Thursday, August 19, 2010

Royal Fop? Or Just Misunderstood?: The Life Of Piers Gaveston

(A Romantic Interpretation)
Piers Gaveston
C 1284 – 19.VI.1312
1st Earl of Cornwall

Piers Gaveston, the 1st Earl of Cornwall was an English nobleman of Gascon origin, and the favorite of King Edward II of England. At a young age he made a good impression on King Edward I, and was assigned to the household of the king's eldest son and heir, Prince Edward of Carnarvon. Eventually the prince's blatant favoritism towards Gaveston was so extravagant that Edward I sent the favorite into exile.

King Edward I

However, Gaveston was recalled shortly after the king's death, and the princes' accession as Edward II, a few months later. In recognition of his “favored” status, Edward bestowed the earldom of Cornwall on Gaveston, and arranged for him to marry a great heiress, namely Margaret de Clare, sister of the powerful Earl of Gloucester.

In a time, when access to the “king’s person” was a highly sought after privilege, Gaveston's exclusive access to the king provoked certain members of the nobility, and a vehement hatred began to form in the ranks of the some of the most powerful nobles in the land.  It became so pronounced that in 1308 the king was forced to send Piers away, and he left England once again into exile.

During his exile, Gaveston, still highly esteemed by Edward, served as the king's Lieutenant of Ireland. However, intent on having Piers back at his side, Edward managed to negotiate a deal with the opposition and Gaveston returned the next year.

Clearly not having learned his lesson and oblivious to the sensitive atmosphere prevalent at court with regard to his relationship with Edward, upon his return Gaveston’s behavior became even more provocative. Flouting the traditions of the court, the “king’s person and the nobles it became so bad that it was decided that Gaveston should be exiled for a third time, and to “suffer outlawry” if he returned. This was further documented by the Ordinances of 1311.

True to their word, and their hatred not quelled by his absence, when Gaveston did return in 1312, he was hunted down and executed by a group of noble magnates led by Thomas of Lancaster and Guy de Beauchamp, Earl of Warwick.

History being what it is, a series of events separated by distance and time, especially as far back as the times in which they lived, today we are forced to rely upon accounts that are almost impossible to verify, even if the given general opinions of the time coincide. That being said, it was alleged by certain medieval chroniclers that Edward II and Piers Gaveston were lovers! Through the ensuing centuries, this rumor has been reinforced by later fictional portrayals, such as Christopher Marlowe's play Edward II.

Today, in the information crazed 21st century, this assertion has received the support of certain modern historians, while others have questioned it. According to Pierre Chaplais, the relationship between the two was more that of an adoptive brotherhood, and as such, Gaveston served as an unofficial deputy for a reluctant king. Yet other historians, like J.S. Hamilton, have pointed out that regardless of the two men's sexuality, this was not at the core of the nobility's grievances, but rather centered on Gaveston's exclusive access to royal patronage, at the expense of others. Either way, it’s apparent his noble contemporaries were jealous of the fact that he did not share the pieces of the royal pie, and kept the spoils from the king’s largesse all to himself.

Although he was descended from a good family, time has shrouded most of the hard facts about Gaveston’s ancestral heritage. Most historians agree that Piers Gaveston's father was Arnaud de Gabaston, a Gascon knight in the service of Gaston VII of Béarn. In retrospect, Piers was clearly a chip off the old block, an opportunist like his father Gabaston, who had come into a substantial amount of land in Gascony through his marriage to Claramonde de Marsan, who was co-heir with her brother to the great landowner Arnaud-Guillaume de Marsan. Thus, through the extensive possessions of his wife, Gabaston also became a vassal of the king of England, in the king's capacity of Duke of Aquitaine. In this role as the king’s vassal, Gabaston’s service to King Edward I of England stretched over a long period of time, starting in the Welsh Wars of 1282–83, where he participated with a substantial contingent of armed men culled from his own lands. In or around, yet sometime before February 4, 1287, Pier’s mother Claramonde died, causing a shift in power within her inherited lands and for the rest of Gabaston's life it was a struggle for him to retain his wife's inheritance. As a result of his changed circumstances, Gabaston became financially dependent on the English king, and was continuously in his service. As a pawn to the Plantagenet’s he was used as a hostage by Edward twice; first in 1288 to Aragon, secondly in 1294 to the French king, when he managed to escape and flee to England in 1297. After returning home, he was back in England in 1300, where he served with Edward I in the Scottish Wars. Gabaston died at some point before May 18, 1302.

