Edward is not recorded as being a very good king and thus gives much opportunity for folk to right about his reign.
Had Life and Fate been kinder to him, Edward who became Edward II would have been a merely eccentric minor scion of the Plantagenets noted for his propensity to keep hunting dogs and indulge in rural management and maintenance, however as his three elder brothers died in infancy he was stuck with the job of being King of England.
The Early Years
Born on the 25th April 1284, starting off as being sickly he grew into a handsome, tallish lad. Initially the nobility were not worried; he liked to ride, hunt and care for hunting dogs, these were harmless pursuits, for those not at the business end of the hunt. The nobility and his father Edward (for purposes of clarification The I) did, however, worry when he started take part in the creation and maintenance of hedges and ditches, particularly as he liked to discuss the subject with The Very Common People. Even though he was left as regent in 1296-97 while his father fought in Aquitaine, Anjou, Maine, etc, he could still be found slipping out of meetings carrying his favourite shovel
The Court and The King (Edward the Elder), in the hopes of curing him of these unnatural tendencies had him accompany his father (Edward the I, that is) in 1300 to invade Scotland. The records are not clear if he indulged in any massacring or simply lectured the Scots on the benefits of strong hedge systems and efficient drainage; though it was recorded that he besieged (probably by digging a large ditch around it) and captured the singularly named Strawberry Castle in 1301. The same year he was officially made Prince of Wales and allowed to have the welsh give money to him. By now all the indigenous welsh princes had betrayed or killed each other into legend and their survivors were reinventing themselves as Descendants. Because Edward (to be the II) liked welsh music the population accepted him.
In 1305 Edward (still a prince) and Bishop Long Tom who was also in charge of royal finances argued over how much money he (The Kid) could have; Edward (The King one) sided with the bishop and sort of banished Edward (The ‘Kids! What can you do with them?’), but not so that it mattered. What had truly annoyed Edward (The Old Man) was his son’s relationship with an overly inquisitive young fellow, one Peering Gaveston who Edward (the boy) gifted with airs and graces which Gaveston flaunted. So angry did Edward (king and knew it) get that he pulled the hair from his son’s nose, varnished Gaveston and in 1306 invaded Scotland with an army and his son.
And later died.
Edward (Prince of Wales; II of England, Duke of Aquitaine, and other bits)’s Proclivities
Much has been and will continue to be written about this aspect of Edward (let’s call him the II at this stage)’s private life. Some lament upon the persecution he suffered, others say he was a useless king because of it, and some make a goodly income writing questionable fiction. In actual fact everyone is quite off the mark and missing the fundamental dynamics of the Middle Ages way of doing things.
When not persecuting heretics, other religions or failing to read the Bible properly, The Church disapproved of most things; particularly anything the nobility were doing. The nobility didn’t see it that way. The nobility couldn’t have cared less if their king borrowed his wife’s dress, hired two local young men and played at ‘The Innocent Maid and the Two Cruel, Lustful Robbers’ every Saturday night as long he obeyed the following rules:
1.To ensure there was at least one male heir to the throne and more if possible so there could be a decent power struggle, which all The Barons would benefit from.
2.To listen to and take the advice of The Barons, or at least most of them
3.Not to tax The Barons as a group.
4.To annoy The Church to the benefit of The Barons.
5.Not to execute a baron unless all the other barons said he had it coming.
6.If a war with France was necessary the King had to pay for it himself but if he won he should to pass out lands to The Barons.
7.If The King insisted on fighting The Scots he would have to pay for it, though Northern Barons could take part if they wanted to. But the King must make sure he always won.
- The King could have and was encouraged to have Supporters and Factions but not Favourites (See Vol I King John)
As it will be seen Edward (II and no options) was not very good at keeping many of these rules.
As regards the question of ‘Unnatural Proclivities’ it should also be noted this was a favoured means of accusing and hopefully disposing of your rival if you couldn’t afford a big enough army to defeat him and was a common feature of politics of the era.
In conclusion it should be noted, as regards proclivities, that Edward (the Not-The I) sired an illegitimate son, Adam, to whom he gave £13 and some spare change and told him to fight the Scots. Adam died in 1322 somewhere in Scotland, whether it was of Scots, not washing his hands or falling down an improperly constructed ditch it is not known, Edward (father of Adam) to his credit had him buried.
