Edward II (1307-1327)
Of all the English Kings, Edward II is my favourite. Not because he was the greatest - he wasn't - and not because he lead the nation to glory - he didn't. But, to my mind, he is the most interesting. He wasn't an imbecile, he wasn't terrible.
He was just a fool in love.
First, Piers Gaveston, who he was so besotted by he allowed to wear the royal purple, and take precendence over his child bride, Isabella of France, even on her own wedding day. Then, later, Hugh Despenser the Younger, who used his hold over the King to extravagantly misuse royal patronage and drive the populace to want them both gone...
These are part of my revision notes for the paper 'British Political and Constitutional History, 1050 - 1509' I took during my time at Cambridge.
- 1284 – Born; son of Edward I.
- 1298 – Edward I picks out Piers Gaveston as a suitable friend for Ed II (!)
- 1301 – (February) Becomes the first English Prince of Wales.
- 1305 – Falls out with Edward I.
- 1307 – (July) Edward I dies. 24 year old Edward II immediately cancels the Scottish campaign with a harsh winter approaching and recalls Gaveston from exile. Parliament grants Ed two fifteenths and a twentieth.
- 1308 – (January) Marries 12-year-old Isabella of France. (February) Coronation. (Summer) Barons secure Gaveston’s second exile; Edward makes him Lieutenant of Ireland.
- 1309 – Gaveston back. Robert the Bruce is recognised as the legitimate king of Scotland by the Scottish parliament.
- 1310 – Forced to agree to the appointment of 12 ordainers to reform the royal household. (June) Edward wants to go on campaign in Scotland to escape the Ordainers, but few respond to his summons.
- 1311 – Bruce starts raiding. Ordinances issued. (November) Gaveston exiled but, at the most, is only away for a month.
- 1312 – Lancaster and his forces attack Newcastle; Edward and Gaveston forced to flee to Scarborough. (June) Gaveston is captured first by Pembroke, then by Warwick and is executed at Blacklow Hill, Warwickshire. According to the Vita Edwardi, ‘the country rejoiced.’ (November) Edward III born.
- 1313 – Perth and Edinburgh fall to the Scots. Gaveston’s killers make a humble apology in Westminster Hall and receive a general amnesty for his death.
- 1314 – (February) Edward orders supplies and troops to go to Stirling; despite this being prohibited w/o the consent of parlt under the Ordinances. (June) Scots beat the English at Bannockburn; seen as moral judgement as the English had robbed the monasteries, drank and caroused.
- 1315 – Edward Bruce starts on Ireland; eg. Dundalk fell to him in June. Start of the agrarian crisis. Earl of Pembroke and the ‘middle party’ (ie. Support the Ordinances, but not Lancaster).
- 1316 – (January/February) Parlt of Lincoln, removes freedom of action of King and the influence of Pembroke at al. Serious attempts to enforce the Ordinances by Lancaster. Eg. Writs sent to Sheriffs, and Ordinances read out in localities. (May) Edward Bruce crowned King of Ireland.
- 1317 – Lancaster afraid to attend meetings. Edward sends a messenger to the Pope hoping to get out of obeying the Ordinances, no such luck. (July) Lancaster raises an army at Pontefract. Gloucester’s lands finally divided (he died at Bannockburn), Hugh Despsenser the Younger, husband of Gloucester’s eldest sister, picks Glamorgan (the richest bit) catapulting himself onto the political scene. Also seizes and kills Llewellyn Bren who is under the protection of the Marcher Lords. By this point a bushel of wheat has risen to 40d.
- 1318 – (April) Berwick falls to the Scots. (August) Treaty between Lancaster and the Middle Party. Lancaster et al are pardoned and both sides agree to uphold the Ordinances: restored Ed’s power. (October) Bruce defeated near Dundalk. Bushel of wheat back down to 6d. Despenser the Younger made Chamberlain; uses the proximity to infatuate Ed. Before long nobody could see the King unless Hugh or his father were present.
- 1319 – English campaign in Berwick. (December) Two year truce agreed with the Scots so Ed can go and pay homage to Philip V.
- 1320 – (January) Lancaster refuses to attend the York Parliament. (Summer) Edward goes to France, leaving Pembroke as keeper of the realm. Baron Braose dies and Mowbray seizes his land (the Gower and Swansea). Despenser the Younger persuades Ed to declare the land escheated to the crown (which he did 26/10/1320 – met armed resistance, finally took control 14/12), and then give it to him. Greatly angered the Marcher lords (couldn’t escheat Marcher land, tho Fryde points out that the Gower was originally granted as a royal lordship), only Arundel and Pembroke continued to stand w/ the King.
