19th June 1312. Beware of Favouritism.
Edward II had invited hatred for his infatuation with his friends, his wrangling with the nobles, and his defeat at Bannockburn, by Robert the Bruce in 1314. In 1327 he was the first anointed King to be dethroned since Ethelred in 1013.
Medieval kings had their confidants and favourites, which can work well most of the time, but can be dangerous when those on the outside turn nasty.
Thus it was with Edward II, whose weak military leadership and failure to get the barons onside was to eventually to see not just his downfall, but that of his favourite Piers Gaveston, Earl of Cornwall.
For it was at 9 am Today in 1312, that he was taken from his prison cell in Warwick Castle and handed over to the prison guards who escorted him to nearby Blacklow Hill, where he was met by two Welshmen, one of whom ran a sword through his body; the second cut off his head.(1)
For five years Gaveston had been the most hated man in the Kingdom, treating other nobles and Queen Isabella, with contempt. He was also associated with Edward‘s lamentable record of government.
Gaveston’s death was rough justice, it was also a political disaster, as the distraught King bent his revenge on his cousin Thomas, Earl of Lancaster, which resulted in two decades of turbulence, mutiny, distrust and a civil-war (1321-2).
After the defeat of the rebellious Thomas at Boroughbridge, Yorkshire, in 1322, Edward later fell into the power of his brother Henry, 3rd Earl, who took advantage to petition for the titles and lands at Tutbury, Staffordshire, of his late brother.
Edward’s future looked bleak, more so as he had fallen under the influence of his favourites the Despensers. The end came when a combined force of the Queen and her lover Hugh Mortimer invaded from France; the king was deposed and supposedly brutally murdered at Berkeley Castle in 1327, though stories circulated that the King had escaped abroad.
The only source for Edward’s probably mythical, violent end, came from the Edward worshipper, the chronicler Geoffrey le Baker c 1350 and later Christopher Marlowe, no doubt to exaggerate the dastardly cruelty of the King’s enemies. (2)
(1) After Piers Gaveston, Prince John of Eltham, (c15th August 1316 to 13th September 1336), was created Earl of Cornwall on 6th October 1328.
(2) How the facts of history can be distorted by writers, is seen with the name ‘She-Wolf’, ascribed to Queen Isabella. This was first used much later by Shakespeare for Margaret of Anjou, and first applied to Isabella by Thomas Gray in 1757. See Henry VI, Pt 3, Act 1, scene 4.
Over the King’s Gateway at Caernarfon Castle, Wales, is a dilapidated stone statue of Edward II, the first Prince of Wales, and whose present Prince, still nowadays enjoys the income from the Duchy of Cornwall Estates.
This results from the augmentation of the former earldom of Cornwall into a Duchy which occurred on March 17th 1337, by its first Charter.
The first Duke of Cornwall, was Edward III’s eldest son, the ‘Black Prince’(1330-1376).
Ref: royal.gov.uk/historyofthemonarchy/plantagenets/edward II.
Ref: paradoxplace.com/tomb-effigy-shrine/edward II. Image Ref. at Gloucester Cathedral.