Kingship The Early Years and Constitutional Crisis
Edward officially became The II on the 25th February 1308. From early on tensions with The Barons were high, but happily for the Isles these were formalised into a game known as ‘Where’s Peers?’. The rules were quite simple; Edward (now King) would elevate Peers Gaveston, The Barons would object and find a way to have him banished; Edward (II and why not?) would then find a way to bring Gaveston back and the whole thing would start again. Gaveston’s role was to flaunt and be rude to The Barons and Bishops. Eventually and unusually The Barons and The Bishops agreed on something and organised themselves and set up a very solid group known as The Ordinary Council who then formularised the rules (see above) but changing Rule 4 to ‘No Gaveston’. This document was known as The Encumbrance and to increase its stature a year was added to it, in this case 1311.
Initially Edward challenged it on the basis that as a king he could use Roman Civil Law which was very classical and thus proper. It was so complex it had to be laid on twelve tables and Edward was fond of picking the bits which suited him. The Council, with the aid of some judges pointed out everything being argued over was taking place in England, which was not classical and so English Common Law applied; being based on what everyone had done before, in England that is.
Edward and Gaveston in breach of Rule 7 went to Scotland where Robert or Bruce refused to help out and didn’t fight, thus Gaveston was obliged in 1312 to flee overseas. This time he did not wait for Edward to think of a reason why he could return and came back by himself. This allowed several barons led by Thomas of Lancaster to capture him. He was then killed by two Welshmen, they being nostalgic for the good old days in Wales when no one took treachery and killing of nobles personally.
Edward was understandably furious. Because Lancaster had gone about saying it was for the good of the realm a few barons were worried in case he might do the same to them ‘for the good of the realm’, thus they sort of shuffled over to the Edward’s side. All might have led to civil war but for France and Scotland.
Edward (II still), The French and The Scots (in that order)
France (and other bits)
Civil war was avoided when it was discovered that because everyone had been fussing about Aquitaine, Anjou, Normandy, Maine, etc no one was ruling Gascony. Edward at once travelled to France to meet with Philip (IV, King of France, Father-in-Law etc). The problem was solved in June 1213 by the kings sharing a sailing trip up and down the River Sane, agreeing to which bits of Gascony each would rule and promising to reverently massacre non-Christians in The Holy Land, sometime in the future. Philip who quite understood about nobles said he would help Edward (son-in-law) massacre his if it would help. With spirits and consequently taxes raised, 1313 ended quite well for Edward.
The Scottish Question
In 1314 Robert, An Important Bruce began to cause trouble, again. In 1306 he had colourfully slain John Comyn (The Red & The III by the way) in a church; normally this would have been serious. Robert, however, said that John had changed sides and was ready to hand over Wallace (ie The Loyal) to The English, if he’d got the chance; thus John (The Red and now The Dead) had been bought by English gold and should be parcelled up as a rogue. By this argument Robert was able to prove the act to be one of politics and not murder so he was only slightly excommunicated and allowed to be king. This break gave him the opportunity to teach the Scots that actually they had not been invading England for the past a thousand years, but simply fighting off anyone who was on the border who might invade them first, including those devious Britons of Strathclyde who had been speaking welsh in quite the wrong place. Thus he was able to initiate a war of independence and started capturing castles in Scotland. At once (by Medieval terms) Edward (II of course) marched northwards.
The armies met either at Bannock Burn or Bannockburn; the English not sure whether they were fighting Robert, Bruce or Loyal Wallace or all three advanced backwards towards fearsome ranks of Scottish spearmen who were so cleverly organised that the English knights thought them to be hedgehogs. The Scots took advantage of this unsatisfactory state of affairs .and charged, firstly defeating, then slaughtering and finally scattering the English. Edward nobly wished to make a heroic stand but was bundled off by those of his barons who were still nervous of Lancaster. This left Robert to say he thought he was The I of Scotland and entitled to bother the Pope on the matter. Robert then attempted to free the Irish by invading them and saying he should be their king. As was the custom of those times some Irish agreed, some did not.
