The Relationship of King Edward II and Piers Gaveston


The connection between King Edward II and his confidant Piers Gaveston has long been a subject of fascination. While conventional belief paints them as homosexual lovers, recent research suggests an alternative interpretation. In this article, we delve into the historical context, shedding light on their relationship and debunking common stereotypes. Let us explore the lives and sexualities of these historical figures and their impact on the monarchy.

The Threat to the Kingdom:

The primary concern in this play is not homosexuality but rather the diversion Gaveston poses to the royalty. King Edward’s excessive involvement with Gaveston poses a threat to the kingdom. While Edward neglects matters such as France’s attempts to overthrow Normandy and the conflicts in Scotland, he offers Gaveston a partnership in the kingdom. Although this gesture may appear as an expression of love in contemporary society, it is deemed treasonous by the royalty. The throne is a highly esteemed position, never to be “offered” or “shared.”

The Mortimers’ Promise:

Prior to his death, Edward I extracted a promise from Mortimer junior and senior, ensuring Gaveston’s banishment. Edward I saw Gaveston as a “playmate” but a dangerous one, capable of diverting Edward II’s attention from ruling England. The nobility of that era considered maintaining their ruling presence and focusing on political matters as their primary goal. Anything that hindered these objectives was seen as a threat, even if it provided pleasure.

The Relationship Reexamined:

Few liaisons in English history have garnered as much attention as the one between King Edward II and Piers Gaveston. Traditionally, it has been assumed that they were homosexual lovers, and their passion caused a rift between the King and his queen, Isabella of France. However, Pierre Chaplais proposed an alternative perspective in his work, “Piers Gaveston: Edward II’s Adoptive Brother” (1994). Chaplais suggests that the two men formed a brotherhood-in-arms, which explains the intensity of their relationship and Edward’s disregard for his displeased spouse. A brotherhood-in-arms refers to a close relationship established formally between two individuals of military status. So, were Edward and Piers merely good friends, brothers, or lovers? Additionally, we explore the life of Isabella, attempting to dispel the stereotypical images created by various works of literature and film.

Edward II: Early Life and Education:

Edward II, born on April 25th, 1284, in Carnarvon, was the fourth son of Edward I and Eleanor of Castile. By his first year, he became the heir to the throne. Information about his education is scarce, but by 1300, he was known as a skilled horseman. Interestingly, despite his lack of martial skill and interest, Edward wished to form a brotherhood-in-arms with Gaveston and others. He possessed a small collection of books and was likely more fluent in French than Latin, contrary to claims of being illiterate. As he was groomed for leadership, Edward gained increasing exposure and responsibilities in the final years of his father’s life. During this time, he was betrothed to his future queen, Isabella, and introduced to his close friend and potential lover, Piers Gaveston.

Piers Gaveston: Introduction and Rise:

Gaveston was brought into the household of Prince Edward by Edward I himself. The young Gascon, a few years older than the Prince, had already served in the military alongside his father, Arnaud de Gabaston, a minor Gas

con noble. Described as handsome, athletic, and well-mannered in contemporary chronicles, Gaveston served in various capacities in the Prince’s household, gradually gaining wealth and status. By 1303, he was designated as a socius (companion), indicating his rising stature. According to the Chronicle of the Civil Wars of Edward II, the Prince immediately developed a deep affection for Gaveston upon meeting him, forging an indissoluble bond of love.

However, concrete evidence of their growing attachment is scarce until 1305 when Prince Edward fell into a dispute with his father over allegations of trespass against Walter Langton, the bishop of Chester and treasurer of England. The Prince was banished from his father’s presence and had his financial support severed. Moreover, the size of his household was reduced, resulting in Gaveston’s separation from the Prince. In a letter to his sister, Elizabeth, Edward implored her to persuade their stepmother, Queen Margaret, to intercede on their behalf, urging the restoration of Gaveston and Gilbert de Clare to his household. He expressed the immense relief that would come from their return.

Over time, Gilbert was indeed reinstated, and the following year, when Edward was knighted, Gaveston received the same honor. The Prince accompanied his father’s army to Scotland in 1306, participating in the capture of Lochmaben Castle and Kildrummy. However, during the winter at Lanercost, Gaveston and twenty-one other prominent knights abandoned the army to attend tournaments in France, disregarding explicit royal orders. This enraged the elderly King, who ordered the confiscation of their lands. Although the other knights were eventually pardoned, Gaveston alone faced an exile that would be the first of three.

