Edward II

views updated May 18 2018

Edward II (1284–1327), king of England (1307–27). Tall and good-looking, Edward II had the right physical attributes for kingship, but few other qualifications. Contemporaries ridiculed the pleasure he took in rowing and working with craftsmen; although he was a good horseman he lacked knightly military skills. His predilection for favourites, whether or not based on homosexual attraction, was politically disastrous.

It was not easy to succeed Edward I. Not only was his reputation almost impossible to live up to, but he left a legacy of debt and unfinished war. The political honeymoon at the start of the reign was brief; there were signs of trouble at the time of Edward's marriage to Isabella of France in January 1308, and at his coronation a new clause was added to the coronation oath which threatened to limit his authority. The main issue in his first years was the role of Edward's favourite Piers Gaveston. The scenes in the dispute were acted out against a backcloth of increasing difficulty in Scotland, and acute financial problems. Gaveston was exiled in 1308, to return in 1309. He was exiled once more by the Ordainers in 1311. When he returned, the king was unable to protect him from a baronial opposition increasingly dominated by Thomas of Lancaster. Gaveston was savagely executed in 1312. There was a real danger of civil war, but neither the king nor his opponents were in a sufficiently strong position to risk fighting. The next twist in the saga came when the government was discredited by the defeat by the Scots at Bannockburn in 1314. That placed the earl of Lancaster in a dominant position, but he proved no more capable of effective rule than the king. His policy was to try to adhere strictly to the Ordinances of 1311; his inclination was to take as little part in public affairs as he could, while pursuing private profit by questionable means. Lancaster was formally made head of the council in 1316, but soon withdrew from active government, probably in protest at the methods being employed to raise troops for an increasingly hopeless Scottish war.

The earl of Gloucester had been a notable casualty at Bannockburn. He left three sisters, and the competition between their husbands for the lion's share of the inheritance was of major political significance from 1316. Above all, the ambitions of one of them, Hugh Despenser the Younger, husband of Eleanor, provided a new and divisive element. A political settlement of sorts was reached in the treaty of Leake of 1318, which imposed a council on the king, but by 1321 civil war had broken out in the Welsh marches as a result of the blatantly aggressive methods adopted by Despenser to gain yet more lands from his brothers-in-law Hugh Audley and Roger Damory. An alliance was struck between the marcher lords and the earl of Lancaster. Even Bartholomew Badlesmere, hitherto a staunch royalist, joined the coalition. The Despensers, father and son, were forced into a brief exile, but in the autumn of 1321 an astonishingly successful revival of royal and Despenser power took place. Badlesmere's castle of Leeds in Kent was taken, for Lancaster refused to allow assistance to a man he distrusted. A brief campaign shattered the power of the Welsh marcher lords, and Lancaster marched north from Pontefract, only to be defeated at Boroughbridge. By the time the battle was fought, most of Lancaster's retainers had abandoned him. The earl of Hereford (Bohun) was killed attempting to force a crossing of the bridge; Lancaster surrendered, to be executed at Pontefract. An unprecedented bloodbath of his supporters followed.

The royalist triumph at Boroughbridge marked the start of one of the most unpleasant and ultimately ineffectual regimes ever to rule in England. The king, the Despensers, the earl of Arundel, and Robert Baldock, an ambitious cleric, formed a narrowly based clique which controlled the country by means of semi-judicial terror and financial threats. The need for money was a motive force behind a highly successful programme of Exchequer reform, for which the treasurer, Walter Stapledon, was largely responsible. The war with Scotland went badly. An ineffective English march as far as Edinburgh in 1322 was followed by a Scottish raid into England, in which the king himself was nearly captured. Andrew Harclay, royalist hero of Boroughbridge, and newly created earl of Carlisle, was executed for treasonable dealings with the Scots in 1323. Conflict with France over Gascony in the War of Saint-Sardos of 1324–5 further discredited the English. The queen, Isabella, was alienated from Edward by the favour given to the Despensers, and by the way in which she was treated during the French war. She was sent to France to assist in negotiating peace, but went into exile in Paris, where a small but influential group of Englishmen gathered, and where she took as lover Roger Mortimer, one of the rebels of 1321, who had succeeded in escaping from the Tower.

In the autumn of 1326, Isabella invaded with a small force. She had the backing not of the French monarchy, but of the count of Hainault. The Despenser regime collapsed like a house of cards. London was in uproar, giving full support to the queen. Bishop Stapledon was caught by the mob, and beheaded with a butcher's knife. Edward and his associates fled to Wales, where they were captured. The Despensers and the earl of Arundel were executed with barbaric ritual. Edward's removal from the throne was effected in Parliament in January 1327 by means of a mixture of deposition and abdication. He was murdered in Berkeley castle; a surprisingly circumstantial account that he escaped, to end his days as a hermit in Italy, is unlikely to have been true.

