Edward and Isabella

I've written about ruthless Queen Mary somewhere on this site alredy and now it is fourteenth-century British Queen Isabella's turn. Queen Isabella, who was originally from France, overthrew her husband King Edward II and had him executed in a rather painful way. (More about that later.)

It is strange how several English monarchs have had scandalous affairs with other men or at least have been accused of it. Isn't Prince Charles rumored to be bisexual, too? Anyway, who cares. Edward II however was very much fascinated by a knight from Gascony named Piers Gaveston, who was appointed by his father Kind Edward to make a man of him. It seems the old king found his son to be rather unmanly and didn't like him very much. The charming squire however liked young Edward just fine. They are rumored to have been lovers.

According to fourteenth-century chroniclers, the king feared that Gaveston loved Edward "inordinately" and that the would-be king "had an inordinate affection for a certain Gascon knight." The chroniclers, including Raphael Holinshed, describe the relationship in sexual terms, although their desciption is still ambiguous. It is certain that the two were very close. Young Edward showered Gaveston with gifts and titles and land, too. In April of 1307 he even asked his father to make Gaveston the Count of Ponthieu, which resulted in Gaveston's banishment from England. King Edward would however pass away in early July leaving Edward II in charge. He recalled Gaveston and appointed him Earl of Cornwall. Gaveston also married Edward's niece.

Edward II married Isabella, daughter of King Philip IV of France. For the wedding, Philip IV gave the couple some jewelry, which was seen on Gaveston the next day. This must have been very humiliating for the queen, who at the time was 12 years old. Gaveston's penchant for jewelry can be said to later have cost him his life in 1312.

The marriage was not a happy one. Edward preferred the company of Gaveston to that of his wife. Gaveston was a striking figure at court. He was always beautifully dressed, always stylish and elegant. He was also a very talented and proud knight, whom few could beat at tournaments. Gaveston would often laugh at the nobles openly after their defeat.

The barons disliked Edward II and his relationship with Gaveston from day one. So much so that they included a loophole in the coronation oath that would allow for occasional baronial control. In 1310, the barons forced Edward II to accept the rule of a 21 member council of Lords Ordainers.

They nobles tried to have Gaveston banished more than once. The first time, in 1308, they united against Edward and pressured him to take away Gaveston's title and he did, sending him away ot Ireland. Gaveston was threatened with excommunication if he returned to England. He lobbied the pope and had the threat removed and upon returning to England in 1309, resumed his relationship with the king. Three years later, the barons threw Gaveston out again and took over Edward's finances. Gaveston returned before long and Edward II made him Earl of Cornwall for the third time. The angry bishops excommunicated Gaveston and the nobles, feeling antagonized by Edward, began preparing for civil war.

The king and queen, Gaveston and their household servants fled to Scotland, but did not find support there. In Newcastle, Edward and Gaveston fled from the approaching army commanded by the Ordainers, leaving behind Isabella, who was three months pregnant. To cut a long story short, in May, the barons found Gaveston at Scarborough Castle, and despite their promise of granting him safe passage if he surrendered, he was taken to Warwick Castle and then beheaded by the Earls of Lancaster, Warwick, Arundel and Hereford. Gaveston was found to be carrying the crown jewels and that infuriated the nobles to kill him.

That same year Isabella gave birth to a son who would become king Edward III. She had three more children. According to one historian, after this ordeal their marriage was until 1321 "if not happy...at least not wholly unsuccessful." The royal couple would become estranged again. Edward was swept up in political trouble and lost control of the country to the Ordainers. The two sides worked out a truce in 1318.

The self-ingratiating Hugh Despenser the Younger and his father became Edward's new favourite figures at court. The king bestowed on the younger Despenser the title of Lord of Glamorgan. Despenser antagonized the Marcher Lords by obtaining their land in South Wales. Among these lords was Roger Mortimer, ally of the Earl of Lancaster and old enemy of Edward, not to mention future lover of the queen. Edward would eventually capture Mortimer and send him to the Tower of London, from where Isabella is rumored to have helped him escape. In 1322, Edward also defeated the Earl of Lancaster in the Battle of Boroughbridge and beheaded him, avenging the murder of Gaveston at the earl's hands.

The people had liked Isabella and even supported her over her husband. This would change after the rebellion that was set in motion when she visted France, where she met the escaped Mortimer. She also had her son Edward come for a visit and then refused to return to England. The Despensers had accused her of being a spy, even had her letters read, making life miserable for the queen. Now she was plotting to dethrone Edward and the Despensers, who were ruling the country. She arranged a marriage for Edward III and recuited an army.

In 1326, Isabella and Mortimer returned to England and Edward, who had little support, retreated to Wales. Hugh Despenser and his father were captured and executed for treason. The Barons confirmed that Edward III should become the keeper of the realm. Edward II abdicated in favour of his son and Isabella and Mortimer had him murdered by Sir John Maltravers at Berkeley Castle on September 21, 1327.

Now the part you've been waiting for. The older Hugh Despenser was sent straight to the gallows, while still in armor. The younger Hugh Despenser was said to have met a gruesome death after his brief trial. Some say he was disemboweled, others that he was castrated before being killed.

Edward himself would not escape revenge. Even in old age, Edward II could pose a threat to his son's rule, so Isabella and Mortimer had him eliminated. The captive king had a red-hot spit thrust into his anus, killing him in a way that would leave no external marks. The point was removed from a straight cow horn and inserted into the former king's anus. Then a red hot iron was pushed through the cow horn and into the body, burning Edward's insides.

Some have speculated that the manner in which he was killed indicates his wife's anger over his sexual preference. What is certain is that this manner of killing, which left no external trauma on the body, gave the appearance of death by natural causes. This was very important, because the murder of the former king was still serious business.

No one would ever be held responsible for Edward's killing. In fact, his murder might have even gone unnoticed, were it not for his screams which were heard from an outbuidling of Berkeley Castle (Gloucestershire) all the way in the village. The killing was investigated and Thomas Berkeley was acquitted. He claimed that illness had kept him away at Bradley Court, five miles away.

In a coup, Edward III, seized power from his mother and Mortimer, who had taken to ruling the country themselves. He had Mortimer executed and his mother, who had earned the nickname She-Wolf of France, locked up in a remote castle.

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