Despite the vehement exhortations of some obsessively fixated in the blogosphere it is contended here that Edward II was an abject failure as a king. Principally Edward II failed to protect his people. Apart from his loss of Scotland to Robert Brus at Bannockburn it is most clearly demonstrated in the North of England where throughout his reign, and particularly after 1314, the country was savagely pillaged and burnt by the Scots. 

This was compounded by his failure to manage the troublesome barons, no less than his grandfather Henry III. If Edward II had been a modern corporate manager, the outcomes of his decision making would be held up as 'how not to do it' for future kings. Thankfully Edward III and his counsellors, many former opponents of his father, learnt the lessons and returned England to an even keel. Edward III in contrast to his father was an inclusive king who brought the barons back into the fold.

< An almost cruel depiction of King Edward II at Winchelsea Parish Church. It was here at Winchelsea that he had one of the 1322 rebels hanged from the town walls.

Paraphrasing Stubbs -

Edward II's reign was, despite being tragically interesting and producing great quantities of records, lacked inspiring topics. This was particularly true between the death of Gaveston and the attacks upon the Despensers, when the earl of Lancaster tried to reduce the king to impotence through the Ordinances. Stubbs' conclusions see the reign as exceedingly dreary with evident political selfishness combined with never-ending hatred and revenge.
While the reign is punctuated by incursions of the Scots, the influence of 'evil counsellors' and the Lancastrian oppressions, economic reform is never realised.
Stubbs, William. Chronicles of the Reigns of Edward I and Edward II, v. 2. (1883), Introduction, lxxv-lxxxvi.]

It would seem that the reign would be no more likely to encourage enthusiasm than a wet weekend coupled with cattle 'murrain' during the famine of 1315.

As shown by the pope's letters to the king, Edward II also failed, like Robert Brus, to follow the Church of Rome's teachings of appeasement:

To the king. Urging him to receive his kinsman, Thomas earl of Lancaster into his favour, and to punish or remove from court those who give reasonable cause of offence to the earl. [Regesta, Vol. CIX, p. 414.]15
To the same [King Edward II]. Urging him to restore the realm to the position it held in past times, when it was a terror to barbarians and an example in upholding the liberties of the church, and granting subsidies to the Holy Land. Now the realm and its inhabitants are oppressed by wars, the church is persecuted, and God's judgments are ready to fall. The king must put a stop to usurpations, and take measures to pay the cess and other debts due to the Roman church, and to put no hindrance in the way of W. de Balaeto, papal delegate and collector. The pope is ready with counsel and help to repress rebellion in England and Scotland. [Regesta, Vol. CX, p. 434.]
[To King Edward II]. Exhorting him to remove from court anyone whose presence is displeasing to his kinsman Thomas, earl of Lancaster, upon which the pope feels sure the said earl will prove himself a faithful subject. The nuncios have been sent to the pope with special instructions to bring about this reconciliation, which is of great importance to the king and realm ; and the pope has already written about it to the king. [Regesta, Vol. CX, p. 434.]
To the same [King Edward II]. Again urging him to reduce the expenses of his household, and not to waste the goods of his realm in clothes feasting, and presents. [Regesta, Vol. CX, p. 434.]

Of course it was not only the king who had failings. Thomas earl of Lancaster, Edward's cousin when tested also appeared to be wanting:

To Thomas, earl of Lancaster. Laying before him the considerations that should induce him to a reconciliation with the king, whose realm is disturbed by enemies on the side of Scotland and elsewhere, and urging him to remove from his company persons displeasing to the king, whom the pope has requested to do the like. [Regesta, Vol. CX, p. 435.]

Although the pope of the time, John XXII, was buffeted by letters from both the 'left' and the 'right', King Edward II failed to capitalise upon Christian values in order to placate the rebellious earls and barons so as to secure England's northern border from its long time adversary. What the pre-Christian Roman Empire failed to conquer, Edward II managed to lose. The root cause was the man's character, a character overly fused to 'favourites' who maliciously influenced the king. 'Teachers' pets' can reap a whirlwind of opprobrium from their peers, no less favourites of the king.

As a youth, Edward was extravagant and incompetent and kept unsavoury friends, he was probably homo-social if not bisexual or homosexual. He was considered a weak king in a strong body, liking athletic sports, such as rowing as well as theatricals and manual crafts. 

