There have been some infamous kings throughout history, but I guarantee that no ruler caused as much balls-to-the-wall drama as King Edward II. This problem child of the English throne grew into one of the shadiest, most vengeful, and unstable monarchs his country ever saw. And wow, did he ever pay the price for it.
King Edward II Facts
1. He Was The Chosen One
People were mega excited about Edward’s birth—weirdly so. Even though Edward was only the fourth son of the famous King Edward Longshanks and his wife Eleanor, prophets of the time predicted that the boy would rise to become a just, powerful ruler akin to King Arthur. I’m here to tell you that this was definitely not the legacy Edward left.
2. He Had A Horrific Childhood
Although Edward supposedly lived a charmed life as a prince, his childhood was riddled with horrors. Not only did he barely get to know his mother Eleanor, who was away for most of his formative years and dead for the rest, three of his elder brothers had already passed before he even reached his first birthday. Well, that would mess up anyone.
3. He Was Stunningly Handsome
As Edward turned into an adolescent, he morphed into a strapping lad in the classic Plantagenet mode, the ancestral house of his father. He was tall, muscular, and good-looking, and took an avid interest in horses and dogs, particularly greyhounds. Yet for all these common medieval accomplishments, Edward had more controversial interests…
4. He Was An Eccentric
The young Prince Edward might have had good looks, but it soon became clear to everyone at court that he was quite the little eccentric. He didn’t care about hunting or falconry, he didn’t joust, and—gasp!—he loved to hang out with the working classes, a pastime courtiers nearly fainted at. Yet as he got older, his singular tastes deepened.
5. He Had A BFF
Around 1300, when Edward was still an impressionable 16-year-old, his father introduced him to a new companion, the brawny nobleman Piers Gaveston. Little did the King know, this kick-started a permanent twist of fate. Edward soon became bosom buddies with Gaveston, with some even suggesting they became literal blood brothers. But that was far from all.
6. He Had A Scandalous Bromance
Although it’s impossible to verify for sure, there is some very convincing evidence that at some point during their bromance, Edward and Gaveston became actual lovers. One contemporary source revealed that Edward “felt such love” for Gaveston that he “entered into a covenant of constancy” with him. Either way, though, dark clouds were on their horizon.
7. He Had A Type
To be fair, it was hard for Edward not to be attracted to Gaveston, at least in a dirty-sexy kind of way. Gaveston was a notably talented fighter, and people called him “arrogant [and] ostentatious” as well as “reckless and headstrong.” In other words, he was a deliciously toxic hunk of a man. How could a hormonal teen resist?
8. His Father Controlled Him
In 1307, Edward’s father dealt him a cruel blow. For reasons that are still mysterious to this day, the King booted Piers Gaveston right out of court, exiling him to Gascony. Hmm, I wonder if this had anything to do with the fact that the prince and his hunky sidekick were getting really into “contact sports” together. Still, Edward had another worry on his mind…
9. He Had A Child Bride
Even when Edward was gallivanting around with Piers, he wasn’t a free man. Ever since he was an infant, his parents had betrothed him to the even younger Princess Isabella of France. Honestly, ew. And it gets worse than that. The betrothal was strictly a business deal, and Edward’s parents just wanted to make an advantageous political alliance. Ooh, I don’t like where this is going.
10. His Engagement Was A Mess
To speak plainly, Edward and Isabella were downright doomed from the start. For one, even Edward’s own father—AKA the guy who set the whole thing up—quickly wanted out of the betrothal and spent years trying to wriggle his son free so that he could make a better match. No matter how hard he tried, though, it never worked. And then suddenly, it all came crashing down.
11. He Was An Impulsive King
In 1307, Edward’s life got turned upside-down. That year, the old king kicked the bucket, turning Edward into the brand spanking new King of England at a mere 23 years old. Want to know what his first move as king was? No, it wasn’t to finally marry his fiancé Isabella. It was to bring his precious Piers Gaveston back to court, no duh. Unfortunately for Ed, this was a spectacularly bad idea.
12. He Made Bad Decisions
See, Gaveston was a major distraction for Edward. Like every bad boyfriend, Piers somehow drove the king into horrible decisions whenever he was around. Case in point: In 1308, Edward traveled to France to meet his 12-year-old bride Isabella at long last. But, to the outrage of all his courtiers, he made Gaveston the de facto ruler of England in his absence. This was the first in a long line of dismal choices.
13. His Fiancée Was A Famous Beauty
Honestly, if Edward swung that way at all, Isabella of France was one heck of a catch. Her whole family were noted hotties, and the pre-teen herself already had the nickname “Isabella the Fair,” with one observer calling her “the beauty of beauties.” She was also something of a fashionista, and loved wearing headdresses and furs. Not that Edward thanked her for it…
14. His Wedding Was A Disaster
On January 25, 1308, King Edward and Isabella finally married in northern France. It quickly turned into an utter disaster. In a disturbing portent for their entire marriage, Edward decided not to sit next to his child bride at the ceremony, but cozied up to Gaveston instead. The snub insulted Isabella’s entire family in one fell swoop. Iconique. Oh, and there’s a kicker.
