Edward II

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Edward II (1284-1327), king of England (1307-1327) had all the physical attributes of his father Edward I but few of the mental and emotional requirements for kingship. He was good-looking and athletic, and seemingly intelligent, however his sporting skills did not extend to the knightly arts; and his cultural pursuits were for his own entertainment rather than any endowment to the realm.

Edward I had had a sense of duty and a belief in the necessity of good governance and the importance of the feudal system. His son showed more interest in a series of favourites (and a strange interest in the work of artisans and craftsmen) than the interests of the realm. This (whether homosexually inspired or not) and his complete lack of political nous were to lead to his downfall. The state of the realm at his succession was no help. Huge debts and the unfinished war in Scotland needed proper attention.

The year after his succession, his marriage to Isabella, the daughter of Philip IV of France, brought optimism that peace with France would follow. However Edward gave far more attention to certain favourites than he did to his wife (although she was to bear him four children).

  • Piers Gaveston was a boyhood friend of Edward’s – the son of a Gascon knight at his father’s court, he was exiled by Edward I during an argument with the young Edward. On his succession Edward granted him the Earldom of Cornwall and gave other undeserved favours. His arrogant ways, and unwarranted control of royal patronage not to mention his excellence in the lists - annoyed the nobles who managed to have him exiled in 1309 and 1311. He was finally killed by the king’s opponents in 1312.
  • Hugh Despenser was a fervent supporter of the king who, with his son, became his close companion after the death of Gaveston. He fought at Bannockburn. Father and son were granted much land and privilege, annoying the barons, who forced him into exile in 1321. He was able to return on the death of Thomas of Lancaster, his enemy, the following year, and was created Earl of Winchester. He was captured by men loyal to Queen Isabella and executed in 1326; his son a few days later.

The political turmoil brought on by Gaveston and his death had allowed the situation in Scotland to deteriorate. In 1306 Robert the Bruce, Earl of Carrick (who had earlier supported then turned against William Wallace), had had himself crowned King of the Scots. He and his followers were defeated by the English and he was forced into hiding; but the death of Edward and the subsequent ineptitude of Edward II had allowed him to regain and then consolidate his power. He still had control of only parts of Scotland though. In 1312-4 Robert made use of English disunity to attempt the takeover of more of Scotland. In 1314 he besieged Stirling Castle. A major English force, led by Edward, marching to relieve the castle, was resoundingly defeated at the Battle of Bannockburn.

In 1324 hostilities broke out in France. Edward sent his Queen and his eldest son to Paris to negotiate with the French Isabella took the opportunity to gain support to raise an army to invade England. She also took a lover, Roger Mortimer, one of Edward’s alienated barons. In 1226 she landed in England to receive immediate support from many of the barons, and the city of London. Edward was captured in Wales, and formally deposed by Parliament in January 1327. He died, almost certainly murdered, in Berkeley Castle in September 1327.

Isabelle and Mortimer took the reins of power, ostensibly in the name of the fourteen year-old Edward III.


References

  • The Oxford Companion to English History
  • The Plantaganet Encyclopedia
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