentators at that time.

It might be that it is us who have the romantic idea of knighthood which is not what the people in medieval times had. Perhaps word Honor meant something else for them?

Kathryn Warner said...

Yes, Number One was Henry of Luxembourg, Holy Roman Emperor, died 1313, who attended Edward's coronation in 1308.

Anonymous said...


Thanks for such an informative read. The closing line about the love of magnates is one of my favourite lines from the Vita. the sheer exasperation rings so loudly down the centuries.

Re John de Warenne (what a guy!), I don't understand why in history books eg Phillips, he is often referred to as Warenne rather than Surrey. This happens even in discussion of 1312 negotiations when I would have expected him to be in possession of his lands. (I've checked your other posts on him and understand he was born in 1286 so he wasn't too young.)

Kathryn Warner said...

Thanks, glad you liked the post! I really love that quotation too. ;-)

In contemporary documents, Surrey was almost always called 'le comte de Garenne/Warenne', 'the earl of Warenne'. I don't know why and find it quite puzzling. I'm just looking at a letter he sent Hugh Despenser in 1325, and he calls himself 'Johan counte de Warenne'. Odd.