The Fear and Loathing of Edward II

Edward II was crowned king on 25 February 1308, and nothing much went well for him after that.

Why do some historians and authors of popular history write such scathing and distorted reports of Edward II? Why do even some academics overlook facts to concentrate of salacious might-have-beens?

Homophobia, pure and simple.

It doesn’t have to be overt. Prejudice tends to come out subconsciously in a writers work. One author, whom I shall not name because I am not petty, said that Edward II was ‘capable of normal sexual relations’ – a clear indicator of that author’s views on the abnormality of Edward II’s love for a man.  Moreover, the author calls Edward’s foes ‘unequivocally heterosexual’ in comparison to the king in order to highlight the perceived wrongness of Edwards own equivocal sexuality.

Attacks on Edward II were always particularly vicious because he was rumored to be the “bottom”, or the passive sex partner. Popular historians have decried the ‘perverted sexual dominance’ Edward’s lovers had over him. Edward II was seen as being vile because he was thought to have allowed men to penetrate him as women are penetrated. A grown man lowering himself to act as a woman is the worst thing conceivable in a staunch patriarchy. Moreover, Edward was not a strong leader. He was easily swayed. He was bad at warfare. He didn’t try to crush anyone under his boots.

In short, Edward II committed the sin of being “girly”.

Jokes are made about Richard the Lionhearted, but there is always an air to them indicating that Richard like young men the same way the Spartans did. As long as he was the active or dominate “top” his homosexuality is forgiven. He is still thought to assume a “male” role as the one who penetrates rather than one who is penetrated. He was a warrior, and his reported homosexual activity has been treated as scandalous rather than revolting.

This difference between Richard the Lionhearted and Edward II have been treated seems ludicrous considering that Edward II had five known children and Richard fathered none. The odds are that Richard was the “more” homosexual of the two, since Edward II obviously bedded women with some frequency. Nevertheless, it is Edward II that has been the target of historical burlesque.

Lately, the condemnation of Edward II has been lightening. Why? Because of the changing attitudes toward homosexuality.

Now that homophobia is understood to be a bad thing, people are more reluctant to make Edward II’s errors an outgrowth of his sexuality. Moreover, a new generation of authors and historians can look at Edward II and see him as something other than “queer”. As homosexuality becomes more accepted, Edward’s sex life is no longer allowed to define the parameters of his reign. Edward is a human being and a bad king rather than merely a deviant to be mocked.

History does not change, but the historical narrative is extremely mutable.

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