           Edward II's positive
           attributes as a king
     Edwards negative attributes
*Good looks
*Strong physique
*Boisterous sense of humour
*He could be loyal
*Congenial & good conversationalist
*Articulate and could be witty.
*Enjoyed practical jokes & horse-play.
*Liked horses, hounds, hunting,            wrestling, swimming digging ditches,    thatching roofs and other physical  pursuits
*A skilled horseman who bred and  trained his own hounds and horses.
*Owned a pet lion often travelling with him in a cart with a silver chain with its keeper.
*He kept a camel at his King's Langley stables.
*Literate, he wrote many letters,            knew Latin & spoke Norman-French
*A loving father.
*Genuinely pious and generous to the    church, particularly the Dominican        Order.
*Weak leader.
*Lazy, particularly when he was a youth he was idle and frivolous. Enjoyed languishing in bed in the A.M.
*Quick and unpredictable speech.
*Self indulgent
*Lacked empathy
*Vicious & cruel if provoked
*Savage Plantagenet temper.
*Flaunted his homosexuality9
*Held grudges for years
*Lacked judgement
*Not very intelligent
*Wayward and difficult
*Enjoyed good food and wine, often drank too much became loquacious, the wine acting as a truth drug and making him quarrelsome.
*Disliked knighthood and its discipline and lacked knightly dignity.
*Promoted unsuitable advisors.
*Disliked military campaigning.
*A gambler, lost large sums at dice etc.
*A hedonist, always seeking some new      pleasure.
*Enjoyed fine, expensive but elegant,       showy, bizarre clothes & jewellery
*Liked acting or 'theatricals'
*Patron of writers and players
*Enjoyed and wrote some poetry .
*Played kettle drums, loved music &  had a troupe of Genoese musicians [2 trumpeters, harpist, horn player and a drummer.]
*With Gaveston he enjoyed jesters,        jugglers, actors and singers.
*Collected books on French romances and legends.

Certainly during his own lifetime Edward was criticised by high and low for his poor skills as a leader. Edward was crowned on the 25th February 1308 and as a result of Edward's perceived unsavoury lifestyle, the 'Lords Ordainers', a committee of twenty-one was established who drew up 41 articles known as the Ordinances of 1311 to try to control the king5 

                            The  Lords Ordainers
Eight Earls:
Aymer de Valence, Earl of Pembroke.
Henry de Lacy, Earl of Lincoln.
Thomas Plantagenet, Earl of Lancaster.'The Martyr'.
Humphrey de Bohun, Earl of Hereford.
Guy de Beauchamp, Earl of Warwick.
Edmund Fitzalan, Earl of Arundel.
John of Brittany, Earl of Richmond.
Gilbert de Clare, Earl of Gloucester.

Seven Bishops:
Robert Winchelsea, Archbishop of Canterbury.
John Langton, Bishop of Chichester.
Ralph Baldock, Bishop of London.
Simon of Ghent, Bishop of Salisbury.
David Martin, Bishop of St.David's.
John of Monmouth, Bishop of Llandaff.
John Salmon, Bishop of Norwich.

Six barons:
John Grey, Baron Grey de Wilton.
Hugh de Courtenay, Baron Courtenay.
Hugh de Vere, Baron of Swanscombe.
Robert Clifford, Baron Clifford.
William Marshal, Baron Marshal.
William Martin, Baron Martin.

Edward lived from 1284 to 1327. The Annales Cestriensis tell us that he was born on 25th April 1284 at Caernarvon, Wales. Edward ascended the throne in 1307 and lived through a turbulent reign until  1327 when he was murdered. 

               A more robust and probable near contemporary image of Edward II

Gaveston was a brave but tenaciously mischievous, if not malevolent, foreigner from Gascony. A pleasant zephyr breeze in the king's ear, but a plague of boils for the earls and barons.
Two of the root causes for the troubles in his life could be seen as sex and drugs, respectively Gaveston, a Gascon, and the Anglo-Norman desire for Gascony wine.  

Edward was the first Prince of Wales. The Welsh after their defeat, complained that they wanted a prince who could speak Welsh. Edward I promised them that he would invest one "who could speak no other".... indeed Edward II was but a child who could not yet speak. Even today, this apocryphal ruse remains a sore point between the English and Welsh.

By April 1308 parliament had met and forced Edward to agree to their wishes. Gaveston was sent to Ireland, a second exile, Edward seeing him off at Bristol. Gaveston had been made a ward of Roger Mortimer in 1303 during the Welsh Wars, Gaveston's father, Arnaud, having been a close compatriot of Edward I and who  served him as a Gascon knight in the by now shrinking Aquitane. Mortimer would have been all too aware of Gaveston's wayward influence on Edward. Indeed, after Edward I's death in 1307, within a year, Edward became very unpopular with the barons.  However, by 1309 Edward had agreed to reforms and managed to achieve the return of Gaveston5. In 1310, due to Edward's ballooning largesse towards Gaveston, the animosity grew so strong that the majority of the nobles and other barons rebelled against him. At this distance in time it is difficult to comprehend the hatred that the  barons held for Gaveston, but that they did so is shown by their ability to cooperate in a conspiratorial agreement to murder Gaveston, earl of Cornwall and most disturbingly a knight like many of themselves.


The young King Edward married Queen Isabella who despite bearing Edward four children, became disaffected by the treatment of her by Edward's favourites. The most prominent of these was Gaveston who gained the earldom of Cornwall. and after Gaveston's murder, the Despensers (de Spencers later Spencers). Alison Weir has recently tried to salvage the somewhat tainted image of  Isabella, the 'She-Wolf' of France, but a great amount of momentum will need to be provided to shift the notion that she was somehow to blame for much of the turmoil of Edward's reign. Perhaps in a paternalistic society someone had to become the butt of the disappointment.
She fled to France with her son Prince Edward I, later Edward III, in 1325 and returned in 1326 with Sir Roger de Mortimer who by then was her lover.  They landed in Suffolk and were greeted by the people who had grown tired of Edward's ways. Only about half the barons and thus the general population were supporters of the king. Edward was overthrown and finally imprisoned in Berkeley Castle, Gloucester in 1327 where he was murdered, tradition says in a very cruel manner.

