Edward had few allies at this time. One of them was, surprisingly, his cousin the earl of Lancaster (Lincoln’s son-in-law) who would later become his greatest enemy, and another their cousin the earl of Richmond, who was politically insignificant. Others were: Roger Mortimer (yes, that Roger Mortimer), Hugh Despenser the Elder, John, Lord Hastings, Edward’s former tutor Guy Ferre, William Latimer, John Haudlo, John Cromwell, and John de Sulleye – a few lords and knights who were no match for the grand opposition to Edward and Piers, who were supported to some extent by Edward’s powerful father-in-law the king of France.
To cut a very long story short, Edward agreed to exile Piers on 18 May; it had taken him many weeks to give in, and he had little choice, as he was facing civil war. The Vita said “the seditious quarrel between the lord king and the barons spread far and wide through England, and the whole land was much desolated by such a tumult…The king had his towns and castles munitioned and repaired, and the magnates on their part did likewise…it was held for certain that the quarrel once begun could not be settled without great destruction.” A letter written around this time agreed: “very evil are the times in England now; and there are many who fear that worse times are still in store for us.” (Ironically, the letter was written by Walter Stapeldon, bishop-elect of Exeter, murdered by a mob in 1326 for his loyalty to Edward II.)
The day after Edward finally agreed to the exile, the archbishop of Canterbury threatened to exile Piers if he didn’t leave the country by 25 June. Piers’ young wife Margaret de Clare was not included in the exile – she was the granddaughter of the old king and the sister of the earl of Gloucester, and nobody intended her any harm or insult – but she accompanied Piers abroad anyway, according to the Lanercost chronicle and the Annals of Dublin. This hardly suggests that their marriage was a disaster or that she hated Piers.
Piers was stripped of the lands he held as earl of Cornwall, though he was allowed to keep the title, an empty gesture probably insisted on by Edward II. A few days after Edward agreed to the exile, he granted Piers £2000 worth of lands in his homeland of Gascony, and another £2000 of English lands to Piers and his wife Margaret jointly – so Piers did not suffer from any loss of income. Edward also gave him a gift of 1180 marks, about 786 pounds, a truly enormous sum.
On 16 June, Edward hit on the idea of making Piers Lord Lieutenant of Ireland, having given the title to the earl of Ulster only the day before. Edward went to Bristol with Piers and Margaret to see them off to Ireland; they sailed on 28 June, three days late.
Even before Piers’ departure, Edward was exerting himself to get the exile overturned. On 16 June, he granted the castle of Blanquefort in Gascony to the Pope’s nephew and namesake Bertrand de Got, candidly explaining that he hoped the grant would encourage the Pope to look on Edward’s affairs, i.e., Piers Gaveston, more favourably. It took a while, but a few months later, Pope Clement agreed to nullify the archbishop of Canterbury’s threat to excommunicate Piers.
Edward spent the next few months schmoozing his earls and barons, granting them lands, favours, positions and money: “he bent one after another to his will, with gifts, promises and blandishments” (Vita). One by one, he brought then back to his side, to the disgust of the Vita: “See how often and abruptly great men change their sides…The love of magnates is as a game of dice.” Labouring under the delusion that Edward and Piers would change their behaviour if Piers returned, the earl of Lincoln – formerly their most determined opponent – even persuaded some of the other earls to accept Piers’ return.
Piers Gaveston came back to England on or about 27 June 1309, a year almost to the day since he’d left, having done a pretty good job as Lieutenant of Ireland. On 5 August 1309, at parliament in Stamford, the lands of his earldom were restored to him. Secure in Edward’s favour and in the knowledge that the king had spent a year trying to bring him back, and therefore adored him as hopelessly as ever, Piers became ever more arrogant, and gave the earls insulting nicknames.
He and Edward then proceeded to demonstrate that neither of them had learned a damn thing from the experience, and that they did not have a molecule of political sense between them. Actually, that’s not quite true. Edward’s actions in 1308 and 1309 demonstrate clearly how astute, cunning and energetic he could be when he chose. But most of the time, he chose not to be. He couldn’t be bothered unless his friends and therefore his personal feelings were involved, which must have been intensely frustrating to his contemporaries. If he had used his undoubted talents to, you know, actually govern his kingdom and to fight in Scotland, he could have been a great king.
As it was, events led inexorably to Piers’ third and final exile, in November 1311, and ultimately, Edward’s passion for and obsession with Piers led to his friend’s destruction…