So Mair succeeded in skewering the mayor. One of the charges levied against him and not denied by Boris Johnson was that in the late 80s, whilst a journo at the Times, he made up a quote from his godfather, Sir Colin Lucas, about Edward II enjoying a reign of dissolution with his catamite, Piers Gaveston, in his then newly discovered palace south of the Thames which was built in 1325. The problem was that Gaveston was beheaded in 1312. In an era where we are familiar with egregious press behaviour – phone hacking et al – this seems a rather minor peccadillo, although in my limited experience of academics the one thing they like more than being cited is being cited accurately. The then editor of the Thunderer fired Boris after complaints from Lucas.
The question on everyone’s lips is who was Piers Gaveston (c1284 to 1312). Gaveston, an English nobleman of Gascon birth, had an Icarus-like career, reaching the heady heights of being appointed the first Earl of Cornwall (1307) by his alleged lover, the recently crowned Edward II, and acted as regent in 1308 when the king left the country to marry the French king’s daughter, Isabella. However, on his way up the greasy pole, Gaveston made many enemies, partly as a result of a humiliating defeat he and his cronies inflicted on a powerful cabal of barons at a tournament held at Wallingford Castle. The pressure for Gaveston’s exile grew to such an extent that the king had no option but to dispatch his paramour to Ireland and stripped him of his earldom.
Whilst in Ireland Gaveston had considerable success in pacifying the Irish rebels and for his efforts was reinstated as Earl of Cornwall in August 1309. However, Piers soon ruffled the feather of his opponents once more and in November 1310 was exiled only being reconciled with the king again in early 1312 and having his lands restored.
Relations between the king and the barons had deteriorated to such an extent that a civil war broke out and in the early summer of 1312 Gaveston was captured by the Earl of Warwick and condemned to death at Warwick castle. On 19th June 1312 Piers was executed and buried behind the site of his execution. Peace was restored in 1313 but the king had to wait until 1315 when he had secured his favourite’s absolution, to move his body to the Dominican friary at Langley. In 1823 a cross was erected at Blacklow Hill on the alleged site of his execution.
A fascinating tale and one can’t help thinking that some aspects of Gaveston’s meteoric career mirror those of our benighted mayor. Boris’ career is unlikely to end, literally, on the executioner’s block but, metaphorically, who knows?