Left - Wall face mask believed to be that of Queen Isabella in Beverley Minster, perhaps at the age of  fifteen when she visited Beverley in 1310. Right - A corroded carved image of Queen Isabella, Winchelsea Parish Church.

See video of the Beverley Minstrels

Edward III was declared king by Mortimer and Isabella but he did not seize power for another two or three years for he was too young, but by 1330 he had grasped power from his controllers at Nottingham Castle. Before Edward I's reign a technical achievement was effected that was described by Roger Bacon in a book published in 1242 which gave directions on how to make gunpowder. Later, in Edward III's reign, "hand-gonnes' developed by the German, Schwartz, are believed to have been used at the battle of Halidon Hill [1333] and cannons at Crecy in 1346. These developments changed the chivalric medieval methods of warfare forever. Thus it is likely that gunpowder was known of during Edward II's reign, although perhaps it was more of a novelty than a weapon.                


        The Barons' Army at the Siege of Scarborough 1312

                               * Aymer Valence, Earl of Pembroke+
                               *John Warenne, 8th Earl Warenne and Earl Surrey
                               * Henry de Percy of Northumberland.
                               * Sir Robert de Clifford of Skipton.

                + = went over to Edward II after Gaveston was murdered.




A 'miracle' or a well planned conspiracy?

In July of 1310 it was recorded that a 'Thomas Eliot of Kepewyk by Hextildesham' had been hanged. He was cut down from the gallows and taken to be buried at the cemetery of 'St. John of Leye', a cemetery reserved for Knights Hospitallers. Upon being found still alive he escaped from England but subsequently the king kindly pardoned him for whatever he had done. [C.P.R. , July 1310, p. 264]


A Yorkshire time line for Edward II's reign:

Yorkshire's welfare was directly related to the wars between 

Scotland and England during the reigns of the three Edwards.


1307 Edward ascended at the age of 23. He granted the manor and castle of Knaresborough to Gaveston which stung the barons of the North. 1308 Isabelle of France [aged somewhere 

between 12 and 17 y.o.] is married to Edward II. [24 y.o.]

1309 The barons were disturbed by the king's reliance on 

Gaveston and his influence upon the king.


1310 Many of the English Templar properties were 

concentrated in Yorkshire, Edward II and the barons seized many of them or gave them to the Hospitallers3 Temple 

Newsam and Temple Hirst were two in Yorkshire which 

suffered in this way.


1311 - William de Miggeley is known to have been a practising 

lawyer and justice of common pleas in Yorkshire. He sat on a number of commissions [terminer et ] later being made a knight of Yorkshire by Edward III. He appears to have always been loyal to the Crown even during Edward II's reign.


1312 Between January and April Edward II was resident at 

York with Gaveston  The earl of Lancaster, with a private army began to plan to capture Gaveston. Edward II and Gaveston fled to Newcastle-upon- Tyne where they escaped to Tynemouth. From here they took ship  to Scarborough. Edward II left Gaveston in charge as the governor of the strongly fortified Scarborough castle while he returned to York..

                                        Queen Isabelle





                  Queen Isabella as a widow

Image of Queen Isabella as a widow, found on the weeper of  the tomb of John de Eltham, her son,  Westminster abbey.1
                  Locations for lost Medieval Scarborough. Blackfriars is where Gaveston was taken into captivity by the barons in 1312
      Medieval brick and timber house, Quay Street, Scarborough.  The Three Mariners Inn, Quay Street, Scarborough. This site can be dated to c. 1300, twelve years before Gaveston and the king arrived in Scarborough.

A Cruise on the Ouse - Queen Isabella's Summer River Cruise on the Yorkshire Ouse

On 8th June 1312 after, her return from Tynemouth, the queen began a perambulation of East Yorkshire with the king. The first part of the journey began at York, passing down the River Ouse, through Selby (where King Henry II is reputed to have been born) to the bishop of Durham's residence at Howden:

' To Robert de Butterwick, Henry de Torksey, Richard de Cliff and Robert de Hull, masters of 4 boats taking the queen, damsels, and her squires and also the equipment of her small wardrobe in their boats by the water of the Ouse from York to Howden., for wages for themselves and their 20 assistant boatmen, for two days in the month of June, each master receiving each day 4d. and each of the other boatmen 3d. each day, by the hands of the said masters at Howden, 10th day of June. 12s. 6d.'14


               The River Ouse near Acaster Malbis     The main entrance to the Archbishop of York's Palace

What a happy time they must have had, passing the Archbishop of York's Palace at Bishopthorpe with the people of Selby turning out to greet their queen after she had presented their abbey with a cloth of gold on 7th June before returning briefly to York. Robert de Butterwick was possibly a member of the landed Butterwick family of Butterwick, East Yorkshire wherein is situated an isolated church.. This church appears to have carved images of King Edward II and Queen Isabella  on the exterior of the S.E. window which until now seem to have gone unrecorded.

Carved image possibly of King Edward II at Butterwick Church. Carved image possibly of Queen Isabella of England at Butterwick Church.

