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Piers Gaveston, 1st Earl of Cornwall (c. 1284 – 19 June 1312) was an English nobleman of Gascon origin, and the favourite of King Edward II of England.
At a young age he made a good impression on King Edward I "Longshanks", and was assigned to the household of the King's son, Edward of Caernarfon. The prince's partiality for Gaveston was so extravagant that Edward I sent the favourite into exile, but he was recalled a few months later, after the King's death led to the prince's accession as Edward II. Edward bestowed the Earldom of Cornwall on Gaveston, and arranged for him to marry his niece Margaret de Clare, sister of the powerful Earl of Gloucester.
Gaveston's exclusive access to the King provoked several members of the nobility, and in 1307 the King was again forced to send him into exile. During this absence he served as the King's Lord Lieutenant of Ireland. Edward managed to negotiate a deal with the opposition, however, and Gaveston returned the next year. Upon his return his behaviour became even more offensive, and by the Ordinances of 1311 it was decided that Gaveston should be exiled for a third time, to suffer outlawry if he returned. When he did return in 1312, he was hunted down and executed by a group of magnates led by Thomas of Lancaster and Guy de Beauchamp, Earl of Warwick.
It was alleged by medieval chroniclers that Edward II and Piers Gaveston were lovers, a rumour that was reinforced by later portrayals in fiction, such as Christopher Marlowe's late 16th-century play Edward II. This assertion has received the support of some modern historians, while others have questioned it. According to Pierre Chaplais, the relationship between the two was that of an adoptive brotherhood, and Gaveston served as an unofficial deputy for a reluctant king. Other historians, like J. S. Hamilton, have pointed out that concern over the two men's sexuality was not at the core of the nobility's grievances, which rather centred on Gaveston's exclusive access to royal patronage.
It was hinted at by medieval chroniclers, and has been alleged by modern historians, that the relationship between Gaveston and Edward was homosexual. The Annales Paulini claims that Edward loved Gaveston "beyond measure", while the Lanercost says the intimacy between them was "undue". The Chronicle of Melsa states that Edward "particularly delighted in the vice of sodomy", without making special reference to Gaveston. The portrayal of Gaveston as homosexual continued in fictional portrayals, such as Christopher Marlowe's play Edward II from the early 1590s, and the 1924 adaptation of that work by Bertolt Brecht and Lion Feuchtwanger.
Modern historians have been divided on the issue. T. F. Tout, writing in 1914, rejected the idea. J. S. Hamilton, who wrote a biography of Gaveston in 1988, on the other hand says that "there is no question that the king and his favourite were lovers". Pierre Chaplais, writing a few years later, had more reservations. Chaplais cites the fact that Edward had four children with his wife – and even an extra-marital son – as well as the relative silence of contemporary commentators on the topic. He also finds it hard to believe that Philip IV of France would have allowed the English king to marry his daughter Isabella if Edward was known to be homosexual. Mark Ormrod has pointed out the inherent anachronism of speaking of homosexuality in a medieval context. Instead Ormrod suggests the focus should be on the motivation behind the use of sexuality in contemporary attacks on the King and Gaveston.
If the King and Gaveston were indeed lovers, the question remains of what effect this had on their respective careers and eventual downfalls. John Boswell, in his Christianity, Social Tolerance, and Homosexuality, calls Gaveston Edward's lover, and writes that there is little doubt "that [Edward's] wife and the barons of England were violently hostile to Edward's sexual proclivities, although he more than fulfilled his royal duties by fathering four children with Isabella". Boswell argues that Edward and Gaveston fell victim to a new-found concern about sexual morals among the secular powers of Europe, manifested shortly before in the trial of the Knights Templar in 1307. This interpretation is disputed by Hamilton. "The favourite was murdered because of his control of patronage," writes Hamilton, "not because of his access to the king's bedchamber". This same view is also expressed by Roy Martin Haines, in his 2003 biography of the King.
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