Edward II born on 25th April 1284, of Caernarfon, was King of England from 1307 until deposed in January, 1327. His tendency to ignore his nobility, in favour of low-born favourites, led to constant political unrest and his eventual deposition. Today, he is perhaps best remembered for his murder and its connection to Edward's alleged homosexual behaviour.
Edward II was the first monarch to establish colleges in the universities of Oxford and Cambridge; he founded Cambridge's King's Hall in 1317 and gave Oxford's Oriel College its royal charter in 1326. Both colleges received the favour of Edward's son, Edward III, who confirmed Oriel's charter in 1327 and refounded King's Hall in 1337.
The fourth son of Edward I of England by his first wife Eleanor of Castile, Edward II was born at Caernarfon Castle. He was the first English prince to hold the title of the Prince of Wales, which was formalized by the Lincoln Parliament of 7 February 1301. The story that his father presented Edward II as a newborn to the Welsh as their future native prince is unfounded; the story first appeared in the work of 16th century Welsh "antiquary" David Powel.
Edward became heir at just a few months old, following the death of his elder brother Alfonso. His father, a notable military leader, trained his heir in warfare and statecraft starting in his childhood, yet the young Edward preferred boating and craftsman work – activities thought beneath kings at the time.
It has been hypothesized that Edward's love for "low brow" activities developed because of his overbearing and ruthless father. The prince took part in several Scots campaigns, but despite these martial engagements, "all his father's efforts could not prevent his acquiring the habits of extravagance and frivolity which he retained all through his life". The king attributed his son’s preferences to his strong attachment to Piers Gaveston, a Gascon knight, and Edward I exiled Gaveston from court after Prince Edward attempted to bestow his friend with a title reserved for royalty. Ironically, it was the king who had originally chosen Gaveston to be a suitable friend for his son, in 1298. When Edward I died on July 7, 1307, the first act of the new King Edward II was to recall Gaveston; his next was to abandon the Scots campaign that had been a hallmark of his father's reign.
Edward was as physically impressive as his father, yet he lacked the drive and ambition of his forebear. It was written that Edward II was "the first king after the Conquest who was not a man of business". His main interest was in entertainment, though he also took pleasure in athletics and mechanical crafts. He had been so dominated by his father that he had little confidence in himself, and was often in the hands of a court favourite with a stronger will than his own.
On 25th January 1308, Edward married Isabella of France, the daughter of King Philip IV of France, "Philip the Fair," and sister to three French kings. The marriage was doomed to failure almost from the beginning. Isabella was frequently neglected by her husband, who spent much of his time conspiring with his favourites regarding how to limit the powers of the Peerage in order to consolidate his father's legacy for himself. Nevertheless, their marriage produced the following Children:
John of Eltham, Earl of Cornwall born on 25th August 1316 at Eltham Palace, Kent and was created Earl of Cornwall on 6th October 1328. He was due to marry Maria, daughter of Ferdinand IV of Castile, but he died, aged 20, at Perth, Scotland on 13th September 1336 , before the marriage could take place. John of Fordun claims that he was killed by his brother Edward III in a quarrel. He was buried in January 1337 at Westminster Abbey, London.
Eleanor of Woodstock, Oxfordshire, born on 18th June 1318 was named after her paternal Grandmother Eleanor of Castile, £333 was given for her churching by her father. In 1324 she was taken into care by her cousin Eleanor de Clare then sent to the care of Ralph de Mothermer and Isabella de Valence with her younger sister Joan of the Tower at Pleshey. In 1325, there were negotiations between England and Castile for Eleanor to be betrothed to Alphonso V of Castile, but this fell through due to the dowry.
Eleanor was re-united with her Mother and in 1330 negotiations were made by her Mother that she and her Brother John of Eltham, Earl of Cornwall to marry a son and daughter of Philip VI of France, however they fell through also.
In May 1332 Eleanor married the reigning Count of Guelders, Reinoud II "the black" (English: Reginald), of the House of Wassenberg, born c. 1287) a marriage arranged by her mother's cousin Jeanne of Valois. The Groom, being quite dark of colour and character, was a widower with four daughters. He was known for having imprisoned his father for over six years.
As she sailed from Sandwich, her wedding trousseau included a wedding gown of Spanish cloth, caps, gloves, shoes, a bed, rare spices and loaves of sugar. She was well received in Guelders and bore her husband two sons Reinoud III "the fat" (1334-1371) and Edward of Guelders (1336-1371. However, due to her unhappy childhood, she grew nervous and eager to please her husband, who tired of her and sent her from court in 1338 by pretending she had leprosy. Her husband then tried to annul the marriage.