The Death of King Edward II's Favourite- Piers Gaveston

Western Curtain Wall Scarborough Castle After  Edward's return to York, the barons army, after a number of repulsions, managed to capture Piers Gaveston at Scarborough and he was taken to Castle Deddington near Banbury Oxon. Gaveston was seized using a force of 140 men under Guy de Beauchamp, the earl of Warwick, one of the foremost 'Ordainers'. This was probably done with the connivance of Aymer de Valence, earl of Pembroke at Deddington castle and then Gaveston was taken to Warwick Castle. Gaveston may have prayed at the chantry situated at what is now called Guy's Cliff on the banks of the River Avon before being taken to Blacklow Hill which lies between Kenilworth and Warwick.
The barons who engineered the execution were led by Thomas earl of Lancaster.
Here at Blacklow, prophetically already known as Gaverswich, Gaveston was beheaded whilst others say run through with a sword, stabbed and even felled with a battle-axe on the grass where he lay, by two Welshmen. [19th June 1312]. Either way this was an enormously important act for it showed the populace, who were as gleeful at his death as any,  that the Lord's Ordainers and the earl of Lancaster were a force to be reckoned with, particularly in the North of England. Homophobia was alive and well even at this time but we must recognise that this Gascon, Gaveston, had incurred the wrath of the barons by his insults and more particularly by being granted estates they felt were rightfully theirs. Yes, as usual it wasn't about exemplary social behaviour but greed, selfishness and power. The murky origins of the English class war.

                                       Piers Gavaston Earl of Cornwall:

Gaveston's charter as earl of Cornwall

                Gaveston's charter 1307

Drawings from Gaveston's charter of 6th August 1307 made at Cumnock, Scotland now at the British Museum.[TNA E1/460] Decorated with Cornish choughs and Gaveston's heraldic eagles. The letter 'E' for Edward encloses the arms of England with those of half of Gaveston's and half of the de Clare arms [Margaret de Clare was later his wife] Note  the two bat bodies with a single head - probably an allusion to Edward and Gaveston being of one mind.



This drawing  depicts one of Gaveston's heraldic eagles with centrally, the arms of England, dextrally the arms of Gaveston [mistakenly shown as five eagles but should be six] and sinistrally the De Clare arms again. Edward was making quite sure that Gaveston was part of the landed nobility in England despite being a Gascon commoner.13

              Piers Gaveston's heraldic arms
Now the only known depiction of these arms lies high in a church window within Gaveston's former barony of Wallingford.
Gaveston's Head presented to the earls
            Heraldic arms of Piers Gaveston
 Gaveston's head presented by an adherent to the earls Warenne, Lancaster and Hereford


The only known carved image of Gaveston that I have ever encountered that may be contemporary with the man's life.

Piers Gaveston's Monument
    Photograph of the monument to Piers Gaveston ca. 1899
In the hollow of this Rock
Was beheaded,
On the 17th day of July, 1312,*
By Barons lawless as himself,
PIERS GAVESTON, Earl of Cornwall,
The Minion of a hateful King,
In life and Death
A memorable Instance Misrule.

* Now considered to be 19th June 1312.

Although now lying near a major road, the location of Gaveston's Cross is difficult to access and requires permission to visit as it lies on private land.

Gaveston's seal
       Piers Gaveston's seal

GUY BEAUCHAMP [Right], Earl of Warwick. In his right hand he holds the Priory of Westacre, co. Norfolk, to which he was a benefactor, and where he built the Gate -house; in his left, a Banner of the Arms of Baliol, having received a gift from the King of the Honour and Castle of Barnard, forfeited by John Baliol, King of Scotland.
At his feet lies Piers Gaveston, upon whose shield of Vert, 6 eagles displayed. Or, he tramples ; the Earl had seized him out of the custody of the Earl of Pembroke, carried him to Warwick Castle, and caused his head to be struck off, on Blacklow Hill.
Arms. Quarterly of  7 :—
1. Gules, a sesle between 6 cross croslets Or, Beauchamp;
2. Sir Guy
3. Fitz-Piers
4. Newburgh
5. Abitot [Tibetot]
6. Mauduit
7. Fitz-John : impaling. Quarterly 1st & 4th Argent, a maunch Gules, Tony [Toeni*] ; 2 & 3 Argent, a Lion Rampant, Azure, & Chief Gules,—Waltheof.
11 * Guy de Beauchamp had married Alice de Toeni just before his death, supposedly by poisoning. It is interesting to see that he claimed descendancy from Waltheof, the last true English earl.
Death of Gaveston by John Rous ca. 1480
      Guy de Beauchamp triumphant over Piers Gaveston
                          Painting  by John Rous ca. 1480

The site of Piers Gaveston's tomb at the church of the Dominican priory of  Friars Preachers, King's Langley.  In 1831 Sir Gilbert Scot saw the foundations of the priory church exposed but by 1908 the V.C.H.  reported that these foundations had been 'all cleared away'. During the 1970 excavations part of the outer edge of the priory church and an outline of a Lady Chapel and cemetery were identified. By 1984, excavations had uncovered part of the church cemetery. Aerial Photograph Source: Google Earth 2016. 


Queen Isabella effigy  
 <Supposed effigy of Queen Isabella as a roof  boss in Malmesbury Abbey.