Not surprisingly, little is known of Piers Gaveston's early years; even his exact year of birth is unknown. Although Gaveston and Prince Edward of Carnarvon, who was born April 24, 1284 were said to be contemporaries or “coetanei”, at best it can only be assumed that he was born in or around 1284. Research from one chronicle claims he accompanied his father to England in 1297, however the first reliable reference to him is from Gascony later that year, when he served in the company of King Edward I.

We do know for certain that in 1300 Gaveston embarked with his father and his older brother, Arnaud-Guillaume de Gabaston to England. As a result, it is generally accepted that it was at this time that he became a member of the household of the young Prince Edward, the future King Edward II. King Edward I was apparently impressed by Gaveston's knightly conduct and expert martial skills, and wanted him to serve as a model for his son. In 1304, the king awarded Gaveston the wardship of Roger Mortimer of Wigmore, after the death of Roger's father, and on the request of the Prince of Wales.

Through no fault of his own, Gaveston also became entangled in the frequent conflicts that existed between the king and his son, and as part of the inner circle around the prince, something he could not readily avoid. It did not take long before the first manifestation of these difficulties came in the form of a dispute between treasurer Walter Langton and Prince Edward. This situation and subsequent  case so enraged King Edward to the point where he banned his son from court, and banished several men from the prince's household, Gaveston included! Though royal father and son were reconciled at a later point, the king still prevented Gaveston from rejoining the prince. Missing his prince and lord, Gaveston existed in a sort of political no man’s land, and the matter was not settled until  May 26, 1306, when Gaveston, now back in favor with the king, was knighted, four days after the prince. Not one to tread lightly, later that year Gaveston was once more in trouble, when he and twenty-one other knights deserted a Scottish campaign to attend a tournament. Infuriated, the king issued that an arrest order be sent out for the deserters, it was only through the intervention of Queen Margaret that the kingly wrath dissipated and eventually Gaveston and his comrades were all pardoned in January 1307.

True to form, and failing to learn his lesson, Gaveston's return to grace was only temporary. On February 26, 1307, Edward I announced that the princes' favorite had to abjure the realm shortly after April 30th of that year. However, this time it seems the punishment was not intended solely for Gaveston, but for the Prince of Wales as well. According to Walter of Guisborough, the prince appeared before the king to request that his own county of Ponthieu be given to Gaveston. Edward I, apoplectic from rage, tore out handfuls of his son's hair and threw him out of the royal chambers. Again, we are forced to accept an almost 800 year old version of things, and though Guisborough cannot necessarily be trusted on the details of the events, the story reflects the general exasperation the king felt towards the prince's favoritism with regard to Gaveston, and the lavish gifts bestowed on the favorite. An extravagance that was clearly seen on Gaveston's departure, when Prince Edward equipped him with horses, luxurious clothes, and £260 of money!

Due to the intercession of fate, Gaveston's first exile was to be a short one. In early July 1307, Edward I, once more campaigning in the north as was his practice, lay dying at Burgh by Sands near the Scottish border. According to one chronicle, he gathered some of his most trusted men around him, including Henry de Lacy, Earl of Lincoln, Guy de Beauchamp, Earl of Warwick, and Aymer de Valence, soon to be Earl of Pembroke. The king entrusted the magnates with the care of his eldest son, and instructed them particularly to prevent at all reasonable cost the return of Piers Gaveston from exile. Nevertheless, when the king died on July 7th, one of Edward II's first acts as king was to recall his friend. A jubilant Gaveston returned almost immediately, and lord and liege were reunited by early August.

The Charter Claiming Gaveston's Title Of Earl Of Cornwall

On August 6th 1307, barely  a month after succeeding, Edward II ennobled Piers Gaveston as the Earl of Cornwall. According to contemporary narrative sources from 1307, this was an extremely controversial decision. It seems Gaveston was viewed as a relative upstart, and as such his meteoric rise was considered improper. Furthermore, adding insult to injury, the earldom of Cornwall had traditionally been the reserve of members of the royal family, and it was rumored Edward I had allegedly earmarked the title for one of his two younger sons from his second marriage. Although the discontent reported by the chronicles may have been the result of hindsight, there is no sign that the established nobility objected to the creation at the time!

