I have always maintained in the absence of celebrities, people had to have someone to gossip about. Hence all the discussion around the royal family and courtiers. Because of this history always resembles more of a soap opera than dry dusty dates. Also, a quick note. In the absence of a better term, I am referring to same sex relationships as homosexuality. I know that this was not a term that was familiar to the medieval mind as they did not identify as straight, gay or bisexual. I was using the term to simplify writing since the term is familiar to the modern reader. Please bear with me.
So we go back to the National Enquirer of series and discuss more rumors and myths of the private lives of the kings and queens of England. For more on what came before, please see part 1 here: http://www.historynaked.com/homosexuality-throne-england/
Let’s get this out of the way right now. Edward II was not killed by having a red hot poker stuffed up his behind. That story did not start circulating until ninety years after his death as some sort of strange allegory for the accusations of sodomy which cropped up after his death. Edward definitely had his male favorites, the names of whom have become infamous- Piers Gaveston and Hugh le Despenser. But favorites does not mean they were having sexual relations. Is there evidence of a sexual relationship?
Well, no one can really know what goes on in a bedchamber except those who were in it. Edward did have four children with his wife Isabella as well as at least one illegitimate child. So even if he was doing his duty with his wife for an heir, at least once he took a women for presumably pleasure. Piers Gaveston also had a legitimate heir, Joan, and an illegitimate daughter, Amie. However, the men were very close. The Vita Edwardi Secundi, a chronicle of Edward which ends abruptly in 1325, says in reference to Edward and Gaveston, “I do not remember to have heard that one man so loved another”. Again, this is sounds very different to modern ears. The two men refer to each other as “brothers”, and such flowery language and declarations of love, even between heterosexual men, was not uncommon for the time.
However, chroniclers of the time called Edward’s relationship with Piers Gaveston “excessive”, “immoderate”, “beyond measure and reason”. One source went so far as to say “the King loved an evil male sorcerer more than he did his wife, a most handsome lady and a very beautiful woman”. Nice little suck up to Queen Isabella in there. Decades later, chroniclers piled on. The Meaux chronicle states, “Edward took too much delight in sodomy”. The Flores history calls the friendship of Edward and Piers “beyond the bounds of moderation” and discusses Edward’s desire for “wicked and forbidden sex”. The Westminster chronicler says that Gaveston led Edward to reject his wife’s bed. These were all written after Edward had been deposed, so we need to take them with a grain of salt.
The court hated Gaveston for the favor the king showed him. Edward dressed like Gaveston and bestowed on him honors, riches and manners that aroused extreme jealousy at court. It didn’t help that Gaveston was an expert jouster and loved to rub it in the face of the lords he unhorsed. Rumors went around about what exactly the good looking young man was doing to get those favors. They sent him away, but Gaveston kept coming back. Finally, the young favorite was beheaded at the behest of the Earl of Warwick.
Unfortunately, Edward found another Gaveston in the form of Hugh le Despenser, another good looking young man. The same little drama played out again as Edward showered money and honors on his new favorite. This time Isabella had had enough and deposed Edward in favor of their son, who became Edward III. Despenser was executed on her command at the top of a ladder in Hereford, where his genitals were hacked off and burned in front of his eyes. Yikes. Remind me not to make her mad. Froissart happily jumps into the fray stating that his genitals were cut off because of the sins of sodomy with the king.
Edward II was forced to abdicate and taken to Berkeley Castle. There we are not sure what happened. After two attempts to rescue him, it was generally thought he was too dangerous to be left alive. Two weeks later he was declared dead. However, there are stories he escaped and Ian Mortimer makes an interesting case. More on that in a later post. For part 3 of this series, please click here: http://www.historynaked.com/homosexuality-throne-england-part-3/
Sources available on request