1313 - As a result of the instability in the English crown the Scottish under Robert de Bruce began to make serious incursions into Northumberland and Yorkshire, burning and pillaging as they went.

Bannockburn 24th June 1314. Defeated by Robert de Bruce at Bannockburn in 1314 Edward was forced to place England under baronial control. 
The Battle of Strivelyn (Stirling) or more commonly, Bannockburn was  a disastrous English defeat. Edmund FitzAlan, the earl of Arundel along with John 8th earl de Warenne, Thomas earl of Lancaster and Guy de Beauchamp, earl Warwick did not join Edward's army at Bannockburn. Clearly the king's mismanagement of his barons is laid bare here. A huge army moved North from England in an attempt to defeat the Scots and prevent further northern incursions. The army crossed the Tweed River (traditionally the disputed border with Scotland) composed of archers from Wales, baggage trains, and foot soldiers from the Midlands and the North West. All told, some 25,000 men, men at arms and at least 3000 armoured English knights. The Scots under Robert de Brus numbered less than half the English army, composed mostly of spearmen. De Brus positioned his men and knights between two woodlands to protect their flanks and the army dug pits or "pottes" in front of their lines covered with sticks and turf to bring down the horses of the opposing knights5. The English army was routed, Bannock Burn ran red with English blood to the Forth and Edward escaped hurriedly, embarking at Dunbar for England.
Following the battle of Bannockburn [Or battle of Strivelin, i.e. Stirling] Bruce sent troops to raid, kill the inhabitants and destroy large parts of Northern England as far south as Yorkshire. The Scots made yearly raids into the North of England. Wark, Harbottle, Mitford, Northallerton, Boroughbridge, Scarborough Knaresborough and Skipton were all burnt. Northern mothers would for many years after warn their bairns to 'beware or The Bruce will get ye'.
Ten thousand foot soldiers were raised in Yorkshire and 5000 from the other five northern counties. Queen Isabella was at York whilst Edward II was engaging the Scots at Berwick. Berwick was taken and held by the Scots but not Durham. Robert de Bruce attempted the capture of Isabella but she escaped. A rabble of non-fighting men left York, consisting, it is said of peasants, 300 clerics and other assorted members of the York community. The Clerics Army engaged the Scots at Myton near Boroughbridge and were understandably defeated. Henceforth this battle was to be remembered as the White Battle in remembrance of the slain clerics who in their white-bloodied robes lay strewn over the field at the end of this disastrous debacle. Edward then returned from Berwick to York. By this time Edward II had a new favourite, Hugh le Despenser. In addition to the successes by the Scots a widespread famine occurred, bread corn rising to 42/- a quarter, ten times its usual value.

Queen Isabella1315 By this time the country was experiencing the 'worst famine in living memory' caused by heavy rainfall. Later this period was  described as 'The Great Famine'. Edward II made peace with his barons in order to help protect the Northern Marches against Scottish invaders.
1316 The Great Famine continued into this year, when a harvest was obtained in October. In this year John Warrene 8th earl Warrene was excommunicated by the Church of Rome. This was probably achieved by Lancaster with the assistance of his friend the bishop of Chichester..
1317 Further calamity beset the north when cattle murain and sheep disease followed. In this year Sandal Castle was put under siege by the earl of Lancaster, a neighbourhood disagreement ostensibly over the death of Gaveston, had developed between Warrene and Lancaster. This is the turning point for Warrene who had sided with Edward II. Sandal Magna castle was said to have been burnt to the ground by Lancaster but there is little evidence of this.
As a result of his favouritism for Gaveston and the severe loss at Bannockburn, famine and cattle diseases, Edward II became very unpopular, everything, it could be concluded, was as a result of Edward's poor rule. God was not smiling upon the English nation. Thomas Plantagenet, the earl of Lancaster became for a time, more popular than Edward, especially in the North of England for Yorkshire folk were looking forward to a leader who could take the battle once again to the Scots or at least treaty with them.. But eventually many of the 'Ordainers' tired of his self-seeking and treachery and joined the royalists to remove him from power.
1318 An aborted campaign at Berwick leads to division again between the king and many of his nobility.
1319 In this year as Lancaster became more powerful, John earl Warene was forced to grant the manor of Wakefield and other Yorkshire lands to Thomas earl of Lancaster. Thomas already held the neighbouring lands in the honour of Pontefract. Thus for about five years, from 1317 until 1322, the Pontefract lands and the manor of Wakefield were held under one baron. It is likely that the landed knights such as de Thornhill and de Midgley of the honour of Pontefract were unwilling parties to this aggregation. Lancaster was their lord and demanded their services, de Warenne however was the owner of the nearest castle, a haven of safety in troublesome times but it had been garnered by the earl's men in September 1317. Any one not pledging allegiance to the lord could have been dispossessed.
1320 Earl Lancaster completed rebuilding Sandal Magna castle in stone.
1321 A year of rebellion in the Welsh Marches took place, against the Depensers who with the assent of King Edward were  grabbing Marcher lands there. The Marcher rebels expected earl Thomas to assist them but he stayed resolutely at Pontefract, his safe haven. The rebels, led by the Mortimers had to surrender to the king.

