The 'Lords Ordainers' were a commission of twenty-one individuals who in March 1310 were appointed to reform the administration when king Edward II agreed "that certain persons should be elected to ordain and determine the condition of his household and of his realm", and were so called because they "issued ordinances for the better government of the realm".
The Background: Edward II and Piers Gaveston
On the 7th July 1307 Edward I died and was succeeded by his son Edward II, whose first act was to summon the return of Piers Gaveston from exile and make him Earl of Cornwall. The return of Piers Gaveston, banished earlier that year by Edward I as a 'bad influence' on his son, was not popular as there were suspicions regarding the nature of the relationship between Gaveston and Edward and opposition to the rapid advancement of Gaveston to a central position of power and infleunce in the government of the country.
Early in 1308 Edward went to France, in order to finally marry Isabella of France, to whom he had been betrothed since 1298. Whilst he was out of the country he appointed Gaveston as regent, an unpopular decision as evidenced by the Boulogne Agreement1 of 31st January 1308 when a number of barons and bishops put their names to a letter which declared their opposition to the Piers Gaveston and in which the signatories rather ominously made a distinction between loyalty to the crown as an institution and to the king as an individual.
Despite this Edward was not unduly worried by this criticism of his administration as he could count on the support of the three most powerful men in the kingdom; his cousin Thomas 'the Martyr' Plantagenet and Earl of Lancaster, Henry de Lacy the Earl of Lincoln and Gilbert de Clare who had recently inherited the title of Earl of Gloucester. He therefore felt sufficiently secure to ignore the warnings of the Boulogne Agreement even if its signatories included the likes of the Bishop of Durham and the Earl of Pembroke. As it happens, he would have been well advised to have paid more heed, as the letter drafted in Boulogne was a fairly accurate reflection of sentiment at the time.
The coronation of 25th February 1308 featured Gaveston desporting himself in a purple outfit trimmed with pearls, and behaving with such familiarity to the king that the new queen's uncles returned to France in disgust. Later Gaveston appeared at a tournament at Wallingford where he proceeded to defeat the Earls of Hereford, Surrey, and Arundel by rather devious means. All of these things only served to increase the scale of opposition to the presence of Gaveston as indeed did his habit of making up disparaging nicknames for his fellow earls.2
At the Parliament of April 1308, Henry de Lacy 3rd Earl of Lincoln abandoned his previous support of the king and united with Robert of Winchelsea the Archbishop of Canterbury, in calling for the removal of the arrogant Gaveston. On the 18 May 1308 Edward agreed to banish Gaveston, and issued instructions that he should leave the kingdom before the 25th June. To ensure that he did indeed leave Robert of Winchelsea and the bishops announced that Gaveston would be excommunicated if he failed to leave by the appointed day.
However Edward chose to interpret the agreement in his own fashion as in June Piers Gaveston simply left for Ireland to take up the post of Lord-Lieutenant of Ireland. Edward then immediately set about scheming to allow his favourite to return to his side. The pope was persuaded to annul the censures issued by the English church and the king managed to win over his cousin Thomas by appointing him hereditary Steward of England and handed out numerous other favours and grants of land to bring over other notable barons to his side.
When Parliament met again in the July of 1309 at Stamford, Edward offered some concessions as he agreed to answer some of the grievances previously expressed and having previously purchased the goodwill of many he successfully won permission for the return of Piers Gaveston. The only notable holdout was the Earl of Warwick, who remained implacably opposed to Gaveston. However the assembled magnates soon had cause to regret their decision as Piers Gaveston continued to behave as before and his greed and arrogance soon alienated whatever support that the king had previously gained.
Thomas, Earl of Lancaster was sufficently annoyed by Gaveston's failure to behave to abandon his previous support for his cousin and at the Parliament that subsequently met on the 17th February 1310 he emerged at the forefront of a party that was loud in its clamour against Gaveston and which turned up in full military array just to emphasize the point. To make matters worse, this time around the barons were no longer content with simply demanding the banishment of Gaveston and insisted on a thorough reform of the administration. thoroughly intimated by the level of opposition, on the 16th March 1310 Edward II agreed to the appointment of a committee to set out proposals for a programme of reform.