- 1321 – (January) The barons are banned from discussing affairs of state. (February) Lancaster holding ‘counter-parliaments’ at Pontefract. (May) the Marchers began sacking, looting and pillaging numerous Despenser properties in South Wales. The Despenser War had begun in earnest... Ed was forced to banish the Despensers. They were back by the end of the year (the younger having turned to piracy on the channel!) (October) Ed besieges Leeds Castle and takes Badlesmere’s wife; allegedly cos she’d refused Isabella entrance. More probably just cos he’d not forgiven Badlesmere for siding w/ Lancaster.
- 1322 – (January) Edward raises troops against Lancaster. (March) Edward defeats Lancaster and has him executed as a rebel and traitor. Armed guard had to be placed around Pontefract Priory to keep off the weeping, mourning crowds. (May) Statute of York; repeals the Ordinances. (Summer) Scottish truce ends. Ed II wastes the Lothians but the Scots refuse to give battle. English troops forced by famine and pestilence to withdraw. Some start looking to the Scottish King for protection in the North. Eg. The canon of Bridlington says this was the case in Yorkshire.
- 1323 – (March) Pembroke, Baldock and Despenser the Younger negotiate a 13 yr truce w/ Scotland.
- 1324 – (September) Isabella stripped of her property and French servants (cos of alleged danger of French invasion) and given c.£2,500 marks pa. (a third of her usual income)
- 1325 – (March) Isabella sent to France to make peace between Ed and her brother, Philip VI. Very successful, Ed can get his French possessions (except Agenais and La Reole) as soon as he does homage. (June) Parliament recommends Ed go and pay homage. (September) sent prince Edward to do homage in his place. Isabella refuses to return herself or the Prince, says she must live as a widow til the Despensers are removed. Supported by exiles like Richmond, Beaumont and Mortimer. Stapledon went w/ him to bring Isabella home but fled back to England (Isabella had lost her lands on his advice!), he was murdered in London in 1326. Isabella and Mortimer go to the Low Countries to rally support.
- 1326 – (June) Isabella et al sail from Dordrecht to England, met no resistance. Sailors Ed II had mustered refused to fight on account “of the great wrath they had towards Sir Hugh Despenser” (Froissart). (October) Prince Edward proclaimed Keeper of the Realm. Despenser the Elder executed. (November) Ed and Despenser the Younger caught at Neath Abbey; Despenser put to death.
- 1327 – (January) It was announced that by unanimous consent of magnates, clergy and people King Ed II was to be disposed in favour of the Prince. So Edward agrees to abdicate. (February) Edward III crowned. (October) Edward II dies at Berkeley.
Past Paper Questions
- Was Thomas of Lancaster or Aymer de Valence, Earl of Pembroke, more typical of the baronial response to Edward I?
- Do the Ordinances of 1311 tell us all we need to know about the causes of Edward II’s deposition?
- Why had it become possible by the end of Edward II’s reign to justify the deposition of an anointed king?
- How far does a comparison between the reigns of Edward I and Edward II suggest that the personality of the king was the most important element in English political life?
- Was the earl of Pembroke representative of the wider nobility in the politics of 1307-24? -‘At times the greatest force for disruption in English politics was not Edward II but Thomas of Lancaster.’ Discuss.
- ‘The reign of Edward II demonstrates that the aristocracy could withdraw its support from the King but found it impossible to replace him without the presence of an alternative claimant to the throne.’ Discuss.
- Do the events of 1326-7 demonstrate the strength or the weakness of the English crown?
- Before the 50s Davies and Tout reigned supreme; they claimed that the reign was the story of baronial opposition to household government.
- Reign suffers from lack of overview (Bastard McFarlanism). Fashionable after the war to look at individuals and patronage politics; the Namier idea that ideals just masked personal greed and preservation.
- May McKisack: no drive or motivation to be king. Neglected defense.
- The Brut Chronicle: Edward II ‘was the richest king that ever was in England after William the Bastard of Normandy.’
- Natalie Fryde: points out that Edward closely supervised his financial administration. Not the drippy lovesick fool most historians peg him as! Edward knew that royal poverty = political weakness.
Edward II and the Nobility
- Almost from the off, Edward seems to have had an innate ability to rub his barons up the wrong way. The fiasco of the coronation probably gave them some idea of what they were in for. By April 1308 the barons had brought arms to parliament and demanded Gaveston be exiled.
- Once the threat posed by Gaveston is removed baronial opposition breaks up. Pembroke and Warren, for example, return to the king’s side.
Earl of Pembroke
- Aymer de Valance, Earl of Pembroke, joined up with Lancaster in 1312 against Piers. He captured him and sweared to spare his life, so was embarrassed and hated by Edward when Warwick recaptured Piers in Oxfordshire.
