J.S. Hamilton weighs the evidence and concludes that Edward II and his notorious favourite were more than just good friends.
There have been very few liaisons in English history that have gained greater notoriety than that which existed between King Edward II (r.1307-27) and his Gascon favourite Piers Gaveston. Until very recently it has been a commonplace assumption that the two men were homosexual lovers, and that Edward’s passion for Gaveston drove a wedge, ultimately fatal for both men, between the King and his young queen, Isabella of France. Recently, however, Pierre Chaplais has suggested, in Piers Gaveston: Edward II’s Adoptive Brother (1994) another interpretation of the relationship, arguing that the two men entered into a brotherhood-in-arms at some point in the early 1300s, and that this compact is sufficient explanation for the intensity of their relationship, even to the extent that the King ignored and indeed humiliated his indignant spouse. Chaplais defines such a brotherhood as ‘some sort of very close relationship established formally between two persons of military status’. So, were Piers and Edward just good friends, or brothers, or lovers? And what about poor, neglected Isabella? Was she really the ‘She-Wolf of France,’ or, was she, as contemporary French chronicles styled her, ‘Isabella the Fair’, an unfortunate victim more sinned against than sinning?
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