Widely rumoured to have been either homosexual or bisexual, Edward also fathered at least five children by two women. His inability to deny even the most grandiose favours to his male favourites (first a Gascon knight named Piers Gaveston, later a young English lord named Hugh Despenser) led to constant political unrest and his eventual deposition.
Edward I had pacified Gwynedd and some other parts of Wales and the Scottish lowlands, but never exerted a comprehensive conquest. However, the army of Edward II was devastatingly defeated at Bannockburn, freeing Scotland from English control and allowing Scottish forces to raid unchecked throughout the north of England.
In addition to these disasters, Edward II is remembered for his probable death in Berkeley Castle, allegedly by murder, and for being the first monarch to establish colleges at Oxford and Cambridge: Oriel College at Oxford and King's Hall, a predecessor of Trinity College, at Cambridge.
Several contemporary sources criticised Edward's seeming infatuation with Piers Gaveston, to the extent that he ignored and humiliated his wife. Chroniclers called the relationship excessive, immoderate, beyond measure and reason and criticised his desire for wicked and forbidden sex. The Westminster chronicler claimed that Gaveston had led Edward to reject the sweet embraces of his wife; while the Meaux Chronicle (written several decades later) took concern further and complained that, Edward took too much delight in sodomy. While such sources do not, in themselves, prove that Edward and Gaveston were lovers, they at least show that some contemporaries and later writers strongly believed that this might be the case.
Gaveston was considered to be athletic and handsome; he was a few years older than Edward and had seen military service in Flanders before becoming Edward's close companion. He was known to have a quick, biting wit, and his fortunes continued to ascend as Edward obtained more honours for him, including the Earldom of Cornwall. Earlier, Edward I had attempted to control the situation by exiling Gaveston from England. However, upon the elder king's death in 1307, Edward II immediately recalled him. Isabella's marriage to Edward subsequently took place in 1308. Almost immediately, she wrote to her father, Philip the Fair, complaining of Edward's behaviour.
Although the relationship that developed between the two young men was certainly very close, its exact nature is impossible to determine. The relationship may have had a sexual element, though the evidence for this is not conclusive. Both Edward and Gaveston married early in the reign. There were children from both marriages – Edward also had an illegitimate son, Adam. While some of the chroniclers' remarks can be interpreted simply as homosexuality or bisexuality, too many of them are either much later in date or the product of hostility. It has also been plausibly argued that the two men may have entered into a bond of adoptive brotherhood. British historian Ian Mortimer has drawn attention to the use of 'anti-sodomite' smear campaigns in the late 13th and early 14th centuries against Pope Boniface VIII and the Knights Templar. In the latter case, Orleton was a protagonist at the Papal Court at Avignon.
The relationship was later explored in a play by the 16th-century dramatist Christopher Marlowe. This is unusual in making explicit reference to an open sexual relationship between king and favourite. More frequently the nature of the relationship between the two is only hinted at, or is cited as a dreadful example of the fate that may befall kings who allow themselves to be influenced by favourites, and so become estranged from their subjects.
Following Gaveston's death, 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 its associated lands.
By 1320, the situation in England was again becoming dangerously unstable. Edward had been challenged by John Deydras, a royal pretender; although Deydras was ultimately executed, the rumours surrounding the case highlighted Edward's unpopularity. Edward ignored the law in favour of Despenser: when Lord de Braose of Gower sold his title to his son-in-law, an action entirely lawful in the Welsh Marches, Despenser demanded the king grant Gower to him instead. The king, against all laws, then confiscated Gower from the purchaser and offered it to Despenser; in so doing, he provoked 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 14 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, 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. In following campaigns, many of the king's opponents were murdered, the Earl of Lancaster being beheaded in the presence of Edward himself.
With all opposition crushed, the king and the Despensers were left the unquestioned 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. Opposition to Edward and the Despensers rule continued; in 1324 there was a foiled assassination attempt on their lives, and in early 1325 John of Nottingham was placed on trial for involvement in a plot to kill them with magic.
Reprisals against Edward's allies began immediately thereafter. The Earl of Arundel, Sir Edmund Fitz Alan, an old enemy of Roger Mortimer, was beheaded on 17 November, together with two of the earl's retainers, John Daniel and Thomas de Micheldever. This was followed by the trial and execution of Despenser on 24 November.
Hugh Despenser the Younger was brutally executed and a huge crowd gathered in anticipation at seeing him die – a public spectacle for public entertainment. They dragged him from his horse, stripped him, and scrawled Biblical verses against corruption and arrogance on his skin. They then dragged him into the city, presenting him (in the market square) to Queen Isabella, Roger Mortimer, and the Lancastrians. He was then condemned to hang as a thief, be castrated, and then to be drawn and quartered as a traitor, his quarters to be dispersed throughout England. Despenser's vassal Simon of Reading was also hanged next to him, on charges of insulting Queen Isabella.
Edward II's Chancellor, Robert Baldock, was placed under house arrest in London, but a London mob broke into the house, severely beat him, and threw him into Newgate Prison, where he was murdered by some of the inmates.
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 3 April, Edward II was removed from Kenilworth and entrusted to the custody of two subordinates of Mortimer, then later imprisoned at Berkeley Castle in Gloucestershire where, it was generally believed, he was murdered by an agent of Isabella and Mortimer on 11 October 1327, although Edward's death is commemorated annually at Berkeley Castle on 21 September.
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.
