Edward II was a deeply flawed king. In her book Edward II: The Unconventional King, Kathryn Warner doesn’t attempt to hide that fact. However, she also uses meticulous research to debunk myriad myths about Edward II, including the malarkey that he was killed via a hot poker in the rectum.
Edward II had a rough spot in history even without being completely unsuited to medieval kingship. He was sandwiched between his father, Edward I Hammer of the Scots, and his son Edward III — arguably the most magnificent of the Plantagenet kings. There was almost no way for Edward II not to be overshadowed by kings both fore and aft.
Warner also critiqued the assumption that Edward was “gay” as we understand it today. Yes, Edward loved at last two men with the emotional devotion of a spouse. Nevertheless, Edward had for legitimate children and one by-blow; he clearly had sex with women. I have no doubt that Edward was “in love” with his favorites, Piers Gaveston and Hugh Despenser the Younger, but whether or not that meant they had sex is something no one can prove or disprove conclusively. Even if he did have a physical relationship with his favorites, he would fit into the category of bisexual rather than exclusively homosexual.
Warner also dropped a bombshell that had already detonated among Edwardian scholars but who
se shockwaves hadn’t reached the general public yet. It is almost certain that Edward II was not killed in England, but was instead declared dead and sent into exile/refuge in Italy. The evidence is lavish and well presented, and some additional scholarly fact checking on my part supported her data to the hilt.
I also liked the fact that Warner fiercely defended Edward from the accusations that he was a limp-wristed & lily-livered ninny. Too often in both history and historical fiction Edward’s mistakes have been chalked up to stupidity, his defeats accounted for by cowardice, and his general ineptitude pawned off with homophobic snickering at his enthrallment by Gaveston and Despenser. Warner saves Edward from calumny without sacrificing veracity, and places his sexuality in its rightful place as just one facet of his character and reign.