Edward II’s Queen, Isabella, was the daughter of Philip IV of France. Their son, Edward III would eventually begin the Hundred Years war. The events surrounding the deposition of Edward II have some parallels with the deposition of Richard II; an event that would eventually spark the War of the Roses.
Edward II [Edward of Caernarfon] (1284–1327), king of England and lord of Ireland, and duke of Aquitaine, was born at Caernarfon Castle in north Wales on 25 April 1284, the youngest child of [[[Edward I| Edward I] (1239–1307) and his first wife, Eleanor of Castile (1241–1290).
Infancy and education
At the time of Edward's birth Caernarfon Castle was still under construction. Although there is no apparent foundation for the sixteenth-century statements that the young prince was presented to the Welsh as a native-born sovereign, there is evidence that Edward I deliberately arranged for his latest child to be born at Caernarfon in order to draw, for his own political advantage, on the supposed associations of the place in Welsh legend with imperial Rome.
Edward was the youngest of at least fourteen (and possibly as many as sixteen) children of Edward I's first marriage. By the time he was born at least seven of Edward I's children were already dead, including his two elder sons, John and Henry, while a third son, Alfonso, was to die in August 1284 in his eleventh year. This left the new-born Edward of Caernarfon both as the only surviving son and as heir to the throne, and made his childhood illnesses more than usually important. In April 1290, when Edward I was completing his plans for a new crusade, he recognized the possibility that he might not be succeeded by a male heir when he ensured the rights of succession in turn of each of his surviving daughters and any future offspring.
Despite the political importance of Edward of Caernarfon's health and welfare his childhood was to modern eyes very unsatisfactory. His mother, Eleanor, died on 28 November 1290, when her son was in his seventh year. For over three years just before this loss, between May 1286 and August 1289, both parents had been absent in Gascony. His grandmother, Eleanor of Provence, died in June 1291; his sisters Joan of Acre and Margaret both married in 1290, and Margaret left England to join her husband, John (II), duke of Brabant, in 1297; his eldest sister, Eleanor, married Henri, count of Bar, in 1293. The two sisters closest to him in age, Elizabeth (born in August 1282) and Mary of Woodstock (born in March 1279), also left the family circle, one to marry the count of Holland in 1297, the other to enter the convent of Amesbury in 1285.
Little is known in any systematic way about Edward's training and education. Sir Gui de Ferre the elder, a Gascon knight who had formerly been steward to Eleanor of Provence, was ‘magister of the king's son’ (his tutor in horsemanship and military exercises) from as early as 1295, or even 1293, until his death in April 1303. A toy castle was made for Edward in his early childhood, while a copy of Vegetius's De re militari, which was possibly made c.1306 for his knighting, was still in his possession in the 1320s. Although Edward seems in fact to have been strong and athletic in his youth and to have been a good horseman, he is never known to have taken part in a tournament. Lack of interest or aptitude may have been the reason, but it is just as likely that it was simply too dangerous to risk the life or health of the heir to the throne, and hence also the life and health of the kingdom itself, in such a dangerous sport. Edward's participation in and exposure to the risks of military campaigns in Scotland, both as prince and as king, were to be danger enough.
Dominican friars were members of his household from at least 1290, beginning a close spiritual and personal relationship between himself and the order that continued throughout his life. Dominican confessors were to be on intimate terms with Edward as king, while other Dominicans were closely involved in the plots to release him from captivity in 1327 and probably also in the attempts to establish for Edward a posthumous reputation for sanctity. Edward's attendance at religious ceremonies as child and man, and his regular donations of alms to religious orders were at one level no more than might be expected of a medieval king, but his relationship with the Dominicans, and Richard II's efforts to have him canonized (while certainly influenced by political considerations) suggest that Edward's piety may have been more than conventional in nature. In April 1301 he commissioned a picture of the martyrdom of Thomas Becket for the chapel of Chester Castle, and his devotion to St Thomas was to be conspicuous during his reign. In 1302 an illuminated manuscript of the life of Edward the Confessor was bought for him. Although this is consistent with the use that had been made of the cult of St Edward by both Henry III and Edward I to add prestige to the English monarchy, there is little doubt that Edward was himself greatly affected by the cult.
In 1290 the prince's mother sent her scribe Philip to join Edward at Woodstock, which may imply that Edward was better educated (or at least that a greater effort was made to educate him) than is generally thought. Edward spoke French and presumably also English (as his father had done); he was certainly capable of reading French but whether he could also write (as could his son and successor Edward III) is unknown. It has been suggested that Edward was unable to understand Latin because he took his coronation oath in 1308 in a French form rather than the traditional Latin, and because in 1317 a papal bull thanked the archbishop of Canterbury for translating its contents into French ‘so that what is the better understood may bear the richer fruit’ (LPL, register of Archbishop Walter Reynolds, fol. 218). The argument is spurious, since French was more appropriate for a public gathering such as a coronation, while the convolutions of the papal chancery's Latin would probably have required explanation even to many who were well versed in the language.
The young prince
Edward's earliest years were marked by the itinerant life characteristic of royal and noble families. His earliest ‘public’ appearances were such occasions as the entry of his six-year-old sister Mary into the convent at Amesbury in 1285, and his attendance at the marriage of his sister Margaret to the future duke of Brabant in July 1290. In late September 1290 the intended marriage alliance between Edward and Margaret (the Maid of Norway), the heir to the Scottish throne, which had been agreed in the treaty of Birgham in July, came to nothing when Margaret died. On 28 November he lost his mother, Eleanor of Castile, and gained nominal possession of the counties of Ponthieu and Montreuil in northern France, which had been her personal inheritance.
The Anglo-French war which began in 1294 led to another plan for Edward's marriage, this time with a daughter of the count of Flanders. The agreement concluded in February 1297 was to be annulled by the pope in 1298 as part of the Anglo-French peace negotiations. In 1296 Edward was in nominal command of English defences against a possible French invasion, and in the following year, at the age of thirteen, he gained his first meaningful experiences of government and of a political crisis involving the English magnates, when on 14 July 1297 the leading clergy and magnates swore fealty to Edward as his father's successor in Edward I's presence at Westminster. Edward then acted as regent of England between 22 August 1297 and 14 March 1298 while his father was absent in Flanders. On 10 October 1297 Edward made a formal offer of pardon to the opposition earls and witnessed the Confirmatio cartarum, aimed at defusing the crisis, on the same day. In June 1299 the treaty of Montreuil between England and France provided for the betrothal of Edward and Isabella (1295–1358), daughter of Philippe IV of France (r. 1285–1314). In July 1300 Edward had his first military experience when he was present at the siege of Caerlaverock.
On 7 February 1301 Edward, now almost seventeen, was created prince of Wales and earl of Chester at the Lincoln parliament (although the title of prince was not used in official documents until May 1301). This was probably a mark of Edward I's approval of his son's achievements to date, but it was also a way of providing him with an appropriate endowment in advance of his marriage to Isabella as well as an attempt to ensure the future allegiance of the Welsh to English rule. At about the same time Edward is recorded as having acquired a copy of a book ‘de gestis regum Anglie’, probably Geoffrey of Monmouth's Historia regum Britanniae, a work which was appropriate to his new status in Wales but also a reminder of the English crown's claims to supremacy over the entire island of Britain. Edward spent most of April and May in Wales receiving the homage of his Welsh subjects. It was his only visit before he fled there in October 1326. While there is nothing to confirm the opinion of Rishanger that the Welsh of all ranks esteemed Edward as ‘their rightful lord, because he derived his origin from those parts’ (Rishanger, Chronicle, 464), the Welsh were later to show notable loyalty to Edward as king, especially during the civil war of 1321–2 and in the plots to free him after his deposition in 1327.