The popular story that the king was assassinated by having a red-hot poker thrust into his anus has no basis in accounts recorded by Edward's contemporaries. Thomas de la Moore's account of Edward's murder was not written until after 1352 and is uncorroborated by other contemporary sources. Not until the relevant sections of the longer Brut chronicle were composed by an anti-Mortimer Lancastrian polemicist in the mid-1430s was the story widely circulated.
The historian Ian Mortimer has put forward the argument that Edward II was not killed at Berkeley but was still alive at least until 1330. In his biography of Edward III he explores the implications of this, using evidence including the Fieschi Letter, concluding Edward II may have died in Italy around 1341. In her biography of Isabella, Alison Weir also considers the Fieschi Letter narrative – that Edward escaped imprisonment and lived the rest of his life in exile. Other historians, however, including David Carpenter, have criticised Mortimer's methodology and disagree with his conclusions.
Nevertheless a public funeral was held in 1327, attended by Isabella, after which Edward's body was said to be laid in Gloucester Cathedral. An elaborate tomb was set up by his son, which attracted pilgrims from far and wide.
Following the public announcement of the king's death, the rule of Isabella and Mortimer did not last long. They 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.
According to the Calender of Fines Edward III (1327-1330) held at Winchester records office, Edward III made every effort to track down his father's killers, William Ockley (not Ogle), Sir Thomas Gurney, and Sir John Maltravers, but they fled the country. Ockley, Gurney and Maltravers were Roger Mortimer's henchmen from the Welsh Marches. William Ogle died before the event; he was a bailiff of Newcastle according to family history (Ogle and Bothal, British library).
Edward II had 4 children with Isabella:
1.Edward III of England (13 November 1312 - 21 June 1377). Married Philippa of Hainault on 24 January 1328 and had issue.
2.John of Eltham (15 August 1316 – 13 September 1336). Never married. No issue.
3.Eleanor of Woodstock (18 June 1318 – 22 April 1355). Married Reginald II the Black, Count of Guelders in May 1332 and had issue.
4.Joan of The Tower (5 July 1321 – 7 September 1362). Married David II of Scotland on 17 July 1328 and became Queen of Scots, but had no issue.
Edward had also fathered at least one illegitimate son, Adam FitzRoy, who accompanied his father in the Scottish campaigns of 1322 and died shortly afterwards.
Edward II (The English Monarchs Series) by Seymour Phillips
Paperback: 704 pages
Publisher: Yale University Press (January 31, 2012)
Amazon: Edward II
Edward II (1284-1327), King of England, Lord of Ireland, and Duke of Aquitaine, was the object of ignominy during his lifetime and calumny since it. Conventionally viewed as worthless, incapable of sustained policy, and significant only for his sporadic displays of ill-directed energy or a stubborn adherence to greedy and ambitious favourites, he has been presented as fit only to be deposed and replaced by someone more worthy of the throne. This definitive biography, the fruit of a lifetime's study, does not present Edward II as a heroic or successful king: his deposition after a turbulent reign of nearly twenty years is proof enough that it went terribly wrong. But Seymour Phillips' scrutiny of the multitude of available sources shows that a richer picture emerges, in line with the complexity of events and of the man himself. If Edward II was not a successful king, he was not fundamentally different in many ways from most English monarchs. The biography strikes a deft balance, taking full account of the problems the king faced in England, Scotland, and Ireland and in his relations with France. It also tackles the contentious issue of whether Edward II did not die in 1327, murdered under barbaric circumstances, but lived on as a captive in England and then a wanderer on the Continent. Eight hundred years on, a king's life is properly examined.
Edward the Second (Edward II) of England by Christopher Marlowe
Publisher: LeClue (February 9, 2008)
Amazon Kindle: Edward the Second (Edward II) of England
Edward II is a Renaissance or Early Modern period play written by Christopher Marlowe. It is one of the earliest English history plays. The full title of the first publication is:
"The Troublesome Reign and Lamentable Death of Edward the Second, King of England, with the Tragical Fall of Proud Mortimer."
The play depicts most of the highlights of Edward II's reign into a single narrative, beginning with the recall of his lover, Piers Gaveston, from exile,dealing with the war with on going war Scotland (as mentioned in the movie Braveheart) and the battle of Bannockburn and ending with his son Edward III's execution of Mortimer the younger for the king's murder.
The Confession of Piers Gaveston by Brandy Purdy
Paperback: 190 pages
Publisher: iUniverse, Inc. (July 23, 2007)
Amazon: The Confession of Piers Gaveston
The history books tell us that Piers Gaveston was many things: arrogant, ambitious, avaricious, flamboyant, extravagant, reckless, brave, and daring, indiscreet, handsome, witty, vivacious, vain, and peacock-proud, a soldier and champion jouster, the son of a condemned witch, who used witchcraft, his own wicked wiles, and forbidden sex to entice and enslave King Edward II, alienate him from his nobles and advisors, and keep him from the bed of his beautiful bride Isabelle. Edward’s infatuation with Gaveston, and the deluge of riches he showered on him, nearly plunged England into civil war.
Now the object of that scandalous and legendary obsession tells his side of the story in The Confession of Piers Gaveston:
“Mayhap even now, when I have only just begun, it is already too late to set the story straight. My infamy, I fear, is too well entrenched. Whenever they tell the story of Edward’s reign I will always be the villain and Edward, the poor, weak-willed, pliant king who fell under my spell, the golden victim of a dark enchantment. There are two sides to every coin; but when the bards and chroniclers, the men who write the histories, tell this story, will anyone remember that?”
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