The precise nature of Gaveston’s crime and Edward I’s motivations remain shrouded in mystery. Contemporary chroniclers offer scant details, except for the colorful but dubious account by Walter of Guisborough, which claims that the Prince sought to bestow upon Gaveston the title of Count of Ponthieu. According to the chronicle, this enraged Edward I, who punished his son with physical violence before convening the council and decreeing Gaveston’s exile. Strikingly, the exile itself was far from burdensome. Although initially assigned to Gascony, Gaveston was permitted to reside in nearby Ponthieu, a place the Prince intended to visit in 1307. Moreover, he received a generous annuity of 100 marks sterling, supplemented by Edward.

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One may argue that Edward I sought to sever the brotherhood between his son and Gaveston. Alternatively, the King may have sought to redirect his son’s sexual energies in anticipation of his upcoming marriage to Isabella of France. Edward I likely believed that marriage would divert his son’s attention from his former lover(s). It is worth noting that Edward II had at least one illegitimate child, Adam, who died in Scotland in 1321. This child was likely born prior to Edward’s ascension to the throne, further assuaging his father’s concerns about the relationship with Gaveston. Regardless, Gaveston’s exile proved temporary, as Edward I’s death in July 1307 prompted his immediate recall by the new King.

The chroniclers expressed little surprise but some disappointment at Gaveston’s return. It was widely known that King Edward II’s love for him exceeded all bounds and reason. Contemporary accounts describe it as immoderate, inordinate, and excessive. The Vita Edwardi Secondi even states, “I do not remember to have heard that one man so loved another… our king was incapable of suffering the slightest annoyance if his beloved companion were the cause.” Such statements reinforce the notion that their relationship went beyond mere friendship.

Upon his return, Gaveston’s influence over the King became evident. Edward showered him with gifts, land, and titles, including the Earldom of Cornwall, which traditionally belonged to the King’s eldest son. These acts sparked resentment among the nobility, who believed Gaveston was usurping their rightful privileges and diminishing their status in the King’s favor.

The elevation of Gaveston to such prominent positions and the King’s unwavering devotion to him intensified the discontent among the nobles. They viewed Gaveston as a threat to their own power and influence within the kingdom. Their primary concern was not necessarily Gaveston’s homosexuality, but rather the diversion he represented to the King’s responsibilities and obligations as the ruler of England.

At that time, the nobility placed great importance on maintaining their political presence and dedicating their attention to matters of governance. Anything that could potentially hinder or distract the King from fulfilling his duties was perceived as a danger to the stability of the realm, regardless of whether it provided personal pleasure or not.

The relationship between King Edward II and Piers Gaveston is one of the most notorious liaisons in English history. For many years, it was widely assumed that they were homosexual lovers, and that Edward’s infatuation with Gaveston caused a rift between the King and his queen, Isabella of France, ultimately leading to their downfall. However, alternative interpretations have emerged, suggesting that their bond may have been more akin to a brotherhood-in-arms, forged through shared military experiences and camaraderie.

Pierre Chaplais, in his book “Piers Gaveston: Edward II’s Adoptive Brother” (1994), proposes this alternate perspective. He argues that the intense relationship between Edward and Gaveston can be attributed to a formal bond established between two individuals of military status. This viewpoint challenges the traditional narrative of a romantic affair, raising questions about the true nature of their connection and the role it played in the events that unfolded.

It is crucial to approach historical portrayals of these figures with caution, as they are often influenced by fictional works, such as Marlowe’s play “Edward II,” Derek Jarman’s film adaptation, or Maurice Druon’s novel “The She-Wolf of France.” These sources may not accurately reflect the historical reality and should not be taken as definitive accounts of their lives and sexualities.

In conclusion,

The relationship between King Edward II and Piers Gaveston was a source of great controversy and turmoil during their time. The consequences of their close bond had far-reaching implications for the political landscape of England. While the nature of their relationship continues to be a subject of debate among historians, it is clear that the presence of Gaveston in the King’s life posed a threat to the established order and the nobility’s hold on power.



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