Relations with Edward I
In the summer and autumn of 1301 Edward was in Scotland where his father hoped that he would have ‘the chief honour of taming the pride of the Scots’ (CDS, 2, no. 1949). In March 1302 he presided over a council of magnates in the absence of his father and was summoned to parliament for the first time in his own right in July and October that year. His betrothal to Isabella of France took place in May 1303. Later in 1303 he was again in Scotland and remained there until after the capture of Stirling in July 1304. On 27 September 1304 Edward was appointed to go to Amiens to do homage to Philippe IV on his father's behalf for the duchy of Aquitaine. However, this visit was cancelled when the French failed to send letters of safe conduct.
Until early 1305 Edward's career seemed to have been advancing steadily towards the inevitable succession to the throne, which could not now be long delayed. Although Edward I was never lavish with praise, he appears to have been generally satisfied with his son's progress. However on 14 June 1305, at Midhurst in Sussex, Edward quarrelled with his father's treasurer, Walter Langton. Edward I immediately came to Langton's support and banished his son from court. What was really at issue is not clear: possibly Langton's anger was roused by the extravagance of Edward's household expenses, while the prince wished to seek revenge on a powerful but unpopular royal minister. Although father and son were reconciled on 13 October 1305, significantly the feast of St Edward, full trust was never restored between them.
During the estrangement Edward was also deprived of the company of several of his close associates, one of whom was Piers Gaveston (d. 1312), who had been a member of his household since 1300. Although the relationship that developed between the two young men was certainly very close (and may already have been a factor in the crisis of 1305), its exact nature is impossible to determine. An anonymous chronicler of the civil wars of Edward's reign remarked that:
upon looking on him the son of the king immediately felt such love for him that he entered into a covenant of constancy, and bound himself with him before all other mortals with a bond of indissoluble love, firmly drawn up and fastened with a knot. (Haskins, 75)
Such comments have led to the modern assumption that their relationship was definitely sexual. The evidence for this, however, is far from clear. While some of the chroniclers' remarks about Edward II can be interpreted as implying homosexuality or bisexuality, too many of them are either much later in date or the product of hostility, or a combination of the two, and thus not acceptable at face value.
Edward II and Gaveston both married early in the reign, at a time when the closeness of their relationship was much remarked upon. While each of their marriages had a social and a political dimension, it is highly improbable that Philippe IV of France, who had an extreme aversion to homosexuality, would have allowed the marriage with Isabella, which had been under negotiation since 1298, if her future husband's sexual proclivities had been clearly proclaimed over so long a period. Nor might the young Gilbert de Clare, earl of Gloucester and Edward II's nephew, have agreed to the marriage between his sister Margaret and Gaveston. There were children of both marriages. Gaveston's daughter Joan was born in early 1312, and Edward's son, the future Edward III, was born at Windsor on 13 November 1312, a few months after Gaveston's death, and must have been conceived while the latter was still alive. Edward II's wife, Isabella, was only twelve years old at the time of their marriage and could not have been expected to bear children much earlier than she did. Three more children were born to Edward and Isabella: John, born at Eltham on about 15 August 1316; Eleanor, born at Woodstock on 18 June 1318; and Joan, born in the Tower of London on 5 July 1321. There is nothing to suggest that Edward II was not the father of any of these children. Edward also had an illegitimate son Adam, who died during the Scottish campaign of 1322 and was probably born before his father's marriage in 1308 at a time when his relationship with Gaveston was already established, while Gaveston is known to have had an illegitimate daughter.
It has also been very plausibly, though not conclusively, argued by Chaplais that the two men entered into a bond of adoptive brotherhood, comparable with the relationship between David and Jonathan in the Old Testament or with the practice of brotherhood-in-arms between members of the nobility in fourteenth- and fifteenth-century Europe. But whatever the actual nature of their relationship—sexual, a formal bond, or simply a very close friendship—Gaveston was perceived as wielding a degree of influence over the king that excluded others who considered they had a right to be consulted. Both he and ultimately Edward himself were to pay the penalty for their offence.
The end of Edward I's reign
Following the reconciliation with his father in October 1305 Edward was given a greater role. In April 1306 it was announced that Edward was to lead an army into Scotland to put down the revolt of Robert Bruce, recently crowned as Robert I. On 7 April Edward, who was now almost twenty-two, was granted the duchy of Aquitaine, the Isle of Oléron, and the Agenais to maintain the status of knighthood which he was to receive at Westminster on 22 May. Altogether about 300 other young men were knighted on the same occasion in a splendid ceremony, which was followed by a great feast at which Prince Edward swore that he would not sleep two nights in the same place until he had defeated Robert. In August 1306 Edward entered Scotland, but caused such devastation and showed such cruelty that he was angrily rebuked by his father.
Edward was back in England by December 1306 when he went to Dover to meet Cardinal Pedro of Spain, who was charged with completing the marriage agreement between Edward and Isabella. This was duly achieved at the Carlisle parliament in March 1307, when it was also decided that Edward should go to France in late May for his wedding. However, although Edward reached Dover he did not cross to France, but instead saw off Gaveston who in February had been ordered to leave England by a furious Edward I, after Prince Edward had apparently attempted to give him the county of Ponthieu.
King of England
A new Scottish campaign had barely begun when on 7 July 1307 Edward I died near Carlisle, where Edward received the homage of the English magnates on 20 July. One of his first acts as king was to recall Gaveston, whom he created earl of Cornwall at Dumfries on 6 August. Edward then returned to England to hold a short parliament at Northampton on 13 October, for the burial of his father at Westminster Abbey on 27 October, and to make arrangements for his own marriage and coronation. He also settled old political scores by dismissing and imprisoning the treasurer, Walter Langton, who was replaced by Walter Reynolds, the keeper of Edward's household. On 1 November Gaveston married Edward's niece, Margaret de Clare, and when Edward II crossed to France, on 22 January 1308, he left Gaveston as regent of England. On 25 January Edward and Isabella were married at Boulogne in a splendid ceremony attended by Philippe IV of France and by many of the leading nobility of both kingdoms. On 31 January Edward II performed homage for the duchy of Aquitaine.
However, on the same day the bishop of Durham, the earls of Lincoln, Surrey, Pembroke, and Hereford, and others made an agreement in which they declared that since they were bound by fealty to preserve the king's honour and the rights of his crown, they wished to redress and amend anything that had been done against his honour. None of the parties to the agreement was personally hostile to the king and it is likely that they were thinking chiefly of the financial and administrative consequences of the continuing inconclusive war with Scotland, which had created serious political tensions between the king and his subjects, rather than of Edward II's own personal behaviour or even that of Gaveston. But the warning signs were there, and the benign reform programme of the Boulogne agreement was soon followed by demands for reform of a much more far-reaching and personal kind.
Edward II and Isabella returned to Dover on 7 February. On 25 February Edward was crowned at Westminster. In his oath he swore in a newly added clause to uphold ‘the laws and rightful customs which the community of the realm shall have chosen’ (Chrimes and Brown, 4). This was probably designed to prevent him from evading his undertakings as Edward I had done, but had obvious implications for the future. However he first of all swore to uphold the laws of St Edward (Edward the Confessor), thereby emphasizing an aspect of the royal ideology which had been growing in importance since the reign of Henry III. This clause may already have formed part of Edward I's coronation oath in 1274, but it is possible that this too was newly added in 1308. The splendour of the occasion was disturbed by the resentment of both the English and French nobles present over the prominence given by Edward to Gaveston, alike in the coronation and in the coronation festivities afterwards. This had the effect of concentrating demands for the reform of royal government around the person of Gaveston.