15. His Lover Stole From His Wife
According to a prevalent rumor at the time, Piers Gaveston wasn’t content with taking Isabella’s man on her big day; he also took her belongings. The new child queen received lavish gifts as wedding presents, and some whispered that Gaveston purloined them right out of her little hands. Like taking candy from a baby, but make it literal. Think that’s ridiculous? Hold my mead.
16. He Was A Terrible Husband
Edward II and Gaveston were really, really into each other during this time, so much so that people would quip there were “two kings reigning in one kingdom.” Edward would even give Gaveston his wife’s jewelry, and then the courtier would smugly show off the baubles, making sure the queen saw who was wearing her new jewels. I’ll just say this: Maybe the dude got what was coming to him.
17. He Was A Bad King
As it turns out, Edward II was about as good of a king as he was a husband. One of the reasons Gaveston was his favorite was because Edward hated making decisions, and would rather leave the grunt work of running a kingdom to someone else. As one commenter put it, Edward was “incompetent and vicious” and “no man of business.” Well, alrighty then.
18. He Was Very Unfaithful To His Bride
In the months following their wedding, Edward’s behavior toward Isabella didn’t improve. Actually, it did the exact opposite. Edward all but ignored his prepubescent beauty—the guy didn’t even grant Isabella her own household—preferring instead to take up with a series of mistresses and, in all likelihood, manstresses too. So little Isabella had to get very smart, very fast.
19. His Wife Outsmarted Him
As Isabella grew up, she made a surprising decision. Perhaps realizing that she could never compete with Gaveston, she teamed up with him. The pair became close allies, and in the process, Isabella earned just a teensy weensy bit of attention from King Edward, who finally started treating her like an actual human being. Yet just as Edward’s personal life seemed like it was calming down, destiny came in and smashed it with a sledgehammer.
20. He Had A Restraining Order
King Edward’s infatuation with the handsome Piers Gaveston didn’t just alienate his wife, it alienated his whole dang country. Soon enough, his barons made actual, real laws banning Gaveston from Edward’s presence, exiled him several times, and tried desperately to limit his power. Then it all came to a gruesome climax.
21. He Lost His Love In A Brutal Way
In the summer of 1312, Edward’s enemies hatched a gut-wrenching plan. His discontented barons captured Gaveston and before Edward could come to his BFF’s rescue, tried and executed the courtier. It was not a good end: The men took Gaveston out to a deserted road, chopped off his head, and left his body there. And then the plot thickened.
22. He Swore Vengeance
When Edward heard about his favorite’s dark fate, he went right off the deep end. Outraged, the furious king swore vengeance on the rogue barons who executed Gaveston, and England barely avoided a Civil War over the plot. Not that it was “all’s well that ends well”: This one act of rebellion was a sign of far worse things to come.
23. His Reign Started Unraveling
Around this time, Edward’s luck turned dismal. In addition to his personal issues, he had also been waging battles against Robert the Bruce and the Scottish. His efforts couldn’t have gone worse. In 1314, the king suffered a hugely embarrassing defeat at the Battle of Bannockburn and, on top of that, a famine started raging across England. Edward’s response to this imbroglio was infamous.
24. He Was “Evil”
Things were so bad at this point, people were writing poems with titles like the “Evil Times of Edward II.” So what does the king do? If you guessed “beat back the Scottish” or “feed his people,” you’d be wrong. Nope, instead, Edward found himself another favorite, striking up an alliance with Hugh Despenser the Younger. Somehow, this romance would end even more tragically than the one before.
25. His Wife And His Lover Hated Each Other
No one was happy about this development, especially not Edward’s wife. In the intervening years, Queen Isabella had gone from a naïve girl to a powerhouse of a ruler, even giving her husband a son and heir, baby Edward, in 1312. And where Isabella had tolerated Piers Gaveston, she outright despised this upstart Hugh Despenser. You know what they say, unhappy wife = really, really horrifically unhappy life.
26. His Courtiers Threatened Him
Soon enough, word got out about Hugh Despenser, and it was like the Gaveston scandal all over again—but this time on a mega-dose of steroids. People left, right, and center accused the King and his new favorite of carrying on an affair, with one later commenter saying Edward loved Hugh “dearly with all his heart and mind.”