Michael Prestwich


Fryde, N. , The Tyranny and Fall of Edward II, 1321–1326 (Cambridge, 1979);
Maddicott, J. R. , Thomas of Lancaster (Oxford, 1970);
Tout, T. F. , The Place of Edward II in English History (Manchester, 1936).

Edward II

views updated May 11 2018

Edward II

Edward II (1284-1327) was king of England from 1307 to 1327. His reign witnessed the decline of royal power and the rise of baronial opposition.

Edward II was born on April 25, 1284, the fourth son of Edward I and Eleanor of Castile. He acted as regent during his father's absence in Flanders in 1297-1298, signing the Confirmatio Cartarum. He was created Prince of Wales and Earl of Chester in 1301.

One of his first acts upon succeeding to the crown on July 8, 1307, was to recall his favorite, Piers Gaveston, who had been banished by Edward I, and to make him Earl of Cornwall on August 6. He also appointed Gaveston regent of Ireland and custos of the realm. In January 1308 Edward married Isabella, the daughter of Philip IV of France. These two acts aroused such baronial opposition that 21 "lords ordainers" were appointed to administer the country.

Under the pretense of attacking the Scottish rebels, Edward marched north in 1310. His real aim, however, was to avoid the ordainers and Thomas of Lancaster, the leader of the barons. Civil war broke out. The strife ended with the murder of Gaveston by the Earl of Warwick on June 19, 1312. The following year an amnesty was granted.

Hoping to win popular support, Edward resumed the war against the Scots. His sound defeat by Robert Bruce at Bannockburn in 1314 caused him to lose what little remaining influence he had. Edward's high-handed treatment of the Mortimers and other nobles alienated many of the nobility.

Edward offended his wife by his fondness for the younger Hugh le Despenser. After sending Isabella to France to negotiate a dispute between himself and her brother, he had to deal with her attempt to dethrone him when she returned in 1326 with troops and the support of Roger Mortimer. Unable to count on the support of his barons, whom he had offended by his unwillingness to consult with them, Edward fled to the west and was captured on Nov. 16, 1326, at Neath in Glamorgan. On June 20, 1327, he was forced to resign the throne. Imprisoned in Berkeley Castle, Edward was poorly treated. He was murdered on Sept. 21, 1327, and then buried at Gloucester Abbey.

Further Reading

Edward II's early life is the subject of Hilda Johnson, Edward of Carnarvon (1946). Harold F. Hutchison, Edward II (1972), emphasizes the King's political life. The basic study of his reign is T. F. Tout, The Place of the Reign of Edward II in English History (1913; 2d rev. ed. 1936). The constitutional history of his reign is treated in J. Conway Davies, The Baronial Opposition to Edward II (1918), and the relations with Scotland in W. Mackay Mackenzie's works, including The Battle of Bannockburn (1913). A basic general work on the period is May McKisack, The Fourteenth Century, 1307-1399 (1959).

Additional Sources

Fryde, Natalie, The tyranny and fall of Edward II, 1321-1326, Cambridge Eng.; New York: Cambridge University Press, 1979. □

Edward II

views updated May 09 2018

Edward II (1284–1327) King of England (1307–27), son and successor of Edward I. His reliance on his friend and adviser Piers Gaveston alienated his barons. The barons drafted the Ordinances of 1311, which restricted royal power and banished Gaveston. In 1312 they killed Gaveston. Renewing his father's campaign against the Scots, Edward was routed at Bannockburn (1314). In 1321, Thomas, Earl of Lancaster, led an unsuccessful revolt against the king and his new favourite, Hugh le Despenser. In 1325, Edward's estranged queen, Isabella, went as envoy to France. In 1326, she formed an army with her lover, Roger Mortimer, which invaded England and forced Edward to abdicate in favour of his son, Edward III. Edward II was murdered in Berkeley Castle, Gloucestershire, England.

Edward II

views updated May 17 2018

Edward II ★★½ 1992 (R)

Jarman's controversial adaptation of Christopher Marlowe's play “The Troublesome Reign of Edward II” portrays the weak-willed monarch as neglecting his kingdom for love. Unfortunately, it's not for his queen but for his commoner male lover. His neglect of both queen and country lead to a swift and brutal downfall. Jarman's use of contemporary anachronisms, stream of conscienceness approach, and heavy symbolism may leave more than one viewer wondering what's going on. 91m/C VHS, DVD . GB Steven Waddington, Kevin Collins, Andrew Tiernan, John Lynch, Dudley Sutton, Tilda Swinton, Jerome Flynn, Jody Graber, Nigel Terry, Annie Lennox; D: Derek Jarman; W: Derek Jarman; M: Simon Fisher Turner. Venice Film Fest. '92: Actress (Swinton).

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