Demands for reform, 1308–1310
On 28 April 1308 the magnates, led by the earl of Lincoln, made a declaration that their allegiance was due to the crown rather than to the person of the king and demanded that Gaveston should be exiled and stripped of his earldom. Edward II agreed to these demands on 18 May but circumvented them in part by appointing Gaveston as his lieutenant in Ireland, and Gaveston left to take up his new post on 25 June. Edward also appealed to the pope to annul Gaveston's exile, in which he succeeded on 25 April 1309. Meanwhile in August 1308 Edward had achieved a reconciliation with the barons at Northampton. By the summer of 1309 he had persuaded a significant number of them to agree to Gaveston's return to England: he and Edward met at Chester on 27 June. In exchange for this and Gaveston's reinstatement as earl of Cornwall, Edward II was faced with further demands for reform, which were first put forward at the parliament held at Westminster in late April and accepted by him at a further parliament at Stamford in early August. Equally ominously, the absence from Stamford of Thomas, earl of Lancaster (Edward's first cousin), was the first overt sign of Lancaster's future leadership of opposition to the king.
Edward's continuing favours to Gaveston, and his failure to observe the promised reforms, led to further demands from the magnates. The earls of Lancaster, Lincoln, Warwick, Arundel, and Oxford refused to attend a council summoned to York in October, because Gaveston would be present. The crisis came to a head in late February 1310 when the earls attended parliament at Westminster, after Edward had sent Gaveston away for safety. Finally, on 16 March, Edward was forced to bow to the magnates' threat to withdraw their allegiance from him as king and agreed to the appointment of twenty-one ordainers to draw up detailed proposals for reform by 29 September 1311.
While the ordainers met in London, Edward responded to a warning that the situation in Scotland was rapidly deteriorating by summoning an army to meet at Berwick on 8 September. On the pretext of their work of reform the leading earls—Lancaster, Pembroke, Hereford, and Warwick—stayed away, sending only the minimum military service required by their tenure. Edward reached Edinburgh in late October but, leaving Gaveston to campaign further north, he had returned by early November to Berwick where he remained until the end of July 1311. Meanwhile the death in February 1311 of the earl of Lincoln removed a moderating force, but brought Thomas of Lancaster to greater prominence.
The work of the ordainers was finally distilled in a lengthy document of forty-one clauses which dealt with a wide range of grievances. In a clear reference to the Scottish campaign of 1310–11, the king was forbidden to go to war or to leave the kingdom without the consent of the baronage. The king was not to make any gifts of land or other grants without the approval of the baronage in parliament and all grants made since the appointment of the ordainers were to be revoked, until the king's debts had been paid off. Prises (the seizure of foodstuffs for royal use and taken without immediate payment), which were deeply resented, were to cease. The customs duties were to be paid directly into the exchequer and not to be collected by aliens (a reference to the Italian merchant company, the Frescobaldi of Florence); no revenues were to be collected for the direct use of the royal household, which was to be maintained by the exchequer. These provisions reflected the financial confusion into which the royal government had fallen under the pressures of the Scottish war and had their roots both in the reign of Edward I and in current practice.
However, what gave the ordinances a distinctive flavour was their insistence on ‘evil and deceptive counsel’ and ‘evil counsellors’ as causes of the troubles of the king and his kingdom: because of such influence the king's chancellor, treasurer, and all other leading officials were to be appointed with the advice and approval of the baronage in parliament, and ‘all the evil counsellors’ were to ‘be ejected and dismissed altogether’. Gaveston was especially singled out for attention, and ‘as the evident enemy of the king and of his people’, he was to ‘be completely exiled as well from the kingdom of England, Scotland, Ireland and Wales as from the whole lordship of our lord the king overseas as well as on this side, forever without ever returning’ (English Historical Documents, 3.529–39).
The ordinances were sent to Edward for inspection on 3 August and formally presented in parliament at Westminster on 16 August. Edward at first refused to accept them, because they infringed his sovereignty as well as ordering Gaveston's exile. But under intense pressure he gave way, and the ordinances were published in London on 27 September. An order for the general publication of the ordinances was given on 11 October, but on 12 October Edward began diplomatic proceedings to persuade the pope to annul them. From then until 1322 a running battle over the confirmation or annulment of the ordinances was to be fought between the king and his opponents.
The death of Gaveston
Although Edward was determined to recall Gaveston at the earliest opportunity, there is no evidence that the latter was with Edward at Christmas, which the king spent at Westminster. But Gaveston probably rejoined the king at Knaresborough on 13 January, and was at York on 18 January 1312 when Edward officially announced his return; he then remained with Edward until after the birth of his own daughter Margaret on 20 February. Open conflict was bound to result. Archbishop Robert Winchelsey of Canterbury summoned a council of prelates and magnates to meet at St Paul's on 13 March, when the earls of Pembroke and Surrey were appointed to pursue and arrest Gaveston. Edward was rejoined by Gaveston at York on 31 March, when Gaveston was given custody of Scarborough Castle. By mid-April they were in Newcastle, but were forced to flee from there on 4 May. Edward and Gaveston sailed to Scarborough, where Gaveston was left while Edward returned to York. Gaveston was then besieged in Scarborough, and on 19 May surrendered to the earls of Pembroke and Surrey, who gave him guarantees of his personal safety until 1 August, while further negotiations were carried out with Edward. After a meeting with the king at York, Gaveston was placed in the personal custody of Pembroke, who took him south. But on 10 June Gaveston was seized by the earl of Warwick at Deddington in Oxfordshire, imprisoned in Warwick Castle, and on 19 June, with the approval of the earls of Lancaster, Hereford, and Arundel, was executed on Blacklow Hill near Warwick.
Crisis and recovery
The death of Gaveston created an undying enmity between Edward and the earls primarily responsible, Lancaster and Warwick; Pembroke and Surrey returned permanently to the king's side; and Edward became more than ever determined to annul the ordinances. Neither side however was prepared to push the issue to open civil war. In August 1312 Edward sent envoys to the pope and to Philippe IV in the hope of enlisting their mediation, and summoned the earls to appear unarmed at Westminster to discuss the ordinances. A complex set of negotiations followed, concluded on 20 December by a treaty in which Edward agreed to pardon the opposition magnates for the death of Gaveston, in return for their submission to him, and for the restoration of royal jewels that had been captured while in Gaveston's custody. In the meantime, on 13 November, Edward and Isabella's first child, the future Edward III, was born at Windsor.
Mutual suspicion remained strong, however, causing delays in performing the terms of the treaty and contributing to the failure of the parliaments summoned for 18 March and 8 July 1313. Edward's position was strengthened by the death of Archbishop Winchelsey in May and the provision to Canterbury on 1 October of his old ally, Walter Reynolds. It was further strengthened between 23 May and 16 July when Edward and Isabella, accompanied by Pembroke and other supporters, made a state visit to Paris. On 6 June Edward and Philippe IV took the cross in Notre Dame, while on 2 July they settled many of the outstanding disputes between them over Aquitaine. Edward now had both personal and diplomatic support from his father-in-law. French and papal mediation both contributed to the political settlement between Edward and the opposition magnates who submitted to the king on 14 October and were pardoned two days later. By 28 November Edward had also obtained agreement for a campaign against his remaining opponents, the Scots, in the following June. On 12 December Edward crossed to Boulogne for a meeting at Montreuil with Philippe IV whose approval, as suzerain of Aquitaine, was required for a large papal loan to Edward secured by the revenues of the duchy. Edward returned to England on 20 December. Although the issue of the ordinances remained unresolved, Edward, by dint of persistence and the skilful use of both domestic and external political support, had achieved a great deal.
