As a history nerd and amateur historian I have always had a great fascination of the past and the prominent figures in history trough the ages. Somehow I had never been too much interested in the story of Edward II until I got to know historian Kathryn Warner who is the Expert when it comes to Edward II. Her study of the original primary sources has shed a light into the real man behind the myths and stories attached to this king and thanks to her tremendous work the image of "the worst king in English history" has been cleared out a lot.
Edward II was not the worst king England ever had (king Stephen was) but neither he was a good medieval king. He was very complex man full of contradictions and opposites and perhaps a king who lived few centuries too early. Most people who think they know Edward II are sure that he was hated because he was gay. Not so. Love between men was tolerated and even encouraged by the mighty church itself but sodomy was absolutely condemned and denied. That is: yes, you can love the other dude with all your heart but do not have sex with him. But if it was not the gay thing what made him so scandalous and disliked among the barons and the elite of the society?
Well, Edward II liked the company of the commoners. There are literally dozens and dozens of recordings of his interaction with the low born subjects. He liked to fish with the fishermen, chatted with them, he played games with servants and sometimes lost bets to them (and almost always paid up what he owned) and he was seen talking even to the washer women quite openly. The was digging ditches with the laborers, talked about metal works with the blacksmiths, thatched roofs, joked around with mule drivers and hung around with actors and such. In our times and in our minds that is nice, a royal with a common touch, but in his time this was outrageous. King was semi-divine, He was anointed by the God, via church of course, and ruled the realm as a steward of God himself. His hands were healing hands and made miracles, he was supposed to do almost anything other than rise the dead and walk on water and there he was, having a beer or two with the servants and laughing with them for jokes no one quite understood. This was seen as a degrading and contemptuous to the throne and what it represented. It made many a noble men simmer with hate and bitterness specially when Edward was laughing at them too when his friend and great love Piers Gaveston was making the jokes.
Which gives us a handy excuse to tackle the alleged homosexuality of Edward II. This is the picture and image we are been presented specially in our times and it is false. Edward had children with his wife Queen Isabella and at least one child out of the wedlock when he was younger. So we do know for sure he was having sex with women. Did he have sex with men? Possibly but more certain is that he loved at least one with all his heart, sex or not. Piers Gaveston was appointed by Edward I to be the prince Edward's companion and older brother-like figure and as the years rolled by Edward fell in love with Piers. Did they have sex? We do not know but we do know that Piers was married and had several children with his wife with whom he had most likely normal happy marriage. But the act of sex is not the important point. The love is. Edward II loved Piers to a fault and he was ready and willing to risk everything for him and also did so. And when much hated Piers was killed by the same barons who hated his jokes Edward took a revenge and killed all of those he saw responsible for the death of the Love of his life. So platonic or not, Edward II was bi-sexual in his heart.
Edward had several male favorites, perhaps lovers, or just guys he had a crush on, but his queen and wife had no problem with them. Actually she and Piers had been supporting Edward before so she did not see Piers as a threat at all despite the love Edward had to that man. The only time Isabella went on a warpath with the "male favorite" of his husband's was when Hugh Despenser jr showed up. He was a ruthless politician and a real medieval racketeer who used his hold of the king as a tool to gather vast fortunes and cash and shut the queen out from the closest circle with the king. How he did it is unknown and French writer Froissart later came up with the idea Hugh was a sodomite and being the king's favorite they must have been bedfellows too. But the truth may have been much more dangerous and it could explain why Isabella hated this favorite so much and was terrified of him.
During the last phase of his reign Edward had a secret liaison with a "lady" with whom he enjoyed many romantic encounters, for example on the south bank of the Thames. At the same time he was showering attention, gifts and favors to his niece Eleanor de Claire who was married with Hugh Despenser jr. Now, if there was this romance going on behind the curtains it was no wonder why Isabella was alarmed. Hugh made no secret that he hated Isabella and if he was allowing his wife to have an affair with the king, this romance could produce an heir to the king. Yes, a bastard but still a royal blood line. Given the ruthlessness of Hugh Isabella must have feared for his own son too, the future Edward III. The bastard could easily have challenged the right to rule one day in the future so no wonder things went the way they did. As for the possibility of Hugh letting another man hump his wife, well, why not? If he could get the king compromised in a worst way he was the guy who would do it for sure. And the king sleeping with his wife would have been a terrible scandal on top of every other. Just the kind of trick which would have appealed Hugh a lot and which would have been very useful indeed. Did this happen? We do not know for sure but there is some evidence of something weird going on between the king, Eleanor and Hugh. This could also explain why Isabella feared for her son and herself so much.
