Happy Birthday Edward of Caernarfon!

King Edward II of England was born on 25 April 1284, the fourth son of Edward I and his first wife, Eleanor of Castile but the eldest son to survive to adulthood.

Edward_I_&_II_Prince_of_Wales_1301

Most people know more historical myths about Edward II – that he was the embodiment of the limp-wristed pouf negative stereotype like in Mel Gibson‘s 1995 movie Braveheart, or that he gave his wife’s jewels to his male lover Piers Gaveston, or that he died from a red-hot poker shoved up his bunghole – than truths about him.

For one thing, he was probably “bisexual” as we understand it,  or even “straight”, rather than “gay”, but no one would have understood that to be a defining characteristic of his personality in the Medieval period:

Homosexuality was fiercely condemned by the Church in 14th-century England, equating it with heresy, but engaging in sex with another man did not necessarily define an individual’s personal identity in the same way that it might in the 21st century. Edward and Gaveston both had sexual relationships with their wives, who bore them children [Edward and Isabella’s first son, the future Edward III, was born in 1312 amid great celebrations, and three more children followed: John in 1316, Eleanor in 1318 and Joan in 1321]; Edward also had an illegitimate son [Adam, who was born possibly as early as 1307], and may also have had an affair with his niece, Eleanor de Clare. The contemporary evidence supporting their homosexual relationship comes primarily from an anonymous chronicler in the 1320s who described how Edward “felt such love” for Gaveston that “he entered into a covenant of constancy, and bound himself with him before all other mortals with a bond of indissoluble love, firmly drawn up and fastened with a knot”. The first specific suggestion that Edward engaged in sex with men was recorded in 1334, when Adam Orleton, the Bishop of Winchester, was accused of having stated in 1326 that Edward was a “sodomite”, although Orleton defended himself by arguing that he had meant that Edward’s advisor, Hugh Despenser the Younger, was a sodomite, rather than the late King. The Meaux Chronicle from the 1390s simply notes that Edward gave himself “too much to the vice of sodomy.” Alternatively, Edward and Gaveston may have simply been friends with a close working relationship. Contemporary chronicler comments are vaguely worded; Orleton’s allegations were at least in part politically motivated, and are very similar to the highly politicised sodomy allegations made against Pope Boniface VIII and the Knights Templar in 1303 and 1308 respectively.

Secondly, while Edward wildly overindulged (to the detriment of his kingdom) his favorites and those he loved, he never gave away his wife’s jewels. Moreover, he overindulged his wife, Isabella of France, as much as any of his other ‘lovers’. Rather than hating him, Isabella appears to have loved her husband. Her anger at his favorite, Hugh Despenser the Younger, may have been sheer jealousy over her husband’s affections as much as anything else. Even after Isabella raised an army to depose her spouse (allying herself to the exiled enemy of Hugh Despenser, Roger Mortimer, 1st Earl of March, who coincidently was also born on 25 April three years after Edward of Caerfanon), she sent her captive husband presents and love letters.

Edward II captured by his wife Isabella of France

In fact, the only reason she was able to take their eldest son to France and stage a rebellion against her husband was because Edward had foolishly given in to her wishes (as he did with anyone he loved) to go back to her native land with the Prince of Wales. When she died, Isabella was buried with Edward’s heart in a casket on her chest; hardly the act of a woman who had hated him!

Thirdly, there is ZERO evidence Edward died from an anal assault with a hot poker after Isabella and Mortimer deposed him. To be honest, there is very little evidence he was murdered at all. There is, however, evidence to support the theory that Edward was secreted away (in a monastery?) until he died a natural death during his son’s reign. Most theories regarding Edward’s post-usurpation survival, “involve the “Fieschi Letter“, sent to Edward III by an Italian priest called Manuel Fieschi, who claimed that Edward escaped Berkeley Castle in 1327 with the help of a servant and ultimately retired to become a hermit in the Holy Roman Empire.”

For more about Edward’s life, loves, and death, I strongly suggest Kathryn Warner’s book Edward II: An Unconventional King.


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