‘Britain’s Bloodiest Dynasty’ Part 3 – Edward II – 11/12/2014


Edward II
Edward II

Edward II = king most famous for story of his death
Life even more extraordinary – revenge, savagery, passion, bloodlust
1307 Edward I dies on campaign, leaves a country in debt and beset by enemies
First thing he does is order recall of Piers Gaveston from France – old king banished him to France because of influence over the king, hated by every noble
Gaveston has mean names for the nobles
Gaveston is trouble but Edward can’t see it at all, can only see one step ahead, doesn’t see that all his actions have consequences, mostly bad ones
Disaster right from the start
Edward marries Isabella, 12 year old daughter of the Queen of France
Coronation feast – less like a coronation and more like a party for Edward & Gaveston
Gaveston wears purple, king only talks to him, and arms of Gaveston and the king entwined
Thomas of Lancaster, king’s cousin, incensed
French nobles walk out of the feast – destroys French goodwill
April 1308 first parliament, Lancaster and nobles turn up armed = Gaveston must go, accuses nobles of treachery
Edward refuses to budge, even threatened to lose his throne

Piers Gaveston
Piers Gaveston

Fight over Gaveston means murder will stalk England for the rest of Edward’s reign
1310 Gaveston is Earl of Cornwall and the king’s most trusted advisor – between them they have run the country into the ground
Lancaster has run out of patience, comes up with a plan to tear Gaveston from Edward
Whispering campaign against the king
Gaveston been lining his pockets at the king’s expense, probably a lie, but nobles believe him
Lancaster wants to crush Edward and Lancaster – 41 articles seen in the National Archives
Strip Edward of all powers as king, unprecedented – can’t raise taxes, dispense justice, make laws, and raise armies
Would make Lancaster more powerful than the king
Orders Gaveston’s immediate exile – if he returns he would be executed
Edward accepts as long as they leave Gaveston alone – no choice in the matter, Gaveston is banished forever on pain of death
Edward and Gaveston more than just friends? Lovers?
People didn’t care about personal decisions as long as he was governing the country properly
King not really under control at all, Edward a law unto himself – Gaveston recalled
Letters sent across the country = Gaveston returns and all ordinances overturned, read out in town squares and brings England to brink of civil war
Makes Gaveston a prime target
Gaveston is hunted down and brought to Warwick Castle, home of one of Lancaster’s allies
Hauled in front of a court, not allowed to speak for himself
Convicted of treason and sentenced to death – not justice but political murder as ordinances had been overturned
19th June 1312 Piers Gaveston leaves Warwick Castle for execution, killed on Lancaster’s land
Situation made personal between king and Lancaster
Edward II goes half crazy with grief, blames Gaveston for getting caught then blames Lancaster – doesn’t blame himself at all
Swear revenge, but ordinances reissued and Lancaster in control, more enemies than friends
Edward II had neglected war with Scotland – has to march an army north, winning could help to turn things around for him
Disaster = Edward doesn’t see it coming, army massacred, Lancaster’s fault
Lancaster’s forces also had to head north, but didn’t turn up at the battle – Edward defeated at the Battle of Bannockburn
Do whatever it takes to get revenge on Lancaster
Needs strong new allies – Caerphilly Castle and the Despenser family

