Piers Gaveston and the Royal Treasure  *

J. S. Hamilton

Many charges were leveled against Piers Gaveston, the Gascon favorite of Edward II and earl of Cornwall from 1307 until his violent death at the hands of a group of disaffected magnates led by earls Thomas of Lancaster and Guy of Warwick in 1312. One of the most readily accepted has been the accusation that he had maliciously and illegally taken the royal treasure into his own hands and that he had then transported the treasure to his native Gascony. According to the contemporary Annales Londonienses, no sooner had Gaveston been recalled from exile than Edward bestowed the royal treasure upon him in its entirety: “Furthermore he has relinquished to the said Piers the disposition and control of all the royal treasure, jewels, and precious stones.” Other chronicles refer to Gaveston's acquisition of the royal treasure in 1307, linking it to the fall from grace of Edward I's former treasurer, Walter Langton, bishop of Coventry and Lichfield (but most often styled bishop of Chester in contemporary accounts of the reign). According to the Annales Paulini, Gaveston, still not satisfied, induced Edward to give him the wedding gifts that the king had received from his new father-in-law, Philip the Fair of France. Moreover, the earl of Cornwall was supposed to have sent this treasure abroad resulting in the pauperization of both king and Crown. To the monastic chroniclers of the fourteenth century, and indeed to the magnates who drafted the Ordinances of 1311, the veracity of these allegations was too well established to require specific proof. Modern scholars, however, require more concrete evidence than the narrative sources supply of Gaveston's alleged wrongdoing. Documentary evidence sheds light upon the various questions revolving around Piers Gaveston and the royal treasure.

J. S. Hamilton is Associate Professor of History and Chairperson at Old Dominion University, and the editor of Scotia. He has published Piers Gaveston, Earl of Cornwall, 1307–1312: Politics and Patronage in the Reign of Edward II (1988), and edited with Patricia J. Bradley, Documenting the Past: Essays in Medieval History Presented to George Peddy Cuttino (1989). He is presently at work on a comparative study of the depositions of Edward II and Richard II.


*  I am grateful to the College of Arts and Letters and the Department of History of Old Dominion University for providing me with a sabbatical leave during Spring semester 1989 in which I was able to write this article, and to the Old Dominion Research Foundation for providing me with a travel grant that allowed me to do my research and writing in London. I am also grateful to Professors Elizabeth A. R. Brown, George B. Stow, and Charles T. Wood who kindly read and commented on an earlier version of this article.