Edward II: A King of Bad Judgment

Born on 25 April 1284, he was the first heir in English history to be given the title Prince of Wales. He succeeded 7 July 1307 and was crowned 25 February 1308. He was deposed 24 January 1327—the first king to be so since the Conquest in 1066—and died or was murdered on 21 September.

The pendulum of power swung back and forth until it went against him, for he lacked sound judgment when he prefered his favorites over the magnates (large landowners) of the realm.

Image on Christopher Given-Wilson’s book about him.

Source

GENEALOGICAL TABLES

Plantagenets, to get the big picture for Edward:

(Source)

A genealogical table about the later Capetians, from Medieval France: An Encyclopedia:

Isabella of France, daughter of Philip IV, married Edward II of England

See Philip IVs own post: Philip IV.

Louis X

Philip V

Charles IV

Yes, the Capetians descend from Charlemagne. For the primary documents proving the link, click on Herbert I, Count of Vermandois, and scroll down to the Addendum.

Here is a description of King Edward, taken from a chronicler:

This Edward was a handsome man of great strength, but unconventional in his behavior. For, shunning the company of the nobility, he preferred that of jesters, singers, actors, carters, diggers, oarsmen, sailors, and other mechanics. He drank too much, betrayed confidences too easily, struck out without provocation at those standing around him and followed the counsel of others rather than his own. He was extravagant and splendid in his lifestyle, voluble, inconstant, unlucky against his opponents, and treated members of his household savagely. However, he was passionately attached to one person above all, whom he cherished, exalted, honored, and showered with gifts. The result of such infatuation was that both the lover and the loved were held in odium, the people scandalized and the kingdom brought to ruin. (Ranulph Higden [d. 1364], Polychronicon, VIII, pp. 297-99 qtd. in Given Wilson).

That is a fair summary of the following basic facts and stories.

BASIC FAMILY FACTS

Edward:

He was born at Caernarvon, Wales on 24 or 25 Apr 1284. He was betrothed by treaty to Margaret of Norway, nicknamed the “Maid of Norway,” Queen of Scots, daughter of Eric II Magnuson, King of Norway by his first wife, Margaret, daughter of Alexander II, King of Scots. She died at Orkney en route to Scotland on or about 26 Sep 1290. Edward was created Duke of Aquitaine in May 1306, but this did not amount ot much in real terms. He ascended the throne on the death of his father Edward I on 8 July 1307 and was crowned at Westminster Abbey on 25 Feb 1308. He married at Boulogne-sur-Mer (Pas de Calais) on 25 Jan 1308 Isabelle of France. They had to get a dispensation because they were related in the 3rd or 4th degree.

Isabelle or Isabella:

She was the daughter of Philip IV, le Bel or the Handsome or the Fair, King of France. She was born in about 1292 (one source says 1295). She was crowned 25 Feb 1308. She died 22 Aug 1358 and was buried at Grey Friars Church in Newgate on 27 Nov..

Their Children:

1.. Edward (later III): He was born at Windsor Castle, Berkshire, 13 Nov 1312. He was proclaimed king as Edward III on 25 Jan 1326/27. He was crowned at Westminster Abbey 29 Jan 1326/27. He married at York on 24 Jan 1327/28 Philippa of Hainault. They had to get papal dispensation dated 30 Aug 1327, because they were related in the 3rd degree. She was the daughter of William the Good, count of Hainault, Holland. They had twelve children (see his own post at this website). Philippa died at Windsor Castle 15 Aug 1369. Edward died at Sheen Palace (now Richmond), Surry, 21 June 1377. He and his wife were buried at Westminster Abbey. He left a will dated 8 Oct 1376.

2.. John of Eltham: He was born at Eltham, Kent, 25 Aug 1316. He was created Earl of Cornwall in Oct 1328. Though he was supposed to marry several women in turn, but the negotiations or contracts failed. He died unmarried at Perth, Scotland, 13 sep 1336. His body was brought to London and buried in Westminster Abbey.

3.. Eleanor of Woodstock: She was born at Woodstock, Oxfordshire 8 June 1318. She married at Nijmegen in May 1332 Renaud (Reinoud or Reynold II, nicknamed the Black), count of Guelders. She was his second wife. They had two sons: Renaud and Edward. Eleanor died at Deventer 22 Apr 1355. Renaud died at Arnheim 12 Oct 1343 and was buried at Gravendal. . No living legitimate descendants.

