Edward II: A Misunderstood Monarch

Chris Riley

Edward II of England finds himself wedged between two of the most well known kings in British history

Edward II of England finds himself wedged between two of the most well known kings in British history. His father, Edward I and his son Edward III, both ruled through military might and the expected chivalric strength so dominant in the age of knights and fair ladies. Edward became king of England in 1307, inheriting his father’s crown but not his insatiable need to crush the Scots who had been at war with England for the best part of three decades. Edward showed neither an aptitude or an interest in war, choosing time with his controversial favourites, digging trenches, thatching roofs or spending time with the local merchants, spending a great deal of time mingling with the lower orders of society. Edward was undoubtedly a terrible king through military and political failings, but Edward also famously fostered relationships with young men such as the Gascon nobleman, Piers Gaveston. Gaveston was by all accounts, a handsome, intelligent man with charisma coming out of his ears, and used all of this to his advantage. The relationship turned heads due to its apparent sexual element, along side the lavish gifts and titles granted to Gaveston. The good times (for Edward and Piers) would soon end, and after a series of exiles, Piers Gaveston was executed in 1312 leaving Edward heart broken. Regardless whether the relationship was actually sexual, homophobia and jealousy cost Edward at very least a friend. Edward’s decision to keep men like Gaveston so close, pushed other members of the court away, causing factions to rise against their King. Gaveston was not to be the only man in the King’s life but he was perhaps his one true love. By 1321, Edward had somewhat moved on and was now under the influence of another, one more powerful than before. Hugh de Spenser the younger was an awful, manipulative man who took advantage even more so than Gaveston, seeing a friendship and a manipulative love affair with the king as a fast track to the top, seizing castles and land along the Welsh border. Like Gaveston, de Spenser was showered with gifts and titles eating up the resources and the patience of the other leading nobles. Years of civil war erupted between Edward, de Spenser and the rest of the ruling elite, who again saw an upstart nobleman in the arms of the King. The undoubtedly disastrous friendship with de Spenser would eventually cost Edward both his crown and his life, as his wife Isabella of France and Roger Mortimer seized the crown in the name of Edward’s Son, the future Edward III. By 1326, less than 20 years after ascending to the throne, Edward II was removed from power and de Spenser was executed in a most brutal way, strapped to a ladder, disembowell and his genitals removed.
Edward II: A Misunderstood Monarch
A painting of Edward II and his Favourite, Piers Gaveston by Marcus Stone. The painting shows courtiers gazing at the prince and his supposed lover in disgust.

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Edward's downfall was swift and painful

Edward's downfall was swift and painful, betrayed by his wife, his son on his throne and his favourite Hugh de Spenser executed as his estranged wife watched, Edward was likely in a depressed state. Edward was taken to Berkeley Castle and this is where he lived out the rest of his life, dying in September of 1327 supposedly of 'natural causes' at the age of 43. Most scholars believe that Edward was murdered at the request of Roger Mortimer with some of the more depraved stories stating that Edward was killed when a red hot poker was thrust into his anus, a punishment likely in response to the kings apparent homosexuality. Edward may have been born to be king but his temperament and personality were not well suited for the crown. A mild mannered man with friends in low places, with a tendency to make very poor decisions when it came to who he politically and personally aligned with, not the qualities of a king in the 1300’s. Edward was most likely a pleasant man, taking a great interest in the lower levels of society with a lack of a greed for war, two characteristics that did not make him many friends in medieval England. Edward’s sexuality should not be factored into his poor and relatively short reign but his very nature meant he was doomed to fall before he even began. A man simply born in the wrong century.
Ancestry UK
Edward II: A Misunderstood Monarch

Chris Riley

Chris is a Sheffield based History student, currently studying at the Open University building on a lifetime passion for medieval history. Chris joined Rosie and The Historians Magazine team in 2021, alongside running The History Corner blog, a place for peer submitted historical content and TV, film and book reviews.
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