With his rise in status, Gaveston became a powerful man, especially since the earldom gave him substantial landholdings over great parts of the English countryside, to the value of £4,000 a year. In reviewing these possessions we can determine that they consisted of most of Cornwall as well as parts of Devonshire in the southwest, land in Berkshire and Oxfordshire centered on the honor of Wallingford, most of the eastern part of Lincolnshire, and the honor of Knaresborough in Yorkshire, with appurtenant territories. Not stopping there and in addition to, Edward also secured a prestigious marriage between Gaveston and Margaret de Clare, sister of the powerful Earl of Gloucester. Vast possessions combined with strong family connections through marriage, secured Gaveston a place among the highest levels of the English nobility.

Initially, even though the new king was met with goodwill from his subjects, it was not long before certain members of the nobility grew suspicious of Gaveston and the special relationship he enjoyed with Edward. The watershed came on December 2, 1307, exactly one month after Gaveston's marriage, when the king organized a tournament in Gaveston's honor at Wallingford Castle. At the tournament, Gaveston and his companions in arms handed a humiliating defeat to the earls of Warenne, Hereford, and Arundel. Whether Gaveston won either by bringing too many knights to the field, or simply by having a better contingent, the rift became wider when Warenne, if not the other two earls as well, became openly hostile to Gaveston from this point on and vowed revenge.

Further recognition of his high status abounded, especially when Edward II left the country early in 1308 to visit his Gallic neighbor across the channel and to marry Princess Isabella of France. To the shock of everyone, he appointed Gaveston regent in his place. Historically, this was a responsibility that would normally be given to a close family member of the reigning king. It seems that this decision was solely Edward’s own, as there is no sign that Gaveston exploited the regency for personal gains, however, the other nobles were still offended by his arrogant behavior nonetheless. This unrestrained behavior continued at the coronation feast after the king's return, where the king largely ignored his new wife in favor of Gaveston.

Isabella Of France
Consort Of Edward II

The collective grievances from the offended various nobles of the kingdom, first found expression in the so-called 'Boulogne Agreement' of January 1308, where the earls of Warenne, Hereford, Lincoln and Pembroke expressed concern about the oppression of the people and attacks on the honor of the crown. Later that year, in the April parliament, the so-called Declaration of 1308 implicitly demanded the renewed exile of Gaveston. Initially unable to fathom a life without him, the king resisted. Soon circumstances dictated that personal desires aside, the king had no choice but to give in to the demand once it became clear that the barons had the support of his the king’s royal father-in-law, none other than King Philip IV of France, who was offended by Edward's treatment of his daughter. On May 18th, succumbing to the combined internal noble and external royal pressure, a defeated and bereft Edward consented to sending Gaveston into exile.

Surprisingly, Gaveston's exile was not demanded immediately.  Although enacted, the conditions of the expulsion were that Gaveston should abjure the realm by June 25th, with the caveat that he would be pronounced excommunicated by Archbishop Winchelsey should he be foolhardy enough to return.

Not one for wasting time, Edward used the intervening period to provide for his favorite’s continued prosperity and political relevance. As a compensation for the royal attainder placed on the earldom of Cornwall, which was one of the conditions of the exile, Gaveston was granted land worth 3,000 marks annually in Gascony, and land amounting to the same value in England. Further to this, the addition of more honors continued unabated when Gaveston once again was reappointed the king's Lieutenant of Ireland, this done so that a certain amount of honor could be maintained in the humiliation of the exile. This last gesture was seen as an improvised measure, since it is clear from the fact that the appointment came the day after Richard de Burgh, Earl of Ulster, had been appointed to the exact same position. However, Gaveston's appointment came with wider authority than Ulster's, and he had full regal powers to appoint and dismiss any royal officers.

Gaveston's Coat-Of-Arms

The importance and success of Gaveston's lieutenancy can be seen primarily in that of a military nature. Early 14th century Ireland was a land of violence and thus an unruly dominion for the English crown. In this capacity Gaveston’s military prowess shown and he had a lot of success, killing or defeating several major insurgents. Improvements were made when he fortified the town of Newcastle McKynegan and Castle Kevin, and rebuilt the road from Castle Kevin to Glendalough. These building measures helped pacify the county at least as far as the Wicklow Mountains, west of Dublin. However, in the field of administration he made less of a mark. One has to search deep to find anything even remotely positive from the administrative side of his responsibilities, and even then the most notable issue with which he was involved concerned a dispute over murage, a toll on the town walls, between the citizens of Dublin. To his credit, as during the tenure of his regency, there is no evidence that Gaveston exploited his position for his own advantage and he did nothing to alienate the local elite.

