The Wallingford Tournament
and Piers Gaveston's Insults
King Edward II began his reign in July 1307 and, within a month, he had granted the whole Duchy of Cornwall, with the castle, town and Honour of Wallingford, the manors of Watlington and Benson, and other lands of which Edmund, Earl of Cornwall, died possessed, to his unfortunate lover, Piers de Gaveston, whom he made Baron of Wallingford, and afterwards Earl of Cornwall. Gaveston had been banished in the previous reign and the late King had ordered Henry Lacy, Earl of Lincoln, not to permit him to return to England; but the first objective of Edward II, in his new reign, was to secure Gaveston’s recall and to load him with honours. When Edward prepared to sail for France to meet his bride, Isabella the Fair, Gaveston was even appointed Regent of the Kingdom, with powers almost unlimited.
The banishment of Gaveston was principally due to Walter Langton, Bishop of Coventry & Lichfield, and as a mark, it would seem, of the Royal displeasure, the bishop was arrested in the year of the King's accession, imprisoned at Wallingford, and his goods were confiscated and given to Gaveston. A second banishment of the haughty and imperious Gaveston, which the King, pressed by the English nobles, was prevailed upon to decree, was met by sending him to Ireland and making him Viceroy. He was soon, however, recalled and, on his return, he proclaimed a great tournament to be held at his Castle of Wallingford, to celebrate the grant to him of that fortress. It was at this grand gathering that the seeds were sown of a fearful day of reckoning. In scornful mockery, Gaveston applied provocative nicknames to many of his leading guests. The Earl of Pembroke, whose complexion was dark and sallow, he called ‘Joseph the Jew’ ; the fierce Earl of Warwick, ‘the Wild Boar of Ardennes’; the Earl of Lancaster, from his affecting a picturesque style of dress, ‘the Stage Player’; and, in like manner, he characterised the rest of the party, either from their peculiarities or defects. These insults stirred up such a storm in the court and among the Baronage, that the King was obliged to send Gaveston, again, out of the country, and Gaveston surrendered the castle, town and other possessions.
In 1312, he was recalled and the King ordered the Constable to provision the castle and repair the houses, and he made his favourite Principal Minister. This promotion set free the pent-up vengeance of the malcontent barons, who, headed by the Earl of Lancaster, took up arms against the Sovereign. Gaveston sought refuge in the strong fortress of Scarborough, but was forced to surrender to the confederate nobles. The custody of the prisoner was committed to the Earl of Pembroke, who listened to the King's request for an interview with his minister at Wallingford, whither the King had repaired.
On the way, Guy, Earl of Warwick, the ‘Wild Boar’ at the tournament, seized the prisoner, at night in the absence of the Earl, and, with a large force, carried him away to Blacklow Hill, near Guy's
Cliff (Warwickshire), where he was beheaded. The spot, in memory of the tragedy committed there, is called Gaveshead.
Edited from John Kirby Hedges' 'A Short History of Wallingford' (1893)
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