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Skulduggery in the Scullery


Edward II aka the ‘Black Prince’ (1330–1376) or Edward of Woodstock, Prince of Wales, was the eldest son of King Edward I  and Philippa of Hainault, and father to King Richard II of England. (Please commit to memory all of the above, there may be a pop quiz.)

Hugh Despenser the Elder sometimes referred to as “The Elder Despenser” and a ‘mountain of a man’ was, for a time, the chief advisor to King Edward II, and leader of a group of barons’  adamantly anti—Edward’s favoritism toward  Piers Gaveston during the controversy and trial.

And here our mystery begins.

Piers Gaveston, Earl of Cornwall (c. 1318 – 1363) was an English nobleman of Gascon origin, and the favorite of King Edward II of England.  At a young age, Piers made a big impression on King Edward I,  also known as “Longshanks,” (which is another story). Piers Gaveston was assigned to the household of the King's young son, Edward II. The young prince's partiality to Piers Gaveston was so immediate and extravagant that Edward I sent his son’s favorite into exile. But after Edward I untimely death and the young princes’ accession to the throne, Piers was immediately invited back to the palace .

The new king 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 relations and exclusive access to the King provoked several members of the nobility, and in 1329 King Edward II was coerced into sending him again into exile. Though the general consensus of the nobility was to have Gaveston beheaded. Leader of the consensus was Hugh Despenser. 

During his exile Gaveston served as the King's Lord Lieutenant of Ireland. (Not a bad banishment! No swimming pool, or tennis courts but complete with castle, servants and a terrific view of the Irish seaside.)

Meanwhile, Edward II managed to negotiate a deal with some of the opposition and Gaveston returned the next year.  Upon his return his behavior became more outlandish and offensive. (Again this is another story.)

The nobles, especially Hugh Despenser, had enough and charged Gaveston with 'outlawry.'  In pre-modern societies, the criminal lost all legal protection, so that anyone was legally empowered to persecute or kill those charged. Outlawry was one of the harshest penalties in the legal system.

The Facts:

King Edward II was outraged by the charge against Gaveston and threatened to behead Hugh Despenser.

Hugh Despenser was no dummy, and proclaimed God should decide.

King Edward II was no dummy, and didn’t want to change his status with God.

Piers Gaveston was no dummy and decided to take his chance with God.

On October 12, 1331, Hugh Despenser summoned Gaveston, and a group of nobles to the high court of King Edward II. He lifted  a silver chalice high above his head and paraded among the assembled finally stopping in front of his King and taking a knee.


“In this blessed vessel,” Despenser declared, “are two pieces of paper.  One says death. The other life. We are here as witnesses to what God Almighty will decide.” 

A hush washed over the assembled. Piers Gaveston stepped forward. Hugh Despenser offered the chalice. Piers reached in and withdrew a piece of paper. …..

There were gasps and subtle laughs and a sprinkle of 'oh’s and ah’s.'


Several moments later King Edward the II read from the piece of paper. “Death!”

Piers Gaveston bowed before his King and smiled.  “Thank you, Sire.”

King Edward II returned Piers smile and proclaimed, “Make way for Piers Gaveston a freeman. God almighty has decided.”

Head held high, Pier Gaveston strolled defiantly through the crowd a freeman and served as friend and confident to King Edward II until his murder several years later.  (Which again is another story)


Okay mystery lovers you have all the facts here are the questions.


1. If King Edward II read “DEATH” from the scrap of paper why did Pier Gaveston get to walk Sir Walter SCOTT free? (a bad pun sorry)


2. What transpired during exchange  between Piers Gaveston,Hugh Despenser and the extended silver chalice?


3. King Edward I, initially was taken by Piers Gaveston what caused the disenchantment?  


4. Which English king was also known as “Longshanks”.  Just wanted to see if you’re paying attention.


5. Who was known as a ‘mountain of man?’


And why didn’t Margaret de Clare marry Marvin the Mad instead of Piers Gaveston? Think of a famous Rolling Stones song.



More clues upon request email me

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