Tuesday 19 June 2012

Fate That Waited 7 Centuries?

"Edward II and Piers Gaveston" - detail of an engraving from a painting by Marcus Stone (1840-1921). Edward and Piers are on the left, Queen Isabella and the disapproving courtiers watch on.
I’m not sure if I believe in fate. I certainly don’t believe in coincidence. So I am sometimes gob-smacked by similarities in history and the present day that you wouldn’t believe if it was put into a novel. One of these similarities centres around me, one of my ex-partners and Piers Gaveston.

Gaveston was the lover of King Edward II, one of the most famous “queens” of England. Their relationship was part of the reason why Edward was hated by the ruling classes (he was adored by the people because he actually talked to them and helped them thatch roofs, dig ditches and trim hedges). Piers, on the other hand, was undoubtedly arrogant and he thought nothing of insulting the top officers of state publicly. But he knew King Edward wouldn’t do anything to stop him.

Like a later King Edward, Edward II put his heart first. The only difference is that in medieval times the king didn’t abdicate – not until he was forced to.

Gaveston was showered with gifts and titles. Some of these were traditionally held by the English barons but Gaveston, being a Gascon knight, became the first “foreigner” to be given them. This included being appointed Constable of Nottingham Castle and Keeper of Sherwood Forest, and on one occasion regent of England which the barons certainly thought wasn’t right.

Gaveston was forced into exile by the barons 3 times, and when Edward brought him back for the third time the barons had had enough. They captured Gaveston and condemned him to death. Before they could arrange the execution Gaveston was seized by the Earl of Warwick and was ignominiously murdered by the roadside – 700 years ago today.

As for King Edward, a rebellion led by his wife and her lover Roger Mortimer forced him to abdicate in favour of his teenage son, but Mortimer made sure he was out of the picture for good by having Edward murdered as well.

Almost 700 years later I found myself working at Nottingham Castle as a tour guide. This was the place where the tyrannical Roger Mortimer was captured and deposed by the powerless teenage king who wanted his power back. The most popular part of my tours were when I explained how Mortimer was executed – hanged, drawn and quartered – and demonstrated on a volunteer child (not for real, of course!). In 2004 my tour helped to win the Best Guided Tour in the UK award for Nottingham Castle.

A couple of years after I started working at the castle a young man called Mark joined the team. We quickly became friends (at the time that was all it could be because he already had a boyfriend). For reasons I won’t go into here I left Nottingham Castle in 2005.

Mark went to off to university, and when he came back to the area a couple of years later we met up again. He was now single, and before I knew it we were briefly seeing each other. That’s when I asked if I could research his ancestry. I wished we were still working at Nottingham Castle – you’ll realise why.

For a few years I’ve known I’m descended from King Edward II. Researching Mark’s ancestry I discovered he was descended from Piers Gaveston. That really put a tingle down my spine! Was it fate that brought me and Mark together I thought? If nothing else it would have been a unique publicity angle for Nottingham Castle if we were still working there. But realistically I don’t suppose it’s anything but chance.

However, it’s a story I still use on my lgbt tours of Nottingham. I also mention that I’m descended from both Roger Mortimer and the Earl of Warwick, the men responsible for the murders of Edward II and Piers Gaveston. So if it was fate perhaps it cancelled itself out! My relationship with Mark didn’t last long, so perhaps history was telling me it wouldn’t have lasted anyway!

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