Sunday, 26 February 2012

Murder Most Royal – Part II

Edward II murdered 21st September 1327
The third son of the ‘Hammer of the Scots’; Edward was trained in warfare as his father’s heir from an early age. Edward was not a man who chose his favourites wisely; indeed he is often portrayed as being homosexual. As Prince of Wales, Edward’s prime favourite was Piers Gaveston, The prince’s favouring of Gaveston was so extravagant that Edward I exiled his son’s friend. Gaveston did not return to court until after the king’s death in July 1307. Within a month of ascending to the throne Edward II made Gaveston Earl of Cornwall; a title traditionally reserved for members of the royal family, and caused grave offence amongst the nobility. Gaveston used his position as the king’s favourite to control access to the king & his favours & rewards. Early in 1308 Edward made Gaveston his Regent, when Edward travelled to France to marry Princess Isabella, later to be known as ‘the She-Wolf’ of France.

In January the disaffected earls of Warenne, Arundel, Lincoln & Pembroke made known their displeasure by objecting to the oppression of the people & attacks on the honour of the crown. In April a declaration called for exiling Gaveston, which Edward resisted until it was backed by the French king, angered at Edward’s neglect of his wife, in favour of Gaveston’s company. On the 18th May Gaveston was exiled & then threatened with ex-communication by the Archbishop of Canterbury if he returned. Gaveston was sent to Ireland as the King’s Lieutenant, where he had some success in quelling Irish insurgency.

In July 1309 Edward agreed a series of concessions to his nobles and the return of Gaveston was agreed. By August Gaveston had been re-instated as Earl of Cornwall. But within a very short period of time Edward was again alienating the nobility; allowing Gaveston to exploit their relationship more openly, arranging favours and appointments for friends and supplicants.

On 16th March 1310 Edward was forced to appoint a group of men to ordain cutbacks in the royal household. The Lord Ordainers included the earls of Lancaster, Richmond, Warwick & Gloucester. The war against Scotland, deferred since Edward’s accession to the throne, was now part of the political problem; Robert the Bruce had overturned much of Edward I’s earlier gains; the Scots failing to proffer battle to the English, preferring to use guerilla tactics. This failure to prosecute the war was despite the continuing raising of taxes.

In August 1311 Edward met with the Lord’s Ordainer, the Ordinances were published in September & in November Gaveston was sent again into exile. He was back by Christmas & on the 18th January Edward restored him again to his titles & returned his lands. The nobles prepared for war – Gaveston was captured on 19th May and executed on the 19th June.

Following Gaveston's death, Edward turned to his nephew-in-law, Hugh Despenser, who had been Gaveston’s brother-in-law. The nobility were enraged at this second favourite and the privileges Edward lavished on the younger Despenser & his father. In 1321 the earl of Hereford amongst others took up arms against the Despensers over a breach of rights in Gower. Edward was forced to banish the Despensers. But by 1322 Edward & the Despensers had regained control & Edward revoked all previous limitations on his power.

Queen Isabella enters Paris
In March 1325 Edward refused to acknowledge the overlordship of the King of France for Gascony & sent a disaffected Isabella to negotiate with her brother. She agreed a treaty with Charles in May and Edward sent his son Prince Edward to swear fealty. Isabella refused to return to England with her son, until the Despensers were removed from their positions of power.

Isabella’s retinue returned to England in December, bringing shocking news. The queen had begun a liaison with the exiled baron Roger Mortimer. Isabella & Mortimer invaded in September of 1326 with assistance from Count William of Hainault. 

Execution of Hugh Despenser the Younger
Edward attempted to levy an army to crush the small invasion force, but many of the nobility refused to fight the invading couple. The earl of Lancaster raised an army, seizing a cache of Despenser treasure from Leicester Abbey, and marched south to join Mortimer. Edward and the Despensers were isolated, leaving London to fall into disorder.

Edward was abandoned by his followers on 31st October & on 16th November the earl of Lancaster marched into Wales to collect Edward & Hugh Despenser the Younger; Hugh’s father having already been executed by the rebels. The younger Despenser was brutally executed n the 24th November.

Coronation of Edward III
Failure to deal with the Scots & the loss of his father’s conquests in Scotland along with his insistence on squandering attention, money, lands & titles on his favourites, led to the alliance against Edward.
Hatred of the Despensers diluted or even killed the nobilities’ support for the king. Even those who did not join Isabella & Roger Mortimer did not support the king. Edward was imprisoned at Kenilworth & eventually accepted the chance to abdicate, rather than have charges including incompetence & leaving the country without proper governance amongst others, brought against him. His son Edward had refused to accept the crown without his father’s consent. The abdication was announced on 24th January 1327 and Isabella & her lover ruled in his stead, on behalf of the young Edward III.
Edward was moved to Berkeley castle under the care of two subordinates of Mortimer. His death on 21st September was suspicious and contemporaneous reports had Edward strangled or suffocated. His death turned Edward into a martyr & services were held throughout the country on the anniversary of his death. One or two historians believe that Edward was smuggled abroad to live in Italy until his death in circa 1330.


Edward III – WM Ormrod, Tempus Publishing 2005

Edward II – Mary Saaler, The Rubicon Press 1997

1 comment:

  1. We were always taught that Edward died to the accompaniment of 'memorable screams' as 1066 and all that put it... it's hard to separate myth and urban legend from fact, this is a well-balanced and carefully researched post that presents facts as known without emotive suggestion or inference