The Tempestuous, Folly-Filled Reign of Edward II

King_Edward_II_of_EnglandNo one could accuse the reign of Edward II of being dull. Coming to the throne in 1307, one of his earliest actions was to declare the Knights Templar as heretics and sodomites ( and of possessing a talking brass head ).

He’d already been a fairly controversial Prince of Wales. His father, had ripped out a handful of Edward’s hair after the young prince had tried to persuade the Plantagenet king that Edward’s favourite, Piers Gaveston, should be created the Count of Ponthieu. Instead, Edward’s father (Edward I) banished the knight, enraged at “…the undue intimacy which the young Lord Edward had adopted towards him.”

Despite declaring the Knights Templar as sexual deviants, there has always been a suspicion that Edward II was a homosexual himself, perhaps explaining the addition of ‘Soddomy’ to what was otherwise a fairly standard set of misbehaviour accusations.

What can be said is that Edward had a politically and socially unhealthy fascination with Piers Gaveston. His first act upon becoming King was to recall Gaveston from banishment, and upon marrying Princess Isabella of France he immediately gave the most pleasing (and valuable) jewells to Gaveston as gifts.

In fact, one of the biggest indictments of Edward is that whether he was straight or gay, he was an idiot. After offending the twelve year old Princess of France (and her father, Philip IV) he engaged in openly mocking his most powerful barons, calling the Earl of Warwick the ‘Black Hound of Arden’ and ignoring affairs of state to shower gifts and clothes on Gaveston, who he’d created as the Earl of Cornwall (even at the time, their love was rumoured to be more than friendship, although I do think that if Edward had been a better governor, fewer of his subjects would have cared.)

After a series of humiliations that included Edward abandoning her at Tynemouth Abbey (or so wrote a Monk of St. Albans, John de Trokelow), Isabella began to turn against her neglectful husband.

She wasn’t alone: the reason that Edward had abandoned her in 1312 was because he was being chased by an army of dissatisfied Barons, who captured and executed Gaveston (this didn’t teach Edward, he just took a new favourite in Hugh Despencer).

By 1321, Isabella had joined forces with her lover, Roger Mortimer (whose direct descendant is the modern explorer Sir Ranulf Fiennes) to lead a rebellion against Edward and the hated Despensers, which resulted in his imprisoning at Berkeley Castle, where, on the 11th of Octorber he was quietly put to death.

The manner of his death is somewhat disputed: local lore in Berkeley is that he was killed with a red-hot poker shoved up his backside, and that the people of Berkeley could hear his screams for miles around, although contemporary chroniclers said that he died of either suffocation or strangulation.

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