Unwilling to go down this road again, the courtiers threatened abdication and forced Edward to exile Hugh and his whole family right off the bat. Oh, well good, everything’s under control now. *nervous laughter*
27. He Vowed To Get Payback
On the surface, King Edward complied with his barons’ demands. But he was hiding a deep secret. He wasn’t cowed in the slightest. Indeed, practically the minute that Hugh Despenser waved goodbye and set off for exile, Edward started plotting his revenge. Unfortunately for everyone involved, his payback was “Cliffs of Insanity” level nuts.
28. He Betrayed His Queen
Ok, seriously, you can’t make this stuff up: In order to avenge Hugh and provoke his enemies, Edward used his own wife Isabella as bait, sending her into a hostile castle as a “guest.” When—surprise!—the inhabitants attacked the queen’s entourage, Edward had all the excuse he needed to bombard his foes without blame. Without blame, that is, except for the part where he USED HIS WIFE AS BAIT.
Did Isabella like this? Absolutely not. But it was about to get so much worse for her.
29. He Had Blood On His Hands
After this lovely show of marital fidelity, the King regained control of his vassals, brought Hugh Despenser and his brood back to court, and summarily executed all his naysayers. Then he turned his negative vibes squarely on Isabella; for some reason, the Despensers suspected her of endless plots, and Edward was happy to play along. But it was Edward himself who dealt her the cruelest blow.
30. His Marriage Fell Apart Spectacularly
By 1324, Isabella and King Edward’s relationship had deteriorated beyond repair, and Edward sure let her know it. Partly using rising tensions with France as an excuse, he confiscated all of Isabella’s lands, took over her household, and threw her French staff behind bars. As a rotten cherry on top, he then ripped the Queen’s children from her breast and dumped them with the Despenser clan to get a “better” childhood.
Ouch. Is it any wonder Isabella got her husband back so brutally?
31. He Forced His Wife Out Of England
King Edward obviously didn’t think ahead too well, because not a year later, he needed Queen Isabella to do him a big solid. In 1325, with a war now fully broken out between England and France, he sent his wife back to her native land to butter up her brother, King Charles IV of France, and try to bring the conflict to an end.
Isabella smiled, nodded her head, and went obediently to do Edward’s bidding…or so he thought.
32. His Queen Rose Up Against Him
Edward might have been notoriously good at getting revenge, but Isabella had learned a thing or two from her husband. By September of the same year, Isabella’s teenage son Prince Edward had joined her in France—and that’s when she pounced. Holed up in enemy territory with the heir to the English throne, Isabella’s plan kicked into gear.
First, she refused to come back to her husband. And then, phase two began…
33. He Was Desperate To Regain Control
Suddenly, for the first time in years, King Edward was very concerned about his wife. He sent her frantic letter after frantic letter demanding that she come back, but her brother King Charles simply responded that the “queen has come of her own will and may freely return if she wishes. But if she prefers to remain here, she is my sister and I refuse to expel her.”
Boss move, babe. And then the news grew worse for Edward…
34. His Wife Got Payback
Since Isabella wasn’t coming home any time soon, Edward got his emissaries to keep an eye on her actions in the French court. Their messages made his blood run cold. Apparently, the queen was gathering support by dramatically dressing in black mourning clothes and claiming Hugh Despenser had destroyed her marriage. Nice, Izzy. Then, somehow, she outdid herself again.
35. His Queen Slept With The Enemy
By February 1326, King Edward’s long-suffering wife was thoroughly done with him, and her final nail in the coffin shot right through his heart. While over in France, Isabella started up an affair with the handsome English courtier Roger Mortimer, who just so happened to be one of Edward’s exiled foes. Yep, Isabella was sleeping with the enemy…and big trouble was brewing.
36. His Enemies Ganged Up On Him
Before the year was even out, Queen Isabella and her man Mortimer had turned into the 14th-century power couple. All of Edward’s enemies (and there were many) flocked to the French court. As if that weren’t enough, Isabella then betrothed her son Prince Edward to the daughter of a wealthy Count—in exchange for a buttload of warships.
My Isabella, what big warships you have. What could you be needing those for?
37. His Queen Launched An Attack On Him
Sure, King Edward was a little distracted with Hugh Despenser, but even he could see what was going on with Isabella over in France, and it made him quake in his boots. To put it plainly, his estranged wife and her lover were clearly going to invade his kingdom and try to boot him off the throne. Let this be a lesson to you: Don’t tick off your extremely well connected and beautiful wife. But Edward had to learn that the hard way.
38. He Had A Brutal Downfall
In late September of 1326, Queen Isabella and Roger Mortimer landed on English soil and proceeded to pummel the heck out of King Edward II. By early November, Edward and his favorite Hugh Despenser were on the run, and by the middle of the month, the vengeful queen’s forces had captured and imprisoned them. Then things got truly dark.
