At times in its history, Scarborough Castle played a major role in the political doings of the country. One of these times was during King Edward II's reign, in the Gaveston affair.
King Edward II (r. 1307-1327), Piers Gaveston's lover. 1
Edward's reign was not stable, and he was constantly at odds with the barons of England over the undue influence of his favorites as well as other issues. In 1311 a commission, actually appointed by the King, produced the New-Ordinances, which were an elaborate set of checks and balances to control the power of the Crown. These ordinances included a clause that Piers Gaveston should be exiled. 2 Edward obeyed the Ordinances under duress, but not for long, and in 1312 he recalled Piers to England. According to Bigland: ". . . [Gaveston] had by his insolence so exasperated the barons of England, that they entered into a confederacy for the purpose of expelling him from the kingdom." 3 This confederacy was led by Thomas, Earl of Lancaster, the king's first cousin. Others were the Earl of Pembroke and the Earl of Warren, as well as the former governor of Scarborough Castle, Henry de Percy, who had been given the right to live in the castle in 1307-8 with his family. Edward gave the Scarborough Castle governorship to William le Latimer in January of 1312. 4
The walls capping the headland, seen from the harbor.
In 1312 Lancaster and the other barons went after Gaveston. They marched to the city of York, but Edward and Gaveston fled to Newcastle. From Newcastle the king and his favorite took ship at Tynemouth for Scarborough Castle. 5 Edward made Piers the governor of Scarborough Castle in April of 1312. At this time Scarborough was commonly considered one of the strongest fortifications in England. 6 One of its significant advantages was the deep well inside the inner bailey of the castle. Piers was left there, in a castle that, with the town's support, could have withstood almost any attack. Meanwhile, Edward went into Warwickshire to try to raise an army to fight Lancaster's forces. 7 While Lancaster pursued the King, the Earls of Pembroke and Warren along with Henry de Percy besieged Gaveston at Scarborough. However, Scarborough was then so badly provisioned that Gaveston had to surrender within a fortnight, on May 19th 8 (Binns says within about 10 days (p33)). Gaveston's captors swore oaths in a solemn ceremony, at the local Dominican friary, to preserve his life. However, his captors were forsworn when he was taken by the Earl of Warwick a month later, while housed at the village of Deddington on his way south. After a spurious trial, Gaveston was beheaded as a traitor. King Edward took revenge for his lover's death on the town of Scarborough, which had failed to help Piers when he was besieged -- not revenge on the actual murderers, because they were too powerful. In some poorly designed edicts, Edward revoked all the corporate privileges of the town and put Scarborough under the direct, and bloody, authority of royally appointed governors. 9
Click here for more information about Edward's II riegn.
Link to a web page about the Piers Gaveston Monument to "a memorable instance of misrule"
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