4.. Joan of the Tower: She was born at the Tower of London 5 July 1321. She married at Berwick-upon-Tweed, Northumberland, David II de Brus, King of Scots, son and heir of Robert I de Bruce, King of Scots. He was born at Dunfermline, Fife, 5 Mar 1323/24. They had no issue. He was crowned King of Scotland at Scone 24 Nov 1331. His affair with Katherine de Mortimer, a lady of London, caused Joan to return to England in 1358. Katherine was murdered because of her perceived influence on the King’s pro-English policies. Joan died at Hertford Castle, Hertfordshire, on 14 Aug (or 7 Sep) 1362 and was buried in the church of the Grey Friars, London.

5.. Adam Fitzroy: Fitz is a designation “son of” and “roy” means “king.” It usually implied illegitimacy. His mother was a mistress who is unknown today, and so is his life.

BASIC FACTS AND STORIES

  1. As noted, Edward was born on 25 Apr 1284. He was the fourteenth child of Edward I and his mother Eleanor of Castile. He was not the oldest son, but he was the oldest one to live to adulthood because his three elder brothers died before they reached their twelfth birthday. Disease.
  2. He was born at Caernarvon, while his father was mopping up Wales. He will soon be the first male to be given the title Prince of Wales, mainly to show the Welsh that they will be ruled by English kings.
  3. He had a lot to live up to. His father conquered Wales and built castles there; he almost conquered Scotland was called the Hammer of the Scots.
  4. He was tall and well built like his father, athletic and muscular, healthy, but he did not develop great military or political skills. He was an accomplished equestrian.
  5. His father kept a tight and short leash on him. He was more interested in rowing with commoners, idling, digging ditches, thatching roofs, dining with carpenters and sailors, and swimming in the Thames. He almost drowned while rowing in the Fens with a great company of simple people.
  6. The best line written about him is by Christopher Given-Wilson: “He seems to have labored under an almost childlike misapprehension about the size of his world. Had greatness not been thrust upon him, he might have lived a life of great harmlessness” (p. 4).
  7. He grew up in isolation from his father until he reached his twelfth birthday.
  8. Before then, at age six, his parents had to find him a bride. They selected Margaret, the “Maid of Norway,” the seven-year-old heiress to the throne of Norway. But six months later she died. They never met.
  9. They selected Isabelle, the daughter of Philip IV of France, for Anglo-French peace. They were betrothed. When his father Edward I went to Flanders to quarrel with Philip IV, Edward left his thirteen-year-old son to be regent. The taxes that the king needed provoked a backlash and the regent and his advisers barricaded themselves behind London city walls.
  10. At sixteen in 1301 he was made the Prince of Wales, the first to be so named.
  11. King Edward I allowed him to preside over parliament at his absence. The prince insulted a loyal bishop and treasurer of the realm, Walter Langton, when the latter accused him of breaking into a park. The king “grounded” him and sent away his friends, including a Gascon esquire named Piers Gaveston.
  12. Gaveston was a year or two older than the prince and the second son of Arnaud de Gabason, a baron of Béarn in southern Gascony. Arnaud had served Edward I for twenty years before his death in 1302.
  13. Prince Edward and Gaveston were knighted with 200 other young men at Westminster on 22 May 1306.
  14. Later, Robert Bruce declared himself the King of Scots. The Prince and Gaveston went north and helped recapture Lochhmaben Castle, but in October Piers and others withdrew without the king’s permission to attend tournaments in France. The king branded them deserters. He was forgiven.
  15. The Prince suggested that Piers be given a territory, perhaps Ponthieu or the earldom of Cornwall (a so-called “honor”). The king grabbed the prince by the scruff and there him of the room. “You want to give lands away? You who never won any?” Piers was deported to Gascony and granted a pension of £66.00, a generous amount back then. He never went, but joined jousting tournaments.
  16. Edward I died 7 July 1307 at Burgh-by-Sands.
  17. Now the prince was free to invite his favorite back. “For the next five years, whatever wars were fought or left unfought, alliances made or unmade, administrative reforms drafted or unconstitutional principles advanced, there was no doubt in the minds of contemporaries that the great fault-line in English politics was the new king’s relationship with Gaveston” (Given-Wilson 11-12).
  18. Now the question is—was their relationship homosexual? Both father children. Queen Isabelle bore Edward four children, and he fathered at least one bastard. Piers also fathered one legitimate and at least one illegitimate daughter. Perhaps they were just “comrades-in-arms.” Close, but nothing sexual. Later writers capitalized on the ambiguity, like Christopher Marlowe, a contemporary of Shakespeare. For them, he was fully gay.
