The period between 1308 and 1311 was dominated by the attempts of the barons to resolve the issues left unsolved from Edward I's reign; and by the scandal and disruption caused by the king's favourite, Piers Gaveston. The conflict and turmoil led to another constitutional shuffle forward with the powers and role of parliament in the Ordinances of 1311.
The outrageous Piers Gaveston
How outraegous was Piers Gaveston? At one end of the spectrum is the view that Gaveston and Edward were in a homosexual love affair, Gaveston stole the queen's jewels and exported treasure from the kingdom; he controlled all access to the king and was insufferably arrogant.
The reality is probably rather less dramatic. It's really impossible to know if Edward and Gaveston were lovers in a physical sense – what's clear is that they loved each other, and Edward idolised Gaveston.
The stuff about stealing the queens jewels and exporting treasure from the kingdom is probably not true – the chroniclers vie with each other to do the guy down. But there's little doubt the guy was guilty of hideous arrogance. Here's a quote:
He adopted such a proud manner of bearing towards them that the Earls coming before him to discuss business were forced to kneel in order to bring their reasons before him because he did not value them and did not heed the advice of the sage who said A sudden reverse awaits those who, raised high in pride from poverty know neither reason nor measure and have no care
Gaveston had to go becuase he upset the system of patronage and access to the king on which medieval politics relied.
Here's a quote from the Annales Paulini that Hannah Kilpatrick emailed me, with some comments from Hannah also on the langauge used.
… In an excess of love, the king called Piers his brother; the common people, however, called him the king's idol ("regis ydolum"), whose displeasure the king feared as that of a father, and whom he sought to please as one would a master [awkward idiom, but that's the sense of it]. The king gave to this Piers the bestowal on his subjects of many kinds of favours/graces [gratia], which by royal prerogative belonged to the king himself alone and ought not descend to others. For example, if any one of the earls or magnates would request any particular grace [gratiam] of the king regarding the proceedings of any business [aliquo negotio expediendo], the king would send him to Piers; and anything that Piers said or instructed would soon be enacted, and the king would allow it [acceptaret, which is a beautifully passive verb that you could almost justify as translating 'would submit to it'].
[And just in case we've missed why this corruption of the less physical royal coinage is a bad thing:]
And so all the people [populus universus] were resentful [indignatus, which is this chronicler's favourite adjective for this period], seeing two kings reign in one realm, both in word and in action.
The Coronation Oath
The Archbishop of Canterbury Robert Winchelsea was still in France, since he was ill and had been in dispute with Edward I and the Pope. So the oath was administered by the Bishop of Winchester, assisted by the Bishops of Chichester and Salisbury.
By and large the oath is pretty standard – preserving the laws and customs, the church and administering justice. The rather radical thing was the phrase in bold below – ‘the just laws and customs that the community of your realm shall determine’. Now that’s very new, and sounds like something of a hostage to fortune.
The phrase derives from the Boulogne Declaration by a group of magnates and church leaders that they were loyal to the crown as much as the monarch – itself a new idea. Essentially, the barons wanted no repeat of Edward I’s reign where the king broke promises he had made to reform; and there were already signs that Edward II was not to be trusted.
Sire, will you grant and keep and by your oath confirm to the people of England the laws and customs given to them by the previous just and god-fearing kings, your ancestors, and especially the laws, customs, and liberties granted to the clergy and people by the glorious king, the sainted Edward, your predecessor?
I grant and promise them.
Sire, will you in all your judgments, so far as in you lies, preserve to God and Holy Church, and to the people and clergy, entire peace and concord before God ?"
I will preserve them.
Sire, will you, so far as in you lies, cause justice to be rendered rightly, impartially, and wisely, in compassion and in truth?
I will do so.
Sire, do you grant to be held and observed the just laws and customs that the community of your realm shall determine, and will you, so far as in you lies, defend and strengthen them to the honour of God?
I grant and promise them.
The Ordinances, 1311
The Ordinances were an attempt by the Barons to both resolve the problems and differences they had had with Edward I and which had continued into the new reign, and put an end to the crisis caused by Edward II’s reckless favouritism towards Piers Gaveston.
It has been described as ‘oligarchical’; the phrase ‘community of the realm’ doesn’t appear, the ordinances stress the role of the baronage in parliament. In fact, it’s doubtful that the barons had any intention of removing the powers and rights of knights and towns; more that they were simply not present at the parliament where the barons forced acceptance on Edward.
The ordinances have a number of groups of issues they try to address:
- Exactions of the king – the vexed questions of impositions such as prise and purveyance
- Control of royal officials – such as forest officials, household officers
- Legal reform – such as trying to stop malicious accusations
- Specific individuals – the ‘evil counsellors’ the barons didn’t like
In the end, the ordinances started a period of conflict – between Thomas, Earl of Lancaster and his supporters, and the king, rather than bringing one to an end. But despite the fact that there are few innovations in the Ordinances, most clauses hark back to the Articles on the Charters of Edward I’s reign, there are significant changes. Never before had the king been required to answer to parliament so comprehensively – such as appointing his officials, or leaving the country, or changing the currency.