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English History/King Edward II, the tragic King

English History/King Edward II, the tragic King

zaterdag 11 april 2015 03:05
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Dear Readers
This time my travel to the past goes to some hundred yearsbefore the Wars of the Roses, to the reign of King Edward II [1]
Recently I posted some articles   from Kathryn Warner”s interestingweblog ”EdwardthesecondBlogspot”  about the reign of KingEdward II , a very tragic king. [2]Why?Because of his clear preference to his own sex, which wasa great taboo in the time wherein he lived and died, the Middle Ages.This was one of the main causes for civil war in England  and his final downfalland death [3]

Enter the world of this complicated and fascinating king, a fascinating time, with fascinating characters.
We see his favourite Piers Gaveston, for whom he felt a greatfriendship  and most likely a tragic love. [4]

His neglected and disloyal wife Queen Isabella, althoughshe was not disloyal from day one. [5]

Thomas, 2nd Earl of Lancaster, first loyal to the King,later rose two times in rebellion against Edward II, first byhunting down the King and Piers Gaveston, which ledto Gaveston’s tragic death and secondly in the DespenserWar, which led to Thomas’ own tragic death. [6]
Henry, 3rd Earl of Lancaster  and ancestorof the House of Lancaster,  was the brother of Thomas,2nd Earl of Lancaster. [7]At first he was loyal to the King, not participatingto his brother’s rebellions against  Edward, but then sidedwith Queen Isabella and her very likely] lover Roger Mortimer,1st Earl of March, one of the ancestors of Richard,Duke of York [8].Henry of Lancaster sided with the Queen and Mortimer very likely out of revenge for the Despensers and alsothe King, who were responsible for the executionof his brother Thomas. [9]
After Piers Gaveston’s death the new favourites of Edward II, were the Despensers, who caused muchfury among the other nobles because Edward’s favouritismtowards them, which lead to civil war, promoted byespecially Thomas of Lancaster and Roger Mortimer, who later became Queen Isabella’s lover andpartner in crime. [10]By the way:Difference between Piers Gaveston and the Despensers.Piers Gaveston didn’t seek political power, but onlywealth and prestige, while Hugh le Despenser [as hisfather] went for political power. [11]Back to the events:The King and the Despensers won the war, causing theexecution of Thomas of Lancaster and then establishedthemselves firmly as the new regime, characterized by greed[of the Despensers], ruthlessness and corruption. [12]A bitter enmity broke out  between Queen Isabella and especially Despenser the Younger] and ultimately an invasion from France ofQueen Isabella and her lover Mortimer deposed the King and made anend to the Despenser power, leading to the executions of bothfather and son. [13]After an undoubtedly unfair trial with charges of treason,Despenser the Younger was executed horribly, the socalled traitor’s death. [14]King Edward II was imprisoned and died in 1327, most likelymurdered. [15]In each case it is striking, that Sir Thomas Gurney, Maltravers andWilliam Ockley, who were suspected of involvement inthe death of Edward II,  fled later. [16]How Edward II was treated during his imprisonment, is notcertain: the record show luxury goods brought on his behalf,but that doesn’t proof he actually got them. [17]Some chroniclers suggest, that he was often mistreated. [18]There is a document ”The Lament of Edward II”, which was oncethought to have been written by Edward himself during his imprisonment, butmodern scholarship has cast doubt on this. [19]It is doubted also, whether he really was mistreated. [20]

Edward III, the utter loyal son of the King putan end to the Isabella and Mortimer regime 
and finally had  his vengence on Mortimer in 1330.Mortimer was executed for deposing and murderinghis father, Edward II [21]Yet in a way, Edward III was merciful.Mortimer didn’t have to face the horrible traitor’s death whichhe had imposed on his Despenser enemy, but was ”only” hangedat Tyburn. [22] Isabella was forgiven and remained extremely wealthy. [23]After all, she was the King’s mother.
Edward III was the King who started the Hundred Years War with France,claiming his right to the French throne from maternal side,since his mother Isabella was the daughter of the late King Philips IV, Le Bel. [24]Background:Philip IV’s heirs, his sons, were all dead and because of the infedilityof their wives, the paternity of their offspring was unsure.The later King Philips VI, who claimed the throne afterthe death of Charles IV, [the last son of Philip IV.was only the nephew of Philip IV, son of his brother. [25]Edward III however, was the grandson of Philip IV, sonof his daughter Isabella.
Complicating factor however was when Edward III claimedthe throne, the Salic Law was introduced in France. [26]
For a Medieval King it was impossible to rule without his nobility.Problem was that there was always a battle about who controlledthe country.A ”strong” King or his lords.
So it was of the greatest importance to be authorative and yet keeping a good relationship with the Earls.Edward II however, was neither authorative, nor couldhe go along with his Lords.His favouritism, first of his loved friend Piers Gaveston andlater of the Despensers alienated loyal lords from him, which eventuallylead to civil war and his own downfall. [27]The very proof of his lack of authority was the hunting down of him andhis favourite Piers Gaveston through England by his powerful cousin andenemy Thomas of Lancaster, not to settle scores withthe King, but with Gaveston. [28]However, this would not have happened with a Kingwith authority.
Anyway, it was clear, that Edward II had many headaches over his Earls,and many lost their lives during his reign.  [29]