- Tout and Davies credited him with founding the Middle Party in 1317.
- Philipps (1972) says he used Ed’s rubbish nature against him; used his weight as an adviser. Turned against Ed when he wouldn’t listen to him.
- Vita Edwardi said he was faithless and fickle!
Thomas of Lancaster
- Lancaster had been a favourite of Edward I, and served in Scotland.
- Stubbs, Tout and Davies claimed that Lancaster was w/o principle and unable to govern.
- Maddicott (1970) says he was unusually pious, but a tyrant landlord and unable to inspire confidence or loyalty in his peers.
- Moves into opposition with Edward over Piers.
Edward II and War
- Edward was notoriously unconcerned with military affairs. He failed to continue his father’s Scottish campaign, or provide adequate defense. Eg. The town of Northumberland offered Bruce £2000 in 1311 to stop raiding them.
- When Edward did attempt military feats they invariably ended badly. Eg. In 1314 his attempts to relieve the siege of the strategically key castle of Stirling were thwarted by Bruce at Bannockburn. This was in spite of the fact that Edward had c.23,000 troops in comparison to Bruce’s 8,000.
Edward II and his ‘unsuitability’ for Kingship
- Piers Gaveston. "I do not remember to have heard that one man so loved another. Jonathan cherished David, Achilles loved Patroclus. But we do not read that they were immoderate. Our King, however, was incapable of moderate favour, and on account of Piers was said to forget himself, and so Piers was accounted a sorcerer." (Vita Edwardi Secundi) Edward certainly favoured Gaveston to the point of extravagance; eg. Gave him the earldom of Cornwall (intended for his younger brother, Edmund of Woodstock), making him one of the richest men in England. He left him as regent when he married Isabella, and let him wear royal purple and take precedence at his coronation ceremony…
- Entertained himself with unsuitable amusements. Eg. Digging, thatching, barging, swimming; all with lower born commoners.
- In 1317, Hugh le Despenser the younger inherited the lordship of Glamorgan and a portion of the de Clare's South Wales estates through his marriage to Eleanor de Clare, eldest daughter of Gilbert de Clare 'the Red'. As chamberlain at the court of Edward II, and favourite of the king, Hugh was able to influence the ruler, becoming one of the most powerful and hated men in the country.
- On his return, Hugh le Despenser the Younger became the real ruler of England, a fact which was widely known throughout the country. He misused his power to extort money and especially lands, often from rich widows. One of his victims was his own sister-in-law Elizabeth de Clare, others included the countesses of Lancaster and Pembroke. He had several women ‘imprisoned’ until they signed some of their lands over to him. At his trial he was even said to have had a widow, Lady Baret, tortured by having her limbs broken, presumably to gain control over her lands, although there doesn’t seem to be any other evidence for this.
- On the other hand, he was an extremely efficient administrator, who made Edward II the richest king of England since the Conquest - but was widely hated throughout England for his extortion, ruthlessness and despotism.
- Despenser the Younger had £6,000 w/ Italian bankers. Between November and Michaelmas 1326 he placed another £5,735 w/ the Peruzzi alone. Unscrupulous methods though, eg. Kidnapped wealthy heiress Elizabeth de Comyn for over a year until she made over some of her estates.
- Despenser the Younger got 9% of the vote for the worst Briton ever!
The Ordinances of 1311
- ‘Through bad and deceitful advice… his [foreign] lands… are on the point of being lost; and his realm of England has been brought to the point of rebellion through illegal taxes and other oppressive and destructive measures.’
- Money to be kept in England, not with the Frescobaldi.
- Magna Carta to be observed.
- King not to wage war or leave the country without the Ordainer’s consent.
- King to hold Parliament at least once a year.
- Edward is incompetent to reign in person as he has been ‘controlled and governed by others who have given him evil counsel.’
- ‘…has always given himself up to unseemly works and occupations.’
- ‘…through the lack of govt he has lost the realm of Scotland… which his father left in peace.’
- ‘By his pride and obstinacy and by evil counsel, he has destroyed the holy church…’
- Broken his coronation oaths. (To uphold the law, protect the church, ensure justice is served, observe laws and customs as determined by the community of the realm.)
- He has ‘done all that he could to ruin his realm and his people… he has shown himself incorrigible and without hope of amendment.’
Why was he deposed?
- He should have been all powerful, having defeated Lancaster.
- He had inherited a debt of £200,000 from his father. Yet when he was deposed he passed on a surplus of £60,000.
- The Despensers were just SO hated; and they were so close to the king that the two had to be removed together.
Revisionism: Could he really have been that terrible a king?
For more essays, revision notes, etc, click HERE.