All the while, the king viewed this separation from his favorite as only temporary and Edward II began working towards a recall before Gaveston had even left to go into exile.  Cunningly, the king had a plan and through redistribution of patronage and open concessions to political demands, Edward won over several of the earls who had previously been of a hostile disposition towards Piers. It seems Lincoln, who was to become the leader of the baronial opposition due to his high age and great wealth, was reconciled with Edward by late summer 1308. Even Warwick, who had been the most intrinsic of the king's enemies, was gradually mollified. What bears significance though, is that Thomas, Earl of Lancaster, who had not been involved in the campaign to exile Gaveston, seems to have become disaffected by this time, thereby posing a potential problem to the king’s schemes of recalling Gaveston.

Nevertheless, by April 25, 1309, Pope Clement V was satisfied that the difficulties between the king and his magnates had been settled, and agreed to lift the interdict against Gaveston, and in essence clearing the path for his return to England. At the following parliament which met at Stamford in July, Edward his eyes still focused on the prize, was forced to agree to a series of political concessions. The so-called Statute of Stamford was based on a similar document Edward I had consented to in 1300, called the Articuli Super Carta, which was in turn based on the Magna Carta. By this time, however, and unbeknownst to most, Gaveston had already returned to England, on June 27th to be precise. Collectively it was hoped by all and sundry that Gaveston had learned his lesson!

On August 5, 1309, the royal attainder was lifted and Sir Piers Gaveston was reinstated with the earldom of Cornwall. Sadly, it did not take long, however, for him to alienate the compromising earls once more when he behaved worse than ever. The chronicles tell of how Gaveston gave mocking nicknames to other earls, calling Lincoln 'burst-belly', Pembroke 'Joseph the Jew', Lancaster 'the fiddler' and Warwick 'the black dog of Arden'.

Perhaps with an eye to the possibility of his not to certain future and a return to exile, Gaveston also began to exploit his relationship with the king more ostentatiously, obtaining favors and appointments for his friends and servants. More importantly, the political climate became so hateful that in February 1310, a number of the earls refused to attend parliament as long as Gaveston was present. As a result Gaveston was dismissed, and when parliament convened, the disaffected and ever resourceful barons when it came to complaining, presented a list of grievances they wanted addressed. On March 16th, the king had no choice and was forced to appoint a group of men to ordain reforms of the royal household. This group of so-called Lords Ordainers consisted of eight earls, seven bishops and six barons. Among the earls were supporters of the king, like Gloucester and John of Brittany, Earl of Richmond, as well as strong opponents, like Lancaster and Warwick.

19th Century Rendition Of Edward & Piers

While the Ordainers were at work drafting their reform document, Edward decided to address one of the main causes behind the discontent: the Scottish situation. Perhaps in light of the perceived futility of the dilemma, Edward II had, almost immediately after his accession to the throne, abandoned the relentless Scottish campaigns of his father. As a result, Robert the Bruce had been able to regain the initiative in the war, reconquer lost territory, and stage destructive raids into the north of England. To aggravate matters, Edward had continued to raise exorbitant taxes, ostensibly for the war in Scotland, but without showing any result. It was suggested that if the king could produce victory against the Scots, this would go a long way towards undermining the work of the Ordainers. With just that in mind, the king took matters to hand and in June summoned the magnates for a military campaign, but most of the Ordainers refused on the basis of the work they were performing. When the king departed for Scotland in September, only Gloucester, Warenne and Gaveston were among the earls accompanied him. The campaign proved frustrating for Edward, when Bruce refused to engage in open battle, or even get involved in negotiations. In February, Gaveston was sent to take an army north from Roxburgh to Perth, but he also he failed to track down the Scottish army.

Worse was to come when, while the royal army was in the north, Edward received news from London that the Earl of Lincoln had died on February 6, 1311. This dramatic turn of events meant that a moderating influence on the baronial party had been lost, and at the same time that the antagonistic Earl of Lancaster, who was Lincoln's son-in-law and heir, emerged as the leader of the Ordainers. The future looked grime indeed for Edward and Gaveston.