1322 - From 1315 the earl of Lancaster, Thomas Plantagenet had been unchallenged. However, during this time there had been three years of torrential rain throughout Europe, cannibalism was recorded and people had been murdered for food. Prices rose by eight times in one year and families fought each other.5. Thomas' wife had left him in 1317 [others say she was 'abducted' but probably did not resist] and hid with another earl, John de Warenne at Reigate who held Lewes in Sussex and estates in the manor of Wakefield and  Conisboro' in Yorkshire. This started a war with Warenne over his manors and castles in Yorkshire which may still have been continuing into the 1350's [See The Elland Feud].
Gradually, Lancaster  gathered support in an attempt to overthrow Edward II. From 1315 he built Dunstanburgh castle in Northumberland, his 'Camelot',  where he entreated the Scots to join him. On the 16th March 1322 the barons' army, led by the earl of Lancaster, whose seat was at Pontefract, engaged in a battle with the kings's army at Boroughbridge, Yorkshire.

                                                                                              THE BATTLE OF BOROUGHBRIDGE

                         THE BARONIAL ARMY                            EDWARD II's ARMY
* The Earl of Lancaster- Thomas Plantagenet, the king's cousin.
* Humphrey de Bohun 4th Earl of Hereford & Essex*
* Aymer de Valence - Earl of Pembroke
* Edmund Plantagenet - Earl of Kent, brother to Ed. II.
* John de Brittany-Earl of Richmond
* Sir Robert Malmthorpe^
* John de Mowbray of Kirklinton, 2nd baron, Governor of the City of York and Scarborough Castle, Sheriff of  York, hanged later at York, 1322.

         * killed by a Welshman under the Boroughbridge.

        ^However he appears as a judge at earl Thomas' trial.

*Sir Andrew de Harcla, Governor of Carlisle and the Western Marches who had previously been given his knighthood by Lancaster.
*Sir Simon Ward  [Sheriff of Yorkshire 1315-1321]
*William Lord Latimer [Governor of  the city of York]
* Henry de Faucumberg and the Yorkshire Array.

The expected Scots assistance never materialised and the baronial army was cut down by the withering hail of arrows from Harcla's archers who were stationed on the north bank of the River Ure. Lancaster was arrested whilst praying in Boroughbridge church and taken to York. Here he was mocked by the crowd, from there he was held prisoner at Pontefract Castle. Edward II arrived shortly after Lancaster's incarceration and Lancaster was arraigned before the king in the Great Hall of Pontefract. His imprisonment was either in  the Gascoigne Tower or more probably an isolated tower beyond the curtain wall, towards St. John's Priory. Symbolically perhaps, this latter tower was partly destroyed by a road put through in the 1800's. The Great Hall at Pontefract Castle today and the King's and Queen's Towers are covered in rubble from the collapsed curtain wall and may well be worth excavating.

After the trial, at which Lancaster was not permitted to offer a defence, he was paraded on an old horse through the streets of Pontefract with a friar's hood on his head and given many insults. Initially he was to be hanged, drawn and quartered, a method originally devised for Welsh rebels such as David son of Griffin in 1283. However for Lancaster the method of execution was reduced to beheading because of  his royal descent [A Plantagenet cousin to Edward II]. At his execution he was made to kneel east with his face turned towards Scotland before being beheaded, a symbolic way for a traitor to parody homage towards the Northern enemy. The remnants of Lancaster's army were declared Contrariants a special type of fugitive [outlaw] many escaping to the protection of the local area of which one was reputedly the Barnsdale district. see Robin Hood 

York or Clifford's Tower Ninety five barons and knights were made prisoners at Pontefract and tried for high treason. One of the judges was John 8th Earl Warenne. Some were executed here at the same time whilst others were taken to York and executed later. Roger de Clifford of Skipton was hung in chains at York castle, now 'Clifford's Tower',  his body rotting for three years before the friars of York took away his remains and cremated them.. After the execution, Edward II held a parliament at York, reversing sentences that had previously been passed by rebel barons against the Despensers. Sometime after the battle of Boroughbridge Edward II gave back John 8th earl Warenne earl of Surrey, the manor of Wakefield.

< The so-called Clifford's Tower, the keep of York Castle where in 1322 Roger de Clifford was hung in chains. Later it seems to have been named after one of his kinsmen who was a constable of the castle.

There were three distinct groups during Edward II's time:
1. The Earl of Lancaster's
2. Aymer Valence, the Earl of Pembroke [who has been at Bannockburn] and the bishops, who genuinely appear to have tried for administrative reform.
3. The Royalists, led by the Despensers, Hugh Despenser snr. and his son Hugh. The Despensers were nobility of the Welsh border but not of the old noble landed families and were thus seen by the majority of the barons as being low in the 'pecking order'. Hugh jnr. became a favourite of Edward after Gaveston's death.
The three king Edwards in York Minster
 Images of the 'Three Neds', Edward I, II and III on the Choir Screen c. 1440-1450. York Minster

York Minster is replete with examples of royal and Northern heraldry. Heraldic arms for families holding northern manor lands include such names as Percy, Roos, Latimer, Vavasour, Mowbray, Mauley, Scrope, Neville, FitzHugh and Clifford. These families would have been benefactors to the cathedral. In England, York was a cathedral second only to that of Canterbury with which great rivalry existed for benefactors and pilgrims.                       

