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Sunday, 7 December 2014

Edward II of England

Edward II was born in Caernarvon, Wales on April 25, 1284 to Edward I and Eleanor of Castile, who died when Edward was five.

EARLY LIFE

A few days after his birth, young Edward was presented to the assembled Welsh Chieftains by his Father who declared "Eich Dyn," saying in Welsh "This is your Man,"  starting the custom of the Crown Prince of Wales.

Early 14th-century depiction of Edward I (left) declaring his son Edward (right) the Prince of Wales

Edward became heir to the throne when he was just a few months old, upon the death of his elder brother Alfonso.

His father, a notable military leader, made a point of training young Edward in warfare and statecraft starting in his childhood.

APPEARANCE AND CHARACTER

Tall, majestic, handsome and strong, Edward was as physically as impressive as his father.

King Edward II of England

The foppish king wore fantastic, extravagant clothes.

Edward had an introspective and insecure personality and he craved affection.  He had been so dominated by his father that he had little confidence in himself, and was always in the hands of some favorite with a stronger will than his own.

He was according to the Victorian historian William Stubbs, "the first king after the Conquest who was not a man of business."

RELATIONSHIPS

In 1290, Edward's father had confirmed the Treaty of Birgham, in which he promised to marry his six-year old son to the young Margaret of Norway, who had a potential claim to the crown of Scotland. Margaret died in the Orkney Islands on her way to marry Edward. Her death sparked off the disputed succession which led to the Wars of Scottish Independence.

Edward's best friend at court was a good looking son of a Gascon knight, Piers Galveston. A month after his succession, Edward made him the Earl of Cornwall and married him off to his niece, Margaret.

His close friendship with the king, together with his arrogance, enraged the barons, who demanded Edward's banishment.  Ironically it was the king who had originally chosen Gaveston to be a suitable friend for his then teenage son.

After twice being forced to send Gaveston into exile, then relenting, Edward lost his close companion when his enemies captured and murdered him. Ironically this put Edward in a stronger position as there was an outcry against the murderers.

Edward married in January 1308 the beautiful Isabella (1292-1358), the so called "She Wolf of France" daughter of the French king, King Philip IV.

At his coronation Edward was more attentive to Piers Galveston than he was to new wife and he gave away many of his wedding presents to his friend. Isabella was infuriated by Edward’s favoritism towards Piers especially when he gave his companion most of her best jewellery.

During their marriage Isabella was neglected by Edward, who spent much of his time with his male favorites.

Isabella, an extravagant dresser in her own way was not faithful to the king, preferring the attentions of Roger Mortimer, one of Edward's disaffected barons.

Edward imprisoned Roger Mortimer who escaped from the Tower of London to France, where he met up with Isabella who had been conducting negotiations at the French court. They landed in Essex, marched to London and captured Edward who was imprisoned in various castles.

Edward took refuge in Caerphilly Castle from his estranged wife and her lover. He was forced to flee when she besieged the castle leaving behind half his treasure and most of his clothes.

Imprisoned in Berkeley Castle attempts were made to starve him to death. Dead animals were also thrown into a pit in his room in the hope that the smell would make him sick and die.

Despite all this Edward and Isabella had two sons, Edward III (1312 – 1377) and John of Eltham, Earl of Cornwall (1316-1336) plus two daughters, Eleanor (1318) and Joanna (1321-1362), wife of David II of Scotland.

Edward had also fathered an illegitimate son, Adam FitzRoy, who accompanied his father in the Scottish campaigns of 1312, and who died shortly after on September 18, 1322. Adam was buried at Tynemouth Priory twelve days later; his father paid for a silk cloth with gold thread to be placed over his body.

HOBBIES AND INTERESTS

A common sight in court was the eccentric Edward wheeling a tame lion in a cart.

Edward banned football in London in 1314  because too many players were brawling. “For as much as there is a great noise in the city caused by hustling over large balls, from which many evils might arise which God forbid. We commend and forbid on behalf of the king on pain of imprisonment such game to be used in the city in future.”

One of Edward's hobbies was digging ditches, which caused his subjects to fear for his sanity.

Edward was also good at handicrafts and enjoyed horse racing, rowing and swimming.

His main interest was acting and singing, though he also took pleasure in hunting and the practice of mechanical crafts.

GOVERNMENT AND LAW

When Edward II decreed in 1324 that one inch should be the measure of three dried barleycorns, the English shoe sizing began. This ruling made it possible to produce well-fitting shoes in large numbers, rather than making each pair based on an individual’s measurements. The longest normal foot measured 39 barleycorns, or 13 inches, and was called size 13. Smaller sizes were graded down from this number, each by a third of an inch.

Edward's scrawl is the earliest surviving royal signature before marks or seals were used.

MILITARY CAMPAIGNS

The prince took part in several Scots campaigns. However, when Edward I died, on July 7, 1307, one of the first acts of the now King Edward II, was to abandon the Scots campaign on which his father had set his heart.

In 1314 he was defeated by Robert the Bruce at Bannockburn. Edward invaded Scotland again eight years later totally unsuccessfully, the only booty taken in the campaign being a lame cow. In 1323 he signed a truce with Bruce.

PRETENDERS

John Deydras (died 1318), also John of Powderham, was a clerk who claimed to be the real King Edward II, but they had been swapped as babies. He attempted to claim a palace and challenged Edward to single combat. At his trial, he confessed to making it up and blamed his cat, which he said had been possessed by the devil. Both he and the cat were executed by hanging and his body was burnt.

DEATH

Edward's Berkeley Castle jailers initially tried to starve him to death. They eventually succeeded in murdering him by thrusting a red hot poker up his rectum on the night of September 21, 1327.

It was announced that the king had died a natural death, and he was buried in St Peter's Abbey at Gloucester, now the cathedral, where his son afterwards erected a magnificent tomb.

The Archbishop preached as his text on the coronation of Edward's successor, "vox populi vox dei" (The voice of the people is the voice of God.")

Edward virtually achieved sainthood in the years after his death, due to his violent end. Within a few years, pilgrims were visiting his tomb at Gloucester Castle.

Edward II - detail of tomb. By Philip Halling, 

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