Disaster in Scotland
Edward's attendance at the enthronement of Walter Reynolds at Canterbury on 17 January 1314 was another sign of his political success, but was quickly followed by news from Scotland of the fall of Roxburgh and Edinburgh castles. But the agreement by the constable of Stirling to surrender that castle if not relieved by 24 June presented Edward with a challenge which he eagerly accepted, hoping to defeat the Scots in a pitched battle. Although four earls, most notably Lancaster and Warwick, refused to join the army in person, fearing the political consequences of a royal victory, the army that advanced in Scotland in early June was a large one of about 15,000 infantry and 2000–3000 cavalry, with many experienced commanders. Properly handled, and with the necessary element of luck, the army should have been capable of defeating the much smaller Scottish army. Instead the English army, crammed into a narrow position which made cavalry deployment difficult, not quite believing that the Scots would be so bold as to attack, and plagued by rivalries and differences of opinion among its leaders, suffered a humiliating defeat at Bannockburn near Stirling on 24 June.
The English archers, who had turned a hard-fought battle into a victory at Falkirk in 1298, and were to win many future engagements, were never brought fully into action and were scattered by the small reserve force of Scottish cavalry. The English cavalry meanwhile had charged the Scottish infantry, who were armed with long pikes and drawn up in close formation (schiltroms), and were cut to pieces. Edward's nephew the earl of Gloucester, whom Edward had accused of cowardice on the previous day for wanting to delay the battle, broke ranks in his anxiety to attack, and was among those killed. The earl of Hereford, who had taken offence when Edward replaced him as constable by Gloucester on the eve of the battle, was captured, along with other leading nobles. Edward II fought bravely, and had a horse killed under him, but eventually had to be led away to safety by the earl of Pembroke, lest his capture should turn disastrous defeat into a catastrophe. Edward reached Dunbar, sailed from there to Berwick, and then moved to York, where he summoned a parliament to meet in September to discuss the Scottish threat. When parliament assembled Edward was instead forced to confirm the ordinances and change all his leading ministers.
On 2 January 1315 an elaborate funeral ceremony was staged for the body of Gaveston at the royal chapel in Kings Langley, Edward's favourite residence. When parliament met again in January and February 1315 Edward was forced to make further concessions to his opponents who demanded the strict observance of the ordinances. Then in May 1315 a Scots army, led by Edward Bruce, landed in Ireland in an attempt to seize it from English control, while in July the Scots laid siege to Carlisle. Edward held meetings with the leading magnates at Lincoln in late August, and at Doncaster in mid-December 1315, to discuss the Scottish attacks and the state of the realm in general. These prepared the way for the parliament that began at Lincoln on 27 January 1316. On 17 February Lancaster was appointed as the head of the king's council, and further measures for the enforcement of the ordinances and for administrative reform were put in train.
The conflict with Lancaster
By the end of April 1316 Lancaster had effectively given up his new role, allegedly because of Edward's refusal to accept the proposed reforms, but probably also because of his own incapacity for government. This began a new period of political instability, during which Lancaster's lack of co-operation prevented a proposed campaign against the Scots during the summer, and the king, queen, and Lancaster all supported rival candidates for the see of Durham. In November and December 1316 Edward planned to improve his position by sending to the newly elected pope, John XXII (r. 1316–34), a high-level embassy designed to win papal assistance against the Scots, to achieve financial concessions, and possibly also to obtain absolution for Edward from his oath to uphold the ordinances. On 28 March 1317 the pope lent Edward the proceeds of a clerical tenth, and on 1 May ordered a truce between England and Scotland.
On 17 March the pope had appointed two cardinals to go to England to negotiate a final peace with Scotland: in the event they were to play an even more important role in bringing about a settlement between Edward and Lancaster. Edward had been attempting to contact Lancaster since at least February 1317 but the mutual suspicions remained, and both sides gathered armed forces, on the pretext of a campaign against the Scots scheduled for September. No campaign took place, and in early October, as Edward was returning south from York, he was only narrowly dissuaded from attacking Lancaster in his castle of Pontefract.
The personal hatred between Edward and his cousin was exacerbated by the rise to prominence of a new group of royal favourites, Roger Damory, Hugh Audley, William Montagu, and Hugh Despenser the younger (d. 1326), together with the latter's father, Hugh Despenser the elder, a long-time opponent of Lancaster. Edward had also since late 1316 entered into a series of formal contracts for service in peace and war with these and other leading magnates, including the earls of Pembroke and Hereford and Bartholomew Badlesmere. The immediate import of these was their promise to provide Edward with specified amounts of military service but they also had a clear political implication. By the autumn of 1317 Edward had therefore skilfully built up around himself a coalition composed of some individuals who were personally obnoxious to Lancaster, and of others who had no confidence in Lancaster's ability to provide political leadership, and were alarmed at the very real threat of civil war caused by the continuing enmity between Edward and his cousin. Moderate political figures such as Pembroke and Badlesmere were afraid that the behaviour of favourites such as Roger Damory, the husband of one of the heiresses to the earldom of Gloucester, would tip the balance in favour of open conflict.
It was this desire to restrain the king's current favourites, rather than an attempt to create a so-called ‘middle party’, that led Pembroke and Badlesmere to enter into an indenture with Damory (and possibly with others whose indentures are not extant) on 24 November 1317. The actions of Pembroke and Badlesmere had been bizarrely anticipated at Pentecost (22 May) 1317, when a woman dressed as a theatrical player had ridden into Westminster Hall, while Edward II was feasting with his magnates, and presented a letter to the king. Under questioning she revealed that she had been induced to do this by one of Edward II's own household knights who were annoyed that the king was neglecting knights who had served his father, and was promoting others ‘who had not borne the heat of the day’ (Johannis de Trokelowe, 98–9). This incident very probably arose from the marriages in late April of Roger Damory and Hugh Audley the younger to Elizabeth and Margaret de Clare, two of the three heiresses to the lands of the earldom of Gloucester, and from the partition of their inheritance which had been ordered on 17 April.
Between November 1317 and August 1318 a lengthy series of negotiations took place aimed at producing a lasting accommodation between Edward and Lancaster. Pembroke, Badlesmere, and others acted on behalf of the king, but a crucial mediating role was also played during this period by the archbishop and bishops of the province of Canterbury, the archbishop of Dublin, and the two papal envoys, cardinals Luca and Gaucelin. It was only in July, while Edward remained at Northampton, and royal envoys and ecclesiastical mediators went back and forth to Lancaster at Tutbury, that the deadlock was finally broken. It was also during this period of intense negotiations, on either 11 or about 24 June, that an impostor, John Powderham (d. 1318), appeared at Oxford, claiming to be the true king, and was taken to Northampton where he was executed about 20 July. Ironically, this political embarrassment occurred as Edward was unsuccessfully attempting to persuade the pope to give approval for his reanointing with the holy oil of St Thomas of Canterbury, which had been brought to Edward's attention by an unscrupulous Dominican, Nicholas Wisbech, and which would supposedly have brought a miraculous solution to all Edward's political troubles. Edward and Lancaster finally met on 7 August to exchange the kiss of peace, and on 9 August met again at Leake, near Nottingham, where their agreement was embodied in the form of a treaty. A parliament was also summoned to York for 20 October to confirm and to amplify the terms of the treaty.
At York the ordinances were again confirmed, the royal favourites left court at least for a time, a standing royal council was appointed, and appointments to the major offices under the crown were made or confirmed. But the political settlement was much less favourable to Lancaster than has usually been thought. Lancaster himself would not be a member of the council, while all the members of the council and the office-holders would be men sympathetic to and acceptable to Edward. However the success of this compromise would depend on how far Edward and Lancaster were truly reconciled, whether the royal favourites continued to behave more discreetly, and whether the war with Scotland could be prosecuted with greater success than in the past. Although the loss of the key border fortress of Berwick in April 1318 showed how dangerous the Scots still were, the defeat and death of Edward Bruce at Faughart near Dundalk on 14 October removed the Scottish threat to the lordship of Ireland, and provided the first definitive military success of Edward II's reign.