Eward II After the Battle of Boroughbridge, in the year 1322, the clergy  granted fourpence in the mark to Edward II to carry on the war against Scotland. Edward accompanied by Isabella marched to Edinburgh but had to retreat due to a scarcity of provisions. The army was followed by Robert de Bruce, when the English were surprised by his army at Byland Abbey. The army fled, Edward escaping from the Scots for a second time, on a fleet-footed horse, and thence by a rough sea passage. Isabella fled to Tynemouth priory where she too took rough passage. John de Brittany, Earl of Richmond, was captured and held for a long period of time for ransom. Andrew de Harcla or Harclay [Anglicised to Hartley]  was accused of treachery for seeking a treaty and not opposing the Scots for which he was executed at Carlisle. Following this series of downward spirals, Edward II signed a treaty with the Scots at  Bishopthorpe, near York,  so named from the Archbishop of York's palace being located here.
1323-King Edward II  arrived at Nottingham on the 9th November. It seems that after York, King Edward left for a tour of East Yorkshire following a proven method used by the Plantagenets of appeasing and punishing their barons with a Royal Progress through the Northern counties. He travelled from Yorkshire through Skipton and into Lancashire. After travelling anti-clockwise through other counties he ended his tour of duty at Nottingham. Here he pardoned the remaining contrariants of the Lancaster Rebellion.

         The Kyng came to Notynghame,
         With knyghtes in grete araye,
         For to take that gentyll knyght,
        And robyn Hode, yf he may.
           A Mery Geste of Robyn Hoode -the F text.

1324 - 24th March to 22nd November a "Robyn Hode" was employed by Edward II as a porter of the King's Chamber.
Meanwhile the the man who was to become the lover of Edward's Queen Isabella, Roger de Mortimer, escaped from the White Tower to France.
1325- In March the king and the two Despensers sent Queen Isabella to France as an envoy and she then lured prince Edward [later Ed. III] to France to pay homage for Gascony. From this year, with the young English prince in her grasp, Isabella began to organise Edward II's betrayal and destruction. For this she was to win the opprobrium of English chroniclers, for although she was the English Queen, she was also fiendishly French. Ostensibly Isabella was to negotiate a treaty with her brother Charles IV of France for war had broken out between England and France in 1324.  She announced she would not return to England unless the Despensers [later Spencers] were dismissed. With her lover Roger Mortimer, earl of Wigmore she rallied support under the protection of the Flemish, Count of Hainault. This family of Hainaulters later provided both a daughter in marriage for Edward III [Philippa] and another, Elizabeth [probably an illegitimate half sister to Philippa], for Robert Holland, 2nd baron Holland.
1326 - 24th September Mortimer and Isabella invaded England, entering through Orwell Haven, Suffolk, They were supported by Henry the earl of Lancaster and Edmund of Kent, and welcomed by the Earl of Norfolk, Thomas de Brotherton as well as many of the people of England. On November 16th King Edward II was captured near Neath by Henry earl of Leicester. In January 1327 Ed. II was deposed in favour of his son Edward, later Edward III. Edward at this time was a mere 14 years old.

Contemporary likeness of Isabella                                           Isabella as a young woman12
Orwell This landing is the only successful invasion of England since 1066. Queen Isabella with prince Edward and Roger de Mortimer landed at Orwell Haven in Suffolk and gathered the barons' and peoples support. The location of  the 'Mythical Town of Orwell' has confounded researchers6, but it appears that it was never a town but a port which has now been swept away by the notorious erosion of the east coast sea.7 Where it lay exactly is not obvious, but if the painting of 1455 by Jean Fouquet nearly 130 years later is at all accurate, it shows a castle in the foreground, presumably the fortified port of Orwell. Erosion is already evident at the base of the tower. In the distance are plunging cliffs as we see at Bull's Cliff today. These cliffs are composed of  unconsolidated boulder clays and silts which have a  tendency to slip in rotational shear. This was discovered during World War II when a heavy gun battery was erected on Bull's Cliff. The first practice salvo caused the engineers to rethink the location when, as a result, part of the cliff collapsed.  Where 'West Rocks' lies just 100 metres off the Old Walton beach, South of Bull's Cliff, there is believed to have been a Roman Saxon-shore fort which collapsed into the sea.  From dredgings taken in the late 1800's the 'rocks' appear to have included building stone. This may be the remains of the Roman 'castle' [a Saxon shore fort], much embellished, shown perched on the edge of the cliffs in the middle distance of the Fouquet painting, which looks north [observe the shadow of the kneeling knight's leg]. 

 ^ Romanticised imagery from Fouquet's painting.

                    COLD PLAY - VIVA LA VIDA - This song could have been written for King Edward II of England

"I used to rule the World
seas would rise when I gave the word,
Now in the morning I sleep alone
sweep the streets I used to own.

I used to roll the dice, feel the fear in my enemies eyes
listen as the crowd would sing
Now the old king's dead, long live the king!
One minute I held the key
Next the World was closed on me
And I discovered that my castles stand
Upon pillars of salt, and pillars of sand

I hear Jerusalem bells are ringing
Roman Cavalry choirs are singing
Be my mirror my sword and shield
My missionaries in a foreign field
For some reason I can't explain
Once you know there was never, never an honest word
That was when I ruled the World.

