The 25th April 1284, was the date that the controversial King Edward II (aka Edward of Caernarfon) was born at Caernarfon Castle in North Wales. He was the 4th son of Edward I and his first wife Eleanor of Castille. His elder brothers John and Henry having died before he was born, Edward became heir to the throne at just four months old, when his one remaining brother Alphonso died in August of 1284. In 1290, Edward I set about planning to marry Edward to Margaret of Norway who had a claim to the throne of Scotland. Unfortunately she died that same year. The same year Edward’s mother died, followed by his grandmother, Eleanor of Provence. In 1294 England was at war with France. During 1297 and 1298 Edward I was in France fighting King Philip IV, who had occupied lands in Gascony. At this time, Edward was left at home as Regent. Peace was agreed. Part of the terms of the agreement was that King Edward would marry King Philip’s sister Margaret, and the young Edward would later marry Philip’s daughter, the then two year old Isabella. Following her marriage to Edward, Margaret gave birth to two sons, Thomas of Brotherton in 1300 and Edmund of Woodstock in 1301. Edward and Isabella eventually married in 1308. At a Parliament held in 1301 at Lincoln, Edward was created the first Prince of Wales.
As Edward grew, he surrounded himself with his favourites. The most famous of these being Piers Gaveston. They had a very close relationship, but whether this was of a homosexual nature or not remains unproven. For reasons which remain unclear, Gaveston was exiled. This may have been an attempt to reduce the influence that he was exerting over the young Edward or as a punishment to the prince. Edward came to the throne in 1307 following the death of his father. One of the first things that he did was to recall Gaveston from exile. Edward I was a hard act to follow and the young king was definitely not cut from the same cloth, lacking the ‘warrior’ mentality of his father. He was also hugely influenced by his favourites, ignoring the guidance of the barons, which led to an acrimonious relationship with them. The baron’s ‘ordinances’ of 1311 were an attempt to curb the behaviour of the King and his favourites and to make him rule more responsibly. One of the conditions was that Gaveston was held at Warwick Castle. He died there in 1312 whilst in the care of the king’s cousin Thomas, Earl of Lancaster and Guy de Beauchamp, Earl of Warwick.
The demise of Gaveston provided an opportunity for the Despensers. Hugh Despenser and his father another Hugh, replaced Gaveston in the king’s favour. In 1321 Lancaster and a group of Barons confiscated Despenser lands and forced their exile. This led to fighting between the Barons and forces loyal to the king, resulting in the capture and execution of Lancaster. Edward’s grip on power was strengthened with the execution of those that had opposed him.
In 1325, Edward sent his wife Isabella on a diplomatic mission to France, where she allied herself with Roger Mortimer, leading a force against her husband in 1326. Edward’s regime collapsed and he fled to Wales where he was captured in the November of that same year. Despenser the elder was holding Bristol for the king. Isabella and Mortimer besieged the city, and when it fell Despenser was executed. His body was allegedly cut up and fed to the local dogs. Despenser the younger was captured and taken back to the city where he was hanged drawn and quartered. Remains discovered in Hulton Abbey in Staffordshire are said to be his.
Edward relinquished the throne in favour of his 14 year old son, Edward. He was imprisoned firstly in Kenilworth Castle and then at Berkley Castle, where he is said to have died. The manner of his death is one of the great tales of history. For many years it was believed that Edward was murdered in a particularly gruesome way. It was believed that he was held down, a horn placed in his anus and a red hot poker inserted into his body, thus leaving no outward signs of his murder. There is however no contemporary evidence to substantiate this. The true manner of his death is unknown. There is also a suggestion that Edward escaped captivity and lived a monastic life in Spain. Edward was interred in Gloucester abbey. His funeral was a very grand affair, costing the sum of £351. A temporary wooden effigy was made for the occasion. This is the first recorded instance of an effigy being used. Edward’s tomb was later to have an alabaster effigy, again one of the earliest in England.