Why was Edward II Such A Hated King?
Edward II was an English king who lived between the 13 th and 14 th centuries AD. A stark contrast to his highly capable father Edward I, Edward II was a weak ruler. Although he continued his father’s war against Scotland, the campaign ultimately ended in failure and the Scots were able to form an independent kingdom. Moreover, Edward II had troubles with his own barons in England and was finally deposed by his own wife, Isabella of France, in favor of their son Edward III.
When Was Edward II Born?
Edward II was born on the 25 th of April 1284 and was the fourth son of Edward I and Eleanor of Castile. Edward’s three older brothers died in their childhood, thus making him the eldest surviving son and heir to the throne of England. As a young man Edward is recorded to have been tall, strong, and good-looking. Additionally, the future King of England is said to have enjoyed music and acting. In 1301 Edward II was made the Prince of Wales, the first Englishman to hold this title. This is regarded to be the beginning of the tradition of conferring the title ‘Prince of Wales’ on the heir apparent of the English throne.
Detail from the roll of the genealogical line from Henry III to Edward II, with an extension to Edward III. (bl.uk / Public Domain)
Edward II Inherits the Crown and the War Against the Scots
In 1307, Edward I died while on his way to fight the Scots under Robert the Bruce and was succeeded by Edward II. The new king decided to continue his father’s campaign against the Scots. In the next few years, Robert the Bruce waged guerrilla warfare against the English and succeeded in re-capturing most of the castles in Scotland. Finally, in 1314, the forces of Edward and Robert met in a pitched battle. At the Battle of Bannockburn, the Scots decisively defeated the much larger English army. The beaten English made a humiliating retreat with the Scots in hot pursuit. Edward himself fled to Dunbar where he caught a boat back to England.
Edward II shown receiving the English crown in a contemporary illustration. (British Library / Public Domain)
Trouble in the Kingdom
Edward’s problems, however, were not over yet. Back in England, the king was to face a rebellion by disgruntled barons. Prior to the Battle of Bannockburn, the Ordinances of 1311 had been imposed on Edward. These were a series of regulations that were aimed to restrict the power of the king. The signatories (21 of them) of the Ordinances were known as the Lord Ordainers and included both supporters and opponents of the king. In 1315 one of the Lord Ordainers, Thomas of Lancaster (who was a cousin of the king), led a group of barons against the king. Although Lancaster now held real power in England, he was also an incompetent ruler and was not able to bring about any improvements in the kingdom.
Edward Executes the Rebel
Edward and Lancaster were partly reconciled thanks to the efforts of a party of moderate barons headed by Aymer de Valence, the Earl of Pembroke, by 1318. Nevertheless, it was also around this time that Edward picked up two new favorites, Hugh le Despenser and his son, also named Hugh, who replaced a former favorite the infamous Piers Gaveston. When Edward showed support for the ambition of the Despensers on Wales, Lancaster and his supporters had the both of them banished. The king retaliated by declaring war on Lancaster who was defeated and captured at Boroughbridge, Yorkshire in 1322. Lancaster was soon executed.
The painting Edward II and his favorite, Piers Gaveston by Marcus Stone. (Kunst für Alle / Public Domain)
Edward Takes His Power Back
With the barons defeated, Edward was able to revoke the Ordinances and had the Despensers brought back into his service. The king’s reliance on the Despensers, however, made an enemy out of his own wife, Isabella of France (known also as the She-Wolf of France). In 1325, while on a diplomatic mission in Paris, Isabella became the mistress of Roger Mortimer an exiled Marcher Lord. The two began to plot against Edward and in 1326 invaded England with a small army. Many of the English nobles joined the invading army as they had had enough of Edward and the Despensers.
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Isabella of France, third from left, with her father, Philip IV of France, center. (Michaelsanders / Public Domain)
Edward is Forced to Relinquish the Throne
The Despensers were captured and suffered horrible deaths. The elder Despenser was executed, his body hacked to pieces and fed to the dogs, while his son was dragged from his horse and had Bible verses against arrogance and corruption scribbled on his skin by the people. He was then hung, drawn, and quartered. As for Edward, he fled from London but was captured and was forced to abdicate in favor of his son. He was first held prisoner in Kenilworth Castle and then moved to Berkeley Castle in Gloucestershire in 1327. According to tradition, he was executed by having a hot poker inserted into his entrails via his anus, so as to avoid leaving any outward marks on his body. This popular account of Edward’s death, however, has been disputed as it is not corroborated by contemporary sources. Moreover, contemporary chroniclers do not record with certainty the manner of Edward’s death hence leaving it a mystery in the history of the English monarchy.
The effigy of Edward II, in Gloucester Cathedral. (Philip Halling / CC BY-SA 2.0)
Top image: Edward II feasting at Cirencester, Gloucestershire. Source: artuk.org / Public Domain.
By Wu Mingren
The BBC, 2014. Edward II (1284 - 1327). [Online] Available at: http://www.bbc.co.uk/history/historic_figures/edward_ii_king.shtml
The Editors of Encyclopaedia Britannica, 2018. Edward II. [Online] Available at: https://www.britannica.com/biography/Edward-II-king-of-England
Warner, K., 2018. In profile: King Edward II. [Online] Available at: https://www.historyextra.com/period/medieval/kings-and-queens-in-profile-edward-ii/
Warner, K., 2018. The Mystery of Edward II’s Death. [Online] Available at: https://www.thehistoryvault.co.uk/the-mystery-of-edward-iis-death/
www.englishmonarchs.co.uk, 2018. Edward II. [Online] Available at: http://www.englishmonarchs.co.uk/plantagenet_6.htm