Once the Ordainers were ready to present their program of reform, Edward had to summon a parliament. In late July he appointed Gaveston lieutenant of Scotland, and departed for London. Robert Bruce still evaded the English successfully and in early August even staged a raid into northern England. Shortly after this, Gaveston withdrew to Bamborough Castle in Northumberland. When parliament met on August 16th, the king was presented with a set of proposed reforms of the royal household, as well as specific attacks on individuals, included within the reforms was a demand for the renewed exile of Piers Gaveston. Initially, Edward proposed to agree to the reforms as long as Gaveston was allowed to stay, but the Ordainers refused. Feeling pressured, the king held out for as long as he could, but eventually had to agree to the Ordinances, that were published on September 27th. On November 3rd, perhaps in a last sign of his defiance, and two days after the allotted deadline, Gaveston left England for what was thought to be the last time.

It is lost to us as to exactly where Gaveston spent his time abroad; the conditions of his exile banned him from staying in any of the lands of the English king. This precluded both Aquitaine and Ireland, where he had spent his previous exiles. There is some evidence that he might have gone to France initially, but with the hostility the French king held against him, he is not likely to have stayed there long. Flanders is a much more likely candidate for Gaveston's third and final exile. This time his absence was even shorter than the second time, lasting no more than two months.

Returning either before or after Christmas 1311, he was reunited with the king early in 1312, probably at Knaresborough on or around January 13th. It has been suggested that the reason for his quick return might have been the birth of his child, a daughter named Joan. Ecstatic to have him at side once again, on January 18th, Edward declared the judgment against Gaveston unlawful, and restored all lands to him.

Essentially with what was viewed as the unlawful return of Gaveston, the kingdom became divided. Both the royal and baronial parties began preparations for war. In March, Gaveston settled at Scarborough, and began to fortify the castle in response to what was to come. Around the same time, he was pronounced excommunicated by Archbishop Winchelsey at St Paul's Cathedral.  At the same meeting the barons, under the leadership of Lancaster, divided up the realm for protection. Pembroke and Warenne were given the responsibility of capturing Gaveston. On May 4th, the king and Gaveston were at Newcastle, and barely escaped a force led by Lancaster, Henry Percy and Robert Clifford. Gaveston then returned to Scarborough, while the king left for York. Concentrating on their foe, Scarborough was soon besieged by Pembroke, Warenne, Percy and Clifford, where, on May 19th, Gaveston surrendered to the besiegers. Under the terms of the surrender, it was said that Pembroke, Warenne and Percy would take Gaveston to York, where the barons would negotiate with the king. If an agreement could not be reached by August 1st, Gaveston would be allowed to return to Scarborough. The three swore an oath to guarantee his safety. After an initial meeting with the king in York, Gaveston was left in the custody of Pembroke, who escorted him south.

On June 9th, Pembroke left Gaveston at the rectory at Deddington in Oxfordshire, while he himself left to visit his wife. When Warwick found out about Gaveston's whereabouts, he immediately rode out to capture him. The next morning he appeared at the rectory, where he took Gaveston captive and brought him back to his castle at Warwick. Pembroke, whose honor had been affronted, appealed for justice both to Gaveston's  brother-in-law Gloucester and to the University of Oxford, but to no avail. At Warwick, Gaveston was condemned to death before an assembly of barons including Warwick, Lancaster, Hereford and Arundel. On June 19th, he was taken out on the road towards Kenilworth as far as Blacklow Hill, which was on the Earl of Lancaster's land. Here, two Welshmen ran him through with a sword, before beheading him.

The Beheading Of Piers Gaveston

We are left today, trying to sift fact from fiction as to what was the true basis of this relationship. It was hinted at by medieval chroniclers, and has been alleged by modern historians, that the relationship between Gaveston and Edward was homosexual. The Annales Paulini claims that Edward loved Gaveston "beyond measure", while the Lanercost says the intimacy between them was "undue". The Chronicle of Melsa states that Edward "particularly delighted in the vice of sodomy!” However, without making special reference to Gaveston. The portrayal of Gaveston as homosexual has continued in fictional portrayals, such as Christopher Marlowe's play Edward II from the early 1590s, and the 1924 adaptation of that work by Bertolt Brecht and Lion Feuchtwanger.