Lancaster and his retainers attended the York parliament of May 1319, where it was decided to mount a campaign to recover Berwick. Although all the leading magnates, including Lancaster, answered the summons, and Edward began the siege of Berwick on 7 September 1319, the king was forced to break it off on 17 September, after a Scottish force under Sir James Douglas entered Yorkshire, and on 12 September defeated an army hastily gathered by the archbishop of York and bishop of Ely at Myton-on-Swale near York. Edward was forced to open urgent negotiations with the Scots for a truce, which was agreed for two years in late December.
Relations between Edward and Lancaster then deteriorated once more, engendered by suspicions on the king's side that Lancaster had connived in the Scots' attack and on Lancaster's side that, if Berwick had been taken, Edward would then have turned the army against him. There is also evidence that the behaviour of Hugh Despenser the younger, who had merely been one of a number of royal favourites until his appointment as chamberlain of the royal household in 1318, also contributed to the failure of the campaign of 1319. Together with his father, Hugh Despenser the elder, he was starting to achieve the control of royal favour that led to the outbreak of open civil war in 1321–2.
Lancaster failed to attend parliament at York on 20 January 1320, at which, in an unaccustomed burst of activity on the king's part, it was decided that Edward should go to France in May to perform homage for Aquitaine to Philippe V; embassies were also dispatched to Gascony and to the papal curia. It was also decided to transfer the royal administration from York, where it had been since September 1318, back to Westminster. On 19 June Edward and Isabella crossed to France where on 29 June Edward performed homage for Aquitaine and Ponthieu in the cathedral at Amiens, thereby acknowledging that he held them of the French king. A few days later, when the two kings met to renew the alliance of perpetual friendship concluded between Edward I and Philippe IV in 1303, a French councillor suggested that Edward should also swear fealty, which would have implied a more personal subordination to Philippe V. This was firmly rejected by Edward in a recorded speech which clearly represents his own views. It is an incident that suggests that, although in some situations Edward could be unduly influenced by people in whom he placed particular trust, or by his hatred of other individuals such as Lancaster, he none the less possessed greater abilities as king than are usually credited to him. Edward returned to England on 22 July and reached London on 2 August.
Edward was showing signs of an unwonted energy and initiative at this time. In a well-known letter to the pope, Bishop Thomas Cobham of Worcester remarked that the king was rising unusually early, and was contributing to the discussions of parliamentary business. The unpublished chronicle attributed to Nicholas Trivet adds that Edward ‘showed prudence in answering the petitions of the poor, and clemency as much as severity in judicial matters, to the amazement of many who were there’ (BL, MS Cotton Nero D.x, fol. 110v). Despite these encouraging signs, and the further confirmation of the ordinances, there were more sinister developments. Lancaster refused to attend the parliament, and attempts to placate him during October and November were unsuccessful. One cause of Lancaster's absence was probably the growing influence of the younger Despenser. As his ambition to obtain the earldom of Gloucester in his own right became increasingly apparent, Despenser's behaviour also alienated the husbands of the other Gloucester heiresses, Roger Damory and Hugh Audley, together with other magnates with interests in the Welsh march. The turning point came on 20 October 1320 when Edward seized the lordship of Gower in south Wales and granted it to Despenser. The slide into open civil war had now begun.
The civil war
On 22 February 1321 Lancaster and other unnamed magnates met at Pontefract and decided to attack the younger Despenser in Wales. Edward and Despenser left London for the danger area on 1 March, and reached Gloucester on 27 March. Edward's summons on 28 March to the earl of Hereford and his allies, who had been gathering forces on their Welsh lands, to attend a council at Gloucester on 5 April was rebuffed and on 4 May the marchers began their attacks on the lands of the two Despensers. On 24 May Lancaster and a group of northern magnates met at Pontefract and made a defensive pact. On 28 June Lancaster met Hereford and the other marcher lords at Sherburn in Elmet, where Lancaster gave his approval of the marchers' actions but apparently failed to bring about a formal alliance for future action between the marchers and the northern magnates.
On 15 May Edward had summoned a parliament to Westminster on 15 July in the hope of saving the Despensers from further attack. Although the clergy tried to mediate, when the marchers reached London on 29 July, they threatened to depose Edward unless the Despensers were expelled. Edward then agreed to exile the Despensers on 14 August, and on 20 August formally pardoned their opponents. As in the case of Gaveston, Edward's one ambition was the return of the Despensers. Taking a gamble that his enemies would not act together, Edward chose to attack Bartholomew Badlesmere, the former steward of the household, who had sided with the marchers against the Despensers earlier in 1321, but who was bitterly hated by Lancaster. Having rejoined the younger Despenser on the Isle of Thanet, Edward sent his queen to request hospitality from Badlesmere's wife at Leeds Castle in Kent. She was, as Edward hoped, refused admission on 13 October. Edward began a siege and on 31 October the castle surrendered, after the baronial army which had advanced to Kingston in Surrey had failed to intervene.
Both sides now prepared for open conflict. Lancaster summoned a meeting between himself and the marchers, which was intended to take place at Doncaster on 29 November but was probably held instead at Pontefract. The document they drew up, generally known as the Doncaster petition, accusing Despenser of encouraging the king to attack the peers of the realm, and Edward of supporting him, was ignored by the king. Instead, on 30 November Edward gave orders for an army to join him at Cirencester on 13 December, and on 1 December a council of the province of Canterbury, attended only by the archbishop and four of the sixteen bishops, declared the Despensers' exile to be null and void. The earls of Pembroke, Richmond, and Arundel, and the king's half-brother, Edmund, earl of Kent, then concurred. Edward and his army left London on 8 December; he was in Cirencester on 25 December and reached Worcester on 31 December. Forced to make a detour because the marchers held the crossing of the Severn, Edward arrived in Shrewsbury on 14 January 1322, just as his opponents' ranks were starting to crumble. On 22 January both Roger Mortimer of Wigmore and his uncle, Roger Mortimer of Chirk, surrendered to Edward at Shrewsbury, partly because of Lancaster's failure to help his allies, but largely because a Welsh revolt led by Sir Gruffudd Llwyd had captured the Mortimers' castles on behalf of the king.
In a skilfully managed and determined campaign Edward lost no time in pursuing his remaining enemies. He left Shrewsbury on 24 January and on 6 February reached Gloucester where Maurice Berkeley and the elder Hugh Audley surrendered. As a last resort the earl of Hereford, Hugh Audley the younger, and Roger Damory fled to join Lancaster. On 11 February Edward issued safe conducts for the Despensers, and on 14 February ordered the mustering of troops at Coventry on 5 March. He also ordered Sir Andrew Harclay, the royal commander at Carlisle, to move against Lancaster and his supporters from the north. Edward left Gloucester on 18 February, captured Lancaster's castle of Kenilworth on 26 February, and arrived at Coventry on 27 February. On 3 March he was met at Lichfield by the Despensers and a large force of troops. Hearing of the king's advance, Lancaster and Hereford left Pontefract and took up defensive positions on 1 March at the river-crossing at Burton upon Trent near Lancaster's castle at Tutbury. On 10 March part of the royal army crossed the river and outflanked Lancaster and Hereford who fled to Pontefract, leaving Tutbury and the mortally wounded Roger Damory to be captured by Edward. On 11 March Edward declared Lancaster and his allies to be traitors and ordered the siege of Pontefract. Lancaster then attempted to flee to Northumberland, but only reached Boroughbridge in Yorkshire, where he was defeated by Harclay on 16 March. Hereford was killed in the battle; Lancaster was captured the next day and taken to York from where he was taken to Pontefract on 21 March, tried before the king, found guilty of treason, and beheaded outside his castle on the same day. Of the remaining contrariants, Badlesmere and twenty-six others were executed, and the Mortimers, Hugh Audley, and many more were sentenced to imprisonment, and their lands forfeited to the crown. Some former contrariants regained their lands after paying a fine, but over a hundred individuals suffered enduring losses.
