700th Anniversary of the Banishment of Piers Gaveston

Today marks the 700th anniversary of the meeting of Parliament that resulted in the presentation of the Ordinances of 1311 to King Edward II, and the eventual banishment of Piers Gaveston from the realm.

Piers Gaveston – the favourite, and alleged lover of the King – was a minor noble who was granted rights and offices far in excess of his station, was fairly bad at managing his affairs and generally rude to the other nobles of the land.

However, as generally crap the Earl of Cornwall was at buttering up the nobles, the King wasn’t much better. Upon taking the Throne he had suspended his father’s war in Scotland and withdrawn troops. Which didn’t do a lot to please the Barons who worried about their lands in Scotland and the North of England. A worry that was to prove accurate as the Scottish king Robert Bruce decided to take back what he thought should be his.

Piers Gaveston had already been exiled once before – although as he was also made the Lieutenant of Ireland is was hardly a banishment as we might think of it. He was repealed by the King in July 1309, but his behaviour was as bad, if not worse, than before and the Nobles finally had enough of him and the King.

Under pressure, the King agreed to an independent committee being set up to reform the Royal Household. This was the Lord Ordainers, and they spent about a year writing their report.

A Parliament was summoned on the 16th June 1311, and met in London 700 years ago today – on the 16th August to discuss the final form of the Ordinances.

Although the final banishment of Piers Gaveston is the more famous of the Ordinances, in practical terms, it was the restrictions on the power of the King by the Parliament that had the greatest impact on English history as it marks the continued rise of Parliament as a force to balance Royal powers.

The King was also obliged to have his income handled by the Exchequer instead of going direct to the Royal Household, laying down the beginnings of the idea of government taxation by Parliament instead of by the King.

However it was Article 20 that is more famous – the list of the crimes by Piers Gaveston and demanding his banishment from the Realm by the 1st November. The King tried to have that clause overturned, but Parliament refused, and he finally subscribed.

Piers left the country for lands unknown, but returned again by the end of the year. He was arrested, and later killed in 1312 following several battles at Newcastle and Scarborough.

He was eventually buried in a Priory at Kings Langley, which is sadly now not visible as the Priory was sacked by agents of King Henry VIII and little remains there. A monument outside Warwick marks the presumed spot where he was killed, but is sadly on private land and not visible from the local roads.

Personally, I do not buy the story of a homosexual relationship between the two men. The King was a vain and rather pathetic man who for almost his life leaned on other people to do his work for him. The strong bonds he formed with favourites were a sign of his weakness as a manager, not his sexuality.

On that matter, both Piers and the King were married, which might not mean much – but their many children, legitimate and otherwise – does suggest a rather enthusiastic embrace of heterosexual carnal activities.

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1 Comment

  1. I have always been interested in this bit of history due to the Marlowe play and it’s various adaptations. Certainly none of the players involved are terribly sympathetic, but they are riveting as Medieval soap drama. Better than Dynasty.

    It’s hard to overlay our current rather binary view of sexuality on a different age. Certainly there was contemporary gossip about their homosexuality, which I suppose lead to the rumored execution method of Edward II. And Gaveston’s tacky and flamboyant fashion sense certainly raises an eyebrow!

    Most nobles at the time were married off as children – “traditional” marriage was about politics and dynasty, not love, personal romance or sexual preference. Thus the practice of openly acknowledged mistresses/male favourites.

    James I was similarly quite prolific with heterosexual procreation, in spite of his contemporary homosexual scuttlebutt – pre-Viagra, mind! He definitely had some genuine heterosexual impulses, but that doesn’t rule out other ones.

    There was simply no paradigm at all for gay romance and life-partnership at the time. It’s hard to say anyone from that far back in history was “gay” as we think of today, though certainly there was plenty of homosexual sex being had! It just has become a recognized identity and lifestyle option very recently (and thankfully).

    But “bad boyfriends,” regardless of sexuality, have always been around, clearly! :)

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