Edward II of England

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  • Edward II is born

    Edward II is born

    April 25th 1284: Edward II was born at Caernarfon Castle in Wales.

  • Becomes Prince of Wales

    Becomes Prince of Wales

    February 7th 1301: Edward of Caernarion (later Edward II) becomes the 1st Prince of Wales until July 7th 1307.

  • Edward II marries

    Edward II marries

    January 25th 1308: Edward II marries Isabella of France and is officially crowned King of England.

  • French popes will rule

    French popes will rule

    In January of 1309: Clement V, in a momentous change, relocates the papacy to Avignon in what becomes known as the Babylonian Captivity. Predominantly French popes will rule from Avignon for nearly 70 years.

  • Battle of Bannockburn

    Battle of Bannockburn

    October 14th 1322: Robert the Bruce of Scotland defeats King Edward II of England at Byland, forcing Edward to accept Scotland’s independence.

  • Edward II Dies

    Edward II Dies

    September 21st 1327: Edward II dies in Berkeley Castle.

 

English history is full of dazzling stories of powerful monarchs, beloved by the people and revered for generations. This isn’t one of those stories. Edward II was King of England from 1307 to 1327. He inherited a strong monarchy from his father, Edward I, but left it in tatters. Edward II remains a controversial figure in English history. Was he lazy? Entitled? Arrogant? Or was he a victim of forces outside of his control? It’s not always easy, being king

Early Life

Edward II, King of England (father of Edward III)

Edward II was born in 1284, the fourth son of King Edward I. His early life was immediately influenced by his father’s reign. Edward I had just conquered Wales, and so Edward II was born in a Welsh castle to symbolically legitimize English control. Edward II would later be the first English royal crowned as the Prince of Wales.

Edward II being crowned Prince of Wales by his father

Edward I had inherited the throne at a time when the monarchy was suffering from ineffective leadership and rising revolts from the barons. He spent his reign tightening royal power and pursuing his dream of a unified Britain, conquering Wales and spending his life fighting in Scotland.

All of this would be placed on Edward II’s shoulders from a young age, especially after his older brothers died and he became heir to the throne. He was active in his father’s affairs, even ruling England as regent while the king was away. In this time, he was seen as popular, generous and competent. However, Edward II had a close friend named Piers Gaveston. Historians have debated over the nature of their relationship, with some claiming that they were extremely trusting friends and others believing their relationship to be romantic. All we know for sure is that King Edward I distrusted Gaveston and had him banished from England in 1307.

Edward as King

Later in 1307, King Edward I fell ill while fighting the Scots and died. Edward II was crowned king, inheriting his father’s war with Scotland, dream of a unified Britain, and tense relationship with the barons. One of Edward’s first actions as king, however, was to recall Gaveston from exile.

Gaveston’s role in the monarchy started to trouble the barons. In fact, when Edward II left for his marriage to Isabella of France, he left Gaveston in charge of the kingdom. When Edward returned and met with the young Parliament over government reforms, the barons refused to talk until Gaveston was exiled again. The king resisted, but was eventually forced to concede. Edward negotiated his friend’s return a year later, but tensions remained high.

In 1310, the suspicious barons forced Edward to accept a counsel of advisors called the Ordainers, to oversee administrative reforms and counterbalance the influence of Gaveston. In 1311, they created a set of reforms called the Ordinances, which restricted some of the king’s authority, made Parliament more powerful, and of course, demanded Gaveston’s exile.

Led by Edward’s cousin, the Earl of Lancaster, the barons pushed their power. Edward revoked the Ordinances and the barons responded by capturing and executing Gaveston. Eventually, a rough truce was negotiated, but tensions remained high.

Scotland

To reconsolidate his authority, Edward II finally turned his attention to Scotland in 1314. His father’s war had been basically neglected for the last seven years, with the Scottish reclaiming most of their territories. Led by Robert the Bruce, the Scots met Edward’s forces at the Battle of Bannockburn. Edward was decisively defeated, destroying the vision of a unified Britain and his remaining authority.

Edward, Lancaster, and the Despensers

As Edward lost power, Lancaster gained it. Unfortunately, he wasn’t much more effective, and the kingdom plunged into chaos and famine. The Great Famine actually helped reconcile Edward with the barons, who tried to work together to resolve the crisis.

Once again, however, Edward began to show strong favoritism towards friends. This time, it was his advisor Hugh Despenser. Despenser and his son were longtime enemies of Lancaster, leading to war in 1321. Lancaster was defeated and executed in 1322. The Despensers became indispensible to Edward.

Unfortunately, Edward’s problems were far from over. The barons greatly distrusted the Despensers, and so did the queen. While negotiating with France, Isabella started an affair with one of Edward’s exiled rivals, Roger Mortimer, and in 1326 they invaded England. Edward tried to appeal to his people, but they had come to distrust him so badly that there was no response. Isabella and Mortimer marched into England practically unopposed, and in fact were welcomed by the barons who hated the Despensers.

Isabella and Mortimer invaded England together

Hugh Despenser and his son were captured and executed. Edward, however, was still king. If he was overthrown, the legitimacy of anyone in his family to rule would be questionable. Neither Isabella nor the barons wanted to see a succession crisis, so they pressured Edward to abdicate, giving up the throne to his son. In 1327, Edward II abdicated, his son was crowned as Edward III to demonstrate continuity, and the former monarch was imprisoned at Berkeley Castle, where he was soon murdered. Edward III accused Mortimer of killing his father, the baron was quickly executed, and the new monarch began cleaning up the mess from an unstable and chaotic reign.

Summary

Edward II (1284-1327) was King of England from 1307 until being deposed in 1327. He was born in Wales and was the first English royal to bear the title Prince of Wales, as part of his father’s conquest to unify Britain. However, his own reign was less successful. Edward put lots of trust in friends, notably Piers Gaveston, leading the barons to distrust him. Rising baronial power resulted in the Ordinances, a set of reforms restricting royal power and giving it to Parliament. Following Edward’s failure to conquer Scotland, the barons took lots of power under the Earl of Lancaster until Edward placed faith in new friends: Hugh Despenser and his son. Distrust of the Despensers led Edward’s wife to form an alliance with Roger Mortimer, who invaded England with support of many of the barons. Edward was forced to abdicate in favor of his son, and was later murdered. It was a tragic end to a difficult reign.