The king's victory was confirmed at the parliament which began at York on 2 May 1322. The ordinances, from which Edward had been trying to escape since 1311, were formally revoked in the Statute of York, on the grounds that they improperly restrained royal power. In future any such ordinances would be null and void unless agreed in parliament, with the approval of the prelates, earls and barons, and the community of the realm. Much of the past speculation about the significance of the Statute of York is anachronistic. Edward II was seeking to restore the situation as it had been before 1310–11, rather than to introduce a new emphasis on the authority of parliament or on the role of the ‘community’ in its future sense of the ‘commons’. No king in his hour of victory was likely to tie his hands for the future by introducing a new constitutional doctrine. However, as a way of emphasizing that the ordinances had originally been imposed upon him, and that he was not opposed to reform in principle, Edward had six clauses reissued and confirmed as ‘good points’. The York parliament also confirmed the legal process against Lancaster, and formally annulled that against the two Despensers, who were rewarded with a steady stream of grants of forfeited lands; the elder Despenser also became earl of Winchester; and Harclay was given the earldom of Carlisle.
Scottish failure and domestic tyranny
Edward's one remaining enemy was the king of Scots, whose forces had caused great destruction and suffering in the northern counties of England in the years since Bannockburn, as well as depriving the English government of revenue and providing a constantly renewed reminder of the humiliation of that defeat. In the summer of 1315, for example, a vast area in the north of England, equivalent to a fifth of the entire kingdom, was paying tribute to King Robert, with the tacit acceptance of Edward II, while the siege of Carlisle in July 1315 and the Scottish capture of Berwick in April 1318 threatened to deprive England of the military bases essential for its own defence and for any future counter-attack against Scotland. Lack of resources and internal political divisions had hitherto hindered any coherent and consistent English response. Now that Lancaster was dead the temptation for Edward to turn against Scotland and to avenge the long humiliation was irresistible. A Scottish campaign was therefore ordered on 25 March, barely a week after Lancaster's defeat. Edward's army finally invaded Scotland on 12 August but the Scots avoided battle by withdrawing northwards and destroying all food supplies in the path of the English army. Edward reached the vicinity of Edinburgh in late August, but was then forced to withdraw with heavy losses of men through starvation and sickness, including his own illegitimate son Adam. Edward was back at Newcastle on 10 September, having dissipated much of the military reputation he had gained through the defeat of Lancaster and his adherents.
Worse was to follow. King Robert crossed into England on 30 September with the apparent intention of capturing Edward. Although Edward knew of his approach, and tried to take precautions, the Scots surprised and routed the English forces on ‘Blakehoumor’ in Yorkshire on 14 October. Edward, who was nearby at Byland, was forced to flee for safety, arriving at York about 18 October, still pursued by the Scots. Meanwhile Queen Isabella, who had been left at Tynemouth Priory, now found herself cut off behind enemy lines and had to make a difficult escape by sea. The futility of Edward's policy towards Scotland was further demonstrated on 3 January 1323 when Andrew Harclay, the victor of Boroughbridge, acted on his own initiative in making a peace treaty with Robert I, recognizing Scottish independence. Although the agreement was repudiated, and Harclay was tried and executed for treason on 3 March, Edward entered into negotiations of his own. These resulted in a thirteen-year truce which was confirmed by Edward at Bishopthorpe near York on 30 May 1323. The truce had been born out of Edward's humiliation, but England was at least at peace with all her external enemies for the first time since 1294.
However, England was only superficially at peace internally. Rebels had been executed before on grounds of treason, but none of so high a rank as Thomas of Lancaster, or so closely related to the king himself: the precedent was an ominous one for the future of English political conflict. The confiscations and executions of 1322 created resentments among the surviving contrariants and the relatives of those who had perished, which were eventually bound to surface, while the loyalty of many others was to be strained to breaking point. The escape of Roger Mortimer of Wigmore from the Tower of London on 1 August 1323 was just the beginning of a process that led to Edward's downfall three years later. Although the younger Despenser was now the dominant influence on the king, who rewarded him lavishly with grants of land, there is little doubt that Edward himself was the prime mover in much of what happened. Just as his determination to defeat and destroy his enemies had inspired the Boroughbridge campaign in 1321–2, so now it dictated the ruthless zeal with which Edward and his agents exploited the confiscated lands of the contrariants for the advantage of the royal treasury.
His new revenues allowed Edward to pay off his father's debts, to fight a war with France in 1323–5 without the need for additional taxation, and to accumulate by the end of his reign a reserve of treasure of about £60,000, equivalent to a year's income. The nature of Edward's regime during his years of almost unfettered rule was aptly expressed by the author of the Vita Edwardi secundi:
The harshness of the king has today increased so much that no one however great and wise dares to cross his will. Thus parliaments, colloquies, and councils decide nothing these days. For the nobles of the realm, terrified by threats and the penalties inflicted on others, let the king's will have free play. Thus today will conquers reason. For whatever pleases the king, though lacking in reason, has the force of law. (Vita Edwardi secundi, 136)
Edward, however, had a different view of his achievements in these years after 1322. In 1324 he ordered Master John St Albans to paint the walls of the Lesser Hall of Westminster Palace with scenes from the life of his father, Edward I, ‘whom God assoil’. Perhaps at last Edward felt reconciled with his father, and deluded himself that in destroying his internal enemies he had somehow matched Edward I's greatness in war.
Crisis in France
In October 1323 a crisis arose in Gascony when English officials destroyed the newly erected French bastide at St Sardos in the Agenais, so ending the good relations between England and France which had endured throughout the reign of Edward II and which had enabled Edward to deal more effectively with his domestic and Scottish enemies. Attempts to resolve the dispute failed and in August 1324 a French army invaded the duchy. Edward considered leading an army to Gascony in person, leaving his son Edward as regent, but instead, on 9 March 1325, Isabella was sent to Paris in order to mediate with her brother Charles IV. After further negotiations Edward finally agreed to go to France in person, to do homage to Charles IV at Beauvais on 29 August 1325. However, he then accepted Charles's offer to receive homage from Edward's eldest son, Prince Edward, provided that Edward II first transferred to him all his French lands. On 2 September Prince Edward received the counties of Ponthieu and Montreuil, and on 10 September the duchy of Aquitaine. The prince then left England on 12 September, and performed homage on 24 September at Bois-de-Vincennes near Paris, where Isabella had also been staying. Despite repeated demands from Edward, neither the prince nor his mother returned to England, and by November 1325 Isabella was openly refusing to do so until Despenser had been removed from court.
Edward and Isabella
Relations between Edward and Isabella deteriorated rapidly in 1325–6. The major reason was certainly the influence that the younger Despenser exercised, both over the making of royal policy and over the king's person: whether this influence also took the form of a sexual relationship, there is no way of knowing. But there is no doubt that Despenser was driving Edward and Isabella apart. Isabella had blamed Despenser for her abandonment at Tynemouth in October 1322 and also for the seizure of her lands in September 1324, as part of the official English reaction to the French invasion of Gascony. According to the usually well-informed author of the Vita Edwardi secundi, Isabella declared:
I feel that marriage is a joining together of man and woman, maintaining the undivided habit of life, and that someone has come between my husband and myself trying to break this bond; I protest that I will not return until this intruder is removed, but, discarding my marriage garment, shall assume the robes of widowhood and mourning until I am avenged of this Pharisee. (Vita Edwardi secundi, 143)
However, there is also a possibility that the estrangement was partly caused by Despenser's wife, Eleanor de Clare, Edward II's own niece, who was reportedly given custody of the queen and of her seal after Isabella's lands were confiscated. The Leicester chronicler, Henry Knighton, reported that while Isabella was absent in France, Eleanor was treated as if she were queen and spoke slanderously of Isabella, while a Hainault chronicler, who recorded events in England in the 1320s in great detail, even claimed that she was Edward II's mistress and that, after her husband was executed in 1326, she was kept under surveillance in case she might be pregnant by the king.