  19. In any case, on 6 Aug 1307 at Dumfries, Edward bestowed on Gaveston the earldom of Cornwall, which brought in £4,000 per year. Huge. Gaveston was made the chamberlain, so he controlled access to the king (maybe like the White House chief of staff?).
  20. Edward and Isabelle were married at Boulogne on 25 Jan 1308.
  21. The coronation was proposed for 18 Feb, but Henry of Lincoln said Gaveston must go. Edward said he would follow whatever Parliament said. It said Edward must follow the “rightful laws and customs which the community of the realm shall have chosen.”
  22. The coronation took place on 25 Feb, and Edward was defiant. Gaveston held pride of place. He was dressed in royal purple, like Mars, and carried the sword of Edward the Confessor. At the after-party, tapestries were hung of the new king and his favorite, not of the arms of England or France. Edward paid the most attention to Gaveston, lounging together on the couch. He ignored the twelve-year-old Isabelle, his new bride. Her entourage, including her older brother, from France was disgusted.
  23. Earls lined up against Gaveston and the new king: Gaveston’s brother-in-law, Gilbert of Gloucester; Thomas of Lancaster, his cousin; and the earl of Lincoln. However, Edward counted on Hugh the Elder Despenser, a baron of first rank, who had served Edward I with distinction for almost two decades.
  24. The opposing earls and the king withdrew to their own sides, and the earls drafted a Remonstrance of Three Articles, which basically said the king diminished the dignity of the crown and was not guided by reason.
  25. Parliament convened on 28 Apr 1308 and presented the Three Articles. Philip IV wrote from Paris to demand the king’s favorite’s expulsion. Edward decided to make Gaveston the Lieutenant of Ireland and accompanied him to Bristol and saw him off on 25 June 1308.
  26. On 16 Mar 1310, Edward agreed, on threat of deposition, that he should permit the appointment of twenty-one Lords Ordainers: seven bishops, eight earls, and six barons, friends and enemies of the king. Their commission was to reform the realm.
  27. In Aug 1311, the forty-one clauses of the Ordinances were shown to Edward, which he rejected. “Stop persecuting my brother Piers and allow him to have the earldom of Cornwall!” (qtd. in Given-Wilson 21). (Apparently, it had been taken away during Gaveston’s exile.)
  28. Things came to a head. The enemy earls captured Gaveston. In negotiations with the king, they agreed that a parliament would convene in July 1312 to discuss the issue. He was left in the custody of the earl of Pembroke, but another earl, Warwick, heard of it and surrounded the rectory, where he was imprisoned. He was taken to Warwick Castle.
  29. On 18 June 1312, a trial of sorts or a tribunal was held. Gaveston was found guilty. Lancaster took on the peril of the outcome. On earl Thomas of Lancaster’s land, one of the retainers ran Gaveston through with a sword, and another cut off his head. Edward swore revenge.
  30. Now the conflict with Scotland. King Robert the Bruce declared that any Scottish landowner who did not acknowledge his kingship in the next twelve months would forfeit his land in perpetuity.
  31. On 24 June 1314, the Battle of Bannock Burn or Bannockburn, foul, deep, and marshy. Edward had about 15,000 troops, while Bruce’s army occupied a narrow strip, which did not allow England’s numerical advantage to win. Plus, Robert packed his troops in a phalanx (like the ancient Greeks). The Scottish formation bristled like a thick hedge with twelve-foot pikes and blunted the charge of 2,000 English cavalrymen.
  32. Edward saw the day was lost, and James Douglas, the war captain, pursued. Hundreds of Englishmen drowned in the Bannock Burn or the bogs. Edward escaped in a boat to Berwick. Humiliation.
  33. Now Robert and his brother Edward Bruce and Thomas Randolph ravaged all the way to Richmond in Yorkshire. Edward had to swear to uphold the Ordinances of 1311.
  34. Earl Thomas of Lancaster was extremely powerful and inherited contiguous lands in north Midlands, south Yorkshire, and south Lancashire. Thomas’s father, Edmund, was the younger son of Henry III of England, and his mother was the granddaughter of Louis VIII of France. His half-sister Jeanne (Joan) was Philip IV’s queen.
  35. Things turned badly for Edward. Westminster Hall caught fire during a party in April 1315. He almost drowned rowing in September. Disease and heavy rains and hunger swept through the land. People of the north paid taxes to King Robert over the English King Edward. Edward Bruce declared himself High King of Ireland on 26 May 1315.
