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As I have walked the Four Shires over the past few years I have come across on several occasions the name Gaveston especially in the north of the area where there are roads, streets and even a pub carrying the name.
To the south of Banbury we find Gaveston Gardens in Deddington and planning a recent walk spotted “Gaveston Cross” marked on an Ordnance Survey map in some woods to the north of Warwick.
Time for some research, which reveals a fascinating chapter of English history just over 600 years ago with a local connection and a particularly interesting and somewhat gory ending.
Piers Gaveston was an English nobleman born in 1284 of Gascon Origins and at an early age made such a good impression on King Edward 1st ( the infamous Longshanks) that he was assigned to the household of the Kings son, Edward.
However such was the closeness of their relationship the king sent Gaveston abroad and into exile, but this was short lived as the king died just a few months later and Edward ll recalled Gaveston and ennobled him to the title of The Earl of Cornwall.
Again Gavestons peculiar relationship with the King upset many members of the nobility and forced a second exile during which time he served as the Kings Lord Lieutenant of Ireland.
A year later Gaveston returned but this time his behaviour was even more outrageous and offensive he was exiled for a third time and it was made clear should he return would be declared an outlaw.
Though return he did and in June 1312 he was discovered to be staying at The Rectory in Deddington, the powerful Earl of Warwick rode south to apprehend him and took him back to his castle at Warwick.
There he was to face an assembly of several powerful noblemen, that included Warwick, Lancaster, Hereford and Arundel and was sentenced to be executed.
Local rumour is that he was to be executed as far away from the castle as possible but still within sight of it, which brings us to the Gaveston Cross on our map.
It marks the spot on what is known as Blacklow Hill where he was supposedly executed, it is on private land which in turn is surrounded by farmland where there are no public footpaths, I was lucky enough to get permission from both and discovered a memorial on the spot where the execution took place.
It is pretty spooky even in the sunshine in the middle of the day and standing in front of the cross and looking due south you can just make out the towers of Warwick Castle some three miles away
Piers Gaveston lives on today as one of Oxford Universities more extravagant drinking and dining clubs “The Piers Gaveston Society” ,founded in 1977, described in Tatler magazine as the coolest club in town past members being Hugh grant and Ian Hislop.
“ This article first appeared in The Four Shires Magazine”
Peter Evan Jones
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