39. His Lover Was Sentenced To Execution
Now that Edward and Isabella were never, ever, ever getting back together, his consort wasted no time showing him who was boss. She started by hitting him where it hurt most: her old rival Hugh Despenser. With extreme prejudice, Isabella sentenced the man to execution on November 24, 1326…and the details live on in infamy.
40. His Favorite Met A Gruesome End
When she sentenced Hugh, Isabella decided he should be disemboweled, castrated, and then quartered. And that wasn’t even the worst part. The massive crowd that turned up to Hugh’s execution also watched as people wrote Biblical verses about corruption and arrogance all over his bare skin. Then, when all was said and done, they hung his limp body.
With that little chore taken care of, Isabella turned her attention on her husband…
41. He Was A Captive King
While Hugh got hanged, Edward II was holed up as a prisoner in Kenilworth Castle. Technically, he was no longer a threat, but Ed presented a big problem: No one was quite sure what to do with a king who so obviously wasn’t king anymore, at least not in any practical way. Eventually, a group of high-ranking nobles paid him a visit—and gave him a cruel ultimatum.
42. He Was Forced To Abdicate
In order to officially transfer power, the nobles browbeat their monarch into abdication. They let Edward know in no uncertain terms that unless he gave his crown to Prince Edward, it would go to another candidate, and his royal line would be extinguished forever. With no choice, a tearful Edward agreed to the terms. Unfortunately for the erstwhile monarch, none of this would save him from his tragic fate.
43. He Lived In The Shadows
Edward spent the next long year alone and imprisoned, and there is evidence to suggest his captors mistreated their former ruler. To make matters worse, loyalists kept trying to jailbreak the captive, forcing Isabella and Mortimer to have Edward constantly moved around from castle to castle to avoid the would-be saviors. And then Edward’s final nightmare began.
44. He Died Young
On September 21, 1327, attendants found Edward’s body cold, stiff, and lifeless in his cell. While Edward—who was only 43 at the time—had suffered from a deep depression throughout his imprisonment (shocker, I know) and hadn’t received top-notch care, there didn’t seem to be anything seriously wrong with him…which led to some unsettling whispers.
45. His End Was Suspicious
Historians have noted that King Edward’s passing was “suspiciously timely” in that it solved all the political complications of having him be, well, alive. So instead of natural causes, historians suggest a much darker reason for his demise. His wife Queen Isabella and her lover Mortimer likely ordered a hit on him. As for how it all went down, well…
46. A Terrible Rumor Went Around About Him
Although we can never know what King Edward II’s final moments on Earth were really like, one particular rumor about his demise is mind-blowingly ugly and spiteful. As the years wore on, people started claiming his assailants offed him by sticking a red-hot poker up his butt, which was an obvious allusion to his assumed sexuality.
Historians, however, have largely debunked this. Not only is it clearly a dig at his bedroom preferences, it’s also a really ham-fisted way for undercover assassins to say, “Hey! Look over here! This is NOT a natural death!” Which, uh, would be the opposite of what they’d want. Ridiculously enough, this story does get stranger.
47. He Was In A Stalemate
Let’s flash back to less butt-poker-filled times. During his reign, Edward was vain, arrogant, and not a man to be crossed—not a great combination of qualities, if I’m honest. In 1323, Edward was in a total stalemate with Robert the Bruce and the Scottish forces. So one of his best advisors, Andrew Harclay, attempted to broker a peace treaty that would name Robert King of Scotland and end the suffering of thousands. Edward’s response was bone-chilling.
48. He Was Merciless
Furious that a lackey would so much as suggest he give up one of his royal titles, King Edward immediately had Harclay executed, then displayed his head in London for all to see. The most ironic part of this gruesome tale? Soon after, Edward agreed to a 13-year truce with Robert the Bruce, ending up in much the same place anyway.
49. Karma Came For His Wife
Karma comes for us all, and even though Isabella was a teensy-weensy bit justified in, well, rising against and then murdering her own husband, she got her comeuppance too. Her alliance with Mortimer fell apart almost instantly after Edward’s passing, and she became merely the Queen Mother to her son King Edward III in the years to follow.
In an irony to end all ironies, however, Edward’s heart was later buried beside Isabella’s body. Not what I think the guy would have wanted.
50. He Had One Final Plot Twist
When someone famous kicks the bucket, there are always spurious conspiracy theories claiming they’re still alive. But—and sit down for this one—in Edward’s case, it might really be true. The now famous “Fieschi Letter,” written by the Italian priest Manuel Fieschi, claims Edward actually escaped, and that the body in his cell was a humble porter.
In this version of events, the fugitive king fled to the Holy Roman Empire to live out the rest of his days as a hermit. Even more shockingly, multiple historians confirm that some or all of the letter is true. No, really. We spend a lot of time hoping the Romanovs made it out of their fate alive, but it’s pretty close to canon that King Edward II actually did.