Isabella's own sexual liaison with Roger Mortimer of Wigmore, who had fled to France after his escape in 1323, is thought to have begun in December 1325, and news of it was probably brought to England by disapproving members of her household. Edward was furious at his wife's behaviour. In a letter to Charles IV of France on 18 March he accused Isabella of keeping Mortimer's company ‘in and out of house’ (CClR, 1323–1327, 579). Chronicle reports that in 1325 Edward was petitioning the pope for a divorce are probably incorrect, but it is possible that in the summer of 1326 Edward was contemplating such a course. If reports of a sermon preached by the bishop of Hereford at Wallingford in the following December, after Isabella's landing in England, are to be believed, Edward II ‘carried a knife in his hose to kill queen Isabella, and had said that if he had no other weapon he would crush her with his teeth’ (Goodman, 105).
The deposition of Edward II
In January and February 1326 Edward II began to take precautions against a possible invasion by France and the count of Hainault in support of Isabella and Mortimer and of the young Prince Edward, who was betrothed to the count's daughter, Philippa. Edward was greatly angered by this news and on 19 June 1326, in an echo of the scenes between himself and his own father, wrote to his son, forbidding him to marry and warning him that, unless he obeyed, ‘he will ordain in such wise that Edward shall feel it all the days of his life, and that all other sons shall take example thereby of disobeying their lords and fathers’ (CClR, 1323–1327, 577). Despite Edward II's precautions, Isabella and her supporters landed without opposition at Orwell in Suffolk on 24 September 1326. Deserted by many of his followers, on 2 October Edward fled westwards from London with the younger Despenser, probably hoping for support from Despenser's lands in south Wales, or for a Welsh revolt like the one that had defeated the Mortimers in 1322. Edward was in Gloucester on 11 October; at Chepstow on 16 October; and on 21 October he and Despenser sailed from Chepstow for the island of Lundy, possibly hoping from there to reach Ireland, but were blown into Cardiff, where they remained until 28 October. On 28 and 29 October Edward was at Despenser's great fortress of Caerphilly, but then moved farther west, to the Cistercian abbeys of Margam, where he was on 3 and 4 November, and of Neath between 5 and 10 November. On 16 November Edward and Despenser were captured at Llantrisant, between Neath and Caerphilly; Edward was taken to the earl of Leicester's castle of Monmouth, where the great seal was taken from him on 20 November, and from there to Kenilworth, where he arrived on 5 December. He remained there in Leicester's custody until after his deposition on 20 January 1327. Meanwhile on 15 October at Wallingford, Isabella and Prince Edward had proclaimed that they had come to deliver the king, the church, and the realm from the ruin caused by the tyrannies of Hugh Despenser and others; on 26 October Prince Edward was proclaimed guardian of the realm at Bristol, and retained this title until he gained control of the great seal. The elder Despenser was executed at Bristol on 27 October, the younger Despenser at Hereford on 24 November.
Although Edward II had already been threatened with deposition in 1310 and 1321, there now remained the problem of how to bring this about with some semblance of legality and consent. The parliament summoned by Prince Edward in the king's name on 28 October, met at Westminster on 7 January 1327. Edward II having refused to attend, on 13 January a set of six articles, outlining his defects as king and probably drawn up by a clerk of the bishop of Winchester, was presented to the assembly.
Edward was accused of being personally incapable of governing, of allowing himself to be led and governed by others, who advised him badly, and of refusing to remedy these defects when asked to do so by the great and wise men of the kingdom or allowing anyone else to do so; of devoting himself to unsuitable work and occupations, while neglecting the government of his kingdom; of exhibiting pride, covetousness, and cruelty; of losing, for lack of good government, the kingdom of Scotland, and other lands and lordships in Gascony and Ireland (which had been left to him in peace by his father), and of forfeiting the friendship of the king of France and of many other great men; of destroying the church and imprisoning churchmen, and of putting to death, imprisoning, exiling, and disinheriting the great men of his kingdom; of failing to observe his coronation oath through the influence of his evil counsellors; of abandoning his kingdom and doing all in his power to cause the loss both of it and of his people; and of being incorrigible and without hope of improvement. All of which was said to be so notorious that it could not be denied.
Even allowing for the vagueness of these charges, and for the simplistic nature of some of them, such as his alleged personal responsibility for the failure to hold Scotland (far from peaceful in 1307) and for the war in Ireland (in reality the scene in 1318 of one of the few definite English military successes), Edward II was clearly regarded as an incompetent ruler and as a man who could not command any respect. His government in the last resort could only be ended, not mended.
A second delegation then went to Kenilworth. On 20 January the bishop of Hereford outlined the charges against Edward and demanded that he should resign his throne in favour of his son. Under intense pressure and with great emotion, Edward finally agreed. Sir William Trussell, on behalf of parliament, formally renounced his homage to Edward, and Sir Thomas Blount, steward of the household, broke his staff of office. Prince Edward officially acceded as king on 25 January, and on 1 February 1327 was crowned at Westminster.
Imprisonment and death
The former Edward II remained at Kenilworth until 2 April when he was transferred to the custody of Thomas Berkeley and John Maltravers, following a plot to free him by a Dominican, John Stoke. He was at Llanthony Abbey near Gloucester on 5 April and reached Berkeley Castle on the following day. In July a conspiracy involving another Dominican, Thomas Dunheved, and a number of other men temporarily released Edward from his dungeon in Berkeley, but it is not clear whether he was ever outside the walls of the castle. On 14 September yet another plot to release Edward, this time by a Welshman, Sir Rhys ap Gruffudd, was reported. Shortly afterwards it was announced at the Lincoln parliament that Edward had died at Berkeley on 21 September. Edward's body was removed to Gloucester for public display on 22 October, and on 20 December 1327 he was buried in St Peter's Abbey, Gloucester, in the presence of the young Edward III and Edward's widow, Isabella, to whom Edward's embalmed heart had earlier been sent. In later years Edward III erected a splendid tomb in his father's memory.
Although the official account said that Edward had died of natural causes, it was soon widely believed that he had been murdered. Murder is the most likely cause, perhaps following a conscious decision by Mortimer to rid himself of the embarrassment of a former king, or even in a moment of panic by Edward's gaolers when yet another attempt to free him was reported. However, a natural death, possibly from a pre-existing and painful condition (which might account for the lurid chronicle accounts of his death) or from ill treatment or from the mental shock of his deposition, should not be ruled out. But it was also rumoured that Edward had after all escaped from Berkeley, so much so that in March 1330 Edward's half-brother, Edmund, earl of Kent, was executed for plotting to restore the late king. In September 1330 the pope wrote to the king and to Isabella expressing amazement that anyone could believe ‘that he, for whom solemn funerals had been made, could still be alive’ (CEPR letters, 2.499).
In September 1338 a certain William le Galeys (‘the Welshman’) appeared at Cologne claiming to be Edward II and was escorted to Koblenz where Edward III was then meeting the emperor, Ludwig of Bavaria. This episode may have some connection with the astonishing letter preserved in a fourteenth-century register of the French diocese of Maguelone (now Montpellier) and apparently written to Edward III between 1336 and 1338 or at the latest 1343 by Manuele Fieschi, an Italian cleric with good connections both with the English court and the papal curia who ended his career as bishop of Vercelli in Italy. According to this, Edward had wandered across Europe after his escape, visiting Ireland, England, Normandy, Avignon, Paris, Brabant, Cologne, and Milan, before ending his days as a hermit at Cecima, near Voghera in Lombardy. A tomb of earlier date which is wrongly claimed to be that of Edward II can even be seen in the nearby abbey of Sant'Alberto di Butrio. Although there is no reason to believe that the circumstantial story told in the Fieschi letter is based on fact, the mystery remains of how and why the letter came to be written.
