More on the Scandalous 14th Century

In our last entry, I was summarizing the fascinating story of King Edward II of England. We’d just reached the point where his estranged wife, Isabelle, returns from a visit home to France, in the company of exiled traitor Roger Mortimer–and a number of soldiers. Edward, seeing the small size of the invading force, assumed he could simply summon up his own army to defeat them, but he underestimated the extent to which he had antagonized his barons, and some simply refused their aid.

an illustration from an 1864 history of England  showing Mortimer's arrest by Edward III

an illustration from an 1864 history of England showing Mortimer’s arrest by Edward III

After a brief campaign, King Edward II was imprisoned by his own wife, and his new favorite, Hugh deSpenser the Younger was castrated, hung, drawn and quartered. But the new regime was unstable, as you might imagine. What to do with a captive king? Unpopular as he was, Edward II was the anointed monarch of England, and many were reluctant to truly accept Isabella’s regency on behalf of their son, Edward III. What to do, what to do?

Here is where the chronicles differ. Most have Edward II mysteriously found dead in his cell at Berkeley Castle in 1327, presumably murdered by an agent of Isabella and Mortimer. Some even describe a particularly nasty method of execution involving a hot poker inserted in the king’s “nether region.” However, there are rumors of his escape–of a tall, handsome rider seen leaving the area, of an exiled king living in Italy, sending a letter via an Italian monk to his son. There is even a story about a tall, cloaked stranger coming to call upon the young King Edward III during a campaign in France–being allowed entrance to the king’s pavilion and staying for hours. Some intriguing possibilities.

After Edward’s presumed dispatch, the turmoil in the realm grows ever greater, with the barons expected to submit to a strong-willed queen, with her lover at her right hand. When Edward III came of age in 1330, he promptly had Mortimer arrested and executed on charges of treason, not least for regicide. Edward III tried to track down those responsible for killing his father to mete out justice, and even had his mother removed from public life, effectively under house arrest for the remainder of her days.

Edward III, much to the barons’ relief, proved to be a closer to his grandfather’s stock: a powerful warrior and savvy ruler who would lead them to some spectacular victories during the Hundred Years’ War. His own reign was blessedly much less scandal-prone.

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.
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