Yet, it seems modern historians have been divided on the issue. T. F. Tout, writing in 1914, rejected the idea, while J.S. Hamilton, who wrote a biography on Gaveston in 1988, on the other hand says that "there is no question that the king and his favorite were lovers." Compared to Pierre Chaplais, writing a few years later, who had more reservations. Chaplais cites the fact that Edward had four children with his wife and even an illegitimate son. Substantiated further as well by the relative silence of contemporary commentators on the topic and he also finds it hard to believe that Philip IV of France would have allowed the English king to marry his daughter Isabella if Edward was known to be homosexual.

If the king and Gaveston were indeed lovers, the question remains of what effect this had on their respective careers and eventual downfalls. John Boswell, in his Christianity, Social Tolerance, and Homosexuality, calls Gaveston Edward's lover, and writes that there is little doubt "that [Edward's] wife and the barons of England were violently hostile to Edward's sexual proclivities, although he more than fulfilled his royal duties by fathering four children with Isabella." Boswell argues that Edward and Gaveton fell victim to a new-found concern about sexual morals among the secular powers of Western Europe, manifested shortly before in the trial of the Knights Templar in 1307. This interpretation is disputed by Hamilton. "The favorite was murdered because of his control of patronage," writes Hamilton, "not because of his access to the king's bedchamber". This same view is also expressed by Roy Martin Haines, in his 2003 biography of King Edward II.

Whatever the circumstances that fueled their relationship, contemporary and near-contemporary chroniclers were generally negative in their attitudes towards Gaveston, blaming the royal favorite for many of the problems of the reign. Gaveston was accused of such various crimes as draining the treasury, orchestrating the arrest of Treasurer Walter Langton, and filling the court with foreigners. According to the Lanercost Chronicle, "There was not anyone who had a good word to say about the king or Piers." Nevertheless, the chroniclers did not deny that he had certain good qualities. Irish chroniclers were appreciative both of his military and his administrative skills during his period in Ireland. Likewise, Geoffrey the Baker called him "graceful and agile in body, sharp witted, refined in manner, [and] sufficiently well versed in military matters". Marlow, however, focused exclusively on the negative aspects of Gaveston's biography, portraying him, according to Hamilton, as "a sycophantic homosexual with a marked tendency towards avarice, nepotism, and especially overweening pride.” It is from these words that the impression was formed that would live on in the popular imagination, as the full measure of this man and his character.

The first modern historians to deal with the reign of Edward II, William Stubbs, Thomas Frederick Tout and James Conway Davies , added very little to the understanding of Gaveston. While generally agreeing with the chronicles, they allotted him no importance within their own main field of interest, that of constitutional history. For later generations of historians, the focus shifted from constitutional to personal issues. From the 1970s onwards, the topic of study became the personal relations between magnates and the crown, and the distribution of patronage. It is to this school of thought that Hamilton's biography belongs, in which he argues that it was Gaveston's exclusive access to royal patronage that was the driving force behind the baronial animosity against him. Chaplais, on the other hand, takes a different approach to the study of Gaveston and his place in the reign of Edward II. According to Chaplais, Edward was more or less indifferent to the practice of kingship, and essentially delegated the job to Gaveston. As an alternative to a homosexual relationship, Chaplais suggests that the bond that existed between the king and Gaveston was that of an adoptive brotherhood. After all, this institution had Biblical precedents in the relationship between David and Jonathan, and also existed in the Middle Ages, as exemplified in the story of Roland and Olivier.

In modern popular culture, Gaveston has been portrayed in a variety of ways. In Derek Jarman's 1991 film, based on Marlow's play, Edward and Gaveston are presented as victims of homophobia and prejudice. In the 1995 movie Braveheart, on the other hand, Gaveston, thinly disguised as the character 'Phillip', is again caricatured as arrogant and effeminate. To date, there also exists an Oxford University dining club called the Piers Gaveston Society, which is notorious for its debauchery!

The Piers Gaveston Society is a secret dining club with membership limited to twelve undergraduates at any given time. Its members have a reputation for indulging in bizarre entertainments and sexual excess. Traditionally the society will organize secret bacchanalian parties for hundreds of friends, who are whisked away to secret locations, usually grand country mansions to enjoy a night of Bollinger champagne, beluga caviar, multitudinous illegal drugs, and public copulation. Some of it’s recent and notable members have been Darius Guppy, who was convicted of fraud in 1993, he was best man at the wedding of his friend Charles Spencer, the brother of Diana, Princess of Wales. Count Gottfried von Bismarck, a descendant of Otto von Bismarck who led a drug fueled dissipated life, and finally, Tom Parker Bowles, stepson of HRH The Prince of Wales.


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