A name peculiar to the Four Shires is Gaveston. In the north of the area 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.
Some research revealed 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 French origins. At an early age he made such a good impression on King Edward I (the infamous ‘Longshanks’) he was assigned to the household of the Kings son, Edward.
However, such was the intimate nature of their relationship the king sent Gaveston abroad into exile.
This was short lived however as the king died just a few months later and Edward ll recalled Gaveston and enobled him to the title of ‘The Earl of Cornwall’.
Again, Gaveston’s peculiarly intimate relationship with the King upset many members of the nobility and forced a second exile during which time he served as the King’s Lord Lieutenant of Ireland.
A year later Gaveston returned to England but this time his behaviour was even more outrageous and offensive. This meant he was exiled for a third time and it was made clear should he return then he would be declared an outlaw.
Return he did and in June 1312 he was discovered 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.
He was sentenced to be executed.
Local rumour has it that he was to be executed as far away from the Warwick Castle as possible but still within sight. This brings us to the Gaveston Cross on the 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. We were 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 midday sunshine 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’ was founded in 1977, described in Tatler magazine as the coolest club in town.
Past members have included Hugh Grant and Ian Hislop!