Those were some important players in the drama I call the Edward II tragedy.But some questions still rise, from which I will not mention allof them, but some, which are interesting to me and perhapsa source for further historical researchThere are also funny questions, as you will see.

According to Dr Helen Castor in her documentary ”She Wolves, England’sEarly Queens, Isabella and Margaret”, to be listened on Youtube, the marriage was a disasterfrom the beginning and that however Isabella did her best to performthe duties of a Medieval Queen and consort, it was rebuked by herhusband’s choice of favourites. [30]Kathryn Warner, writer of the book ”Edward II, the UnconventionalKing” however suggests in her Blogsport article ”Isabella of Franceand her relationship with Edward II” , that the marriage was loving,  even when Edward II was already in prison, since she continued to send him gifts and letters. (31)However I ask myself whether those tokens of affection wereserious or, as the luxury goods, sent to the prison on Edward´s behalf . a show for the world, because I can’t imaginea wife deposing her husband of his power and sending himto prison and simultaneously having an affection for him.Therefore I doubt Kathryn Warner´´s allegations of the stillongoing affection of Isabella for her husband, not onlybecause you don´t imprison somedone you are attached to.But also because of Edward´s yearlongneglection [which I call it when a man so obviously choosesfor favourites, not only politically, but also emotionally].And despite that, Isabella´s affection would remain?Hard to believe.And don’t forget it was a purely arranged, political marriage.But historians can always speculate about this.

I have always wondered, what were the deeper causesbehind  the bitterness Margaret of Anjou, wife to piousand gentle King Henry VI and one of the majorplayers in the Wars of the Roses, towards Richard, Dukeof York , since merely a dynastic quarrel doesn’t explain everything to me. [32]This enmity is much mentioned by historians and historical novelwriters, whether they were sympathetic to Margaret or not, but withouta thtourough explanation of the source of the bitterness, which stemmed,according to me, mainly from Margaret.However, historians did a better job for Queen Isabella:Historian Alison Weir, writer of ” Isabella, She Wolf of France,Queen of England”, tried to explain the intense dislike ofQueen Isabella, for especially Hugh Despenser the Youngerby the allegation, that he raped her once. [33]A Medieval Queen, daughter to the French King, raped by a common nobleman, however high his position and favouritism by the King?I find that hard to believe.My opinion, that Isabella has not been raped by Hugh Le Despenser is shared by another distinguished historian, Kathryn Warner andauthor of the book ”Edward II, The Unconventional King”.On her Blog  ”Edwardthe scecondBlogspot” she wrote an articleabout this alleged rape. [34]She argues, that it is very unlikely, Despenser the Younger should have raped Isabella, strengthening her opinion, that Alison Weir based on one sourceand gives her own interpretation, without any proved historicalsources. [35]
So if not the rape story, where did the hate stem from?To involve the bitterness of Margaret of Anjou towards the Duke ofYork again:At least York showed formal respect to Margaret.That can’t be said from Hugh le Despenser [who of coursehad a total different position, being favourite to the King, but thataside], towards Queen Isabella.He and his father  treated Isabella with the utmost disrespect, , she was for example not allowed to see her husband alone, sinceapparently one of the Despensers had to be present. [36]Such was a great insult to a Medieval Queen, daughter to a King. When Queen Isabella was in France negociating a peace treaty betweenher husband and brother King Charles IV, Hugh le Despensersupposedly tried to bribe French courtiers to assassinate Isabella [37]
When this is true or at least was believed by Isabella, it can explain the hatred she felt for especially Despenser the Younger.

