Today, or perhaps yesterday, is the 700th anniversary of Piers Gaveston’s funeral. Here’s a post about it.Piers Gaveston, earl of Cornwall, was killed at Blacklow Hill in Warwickshire on 19 June 1312. A group of Dominican friars from Oxford came across the body – presumably not by accident, as the Dominicans were Edward II’s favourite order and the king’s fervent supporters, and it would seem a bit of a coincidence if they of all people just happened to find Piers’ body – and took it to their house at Oxford. They embalmed Piers’ body, and sewed his head back on (he had been murdered by being run through with a sword, then his head was struck off).
This is where things get a bit morbid and strange. The Dominicans were unable to bury Piers in consecrated ground, as he had died excommunicate; following his return to England earlier in 1312, the archbishop of Canterbury, Robert Winchelsey, had “seized his sword and struck Piers with anathema,” as the Vita Edwardi Secundi
(ed. Denholm-Young, p. 22) puts it. At some point, it is unknown when, the sentence of excommunication was lifted, but Edward II still refused to have Piers buried. His embalmed body continued to lie with the Dominicans in Oxford, who dressed it in cloth-of-gold. Edward paid the friars the staggeringly large sum of eighty pence a day to pray for Piers’ remains, and paid for two custodians to watch over the body, also a huge amount; for a mere twenty-eight days in December 1314, for example, the two men received fifteen pounds.Various chroniclers claim that Edward II had sworn not to have Piers Gaveston buried until he had gained revenge on Piers’ killers: the Vita
, for example (p. 58) says that Edward vowed “first to avenge Piers, and then consign his body to the grave.” This proved impossible, however, and finally, two and a half years after Piers’ murder, Edward decided to have him buried. I don’t know what motivated him to hold the funeral at this time, but he was at something of a low ebb personally and politically in late 1314, having lost the battle of Bannockburn that June and having also lost control of his own government to his cousin Thomas, earl of Lancaster. The beleaguered king’s thoughts turned to his lost love, Piers Gaveston, and on 27 December 1314, Edward gave the chancellor and scholars of Oxford University twenty pounds to pray for Piers’ soul. Either on 2 or 3 January 1315*, Piers Gaveston’s funeral took place at Langley Priory in Hertfordshire, which Edward II himself had founded in late 1308. Langley was Edward’s favourite residence, and he had spent much time there with Piers.
* Piers’s biographer Jeff Hamilton gives the date as 3 January, and Edward II’s biographer Seymour Phillips as the 2nd. For myself, I’m not entirely sure. Edward stayed at Langley from 1 to 18 January.
Piers Gaveston’s funeral must have been a deeply emotional occasion for Edward. He spent a massive £300 on three cloths of gold to dress Piers’ body, fifteen pounds on food for the guests, and sixty-four pounds for twenty-three tuns of wine, which is about 22,000 litres if I’ve worked it out correctly. On Christmas Day 1314, Edward ordered his butler Walter Waldeshef to buy the wine and have it taken to Langley for Piers’ funeral (Close Rolls 1313-18, p. 139). Edward also paid for three pavilions to be taken to Langley – for guests to stay in or for various ceremonies to take place in, perhaps? – and several documents now held in the National Archives, which I haven’t yet seen, include the details and expenses of conveying Piers’ body the approximately fifty miles from Oxford to Langley (The National Archives E 101/375/15 and 16, E 101/376/2).
Among those who attended Piers Gaveston’s funeral were: Queen Isabella (how did she feel, I wonder?); the king’s fourteen-year-old half-brother Thomas of Brotherton, earl of Norfolk; the king’s brother-in-law Humphrey de Bohun, earl of Hereford (very bravely, considering he was one of the men who put Piers to death); I presume Edward’s niece Margaret de Clare, Piers’ widow, and their daughter Joan, not quite three, but I don’t know that for sure; the two Hugh Despensers; Edward’s kinsmen Aymer de Valence, earl of Pembroke and Henry, Lord Beaumont; Walter Reynolds, archbishop of Canterbury; Bartholomew, Lord Badlesmere; the mayor of London; four bishops; fourteen abbots; fifty knights; and large numbers of Dominican friars. The list of important non-attendees is far longer, and includes the earls of Lancaster and Warwick, who had had Piers killed.
Piers Gaveston was finally buried, though not, of course, forgotten by Edward II, who for the rest of his reign lavished money on Piers’ tomb and on having prayers said regularly for the soul of his lost love.