Scandal, 14th Century Style

Scandals are all over the news these days, dominating the headlines and the op-ed pages, making some grumble that not enough is being done, others grumble that we’re getting distracted from more important issues. Let me tell you, as juicy or disturbing as you find the current scandals of the day, they can’t hold a candle to the scandals of the brief and turbulent reign of Edward II (b.1284 d. 1327).

Portrait of Edward II of England, from the Bodleian Library

Portrait of Edward II of England, from the Bodleian Library

I feel kinda bad for Edward, and in retrospect, a little sorry that my version allows him to be, ahem, displaced a little earlier than history, but I’m getting ahead of myself, and my hapless protagonist. Edward II came from great stock, the renowned warrior-king, Edward I, Hammer of the Scots. I don’t suppose they have such a great opinion of him in Scotland, but from the perspective of historians seeking examples of strong kings, he’s pretty impressive.

However, Edward II never got on well with his father. He’s notorious for having a variety of interests considered un-lord-like, and decidedly un-king-like: swimming, rowing, gardening. . . you can see how these interests, coupled with his extreme attachment to Piers Gaveston, a young man of his court, gave him a reputation, even in his own day, as a homosexual. Whatever the truth of their relationship, they were clearly devoted companions and rarely parted–except when Piers was repeatedly exiled by the king and forced away by angry barons who felt their own influence should be more than that of this Gascon transplant. Kings had favorites before, and after, and some may have been intimate–but Edward’s obsession with Gaveston went to extremes that could not be ignored by his nobles.

At Edward II’s coronation, Gaveston was crowned and feted almost as if he were the queen–much to the dismay of Edward’s wife, Isabella. Needless to say, Isabella and Edward had a troubled marriage almost from the start–including her near-abduction while supposedly being defended by his men after yet another failed battle in Scotland. Edward rightly feared for Gaveston’s safey, but was unable to prevent his capture and execution by a couple of the angry barons. He grieved deeply, but eventually replaced Gaveston with the powerful and unpopular Hugh Despenser the Younger, even illegally seizing lands from others to bestow upon the new favorite. I’m not even sure how many scandals that is so far: at least 8.

Naturally, as king of England, Edward II was already in trouble with France because he owed fealty for his lands there. He sent his (embittered) wife home to France to negotiate with her brother the king of France, taking their young son and presumptive heir with her. By the time she sent Edward’s men packing, she was already involved with the exiled Roger Mortimer, and the prince decided he’d rather stay there with Mom than go home to his father. By the time Mortimer and Isabella invaded, nobody was really surprised. . .

and that’s not even the end of the story! When people say that fantasy literature is byzantine, I point to this history. Truth stranger than fiction? I don’t know–but its definitely at least that scandalous!

About E. C. Ambrose

I spend as much time in my office as I possibly can--thinking up terrible things to do to people who don't exist.
This entry was posted in history, medieval, profiles, research and tagged , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

2 Responses to Scandal, 14th Century Style

  1. Beth C. says:

    Great post. It’s been a few years since I’ve read up on the Edwards–every time I see Braveheart, I always feel the urge to read up on the actual history.

    • Thanks! Well worth reading more. one fun read that really gets into the nasty guts of the matter is Paul Doherty’s Isabella and the Strange Death of Edward II. about which more next week. . .

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