Gaveston has received a letter from Edward announcing his father's death and his ascension to the kingship and inviting him to "come ... / And share the kingdom with thy dearest friend." For Gaveston, this means no more "base stooping to the lordly peers; / My knee shall bow to none but to the king." While he waits for the king he is approached by three poor men, whom he at first scorns and then realizes might be useful: "I'll flatter these and make them live in hope." He tells them, "I came lately out of France, / And yet I have not viewed my lord the king; / If I speed well, I'll entertain you all." They thank him, but he says to himself, "These are not men for me." He wants "wanton poets, pleasant wits, / Musicians that with touching of a string / May draw the pliant king which way I please." He may love the king, but his motives are self-interested. He proposes to "have Italian masques by night" in which
Sometime a lovely boy in Dian's shape,
With hair that gilds the water as it glides,
Crownets of pearl about his naked arms,
And in his sportful hands an olive tree
To hide those parts which men delight to see,
Shall bathe him in a spring.
The image is both androgynous and homoerotic.
The king enters with Lancaster, the Mortimers, Kent, Warwick and a retinue, while Gaveston listens in concealment as Edward argues with them about returning Gaveston from exile. Edward grows increasingly angry as Lancaster, Warwick, and especially the Mortimers denounce Gaveston. Only Kent stands with the king. The opponents leave as Lancaster utters a warning:
Adieu, my lord, and either change your mind
Or look to see the throne where you should sit
To float in blood, and at thy wanton head
The glozing head of thy base minion thrown.
After they leave, and only the king and Kent remain, Gaveston comes forward and embraces the king, who creates him "Lord High Chamberlain, / Chief Secretary to the state and me, / Earl of Cornwall, King and Lord of Man." Even Kent protests, "Brother, the least of these may well suffice / For one of greater birth than Gaveston."
The Bishop of Coventry enters, on his way to Edward's father's funeral, and asks, "But is that wicked Gaveston returned?" Gaveston takes hold of the bishop, who was the chief proponent of exiling him, as Edward urges, "Throw off his golden mitre, rend his stole, / And in the channel christen him anew." Kent protests that the bishop will "complain unto the see of Rome," to which Gaveston replies, "Let him complain unto the see of hell, / I'll be revenged upon on him for my exile." Edward proposes that Gaveston become bishop too, but Gaveston just wants the bishop sent to the Tower. Edward complies with the request and tells Gaveston to "take possession of his house and goods" as well.
The Mortimers, Warwick and Lancaster are furious at the treatment of the bishop and at the titles given to Gaveston. The Archbishop of Canterbury joins them, and sends a messenger to inform the pope of the treatment of the bishop. Queen Isabella appears, distressed that "now my lord the king regards me not, / But dotes upon the love of Gaveston." When the others threaten rebellion against the king, however, both Canterbury and the queen urge them against it. She says, "rather than my lord / Shall be oppressed by civil mutinies, / I will endure a melancholy life, / And let him frolic with his minion." Canterbury asks the men to join him in a conference on the situation at Lambeth.
Gaveston has heard that Lancaster, the Mortimers, and Warwick have "gone towards Lambeth. There let them remain."
Gaveston's opponents have drawn up a document exiling him again. The king and Gaveston enter; Edward sits on the throne with Gaveston beside him. Lancaster says it's a good move, "For nowhere else is the new earl so safe." The Mortimers, Pembroke, and Warwick all utter their disgust as seeing Gaveston there, and when they seize Gaveston, Kent protests, "Is this the duty that you owe your king?" Gaveston and Kent are both taken away under guard, leaving Edward with the others. The Archbishop presents the document to Edward, in the name of "legate to the Pope," and orders him to "Subscribe as we have done to his exile." Mortimer says in an aside to the Archbishop, "Curse him if he refuse, and then may we / Depose him and elect another king." But Canterbury decides to invoke his ecclesiastical authority and threatens to "presently discharge these lords / Of duty and allegiance due to thee." Edward realizes that "The legate of the Pope will be obeyed" and tries to bribe them with new titles.
If this content you not,
Make several kingdoms of this monarchy
And share it equally amongst you all,
So I may have some nook or corner left
To frolic with my dearest Gaveston.
But they persist in urging him to sign the order of exile, and he is forced to give in. They exit with the orders, and Edward remains to utter a particularly Elizabethan anti-Catholic speech:
Why should a king be subject to a priest?
Proud Rome, that hatchest such imperial grooms,
For these thy superstitious taper lights,
Wherewith thy antichristian churches blaze,
I'll fire thy crazèd buildings and enforce
The paper towers to kiss the lowly ground.
Gaveston returns, having been told of his banishment, and Edward makes him governor of Ireland: "there abide till fortune call thee home." Kent and the queen enter as Edward is getting ready to see Gaveston set off. Edward calls her a "French strumpet" and Gaveston hints that she has been having an affair with Mortimer. She says, "Is't not enough that thou corrupts my lord / And art a bawd to his affections, / But thou must call mine honour thus in question?" Gaveston claims he didn't mean to imply such a thing, but Edward insists that she is "too familiar with that Mortimer, / And by thy means is Gaveston exiled." And he exits with Gaveston, telling the queen that until the banishment order on Gaveston is lifted, "Assure thyself thou com'st not in my sight." The queen mourns that "never doted Jove on Ganymede / So much as he on cursèd Gaveston."
When the noblemen enter, the queen tells them that she must plead for the repeal of the orders against Gaveston "Or else be banished from his highness' presence." Lancaster says Gaveston won't come back "Unless the sea cast up his shipwrack body" and Mortimer says he hopes Gaveston now "floats on the Irish seas." But the queen takes Mortimer aside to persuade him to repeal the order. She convinces him that Gaveston has money in Ireland that will enable him to start a rebellion, and he argues to the others that if they allow Gaveston to return, "How easily might some base slave be suborned / To greet his lordship with a poniard, / And none so much as blame the murderer." And that when they show their power over Gaveston, he'll be on his best behavior -- and if not, they'll have good reason to move against him.
When Edward returns, the queen gives him the news that the order against Gaveston has been repealed. He's so pleased that he kisses her and proclaims, "Once more receive my hand, and let this be / A second marriage 'twixt thyself and me." He also bestows favors on the nobles, making the young Mortimer "Lord Marshal of the realm" and putting Mortimer Senior in charge of "the levied troops / That now are ready to assail the Scots." The queen proclaims, "Now is the King of England rich and strong, / Having the love of his renownèd peers." Edward sends Beaumont to tell Gaveston of the repeal, and exits with the queen and the other nobles, except for the Mortimers.
Even Mortimer Senior is mollified toward Gaveston, and cites examples of other men who had male lovers:
Great Alexander loved Haphaestion,
The conquering Hercules for Hylas weept,
And for Patroclus stern Achilles drooped.
And not kings only, but the wisest men:
The Roman Tully loved Octavius,
Grave Socrates, wild Alcibiades.
Then let his grace, whose youth is flexible,
And promiseth as much as we can wish,
Freely enjoy that vain, light-headed earl,
For riper years will wean him from his toys.
His nephew is not so thoroughly persuaded. He detests Gaveston's showy manner and fancy clothes, and the fact that "the king and he / From out a window laugh at such as we, / And flout our train, and just at our attire." His uncle says "the king is changed," but Mortimer expresses doubts.