Hugh Despenser the Younger
Hugh Despenser the Younger

Hugh Despenser and his son Hugh Despenser Jr – ruthless and ambitious
Despenser family help restore royal finances and get country up and running = as a reward they are allowed to do what they want, and take territory around the Welsh borders
As long as they get revenge on Lancaster, he doesn’t care what they do
New and very dangerous enemy in Roger Mortimer, very powerful baron
On Edward’s side until this point – the Despensers take some of his land so he leads a popular uprising against the Despensers and the king
Kick the Despensers out of Wales then march on London and demands banishment of the Despensers, king can’t refuse so has to be seen as strong
Salvation comes from Queen Isabella of France – begs the king to reconsider
Bans the Despensers, face-saving way out of a no-win situation
King finally going to take the fight to his enemies, with the queen by his side
1321 king intends to break the fragile peace
October 1321 Queen Isabella at Leeds Castle on the way to Canterbury – Bartholomew Baddlesmere, supporter of Mortimer, Queen Isabella refused entrance
Give Edward II an excuse to start a fight – turns up with siege machines
Leeds Castle surrenders and 13 executed, Despensers had returned from exile
Edward has strategy and a plan, pick off his enemies one by one = Baddlesmere, Mortimer, Lancaster
Offensive captures Mortimer off guard, and he is imprisoned in the Tower
Lancaster has a large army and allies in the north
Archbishop of York receives series of damning letters – two Scottish ministers including Sir James Douglas, guarantees he won’t support invasion of Scotland = Thomas of Lancaster
Lancaster colluding with the enemy = treason
King immediately publishes letters than marches north
Lancaster’s support melts away and he is captured, fleeing for his life
March 1322 Pontefract Castle – Lancaster bought in chains to see Edward, imprisoned in a Tower he had built to imprison the king
Sentenced to death – judicial murder exactly like he did to Gaveston, takes 3 blows of the sword to kill him
Killed a man with Plantagenet royal blood, his own cousin = no one is safe, 9 others executed
Executions committed with no real trials or justice
Hugh Despenser Jr made part of the royal household, including finance
All access to Edward II has to go through the Despensers – hated across the kingdom
King basically their puppet

Isabella of France 15th Century Portrait
Isabella of France 15th Century Portrait

1324 war breaks out with France – Despensers move on Queen Isabella, sister of the French king, worried about her influence over the king
Younger children taken away and put with the Despensers
Beginning of the end of Edward II’s rule
Six months later, Edward and the Despensers are at Dover, French war going wrong so turns to wife for help – sends her to France to negotiate a truce
Underestimate Isabella (she-wolf)
March 1325 Isabella’s influence gets him to agree to a treaty – Edward has to travel to France to seal the deal – Despensers disagree
Edward sends a message claiming to be ill
Homage of 12 year old Prince Edward instead (heir to the throne), Isabella instructed to return immediately
Massive miscalculation
Isabella makes her move = refuses to return until Despensers have gone, considers her husband dead until Despensers gone
Despensers lost control of the queen and the heir
Isabella becomes the centre for any dissent
Isabella meets Roger Mortimer in France, and there is immediate attraction – become lovers
Sworn enemy of the King of England sharing a bed with the Queen of England
1326 Edward II hated throughout England
Isabella and Mortimer head back to England – adulterous foreign queen with an enemy lover
Isabella and Mortimer take advantage of popular hatred and dissent with Edward II and the Despensers
Within a month she takes the country and the king is forced to flee
King’s only supporter is hated more than the king is
Edward and Hugh are captured on a path in the Welsh mountains fleeing and Edward is imprisoned at Kenilworth Castle
Despenser Sr already beheaded and fed to the dogs
Despenser Jr sees a 50ft gallows and is tried by people who hate him – sentence declared to be hung almost to the point of death, strapped to a ladder and his genitals cut off and burned, entrails pulled out and that’s the first time he screams, then he’s beheaded

15th Century Manuscript with Queen Isabella and Roger Mortimer in the Foreground
15th Century Manuscript with Queen Isabella and Roger Mortimer in the Foreground

Personal execution and public statement for Queen Isabella
Vindictiveness becomes the defining characteristic of Edward II’s reign
Edward is the last remaining problem – defeated tyrant, but still the rightful king of England, declared incorrigible and deposed by act of parliament
Becomes just Edward of Carnarvon – his son becomes Edward III but Isabella is really the force behind the crown
Barclay Castle in Gloucestershire, king still a threat while alive
Three attempts to spring him from prison and restore him to power
Dead man walking since Isabella snatched the throne
Publicly claimed that he died of natural causes, still suspicion of murder – rumours of torture (a red hot poker in his rectum)
More likely smothered in his sleep
Rumour came from possibly homosexual and very hated king being humiliated even in death

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