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Royal History Mystery: What happened to Edward II?

Today we’re looking at a royal history mystery involving the death of a king. What happened to Edward II of England?

Edward II was born in 1284 as the fourth son of Edward I and Eleanor of Castile. His three elder brothers pre-deceased him, and he became his father’s heir and the first English prince to be named Prince of Wales.

In his youth, he became close to a man named Piers Gaveston, an English nobleman who’d impressed Edward I and was assigned to his son’s household. The pair’s relationship was never quite defined but it was definitely questioned by their contemporaries as well as by historians in the centuries since. Whether they were friends or lovers remains the topic of much debate.

In 1307, Edward I exiled Gaveston for reasons that were not recorded but may have been due to his son’s extravagance in bestowing gifts upon him. When Edward I died later that year on 7 July, his son became Edward II and this gave him the ability to recall Gaveston from exile.

Though Edward II arranged a marriage for Gaveston and bestowed a title upon him—Earl of Cornwall—and though he married himself, to Isabella of France, and sired an heir (also named Edward), the pair remained close and Gaveston plainly received special favour.

Edward II’s barons were not impressed that Gaveston had been restored to favour and refused to discuss any issues with the king until they considered the matter resolved. In April 1308, the barons demanded that Gaveston be exiled again and the king, unable to resist their requests , sent Gaveston to Ireland and created him Lod Lieutenant there.

However, Edward continued to work to return his favourite to England and in July 1309, he succeeded in bringing Piers Gaveston home. The tensions between Edward II, Gaveston and the barons remained high. In 1312, Gaveston was murdered after he was exiled a third time and threatened with death if he returned.

The rest of Edward II’s reign was marked by further disputes and battles with his barons as well as another unpopular friendship with a man called Hugh Despenser. By 1326, he was also in dispute with his queen, Isabella, who’d traveled to her native France. There, she became formed an alliance with Roger Mortimer who had rebelled against Edward’s power and escaped from life imprisonment in the Tower of London. The two began to hatch plans to invade England while their relationship also turned from political to romantic.

Isabella managed to persuade Edward II to allow their elder son, and heir to the throne, to visit her in France. Here, the young prince, also called Edward, became a vital pawn in the power struggle between king and queen. On 24 September 1326, Queen Isabella, Prince Edward, Mortimer, and others landed in England and began their invasion. By 16 November, Edward II had been captured after months of battles and trekking and was sent to Kenilworth, a fortress owned by the Earl of Lancaster, where he was imprisoned.

On 20 January 1327, he tearfully abdicated when the Earl of Lancaster and a group of bishops informed him that if he failed to do so, his son may also be removed from the succession and the crown would go to another person. His son was crowned as Edward III at Westminster Abbey on 2 February 1327.

Edward II, now known as Edward of Caernarvon (the name he’d used when he was still his father’s heir), was moved to Berkeley Castle in Gloucestershire, and died in the night on 21 September 1327.

What Happened to Edward II?

A rumour persists that, throughout the summer of 1327 there were plans to free Edward II and re-install him on the throne. The rumour says that Mortimer had Edward II executed after he was moved to Berkeley Castle to prevent any such plot from reaching fruition. As Edward III was still a minor, Queen Isabella and Mortimer were acting as his regents.

Another rumour persists that Edward II merely died of natural causes, though he was only 43 at the time of his death.

Another, albeit dark, rumour persisted for years that Edward II was murdered after a red-hot poker was inserted into his anus and he succumbed to his injuries. Most historians agree that this seems to be an invention based on his much debated relationship with Gaveston.

Another rumour persists that somehow Edward II escaped Berkeley Castle and didn’t die until much later; he remained in exile and never tried to contact his son, though many wrote to Edward III over the years claiming that they’d seen his father.

Unfortunately for us, there is no definitive answer as to what happened to Edward II on the night of 21 September 1327; only rumours. What do you think happened to the unfortunate, unpopular king who lost his throne to a wronged queen?

About author

Jess is a communications professional and freelance writer who lives in Halifax and has a passion for all things royal, particularly the British Royal Family.