Edward II is often dismissed as a weakling - an ineffectual king who lacked his father’s qualities. He has been criticized by generations of chroniclers and historians.
Edward II was born in Carnarvon Castle in Wales on 25 April 1284. One by one his brothers John, Henry, and Alfonso had died and Edward II became heir to the throne. His mother, Eleanor of Castile, died when he was just five years old.
Chroniclers noted that Edward II grew into ‘a handsome man, of outstanding strength’, ‘one of the strongest men of his realm’. His father had trained him in the art of war, taking on campaigns against the Scots. Edward II first campaigned at age 16 and was noted as a brave warrior.
When his father, Edward Longshanks, died, Edward II inherited his wars and his substantial debts. Edward II had watched his father wage war for most of his life. In contrast, Edward II was a cultured man who surrounded himself with musicians and enjoyed sailing, blacksmithing, thatching, dances and plays.
Edward II entered into an arranged marriage with Isabella of France. They had four children - Edward, John, Eleanor and Joan. He also lavished attention and power on favourites including Piers Gaveston. The English barons grew increasingly unhappy with the favours Edward gave to Gaveston. Eventually they raised an army against the king and had Gaveston murdered.
With Edward II and his nobles locked in conflict, Robert the Bruce managed to reclaim and slight castles across Scotland. Eventually, in 1314, the English nobles and their king tried to set aside their differences and marched north and fight the Scots.
Bruce’s forces were well trained and battle-ready. Edward II’s nobles were rebellious and openly hostile to one another. At the Battle of Bannockburn the Scots defeated Edward’s divided army. It was said at the time that Edward II had fought like a lion to save his men at Bannockburn but it was a humiliating loss for the English king.
Eventually Edward II’s wife, Isabella of France, led an army against the king. Isabella and her lover Roger Mortimer captured Edward II and he was forced to abdicate the throne in favour of his son, the 14-year-old Edward III.
On 21 September 1329 Edward II died - probably murdered by his jailers at Berkeley Castle. His embalmed body was taken to St Peter’s Abbey on a funeral cart pulled by six black horses, accompanied by knights dressed in black. A cover, decorated with a golden leopard, was placed over the king’s body. His tomb can still be seen in Gloucester Cathedral.
His daughter, Joan of the Tower, married David II, the son of Robert the Bruce, in July 1328 as agreed in the terms of the Treaty of Edinburgh-Northampton.