It was the wicked and wild wind
Blew down the doors to let me in.
Shattered windows and the sound of drums
People could not believe what I'd become
Revolutionaries Wait
For my head on a silver plate
Just a puppet on a lonely string
Oh who would ever want to be king?

I hear Jerusalem bells are ringing
Roman Cavalry choirs are singing
Be my mirror my sword and shield
My missionaries in a foreign field
For some reason I can't explain
I know Saint Peter won't call my name
Never an honest word
And that was when I ruled the world

Hear Jerusalem bells are ringing
Roman Cavalry choirs are singing
Be my mirror my sword and shield
My missionaries in a foreign field
For some reason I can't explain
I know Saint Peter will call my name
Never an honest word
But that was when I ruled the world."

After gathering support throughout England, Isabella and Mortimer  had King Edward and his 'evil counsellors' the Despensers in their sights. King Edward and Despenser the Younger were symbolically captured in pouring rain near Llantrissant, South Wales, effectively bringing an end to Edward's tempestuous reign.

A different depiction of Despenser the Younger's death to that given by Froissart:  

The horrendous death of  Sir Hugh le Despenser the Younger at Hereford 24th November 1326. He was half hanged, tied to a ladder 50 feet high and disembowelled, Despenser also had his private parts removed. It is thought that Queen Isabella ordered that Despenser be treated in such a manner and his organs burnt in a fire. A clear indication of the Queen's hatred for her husband's 'evil counsellor'.

Isabella and her amour in armour:

Queen Isabella and the Welsh Marcher Sir Roger Mortimer outside Hereford surrounded by their supporters - The subsequent events surrounding this unholy alliance between Isabella and Sir Roger fared no better than that of King Edward II and his favourites.


Berkeley Castle 1327 Edward II was murdered at Berkeley castle, his tomb however is not in Westminster but at Gloucester Cathedral, probably as a result of Queen Isabella's directive. Later, on her death in 1358, the dowager Queen Isabella, was buried in London but some say her heart was taken to Gloucester Abbey where her husband had been buried4. The Cathedral there has a huge Crecy window added later in Edward III's time. Gloucester became a great attraction to pilgrims who were saddened at the death of their king for about half the barons and thus half the people of England had supported him, the other half were principally those residing in Northern England.

< Berkeley Castle where Edward II met his end in the end!




                                              King Edward II's effigy carved from alabaster popularised the use of this material throughout 

                                                England and may therefore be used as a chronological reference point for other effigies.

Edrest -Edward at rest where his alabaster effigy has stared at the ceiling of Gloucester Cathedral for almost seven hundred years. His heart in a silver casket was requested to be placed in Queen Isabella's grave but symbolically perhaps, her heart is thought to have been buried in the church at Castle Rising, not Gloucester Cathedral.  Isabella's body was buried in the choir of Greyfriars church, Newgate, close to the highest point in the city of London. Her name is recorded in the Greyfriars records as:

                      'Regina Carnarvarn et cor domini Edwardi marti sui'

                              What great secrets did this man and his wife take to their graves?


The site of Greyfriars Church showing the remains of the later Christ's Church built by Christopher Wren.


           The site of Greyfriars, London 1945, the blitz had de-roofed Christ's Church but not St. Paul's. 

           The latter was due as much to vigilant fire-wardens as good luck.


  1. Schama Simon. A History of Britain, BBC Publications, 2000.
  2. Bulmer's Gazeteer, The History of Yorkshire, 1892.
  3. Phillips G. & Keatman M. Robinhood, The Man Behind The Myth, O'Mara Books, 1995.
  4. Johnson, Paul. The Life and Times of Edward III, Weidenfeld & Nicolson, London, 1973.
  5. Lee, Christopher. This Sceptered Isle, Penguin/BBC Books, 1997.
  6. Marsden, R.G. The Mythical Town of Orwell. Eng. Hist. Review, vol. 21, No. 81, Jan. 1906, pp93-98
  7. Hamilton Wylie J. The Town of Orwell. Eng. Hist. Rev. vol. 21, No.8, Oct 1906. pp. 723-4
  8. Phelps Dodge, Walter. Piers Gaveston, London, 1899.
  9. Weir, Alison. Queen Isabella, 2007, Random House, London, p. 38.
10. Blackley, F. D., Hermansen, Gustav. The Household Book of Queen Isabella of England, 1311-1312. Univ. of Alberta Press. 1971.
Pickering, William. John Rous' Roll of the Earls of Warwick,  1845, p.25.
12. Contemporary image of Isabella at Notre-Dame, Poissy.
13. Chaplais, Pierre. Piers Gaveston: Edward II's Adoptive Brother. Clarendon Press, 1994.

14. Blackley, F.D. & Hermansen, G. The Household Book of Queen Isabella of England.1971, p.121.

15. Bliss, W.P., (ed.), Calendar of Entries in the Papal Registers Relating to Great Britain vol. II, p. 1305-1342. (1895) - Referred to as Papal Letters or Papal Regesta.

King Edward 1         Nottingham Coup
King Edward III

Copyright © 1998. Tim Midgley, revised 1st July, 2019.