The appointment of the Lords Ordainers
This committee was selected as follows; the bishops elected two earls and the earls chose two bishops; these four then selected two barons, and the resulting six members then co-opted a further fifteen to make a grand total of twenty-one.
The twenty-one Lords Ordainers therefore comprised:-
being Aymer de Valence, Earl of Pembroke; Henry de Lacy, Earl of Lincoln; Thomas the Martyr, Earl of Lancaster; Humphrey de Bohun, Earl of Hereford; Guy de Beuachmap, Earl of Warwick; Edmund Fitzalan, Earl of Arundel; John of Brittany, Earl of Richmond and Gilbert de Clare, Earl of Gloucester;
being Robert Winchelsea, Archbishop of Canterbury; John Langton, Bishop of Chichester; Ralph Baldock, Bishop of London; Simon of Ghent, Bishop of Salisbury; David Martin, Bishop of St.David's; John of Monmouth, Bishop of Llandaff; and John Salmon, Bishop of Norwich;
and six barons;
being John Grey, Baron Grey de Wilton; Hugh de Courtenay, Baron Courtenay; Hugh de Vere, Baron of Swanscombe; Robert Clifford, Baron Clifford; William Marshal, Baron Marshal and William Martin, Baron Martin. 3
Whilst the Lords Ordainers were busy with their work Edward decided to leave London and go north. In June 1310 Edward launched a campaign in Scotland, perhaps hoping to distract the Lords Ordainers from their task, but his assembled force simply tramped around Scotland to no particular purpose, with his army more interested in looting than anything else.
Whilst Edward was away in the north Henry de Lacy was left in charge of the country as regent, however on the 6th February 1311 the Earl of Lincoln died. Whilst Gilbert de Clare left off campaigning in Scotland to take over as regent, the various title and estates of the deceased Earl of Lincoln passed into the hands of his son-in-law Thomas. Thomas now held no less than five earldoms and a considerable amount of landed wealth which made him the most powerful man in the kingdom next to the king. Rather ominously Thomas rather pointedly refused to cross into Scotland to perform homage for his new titles and insisted that the king cross the border and meet him at Haggerston for the ceremony.
At Parliament on the 16th of August 1311, the Lords Ordainers presented the results of their deliberations, the Ordinances of 1311 which contained forty-one articles which taken together deprived the king of every vestige of power as well as exiling the hated Gaveston. Edward made an effort to save his favourite courtier but in the end bowed to the inevitable. The Ordinances were made public at St Paul's Cathedral on the 27 September 1311; and formally sealed and issued under royal authority on the 5th October 1311.
In accordance with the requirements of the Ordinances, Piers Gaveston was duly sent into exile in November, but within a few weeks of his departure there were rumours that he was back again. These rumours had a solid foundation, for after a brief holiday in Flanders, Piers Gaveston had indeed returned to Edward's side by Christmas. On the 18th January 1311, Edward issued a proclamation announcing that the former pronouncement of exile had been illegal and later formally restored Gaveston to both his earldom and estates.
The Lords Ordainers go to War
As it was now evident that Edward was prepared to flout the Ordinances
the Lords Ordainers therefore prepared for war. Whilst Robert of Winchelsea declared Gaveston excommunicate, five earls in particular agreed to join togther in a confederacy to bring Piers Gaveston to justice, namely Thomas of Lancaster, Humphrey de Bohun of Hereford, Aymer de Valence of Pembroke,
Guy de Beuachmap of Warwick and Edmund Fitzalan of Arundel.
Gilbert de Clare of Gloucester declined to formaly join the club although he agreed to abide by whatever decisions they reached and John de Warenne, Earl of Surrey who had so far remained on the sidelines of the dispute, finally decided to throw in his lot with the Ordainers. They divided up the country between themselves and their supporters and began gathering their forces together under the pretext of organising a few tournaments.
Meanwhile Edward and Piers Gaveston had moved to York to prepare for the coming civil war, but they apparently made no effort either to raise an army or to win anyone over to their side. They simply retreated from York to Newcastle and made some efforts at negotiating a safe haven in Scotland with Robert the Bruce. Bruce however, refused any deal, allegedly dismissing Edward's proposals with the words "If the King of England will not keep faith with his own subjects, how then will he keep faith with me?".