  36. Edward II’s allies: Hugh the Despenser the elder; his son Hugh the Younger; William de Montague, steward of the royal household and captain of the king’s knights; Roger Damory; and Hugh Audley. They saw themselves as a caucus and bound themselves together by a pledge of £6,000 each. The king accumulated power and money and papal approval. The purpose was to deal with the Scottish question and his domestic enemies.
  37. However, the Bruce brothers and the Scots controlled one-fifth of England, getting a tribute of £5,000 a year.
  38. The earl of Lancaster and the king met at Leake in Nottinghamshire on 9 Aug 1318. The Treaty of Leake set up a council to monitor the king. In return Earl Thomas agreed to set aside his opposition against certain of the king’s men, except Damory, Montague, and Audley.
  39. In the autumn of 1318 the Anglo-Irish sent the head of Edward Bruce to King Edward, who stopped the continuous invasion of Ireland. The pope also excommunicated Robert Bruce and imposed interdiction on Scotland. The rains stopped, so the famine was relieved. Earl Thomas’s enemy courtiers.
  40. In July 1318, a man named John Powederham, son of a tanner from Exeter, was admitted into the king’s presence and said he was the true king, while Edward was the son of a groom or carter. Edward laughed and offered him a position as a court jester, but Queen Isabelle saw the danger. Powderham’s parents were called, and they confirmed his birth. He was drawn and hanged. Why the severe reaction? Many people believed the tanner’s son. Why? Edward liked to hang out with commoners, grooming horses, rowing, carting and so on. The king’s reputation with the people had sunk.
  41. In spring of 1319, the king planned another Scottish campaign, but it collapsed again, and a truce was called for two years. Another humiliation.
  42. A new clique of the king’s favorites emerged: Bartholomew de Badlesmere, steward of the household; Robert Baldock, keeper of the king’s privy seal; Hugh Despenser the Younger, a bully, not soft and foolish like Gaveston. He became the king’s right eye.
  43. Many opposed the king and his favorites, led by Earl Thomas of Lancaster, the king’s cousin. They were known as the “Contrariants.” They attacked Hugh’s land and won concessions. Despenser was exiled, and the king submitted again to the Three Articles.
  44. Now what? The king was bitter, but he devised a strategy. If the Contrariants remained together, what motive could they have to fight, since they said they had not been fighting the king, but the favorites. They partially disbanded, and partly remained together. Disunity. So the king picked them off one by one.
  45. This is the Civil War of the winter of 1321-1322, culminating in Lancaster’s bloody defeat at the Battle of Boroughbridge in March 1322. Total success, from the king’s point of view.
  46. On 22 Mar 1322, Earl Thomas of Lancaster was beheaded outside the castle of Pontefract, on a hillock where men had jeered the king in 1317. “This earl, lately terror of the whole land, stretched forth his neck as if in prayer, and with two or three blows the executioner cut off his head” (Brut or the Chronicles of England, qtd. in Given Wilson 75).
  47. A reign of terror ensued. Wives and children and parents of the Contrariants were executed or incarcerated and fines imposed totaling £17,000. All their lands were forfeit to the king. In all 117 were subjected to this punishment.
  48. Hugh the Elder Despenser was made Earl of Winchester, and his son the Younger was given land valued at £7,184 a year, and by 1326 he deposited £6,000 with Italian bankers.
  49. In Sep 1323 Edward wrote to his treasurer and barons of the Exchequer: “Make it your business that We become rich” (qtd. in Given-Wilson). Receipts to the Exchequer from April 1323 to April 1324 added up to £114,000. A year later, even after defending his domain, the duchy of Gascony, for £60,000, he still had £69,000 left. By autumn of 1326 he had £91,000. These were huge sums.
  50. During this time the Scots invaded or harassed northern England. But an agreement was signed near York on 30 May 1323, which said both sides would observe a truce for thirteen years. Edward called it an agreement, not a treaty, for he did not want to deal with Robert, King of the Scots, but with Sir Robert de Bruce.
  51. However powerful lords still opposed Edward, both on the borderlands of Wales, the Marchers, and the northern lords, like Henry Percy of Alnwick and Thomas Wake of Liddell. They felt cheated of their rights. They were the “Disinherited. “
  52. In summer 1323, after the king had held Roger Mortimer of Wigmore in the Tower of London for a year and a half, the king decided to execute him. However, drugging the constable and guards, and letting himself down the Tower’s riverside wall by a rope ladder. Mortimer escaped, rowed to Greenwich, and went to France. He became the leaders of the disaffected English living in France.
  53. Others in London left for France, and the king reacted by suspending t he city’s liberties. Now Flemish mercenaries guarded the Tower.