Which brings us to the marriage between Isabella and Edward II. The usual nonsense we are being told by many writers and even some historians is that Edward hated his wife and wanted to be gay gay with Piers and Isabella was destroyed by this homosexual show and just cried for a hairy chested butch hetero to save her from the terror of evil gays. That is total garbage. For many years the royal marriage was happy and running smoothly. Isabella was supporting and helping her husband in many ways and they had an heir and other children too. When they visited France for an official state visit the French observers noted that the royal couple made passionate noise during the nights and sometimes over slept because they had been enjoying themselves all trough the previous night. Once the building where the royal couple was staying caught a fire and Edward carried his wife out from the smoke and flames rescuing her while endangering his own life in the act. He hated her? No. But what made some the adjust their eyesight during this incident was the fact that both the king and queen were butt naked at that time.
Isabella loved Edward deeply which is proven by her own letters to her husband. She used terms of endearment and tenderness which were not of any official canon but very personal and straight forward expressions of love. She loved him even after their fall out, the break up and over throw of Edward. When she died she was buried with the wedding gown she had wore during their marriage ceremonies and some legends insist that she had his heart with her too. It is obvious that for many tears they loved each other for real and had passionate and hot relationship by all standards.
When Edward is shown in the movies or plays of books he is usually somehow a weak man, confused weakling who is troubled by his sexuality and identity, a coward who can not stand to see blood. That is false. According to the chronicles of his life time he was one of the strongest men in his realm. Think about one of the world leaders today and if he was one of the strongest men around. Yes, he would be a massive guy with serious power lifting abilities, tall and wide, just like Edward was. And all of those who state that he was a coward are lying too. He was not. He proved that on the bloody battle of Bannockburn. Yes, it was a total military fiasco for England and Edward, but not because he was a coward. On the contrary. He was fighting in the thickest melee losing a horse from under him, somehow getting out alive from the violent crush were thousands of men perished, getting a new horse and riding back in. The Scots almost captured him, grabbing his harness and himself but Edward fought them off time and time again while men were killed all around him. http://edwardthesecond.blogspot.com/2013/01/the-battle-of-bannockburn-and-why.html
Contrary what many people say today, he did not escape from the field. He did not run away. He was taken from the field by the other noble men because the battle was lost and it was feared that Edward would be taken a prisoner by the Scots. Very real possibility when he was fighting in the front row. Did he cry when he was taken away? Yes but not because he was scared. He protested and cried because he was taken away and would have wanted to go on fighting. But the politics demanded his removal and he was removed from the battle by his own men.
So the real Edward II was a brave and capable fighter, a true warrior on a personal level, but totally incompetent and failure as a general and king. He should have been directing the battle from the behind with cool head and icy calculation but instead he acted like a rank and file man at arms. Kings were not supposed to act like that anymore. They were supposed to rule and dictate the events, not to create havoc and swing a sword.
So there you have it. The king trashed by so many false stories and lies and myths. He was a bi-sexual man who enjoyed the company of commoners and had no will to rule and act like a medieval king. He enjoyed other things in life and behaved so to the horror of his nobility. He was jolly and pleasant man when spending his time with the lowborn subjects but his wrath against his enemies ran deep and burned hot. He liked fine clothes and bling bling just like Elvis or the famous and rich rappers in our time but he was not the whining fashonista of the Braveheart movie.
Even in his death he has left the world pondering what the heck happened. According to the official story he was killed at the Berkeley castle where he was kept but how and by whom is another thing. Sadistic perverts enjoy telling the completely BS story of the hot poker, cautious historians just state he was killed but then again: When Edward III, the son of the murdered king, asked about his death from lord Berkeley, the man in who's castle the murder was supposed to have taken place, lord Berkeley stated publicly and openly that he was not aware king Edward II was dead. Yes. The man in whose custody Edward was supposedly murdered stated officially that he did not even know that Edward II was dead. And for what ever reason Edward III did not punish lord Berkeley at all. Nor his mother, queen Isabella, who according to many liars wanted to kill her husband. Nor much of anyone was punished by this murder of the king.
Actually there is much evindence that he might have survived and died decades later in Italy as a monk. So-called Fieschi letter says so straight up and many well connected and powerful men "knew" Edward was not dead years after his supposed death. The body buried at first was not observed by any member of his family or closest circle. That was against the customs. In order to be sure of the succession there had to be an absolute certainty that the previous king was dead and that was done by inspecting the body. In this case that was not done. Maybe he got away and let his son to take over. He had never liked the kingship too much anyway. And if any king in history could have done the disappearing act it was this one. The only king crazy and weird enough to think that: "Hey, I just split. I become a monk. Let my son have it all."
It is a fitting end to the king who was much more strange and interesting than any fiction tells us today. This very weird king was also into the books and founded two colleges at Oxford. Try to figure out who he was and what he was all about. It seems that he was into almost anything else than acting like a proper medieval king. Maybe that is his biggest contribution to the history. Sometimes some men are willing to live the way they want instead of the way which is expected. And Edward II was that kind of a man.