But however the causes, her hatred and bitterness went very deep, since not onlyDespenser the Younger was executed on a horrible way, also  his wife and children paid a price. [38]
Eleanor de Clare, his wife, Edward´s favourite niece, was imprisoned  andin january, 1327,Queen Isabella  issued an order thatthree daughters of Hugh Le Despenser the Younger,  should be veiled asa nun ´´without delay´´(39)The only reason Despenser´s eldest and youngest daughter escapedthe nunnery, were because the eldest was already married and the youngest just an infant.And although Queen Isabella and Roger Mortimer spared thelife of the eldest son of Hugh Le Despenser, he was imprisonedfor the rest of their regime, without committing any crime. (40)


Another striking question is the way Edward II met his death,which is to divided in two themes.Was he murdered or not?And when he was murdered, was he murdered on the horrible way whichis common narrative? [41]

It is generally accepted, that after the invasion of Isabellaand Mortimer in England, the capture of Edward and HughDespenser the Younger, Edward’s imprisonment and theexecution of both Despenser father and son, Edward was finallymurdered on the orders of Isabella and Mortimer. [42]
After his forced abdication in january 1327in favour of his son, the later Edward III, he was first imprisoned in Kenilworth Castle under the care of his cousinHenry, 3rd Earl of Lancaster, who treated him with respectand honour. [43]It is possible, that this good treatment changed, when Edward wastransferred to  Berkeley Castle [where it is generally assumed that he died],where his jailor was Thomas, Lord Berkeley, son in law ofRoger Mortimer. [44]Lord Berkeley had been imprisoned for several years by Edward and hisfather died during his imprisonment, so he could have taken revenge by not treating Edward well, although there is no proof he did. [45]In each case Berkeley faced a trial as an accessory to the murder of Edward II, but was acquitted. [46]Whether Edward II really faced the horrible death that isnarrated isn’t sure at all.Kathryn Warner, writer of” Edward II, an UnconventionalKing”, finds the horror story hard to believe, although she assumes that he likely is being murdered. [47]However, the writer Ian Mortimer assumes, that Edward wasnot killed at all [68], but lived abroad, being  released after theexecution of Roger Mortimer. [48]Interesting for historians to investigate further, but to me  it isvery likely, that Isabella and Mortimer, after deposing Edwardin favour of his son, would finally get rid of him.Since there was no ”abdication” of Kings in the MiddleAges, the situation of two anointed Kings  in England[one deposed and one crowned, could easilybe a threat for Edward III and therefore for theregime of Isabella and Mortimer, the de facto rulers, sinceEdward was nearly a prisoner. [49]


The last question I want to mention here is simplya joke, implying that Scottish freedom fighter William Wallace could have been the father of Edward III. [50]The story is told in the film ”Braveheart” , which I highlyvalue because of the coureageous resistance of the Scottish againstEnglish domination. [51]But however impressive, historical facts must be correct.Although it would be highly unlikely [as presented in the film] that King Edward I would have sent his daughter in law, wife to his heir and daughter to the French King, to ”negociate”with the rebel Braveheart [unless he wanted war with France,since the French King would not forgive this insult to his daughter,let alone the danger for holding as a hostage, to which she was exposed],the historical facts speak against this fairy tale since:
William Wallace was executed in 1305, while Edward III was born in1312. [52]When William Wallace was executed, the future Queen Isabella wasjust nine years old and still at the Court of her father, King Philips IV. [53]King Edward I and Isabella never met, since he died in 1307 andIsabella came to England in 1308. [54]
And do you want to have a good laugh?Even Roger Mortimer, later lover of Queen Isabellaand supposedly responsible for the death of Edward IIhas been mentioned as the father of Edward III. [55]Problem with that is, that Mortimer was physicallyabsent at the moment of the conception of Edward III,since he was in Ireland, a country, Isabella never visited. [56]Besides there is no proof or indication, that Isabella and Mortimerhad a relationship before late 1325. [57]
Funny stories.No historical facts.


Of course I don’t close my eyes for the less dramatical and morepolitical sides of Edward II’s period.The political ill judgment and lack of military skill [unlike hisfather King Edward I, as his dependance of favourites,thusalienating his natural allies, the powerful nobility [representedby his Earls. [58]The obvious greed and arrogance of his favourite and likelylover Piers Gaveston. [59]The corruption and misuse of power during Edward’s alliance withthe Despensers and the mock trials,  they gave their enemies likethe 2nd Duke of Lancaster, although Edward II was merciful enough [likelybecause of his close relationship with the Earl] not let him hanged,drawn and quarted, but merely beheading [60]And later, after Edward was stripped from power, the arrogance, misuse of power and personalenrichment of the Isabella/Mortimer regime [61]
But here I have emphasized on the more personal, dramatic sidesof the reign of Edward II, especially the impossibility of followinghis own sexual preference, and his love for Piers Gaveston,with all the tragic events involved and the reaction of his environment.
Whether he was murdered or not [murder is the most likely]he met a tragic end. [62]This, as his complicated personality and his turbulent reign, ismuch worth to pay attention to.
I will write more about Edward II.
Thanks for travelling with me to the past again.

Astrid Essed


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