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King of England, 1307-1327
Edward was born at Caernarfon Castle in Caernarvon, Wales, on April 25, 1284, the fourth son of King Edward I and Eleanor of Castille. Two of the king's sons died before Edward was born, and the death of Alphonso in August of 1284 made Edward heir to the throne. As the king's only surviving male heir, Edward was trained in warfare and statecraft from an early age. On February 7, 1301, Edward became the first English prince to be given the title Prince of Wales.
Despite growing up to be as physically fit as his father, Prince Edward lacked his father's sense of purpose and self confidence. King Edward blamed his son's defects on Piers Gaveston, a Gascon knight with whom Edward had struck up an intimate friendship. Hoping to rid his son of Gaveston's influence, the king banished the knight in early 1307. When Edward I died, on July 7, 1307, the first act of the prince, now King Edward II, was to recall Gaveston. Edward was formally crowned at Westminster Abbey on February 25, 1308.
On January 25, 1308, Edward married Isabella, the 12-year-old daughter of King Phillip IV of France. Although the marriage resulted in four children (the future King Edward III, John, Eleanor, and the future Queen Joan of Scotland), Edward's continued close friendship with Gaveston led to rumors of homosexuality.
English barons strongly disapproved of Edward's relationship with Gaveston, but were particularly distressed at the king's reliance on Gaveston's advice instead of theirs. Twice the barons forced Edward to banish Gaveston (1308 and 1309), and twice Edward recalled him almost immediately. In 1310, a baronial coalition forced Edward to appoint a committee of 21 Lords Ordainers to share ruling authority. The committee, led by the king's cousin Thomas, Earl of Lancaster, subsequently drafted the Ordinances of 1311, which placed severe restrictions on royal power. The committee also banished Gaveston, but Edward once again recalled his friend. The barons put a permanent end to Gaveston's influence in 1312 by capturing and killing him.
While the king and the barons were wrestling over control of England, Robert the Bruce was steadily conquering Scotland. The very real prospect of losing Scotland led to a brief reconciliation between Edward and the barons in 1314, when the barons allowed the king to lead an army into Scotland. Edward proved to be an inept military leader, however, and his army was decisively defeated by Robert the Bruce at Bannockburn.
The defeat made Edward even more dependent on the barons, but the Earl of Lancaster proved to be as weak an administrator as the king and by 1315 much of England had collapsed into anarchy. Lancaster's "reign" came to an end in 1318, when a group of barons led by Aymder de Valence, Earl of Pembroke, gained control of the council. Pembroke maintained a relatively stable government until 1321, when Edward once again managed to destabilize the country. In that year, Lancaster led a rebellion against Edward's new favorites, Welsh land baron Hugh le Despenser and his son, also named Hugh. Uncharacteristically, Edward fought back, defeating Lancaster at Boroughbridge in March of 1322. Lancaster was executed and a Parliament at York revoked the Ordinances of 1311, and for the first time in his reign King Edward II had control of the government, with the Despensers as his chief ministers.
Although the Despensers proved to be very capable administrators, they also made a number of enemies. The most important of those enemies was Queen Isabella, who in 1325 was sent to France on a mission to work out disagreements between England and her brother, King Charles IV. Having taken son Edward with her to France, Isabella then refused to return to England as long as the Despensers held power. She also became the mistress of Roger de Mortimer, an exiled opponent of Edward. On September 24, 1326, Isabella, son Edward, and Mortimer led an invasion of England, where they were joined by many English nobles. King Edward was forced to flee while both Despensers were captured, tortured, and killed. The invaders finally caught Edward, who was forced to abdicate in favor of his son on January 20, 1327. Edward II was held at Berkeley Castle after his capture, and was murdered there on September 21, 1327. He is interred at Gloucester Cathedral, where his remorseful son later had an elaborate tomb built.
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This page was last updated on September 21, 2018.