Grim Times for Edward (II and so forth)
All the barons felt the defeat at Burnt Banknock was Edward’s fault, and Lancaster said Edward should listen to him and drew up a treaty to prove it; Edward said it had Leakes in it, but being in a weak position because of famines which he was unfairly blamed for signed it in 1318, not realising in the small print was a clause which said Lancaster had not been involved in the murder of Gaveston. To compound his problems a one-eared man Powdered John, inspired by his cat (and probably Dick Whittington) appeared claiming he was actually Edward, and as a child had had his ear bitten off, making it impossible for him to wear a crown properly and that Edward (The Apparently II) was peasant which explained his fascination with ditches and hedges. Although John and (quite unfairly) his cat were hung this did not stop folk from saying Edward whether he was a II or not was turning out to be a bad king.
It was during these turbulent times that Edward fell under the influence of a family of apothecaries; The Dispensers. These were a devious father and son team who to confuse their foes were both named Hugh. Hugh The Elder took to persecuting nobles and stealing their lands while Hugh The Younger became Edward’s favourite (and so breaking Rule 8). Naturally in 1321 a war broke out, which in typical grasping fashion the father and son titled The Dispensers’ War. Although the barons forced the Dispensers to flee, Edward manage to capture Lancaster, but in an act of clemency only had his head chopped off. The Dispensers came back and with Edward exacted fearful retribution by saying all who had rebelled would know be known as The Contrary and made to wear corsets because Edward ruled they had big bellies, some chose to be executed to avoid the humiliation.
Feeling secure Edward in 1322 tried to invade Scotland but couldn’t find Robert anywhere. He was obliged to go home, only to find that in 1324 his brother-in-law Charles had become king of France and had claimed he could rule all of Gascony, and invaded Aquitaine to prove it; he left Anjou, Maine etc out of it to concentrate his forces. Although Edward gathered a smallish army together he was only able to arrange embassies and truces and eventually had to rely on his wife Isabella to sort it out. Thus, humiliated he returned to England to brood.
In a fit of petulance Edward blamed his wife Isabella, because she was French and while she was trying to sort out the mess he gave all her property to Hugh The Younger and said Hugh could be as rude to her as he liked. In addition, Edward said Hugh’s wife could look after his children. During this interlude Isabella met Roger Mortimer and found they had two things in common, get rid of both Edward and Hugh The Younger. Firstly, to make the business look genuine they indulged in a romantic affair, then gathered an army together and in 1326 sailed for England. Edward promptly made an impassioned speech to all English to gather about him. As folk were still getting used to being English and didn’t much understand each other’s accent, only 55 men turned up and they probably had been expecting to dig ditches and set up hedges. Edward had expected the Dispensers to protect him, but as they were only good at grasping failed dismally. Hugh the Younger being captured and horribly executed (or entertainingly if you didn’t like him), while his father in view of his advanced age was simply hung.
Edward was also captured but since this was not in a battle where anything could happen he could not be killed, as yet. Eventually everyone had to go and ask a Bishop what to do, naturally being of The Church he said that Edward (II,stillish) had been guilty of ‘unnatural appetites’ and so not a strong king. In consequence, he should stay out of the way in a large house. In the meantime, while his son Edward (The III-in-waiting) was growing up Isabella and Roger Mortimer could sort of take executive decisions. During this period, several nobles used to visit Edward and say what a good, noble and generous thing it would be if he was to stop saying he was king. While Edward was pondering over this several traditionalists who disliked the idea of a woman being involved in government tried to rescue him. It was therefore decided there could be no more Edward II or otherwise.
The Fate of Edward (II)
The salacious and thus preferred version was that in 1237 he was murdered in a horrifying way, which is best not discussed here. This seems most unlikely as horribly killing a king was, as stated earlier, only permissible on a battlefield. This author after many minutes of research favours the idea that not knowing what to do with him Isabella and Mortimer allowed him to traditionally flee the country on the understanding he would pretend he was someone else, while they buried some hapless peasant in his place, claiming Edward had died of remorse because he had finally realised he had been a useless king.
It is therefore nearly, almost certain Edward either hid as a hermit in the Holy Roman Empire which was very big and thus accommodating, or feeling nostalgic for earlier times said he was Welsh and lived in Antwerp which was a very busy city and also easy to hide in. Either solution allowed him to live out his days in a romantic fashion with the option for being decently and enigmatically memorable.
Not suited for kingship but a source of endless literature factual, fictional or dreadful. However, as he was not that good as being a king, he enabled the growth of Parliament and for Robert (or Bruce) to be so incredibly famous that he is even liked in England.
The next chapter will consider the role and station of women during this era. What was expected of them; what they actually did and what men thought about it all