Eleanor turned up in Court in Nijmegen though to contest the annulment, and proceeded to strip down, proving she was no leper, and thus forcing her husband to take her back. He died from a fall from his horse on 12th October 1343.
On 22nd April 1355, twelve years after she became a widow, Eleanor died in poverty in a Cisterian convent aged 36, she helped rule with her son Reginald who quarrelled with her for trying to make peace with her younger son and confiscated all her lands. She was too proud to ask her Brother Edward III of England for help and was buried in Deventer Abbey. Her tomb stone had the simple inscription ELEANOR on it, however in England on the south side of Queen Philippa of Hainault's tomb in Westminster Abbey there is an image of her and her husband.
In accordance with the terms of the Treaty of Northampton, she was married on 17th July 1328 to David II of Scotland at Berwick-upon-Tweed. On June 7th, 1329, her father-in-law Robert I of Scotland died and David II became King. He was crowned at Scone in November 1331.
Owing to the victory of Edward III of England and his protégé Edward Balliol at Halidon Hill in July 1333, David and his Queen were sent for safety into France, reaching Boulogne in May 1334, where they were received by the French King, Philip VI. Little is known about the life of the Scottish King and Queen in France, except that Château-Gaillard was given to them as their residence. David was present at the bloodless meeting of the English and French armies at Vironfosse in October 1339.
Meanwhile David's representatives had obtained the upper hand in Scotland, and David and Joan were thus enabled to return to his kingdom in June 1341, when he took the reins of government into his own hands.
David II was taken prisoner at the Battle of Neville's Cross on 17 th October 1346, and remained in England for eleven years. This meant that Joan and David were living apart so no children were born during this time and Joan died in 1362, aged 41, at Hertford Castle, Hertfordshire. She was buried at the Grey Friars Church, London.
When Edward travelled to the northern French city of Boulogne to marry Isabella, he left his friend and counsellor Gaveston to act as regent. Gaveston also received the earldom of Cornwall and the hand of the king's niece, Margaret of Gloucester. But these proved to be costly honours.
Various barons grew resentful of Gaveston, and insisted on his banishment through the Ordinances of 1311. Edward recalled his friend, but in 1312, Gaveston was executed by the Earl of Lancaster and his allies, who claimed that Gaveston led the King to folly. (Gaveston was run through and beheaded on Blacklow Hill, outside the small village of Leek Wootton, where a monument (Gaveston's Cross) still stands today).
Edward immediately focused on the destruction of those who had betrayed him, while the Barons themselves lost impetus (with Gaveston dead, they saw little need to continue). By mid-July, Aymer de Valence, 2nd Earl of Pembroke was advising the King to make war on the Barons who, unwilling to risk their lives, entered negotiations in the September of 1312. In October, the Earls of Lancaster, Warwick, Arundel and Hereford begged Edward's pardon.
During this period, Robert the Bruce was steadily re-conquering Scotland. In June 1314, Edward led a huge army into Scotland in hopes of relieving Stirling. On 24 June, his ill-disciplined and poorly-led force was completely defeated by Bruce at the Battle of Bannockburn. Contemporary chroniclers considered it one of the worst defeats sustained by an English army since 1066. Consequently, Bruce's position as King of Scots was secure, and he subsequently took vengeance for Edward I's activities by devastating the northern counties of England. The English, learning from defeat, never again fielded an army which relied on heavy cavalry charges, instead they fielded large numbers of longbowmen, dismounted men-at-arms and knights.
Following the death of Gaveston, the King increased favour to his nephew-by-marriage (who was also Gaveston's brother-in-law), Hugh Despenser the Younger. But, as with Gaveston, the Barons were indignant at the privileges Edward lavished upon the Despenser father and son, especially when the younger Despenser began in 1318 to strive to procure for himself the earldom of Gloucester and the lands associated with it.
By 1320, the situation in England was again becoming dangerously unstable. Edward ignored laws of the land in favour of Despenser: when Lord de Braose of Gower sold his Lordship to his son-in-law (an action entirely lawful in the Welsh Marches), Despenser demanded that the King grant Gower to him instead. The King, against all laws, then confiscated Gower from the purchaser and offered it to Despenser. In doing this, he invoked the fury of most of the Barons. In 1321, the Earl of Hereford, along with the Earl of Lancaster and others, took up arms against the Despenser family, and the King was forced into an agreement with the Barons. On 14th August at Westminster Hall, accompanied by the Earls of Pembroke and Richmond, the King declared the Despenser father and son both banished.