  54. In France, the last kings of the Capetians were crowned in quick succession until Charles IV: Four kings in ten years. They did not like England’s hold on Gascony, and Charles insisted that Edward come over to Paris to pay homage for the right to the duchy. This meant the ritual of kneeling before the French king. He refused. Too humiliating.
  55. A French sergeant of arms in the duchy was hanged on 16 Oct 1323 by pro-English Gascons. Charles invaded the duchy on 14 Aug and took half. Hugh the Younger Despenser was blamed for the disaster.
  56. Queen Isabella, wife of King Edward and sister of Charles, was called on to solve the crisis. In Mar 1325 she crossed the Channel. Charles insisted Edward still pay homage. Edward got to Dover and changed his mind, saying he was ill. So Prince Edward crossed in mid-Sep 1325.
  57. Back in Sep 1324 Edward had allowed the Younger Despenser to seize some of Edward and Isabelle’s daughter Joan’s land (b. July 1321). Therefore, Isabelle lost respect for her husband, publicly saying, “I feel that marriage is a union of a man and a woman, holding fast to the practice of a life together, and that someone has come between my husband and myself and is trying to break this bond. I declare that I will not return until this intruder is removed” (qtd. in Gioven-Wilson). Prince Edward remained in France with his mother.
  58. Rumors circulated around England that Roger Mortimer was having an affair with the Queen. He was of modest birth, but had a sound military reputation, notably fighting the Bruces in Ireland.
  59. Edward thought of divorcing her, but Anglo-French relations would have suffered worse than it already had.
  60. Charles IV was straight-laced and did not like his sister having an affair and refused to allow her to launch a campaign against England from his coastline. So she went to Holland. Before then she had arranged a match for her son and Phillipa, daughter of count William of Hainault of Holland.
  61. On 24 Sep 1326, Isabella and 700 Dutch mercenaries and the retinues of the disaffected earls disembarked at Orwell (Suffolk). The fact that she dared to invade with so few indicated that much of England, particularly London, opposed Edward.
  62. On 20 Oct Edward, the Younger Despenser, and Baldock sailed from Cheapstow for Ireland, but storms blew them back to Cardiff, where they made their way to the Despenser’s castle at Caerphilly, bringing £29,000 in silver coins in barrels.
  63. Edward fled and was soon corned near Llantrisant Castle on 16 Nov, a day of fearsome storms. The spot where he was captured is known as Pant-y-Brad, the Vale of Treachery. He was taken to the Lancastrian stronghold of Kenilworth in Warwickshire. No execution, but he should be deposed.
  64. Despenser was gruesomely executed on 24 Nov.
  65. A quasi-parliamentary assembly was assembled at Westminster for 7 Jan 1327. The goal was not to depose him, but to compel him to abdicate.
  66. 12 Jan: Edward expressed regrets for his misdeeds, but no more before the commission at Kenilworth. Should he continue to rule over them? A London mob back at Westminster cried out for his removal.
  67. Back up at Kenilworth, Edward, groaning and weeping, renounced his kingship.
  68. Delegates returned to Westminster informing the assembly that the king “of his good will removed himself from the government of the kingdom” (Given-Wilson 98). He was forty-two, and his reign was over.
  69. Edward III’s reign began on 25 Jan 1327, and he was crowned on 2 Feb, only fourteen years young.
  70. Plots to release the old king continued, and finally he was secretly removed to Corfe Castle (Dorset), and perhaps to Bristol. Roger of Mortimer heard of yet another plot to free the king.
  71. Edward was assassinated on 21 Sep. The perpetrators: Thomas Gurney, William Ockley, and John Maltravers. They were all servants of Mortimer.
  72. How exactly he died is a mystery. A hot poker up his anus? Probably not. Just a story.
  73. Custom and pressure said Edward’s burial had to wait for three months. He was embalmed and his heart removed, encased in a silver vase. Queen Isabelle kept it until her own death. His funeral was held in Gloucester Abbey (now Cathedral) on 20 Dec 1327. It was well attended.
  74. As for Isabelle and Mortimer…
  75. They lived a life of luxury. She was given lands totaling £13,333, more than the super-wealthy Thomas of Lancaster, who had engineered Gaveston’s execution.
  76. Edmund of Kent, son of Edward I and Marguerite (his second wife), was beheaded because he was lured out of hiding when Mortimer and Isabelle’s agents said a plot was afoot to rescue Edward II. He emerged from the shadows to help out.
  77. He was executed, but no one was thrilled to do it, because he was of royal blood, the son of King Edward I. A prisoner from the Tower, in exchange for his own life, crudely hacked off his head.
  78. Mortimer was assassinated by forces loyal to the new king, Edward III, in 1330.

