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The Politics of King Edward and his Favorites

Edward II was the youngest of fifteen children; he was born on April 25th 1284. At a young age Edward was given his own household. He was raised without much contact between him and his parents, and his mother died when he was six. This might explain his passion for his favorites. His preference for his favorites can also be explained if you believe that Edward was gay, for which there is a great deal of circumstantial evidence. The first of these favorites was Piers Gaveston, a Gascon knight. 1 Edward I had exiled Piers because of his undue influence over the prince. But when the old king died in 1307 Edward II brought his favorite back, and in fact showed him more honor than he did to the young Queen Isabella -- even at their coronation banquet. Edward invested Piers as the Earl of Cornwall, a title previously reserved for the royal house.

Edward's nobles were not fond of Gaveston, and they called for him to be exiled again. During this time Robert the Bruce was King of the Scots, crowned in 1306. Edward seemed to be unable to deal with the Scottish threat and at times simply ignored it. 2 When a confederacy of barons was formed to get rid of Gaveston in 1312, he and Edward fled north. Gaveston took refuge in Scarborough Castle; however, he was beseiged there and eventually killed.

Click here for more information about Piers Gaveston.

Photo of King Edward II

King Edward II (r. 1307-1327). 3

Within a few years after Piers Gaveston was killed Edward had acquired two new favorites, a father and son pair both named Hugh Despensers. The younger Hugh was made Royal Chamberlain in 1318, and thus he had the power of controlling who got to see the king. Hugh Jr. acquired a lot of land in the Welsh Marches as well as a huge fortune. In 1321 the barons demanded the exile of the Despensers, echoing the Gaveston affair. By the end of that year the Earl of Lancaster and the King were involved in civil strife. Lancaster was declared a traitor and put to death on the 22nd of March 1322. The King then went roughshod through the old supporters of Lancaster in a very bloody way. 4

Queen Isabella took a rather large hand in trying to get rid of the King's favorites. She was sent to the French court, of her brother, to negotiate a peace settlement between England and France. Eventually their 13-year-old son Prince Edward was sent to the French court to give homage to the French king on behalf of his father, Edward II. This turned out to be a bad move on Edward II's part, because Isabella declared that they would not return to him until the Despensers had been exiled. Isabella and her lover/political partner Roger Mortimer, with the young prince, landed on the English coast on September 24th 1326. They were arguably not engaging in traitorous acts because they were going after the Despensers. Edward II was constrained by Parliament in January of 1327 to step down in favor of his son. Edward II died in his prison at Berkeley on September 21st 1327, soon after Edward's III coronation (January 25th 1327). The story goes that Edward died from a red hot poker being shoved up his ass; this cannot be confirmed (but the rumor gives further circumstantial support to the theory that he was gay, and considered so by his contemporaries). 5

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