The victory of the Barons proved their undoing. With the removal of the Despensers, many nobles in England, regardless of previous affiliation, now attempted to move into the vacuum left by the two. Hoping to win Edward's favour, these nobles were willing to aid the King in his revenge against the Barons and thus increase their own wealth and power. Edward himself therefore not only desired revenge; he now had the means to attain it. In following campaigns, many of the King's opponents were murdered, the Earl of Lancaster being beheaded in the presence of the King.
With all opposition crushed, the King and the Despensers were left the unquestionable masters of England. At the York Parliament of 1322, Edward issued a Statute which revoked all previous Ordinances designed to limit his power and to prevent any further encroachment upon it. The King would no longer be subject to the will of Parliament, and the Lords, Prelates, and Commons were to suffer his will in silence. Parliament degenerated into a mere advisory council.
A dispute between France and England broke out over Edward's refusal to pay homage to the French King for the territory of Gascony and, after several bungled attempts to regain the territory, the King sent Isabella, the Queen, to negotiate for peace terms.
Isabella was sent to France in March 1325, visibly overjoyed to be leaving England, which would not only allow her to visit her family and native land, but also allow her to escape the Despensers and the King, all of whom she by now detested.
On 31st May 1325, Isabella agreed to a Peace Treaty. It favoured France and required the King to pay homage, in France to Charles. But Edward decided instead to send his son who would pay homage to Charles.
This proved a gross tactical error, and helped to bring about the ruin of both Edward and the Despensers as Isabella, now that she had her son with her, declared that she would not return to England until Despenser was removed.
When Isabella's retinue (loyal to Edward, and ordered back to England by Isabella) returned to the English Court on 23rd December, they brought further shocking news for the King: Isabella had formed a liaison with Roger Mortimer in Paris and they were now plotting an invasion of England.
Edward now prepared for invasion, but was betrayed by others close to him: his son refused to leave his mother (claiming that he wanted to remain with her during her unease and unhappiness); his brother, the Earl of Kent, married Mortimer's cousin, Margaret Wake; and other nobles, such as John de Cromwell and the Earl of Richmond, also chose to remain with Mortimer.
In September 1326, Mortimer and Isabella invaded England. Edward was amazed by their small numbers of soldiers, and immediately attempted to levy an immense army to crush them. However, a large number of men refused to fight Mortimer and the Queen; Henry of Lancaster, for example, was not even summoned by the King, and he showed his loyalties by raising an army, seizing a cache of Despenser treasure from Leicester Abbey, and marching south to join Mortimer.
Swiftly, the invasion had too much force and support to be stemmed. As a result, the army the King had ordered failed to emerge and the King, with Despenser, was left isolated. They abandoned London on 1st October, leaving the city to fall into disorder. The King first took refuge in Gloucester, he then fled to South Wales, to make a defence in Despenser's misbegotten lands. But the King was unable to rally an army. and on 31st October, Edward was abandoned by his servants, leaving him with only Despenser and a few retainers.
On 27th October, the elder Despenser was accused of encouraging the illegal government of his son, enriching himself at the expense of others, despoiling the church, and taking part in the illegal execution of the Earl of Lancaster. He was hanged and beheaded at the Bristol Gallows. Henry of Lancaster was then sent to fetch the King and the younger Despenser from Wales and on 16 November he caught the King, Despenser and their soldiers in the open country near Neath. The soldiers were released and Despenser was sent to Isabella at Hereford. The King was taken by Lancaster himself to Kenilworth.
Reprisals against the King's allies immediately began. The Earl of Arundel, an old enemy of Roger Mortimer, was beheaded. This was followed by the trial and execution of Despenser.
Despenser was brutally executed: a huge crowd gathered in anticipation at seeing him die. They dragged him from his horse, stripped him, and scrawled biblical verses against corruption and arrogance on his skin, and then led him into the city, presenting him in the market square to Roger, Isabella, and the Lancastrians. The list of charges was then read out, taking a great time. He was then condemned to hang as a thief, be castrated, and then be drawn and quartered as a traitor, his quarters to be dispersed through England.
With the King imprisoned, Mortimer and the Queen faced the problem of what to do with him. The simplest solution would be execution: his titles would then pass to Edward of Windsor, whom Isabella could control, whilst it would also prevent the possibility of his being restored. Execution would require the King to be tried and convicted of Treason: and whilst most Lords agreed that Edward had failed to show due attention to his country, several Prelates argued that, appointed by God, the King could not be legally deposed or executed; if this happened, they said, God would punish the country. Thus, at first, it was decided to have Edward imprisoned for life instead.