If some believed that Edward lived on after 1327, others wished to present him as a candidate for canonization. Such feelings were probably inspired both by a desire to counter the moves to canonize Edward's former opponent, Thomas of Lancaster, and by the rumours about the hideous mode of Edward's death—his bowels burnt out with a red-hot spit or poker inserted at his anus—which were given literary expression by the unknown author of the Brut chronicle and by Geoffrey Baker. Some of Edward's old allies and sympathizers among the Dominican order may also have played a part. There is no evidence of any systematic attempt to have Edward canonized until Richard II petitioned the pope in 1385; a book of Edward II's miracles was compiled and presented to Pope Boniface IX at Florence early in 1395. The process however lapsed with Richard II's own deposition in 1399, never to be resumed.
Edward was also remembered in prayer by his old ally, Archbishop William Melton of York, by the scholars of Oriel College, his foundation in Oxford (where he is still remembered), and even by his estranged wife and queen, Isabella, who about 1336 established a chantry at Eltham for prayers for the souls of her husband and her son, John of Eltham. When she died in 1358 she was buried in the wedding mantle she had worn in 1308, and with Edward's embalmed heart over her breast.
The personality of the king
With the significant exception of Geoffrey Baker, whose account of the death of Edward II seems to have been designed to give the impression that his sufferings were a sign of sanctity, contemporary and near contemporary chroniclers were universally critical of Edward, when not openly hostile to him. This in spite of the fact that he was clearly no nullity. He took his status as king very seriously, and resisted with remarkable stubbornness any attempt to restrict the powers of the monarchy. He was probably better educated than was once thought, and was capable of expressing himself effectively in public, most notably, perhaps, at Amiens in July 1320, when his refusal to perform fealty in addition to homage for Aquitaine apparently reduced Philippe V of France and his council to stunned silence. Handsome, strong, and athletic, he was an impressive figure who rode well, and appears to have acquitted himself well on the battlefield. There is certainly no reason to suppose him to have been a physical coward. He enjoyed good company, and was generous in his entertaining and in gifts to his friends. There is evidence that he had a shrewd sense of humour. At Easter 1314, when he was shown the body of St Alban which was allegedly in the possession of Ely Cathedral, he remarked that he had seen another body of the same saint at St Albans itself only a week earlier. His religious observance was regular and perhaps deeply felt, so much so that he could be taken in by a plausible story when it came from a religious source: this, perhaps combined with political desperation, may explain why Nicholas Wisbech was able to persuade him between 1317 and 1318 that a reanointing with the holy oil of St Thomas of Canterbury would solve all his problems at a stroke.
However, Edward's positive qualities were more than offset by his defects. That he had no extensive experience of government before becoming king may have been as much the result of Edward I's obsession with Scotland as of any perceived lack of ability on Prince Edward's part, but it was a serious disadvantage. He engaged in activities like swimming, rowing, and digging which were considered inappropriate for a king. There was a streak of cruelty and bad temper in him, which could manifest itself in fierce vindictiveness. And above all he was addicted to the company of favourites, first Gaveston and later the younger Despenser, whose behaviour created profound hostility between Edward and the English nobility, and also, in the case of Despenser, between Edward and his wife. Edward probably played a larger role in the day-to-day business of government than has usually been believed, and could show great determination at moments of crisis, as in 1321–2, but the fact that his activity was inclined to be sporadic and unpredictable gave ample scope for his favourites (and also for others with better intentions, like the earl of Pembroke) to exert influence over him.
Reputation and significance
It has long been appreciated that Edward II succeeded to a number of very serious problems bequeathed to him by his father, especially a heavy burden of debt and administrative confusion largely caused by the war with Scotland, a war which was itself already going badly but which it was politically unthinkable to abandon. And he also inherited a deep-seated distrust among his leading subjects of the monarchy's good faith in accepting and implementing demands for reform. None the less, it has been well said that ‘Edward II sat down to the game of kingship with a remarkably poor hand, and he played it very badly’ (Vita Edwardi secundi, ix). His determination to uphold royal rights and protect his favourites was taken to such an extreme that no acceptable and enduring compromise between himself and his opponents was possible. After Gaveston's execution in 1312 Edward's resolve to destroy the men responsible led ultimately to the civil war of 1321–2, and thence to his own deposition and death in 1327.
Edward's fate was vividly recalled in the reign of Richard II, both by the king, who wished to canonize his great-grandfather, and by his opponents, when they threatened Richard with deposition in 1387. In later centuries an extensive literary and historiographical tradition developed round Edward II. Holinshed's Chronicles of England, Scotland and Ireland (1578) are distinguished both by their use of unpublished source material, and by Holinshed's sympathy for Edward and his understanding of the implications of Edward's overthrow for the future of the kingdom of England. But few writers had Holinshed's breadth of vision, and most concentrated on Edward and his favourites, especially Gaveston, who even played a role in French political controversy, when in 1588 Jean Boucher (drawing on the chronicles of Thomas Walsingham) dedicated his Histoire tragique et memorable de Pierre de Gaverston, gentilhomme Gascon jadis le mignon d'Edouard 2 roy d'Angleterre to another Gascon gentleman and royal intimate, the duke of Épernon, favourite, or mignon, of the French king Henri III (r. 1574–89).
Christopher Marlowe's play Edward II, written about 1592, is unusual in making explicit reference to a sexual relationship between king and favourite, and in the twentieth century gave rise to Derek Jarman's even more explicit 1992 film version of the play, as well as to Bertolt Brecht's adaptation of 1922–3. 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. In the seventeenth century a number of works on Edward II were produced at times of political excitement. A good example is The History of the most Unfortunate Prince King Edward II by Henry Cary, Viscount Falkland, which was written in 1627, at a time when Charles I was being execrated for his dependence on the duke of Buckingham, but published only in 1680, at the time of the exclusion crisis, with another edition following in 1689, immediately after the deposition of James II.
In the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries, by contrast, serious academic study tended to ignore personalities, preferring to concentrate on the constitutional implications of Edward II's reign. Over and above the constant political crises, and the chaos and bitterness of civil war, the reign was seen by scholars such as W. Stubbs, T. F. Tout, and J. C. Davies as centring upon a struggle between king and magnates over issues of constitutional principle, with the king seeking to build up his power, and in the last resort use his household as an inner bastion of government secure from baronial control, while the magnates attempted to reform the royal administration and to manage policy in the interests of some greater ideal of responsible government. Seen in this light Edward's inadequacy as a ruler could be interpreted as a blessing—he was clearly not the man to manage an effective despotism—while the importance of parliament was regarded as having been greatly enhanced during his reign.
This ‘constitutional’ view of Edward's reign held sway until the 1970s, when it was challenged in detailed studies of two of the leading magnates, of Thomas of Lancaster by J. R. Maddicott (1970), and of Aymer de Valence by J. R. S. Phillips (1972). These and subsequent studies have revealed more of the complexity of the events of the reign, and have shown the importance of understanding individual behaviour and motivations. Seen in this light, many of the earlier certainties have largely dissolved. Although it is possible that the complexity of the political and administrative problems involved in governing England was becoming such as to exceed the capacity of any king, other than the most able, to control, it is arguable that the real lesson of the reign lay in the destruction of Gaveston, and in the executions, confiscations, and violent deaths that marked its closing years and continued into the new reign. The chronicler Adam Murimuth noted with bitterness that, from the execution of Lancaster in 1322 to that of Roger Mortimer in 1330, no noble condemned to death had been allowed to speak in his own defence. The structures of English political life so far broke down in the 1320s that no magnate, and in the last resort not even the king himself, was safe. The genie of political violence, once out of the bottle, was to return to haunt the kingdom once again in the reign of Richard II, and with increasing frequency in the century that followed.
J. R. S. Phillips