Edward II (1307-1327 AD)

Posted by Nick Efstathiadis


Edward II lacked the royal dignity of his father and failed miserably as king. He inherited his father's war with Scotland and displayed his ineptitude as a soldier. Disgruntled barons, already wary of Edward as Prince of Wales, sought to check his power from the beginning of his reign. He raised the ire of the nobility by lavishing money and other rewards upon his male favourites. Such extreme unpopularity would eventually cost Edward his life.
Edward I's dream of a unified British nation quickly disintegrated under his weak son. Baronial rebellion opened the way for Robert Bruce to reconquer much of Scotland. In 1314, Bruce defeated English forces at the battle of Bannockburn and ensured Scottish independence until the union of England and Scotland in 1707. Bruce also incited rebellion in Ireland and reduced English influence to the confines of the Pale.
Edward's preference for surrounding himself with outsiders harkened back to the troubled reign of Henry III. The most notable was Piers Gaveston, a young Gascon exiled by Edward I for his undue influence on the Prince of Wales and, most likely, the king's homosexual lover. The arrogant and licentious Gaveston wielded considerable power after being recalled by Edward. The magnates, alienated by the relationship, rallied in opposition behind the king's cousin, Thomas, Earl of Lancaster; the Parliaments of 1310 and 1311 imposed restrictions on Edward's power and exiled Gaveston. The barons revolted in 1312 and Gaveston was murdered - full rebellion was avoided only by Edward's acceptance of further restrictions. Although Lancaster shared the responsibilities of governing with Edward, the king came under the influence of yet another despicable favourite, Hugh Dispenser. In 1322, Edward showed a rare display of resolve and gathered an army to meet Lancaster at the Battle of Borough bridge in Yorkshire. Edward prevailed and executed Lancaster. He and Dispenser ruled the government but again acquired many enemies - 28 knights and barons were executed for rebelling and many exiled.
Edward sent his queen, Isabella, to negotiate with her brother, French king Charles IV, regarding affairs in Gascony. She fell into an open romance with Roger Mortimer, one of Edward's disaffected barons, and persuaded Edward to send their young son to France. The rebellious couple invaded England in 1326 and imprisoned Edward. The king was deposed in 1327, replaced by his son, Edward III, and murdered in September at Berkeley castle.
Sir Richard Baker, in reference to Edward I in A Chronicle of the Kings of England, makes a strong indictment against Edward II: "His great unfortunateness was in his greatest blessing; for of four sons which he had by his Queen Eleanor, three of them died in his own lifetime, who were worthy to have outlived him; and the fourth outlived him, who was worthy never to have been born."

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Edward II

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