However, the fact remained that the legality of power still lay with the King. Isabella had been given the Great Seal, and was using it to rule in the names of the King, herself, and their son as appropriate; nonetheless, these actions were illegal, and could at any moment be challenged.
In these circumstances, Parliament chose to act as an authority above the King. Representatives of the Commons were summoned, and debates began. The Archbishop of York and others declared themselves fearful of the London mob, loyal to Roger Mortimer. Others wanted the King to speak in Parliament and openly abdicate, rather than be deposed by the Queen and her General. Mortimer responded by commanding the Mayor of London, Richard de Bethune, to write to Parliament, asking them to go to the Guildhall to swear an oath to protect the Queen and Prince Edward, and to depose the King. Mortimer then called the great lords to a secret meeting that night, at which they gave their unanimous support to the deposition of the King.
Eventually Parliament agreed to remove the King. However, for all that Parliament had agreed that the King should no longer rule, they had not deposed him. Rather, their decision made, Edward was asked to accept it.
On 20th January, Edward II was informed at Kenilworth Castle of the charges brought against him. The King was guilty of: incompetence; allowing others to govern him to the detriment of the people and Church; not listening to good advice and pursuing occupations unbecoming to a monarch; having lost Scotland and lands in Gascony and Ireland through failure of effective governance; damaging the Church, and imprisoning its representatives; allowing nobles to be killed, disinherited, imprisoned and exiled; failing to ensure fair justice, instead governing for profit and allowing others to do likewise; and of fleeing in the company of a notorious enemy of the realm, leaving it without government, and thereby losing the faith and trust of his people. Edward, profoundly shocked by this judgement, wept whilst listening. He was then offered a choice: he might abdicate in favour of his son; or he might resist, and relinquish the throne to one not of royal blood, but experienced in government - this, presumably, being Roger Mortimer. The King, lamenting that his people had so hated his rule, agreed that if the people would accept his son, he would abdicate in his favour. The lords, through the person of Sir William Trussel, then renounced their homage to him, and the reign of Edward II was ended by himself.
The abdication was announced and recorded in London on 24 January, and the 25th was proclaimed the first day of the reign of Edward III - who, at 14, was still controlled by Isabella and Mortimer. The former King Edward remained imprisoned.
The government of Isabella and Mortimer was so precarious that they dared not leave the deposed king in the hands of their political enemies. On April 3rd, Edward II was removed from Kenilworth and entrusted to the custody of two dependents of Mortimer, then later imprisoned at Berkeley Castle in Gloucestershire where, it is generally believed, he was subsequently murdered.
The suspicion was elaborated in a later history by Sir Thomas More:-
On the night of October 11 while lying in on a bed [the king] was suddenly seized and, while a great mattress... weighed him down and suffocated him, a plumber's iron, heated intensely hot, was introduced through a tube into his secret parts so that it burned the inner portions beyond the intestines.
It was rumoured that Edward had been killed by the insertion of a piece of copper into his rectum (later a red-hot iron rod, as in the supposed murder of Edmund Ironside). Murder in this manner would have appeared a natural death, as a metal tube would have been inserted into the anus first, thus allowing the iron rod to penetrate the entrails without leaving a burn on the buttocks.
However it should be noted that this gruesome account is uncorroborated by any contemporary source and no-one writing in the fourteenth century knew exactly what had happened to Edward II. The closest chronicler to the scene in time and distance, Adam Murimuth, stated that it was 'popularly rumoured' that he had been suffocated. The Lichfield chronicle, equally reflecting local opinion, stated that he had been strangled. Most chronicles did not offer a cause of death other than natural causes. Not until the relevant sections of the longer Brut chronicle were composed by a Lancastrian (anti-Mortimer) polemicist in the mid-1330s was the story of a copper rod in the anus widely circulated. In her biography of the king's wife Isabella, Alison Weir puts forward the theory that Edward actually escaped imprisonment and lived the rest of his life in exile. Ian Mortimer, in his biography of Edward III, also supports the theory that there is some evidence that Edward II lived for at least another 11 years after his supposed death on 21st September 1327.
Following the public announcement of the king's death, the rule of Isabella and Mortimer did not last long. Mortimer and Isabella made peace with the Scots in the Treaty of Northampton, but this move was highly unpopular. Consequently, when Edward III came of age in 1330, he executed Roger Mortimer on fourteen charges of treason, most significantly the murder of Edward II (thereby removing any public doubt about his father's survival). Edward III spared his mother and gave her a generous allowance, but ensured that she retired from public life for several years. She died at Hertford on 23 August 1358.