PLANTAGENETS

Henry II

Eleanor of Aquitaine (duchess of Aquitaine, queen, and Henry II’s wife)

Richard I

King John

Henry III

Eleanor of Provence (wife of Henry III and mother of Edward I)

Edward I

Eleanor of Castile (married Edward I)

Edward II

Edward III

Richard II

RELATED

Matilda, Empress (Henry II’s mother). The post has links to her Norman ancestors!

William Longsword and Life in the Medieval Age and His American Descendants

Royal gateway ancestors of the Northeast

Royal gateway ancestors of the Middle Colonies

Royal gateway ancestors of Virginia

SOURCES

Jim Bradbury, The Capetians: Kings of France (Continuum, 2007).

Helen Castor, The She-Wolves: The Women Who Ruled England before Elizabeth (Harper-Perennial, 2011).

Ian Crofton, The Kings and Queens of England (New York: Metro Books, 2006).

Christopher Given-Wilson, Edward II: the Terrors of Kingship (Allen Lane, Penguin, 2016).

Dan Jones, The Plantagenets: The Warrior Kings and Queens Who Made England (New York: 2014).

Medieval France: An Encyclopedia, eds. William W. Kibler and Grover A. Zinn (New York: Garland, 1995).

Charles Philips, The Illustrated Encyclopedia of Royal Britain (New York: Metro Books, 2009).

The Plantagenet Encyclopedia: An Alphabetical Guide to 400 Years of English History, gen. ed. Elizabeth Hallam, (Crescent Books, 1996).

Michael Prestwich, Edward I, Yale English Monarchs (Yale UP, 1997, 1998).

Douglas Richardson, Royal Ancestry: A Study in Colonial and Medieval Families, 5 vols. (Salt Lake: Published Privately, 2013).

Desmond Seward, The Demon’s Brood: A History of the Plantagenet Dynasty (Pegasus, 2014).

John Sumption, Edward III: A Heroic Failure (Allen Lane, Penguin, 2016).

2 thoughts on “Edward II: A King of Bad Judgment

  1. Excellent post. Like the format. Glad to have found your posts.

    Regarding “Mortimer was assassinated by forces loyal to the new king, Edward III, in 1330.” I understood Mortimer was captured by King Edward III and loyal supporters at Nottingham in Oct 1330 and subsequently hanged at Tyburn as a common criminal on 29 Nov 1330.

    An even bigger picture of Edward II here:

    http://www.thehistorydatabase.com/PFAMILYTREES/ENGLAND/ANJOU.HTML#Edward II King England 1284-1327

    Like

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