On the 4th May the Earl of Lancaster, together with Robert Clifford and Henry Percy suddenly appeared at Newcastle. Edward and Gaveston hurriedly fled by ship to Scarborough abandoning queen Isabella as they did so. Edward then decided to leave Gaveston in charge of Scarborough Castle whilst he went south to finally organise some kind of opposition to the revolt.
It was therefore at Scarborough Castle that Piers Gaveston found himself confronted by the Earls of Pembroke and Surrey. Since Gaveston lacked the supplies to withstand any siege, on the 19th May he agreed to surrender on terms; both earls pledged to maintain his personal safety until the 1st August at which point if no decision had been made regarding his future, he would be reurned to Scarborough Castle. Aymer de Valence even pledged his own lands as security for Gaveston's life. Thus satisified that his life was in no danger Piers Gaveston surrendered, believing no doubt that the king would in any case, soon intervene.
The two earls took Gaveston to York where they received instructions to bring Gaveston south. On the 9th June 1312 they reached Deddington in Oxfordshire, where the Earl of Warwick appeared and seized hold of Gaveston (Pembroke was absent at the time visiting his wife). Piers Gaveston was taken to Warwick Castle where he was brought before the Earls of Lancaster, Warwick, Arundel and Hereford. The assembled earls, after pointing out to Gaveston that he scorned two previous attempts at his banishment, proclaimed the death sentence on the unfortunate Gascon.
On the 19th June 1312 Piers Gaveston was duly executed nearby on Blacklow Hill by two Welshmen, one of whom ran him through with his sword whilst the other cut off his head.
The end of the Lords Ordainers
This action split the Ordainers as both the Earl of Pembroke and the Earl of Surrey were particularly put out as they had sworn oaths as to Gaveston's safety; but it seems as if they had both been duped by Thomas into inducing the former favourite to surrender peacefully4. Aymer de Valence protested to Gilbert de Clare only to be told that he
should simply be more careful with his promises in future.
Both Pembroke and Surrey therefore abandoned their support of the Lords Ordainers and changed sides. Many others followed and there was a widespread backlash against Thomas and his supporters as a result of their murder of Piers Gaveston. In the meantime Edward II had managed to secure the loyalty of both London and the Cinque Ports and summoned a Parliament to meet at Westminster where he hoped to be able to punish those that had killed Gaveston. The four earls who had condemned Gaveston to death remained abroad with a considerable army on the field but for the moment neither side appeared eager to go to war.
With the situation thus stalemated, Gilbert de Clare acted as a go-between the two sides and on the 22nd December 1312 they reached a provisional agreement as to the terms of peace. However the Earls of Lancaster and Warwick held out, demanding a formal declaration from the king that Piers Gaveston was indeed a felon, but eventually they abandoned this demand and were induced to make their peace with the king. On the 14th October 1313 they finally submitted to Edward II and were pardoned.
Neither side were entirely satisfied by this; Edward was denied his revenge and Thomas was disappointed that the king had not agreed to uphold the Ordinances. The argument remained unsettled for the time being.
1 The barons and bishops were at Boulogne as they had travelled to France to attend the king's wedding.
2 From T.F Tout Thomas of Lancaster was the old pig or the play-actor, Aymer of Pembroke was Joseph the Jew, Gilbert of Gloucester was the cuckoo, and Guy of Warwick was the black dog of Arden. Such jests were bitterly resented. “If will he call me dog,” said Warwick on hearing of the insult, “ I will take care to bite him.”/
3 Incidentally the William Marshal who was Baron Marshal was an entirely different person from either of the William Marshal who were earlier Earls of Pembroke (Although they were related.)
4 Both Aymer de Vallence and John de Warrenne were known moderates; given the previosly animosity expressed by the likes of Thomas or Guy de Beuchamp, Piers Gaveston would never have agreed to place himself in the hands of either.
- T. F. Tout The History Of England From The Accession Of Henry III To The Death Of Edward III (1216-1317) (Longmans Green and Co. 1905)
- Alexander Rose Kings in the North (Phoenix, 2003)
- Charles Arnold Baker The Companion to British History (Longcross Press, 1996)