Wednesday, 13 January 2016

The death of King Edward II, 1327

During the night of 21st/22nd September 1327 a horrible murder was committed in England that killed a king.

The victim was King Edward II, the less than worthy son of the “Hammer of the Scots”, Edward I. He was the opposite of his father in many ways. These included military prowess, hence the disastrous (from the English point of view) Battle of Bannockburn in 1314, at which Robert the Bruce defeated an English army and Edward abandoned the field of battle, followed by many of his troops.

Edward had no idea of how to rule and he allowed himself to be dominated by a series of “favourites”, including Piers Gaveston who was Edward’s gay lover.

Edward had a wife, namely Queen Isabella, and he managed to father a son, but Isabella came to prefer the company of a more manly lover, Roger de Mortimer.  She therefore had personal reasons for wanting to get rid of her husband, apart from the political one of being able to rule the country as regent for her son who was only aged 14 at the time.

Edward was duly forced to abdicate in January 1327. He was arrested and taken to Berkeley Castle in Gloucestershire where he was guarded by three other members of the plot, namely Sir Thomas Gurney, Sir John Maltravers and William Ogle.

It had been hoped by the conspirators that Edward would simply fade away and die from natural causes if he was locked away in a cold damp dungeon and fed as little as possible.  However, Edward must have had more of his father’s constitution that anyone had expected and he simply refused to die. A much more unpleasant fate awaited him instead.

While Edward was asleep the three henchmen entered his cell, pinned him down with a table, and thrust a red-hot poker up his anus. He died in agony, but his killers would have thought it to be an appropriate end for a notorious homosexual who, in their eyes, had dishonoured the office of King of England. Also, by causing injuries that were internal as well as fatal, it would still be possible to pretend that Edward had died from a sudden illness.

(At least, this is the traditional view. Doubts have been expressed as to whether this is what really happened.)

Queen Isabella got her way in that she was now the virtual ruler of the country, with Mortimer alongside her, but this state of affairs did not last for long. When her son reached his majority just over three years later he took his own revenge on his mother and her lover. Queen Isabella was exiled and Mortimer was executed for treason by a method nearly as brutal as that meted out to Edward II. This was the traditional punishment of being of being hanged, drawn and quartered.

Edward II was regarded as a martyr by some, including the monks of Gloucester. They established a pilgrimage centre at his tomb, and the offerings left by visitors were eventually enough to allow them to rebuild the cathedral at Gloucester, which can be seen today as of the finest examples of Perpendicular style architecture in England.

© John Welford

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