Edward II King of England

Edward II King of England 1284-1327

Edward II King of England’s mother sought to depose her own son. It cannot be the sign of a strong kingship surely? Judge for yourself with this brief summary timeline, family trees and short narrative of the life of Edward II, king of England.

Acceding to the throne in 1307 Edward II’s reign would not be happy one. He was described as  ‘as ‘fair of body and great of strength’ but alas his intellectual powers and strength of mind were not so well matched. Edward II’s inherited lineage needs to be thought about, with a line linked to the infamous King John, Henry III and Edward I, a Plantagenet empire squandered, and a king’s exchequer that was already heavily in debt thanks to those before him. It was not a great start or much to go on was it?

He was the son that they would have least expected to be the next King but in the same year that Edward II is born his elder brother Alphonso dies. The ongoing battles with the barons would persist throughout his reign. His infamous infatuation with Piers Gaveston is well documented, together with his disasterous favoritism to the Hugh Despensers, the only English King to lead an army against Scotland and be defeated (Bannockburn) his life and kingship culminates with his own french wife rebelling against him seeking to bring her lover Mortimer to the throne achieving Edward II’s deposition. Not only was his start not a happy one, there was little if anything of substantial benefit let alone merit until his son manages to grapple the throne back from his mother as the rightful next king.

But this series of kingships is as important for what they do not achieve as what they do. In the near future the line of succession would be hotly contested. But once Edward III comes to the throne and reasserts his authority at just 17 years of age over his mother and her lover will there be a re-balancing in the kingship stakes?

Understanding our weaknesses is fundamental to being able to progress, would Edward III have learn’t enough and what will he have learnt from the life of his ineffectual and largely corrupt father? If that sounds a little strong, take a look at the summary of events, judge for yourself and think-on with us about what happens as the reign of the Plantagenet’s draws to a close and creates the firmament that leads towards the War of the Roses.

Edward II and His family

Edwards parents were King Edward I and Eleanor of CASTILLE. Despite his purported homosexuality he marries once to Isabella of France who remains loyal despite GAVESTON in the early years until she can no longer stand the growing influence of the DESPENSERs. Visiting France on the ploy of a diplomatic mission Isabella would wreak her own revenge of Edward II. This would be fuelled by an alliance and love affair with Roger MORTIMER.

Later we have a detailed descendants tree you can download but here is just the immediate family, click for larger version or see

Edward II Descendants immeditae familyHere is the PDF Download of the diagram Edward II Immediate Descendants and family pdf


The next King would be Edward III, their eldest son but he will also have to depose his mother and Mortimer to reclaim his birthright. Given he was only 17 when he comes to the throne you get the feeling he must have been very strong and well supported to survive this treacherous turmoil.  But more of that later.

What of Edward II’s Children?

Who were and what became of Edward II’s children and how does that impact upon the succession?

These are Edward I’s children by Isabella.

  • Edward III His eldest son would eventually become Edward III but he would have to overcome his own mother and her lover MORTIMER to achieve that. It could not have been easy for his other siblings growing up in such treacherous circumstances. The life of Edward is explored in a subsequent article. Edward would marry Philippa of HAINAULT in the first instance and his initial heir would be his brother John followed by his son the Edward, Black Prince.
  • Eleanor of Woodstock, Countess of Guelders 1318 – 1355 she had a sad life married Guelders as his 2nd wife and had two children by him, but he tried to rid himself of her by having her sent away as a leper. She won her way back and would struggle to be regent for her young son but eventually they would quarrel over his treatment of his brother and her own son confiscated her lands. Some 12 years after being widowed she died in poverty in a Cistercian convent she was only 36. She was simply too proud to ask her elder brother for help it is believed but could the King Edward III have really been so unaware of her plight?
  • John of Eltham, 1st Earl of Cornwall 1316 – 1336 was the second son of king Edward I. He was heir to the English throne from the date of the abdication of his father 1327 to the birth of  Edward, the Black Prince in 1330 (the son of Edward III and Philippa who would not live to inherit the crown. John died young with a reputation in his short life for brutal and ruthless campaigning. He did not marry as he died before arrangements could be settled. He died in Perth Scotland and was buried by Edward III in Westminster Abbey.
  • Joan of England . Queen of Scots 1321 – 1362, known as Joan of the Tower because she was born in the Tower of London, was the first wife and Queen consort of David II of Scotland in accordance with the Treaty of Nottingham. Her brother would imprison her husband for over 11 years and whilst she was allowed to visit him she never had children by him. She remained close to her mother and would nurse her in her final days.

The only line to survive would be Edward III’s and the Guelders because both Joan and John would have no children.

Edward II’s Ancestors family tree

Edward had a birth right to the crown and a line that hailed back to William I, but he seemed to fail to inherit little of the leadership qualities of his ancestors, or their military might. He did inherit a realm heavily in debt at his father’s death but he certainly never sought to resolve or get to grips with a plan to resolve his financial plight that was not all of his own making. He seems to have become a mixture of the weaknesses and mis-governance of his grandfather John and his father Henry III but with little to redeem him. Whilst much has been made of his sexuality, it seems his lack of character and capability is his greatest failing overall. A King who was married and had children could perhaps wisely and discretely have managed his affairs. Edward sadly never grasped that possibility and at no point overcomes the failings of his personality. Historian’s have revisited his life as they have with John’s but there remain little to redeem him. The burden of inheritance suffered by Edward III his son needing to depose his own father and now overcome the aftermath of so much failure by John, Henry III and now two Edwards I and II was stacking up to be quite an ancestral inheritance to overcome.

Click on the diagram to see a larger version or download/open the PDF version here Ancestors of EDWARD II PLANTAGENET

Edward II's Ancestors family tree

Edward II’s Descendants

Edward would be succeeded by his own son who was involved, although only 17 at the time, in the deposing of his own fatherwith some would argue more than just cause. He had to overcome his mother and her lover as well and against all odds Edward III manages to continue the line.

The following diagram due to its complexity is best viewed as a Descendants of EDWARD PLANTAGENET full descendants

King Edward II Timeline and brief chronology

A summary of the major events during the life and reign of Edward II, with a short commentary.

1284 Edward II born and Alphonso dies:

Elder brother Alphonso dies and Edward is born at Caernarvon the 14th and last child of Eleanor and his father Edward I

1307 Edward asks his Father to make Gaveston Count of Ponthieu

The elder King Edward I responds by banishing Piers Gaveston even before his son has come to the throne it was public knowledge that the relationship was ill thought of by all around the king to be, in the same year his father would die making north for Scotland.

1307 – Edward II accedes to the throne on the death of his father, Edward I recalls GAVESTON and makes him an Earl

Edward succeeded to the throne of England on July 7, 1307 and immediately recalled Piers Gaveston from France who he created the Earl of Cornwall to the fury of the English court. Gaveston’s place in English magnate society was consolidated when he married Margaret of Clare, sister of Edward II’s nephew, Gilbert of Clare earl of Gloucester.

1308 – Edward’s Marries and his favourite, Piers Gaveston, is exiled for misgovernment.

King Edward II married Isabella of France the daughter of King Philip IV of France, “Philip the Fair. They had four children: Edward (later King Edward III), John, Earl of Cornwall, Eleanor of Woodstock and Joan (see Family above.)The earls insist on sending Gaveston to Ireland a virtual banishment for his undue influence and misgovernment.

 1309 1310- Gaveston returns from exile in France.

Edward II brings Gaveston back in 1310 and it is this action that makes the earls resolved to draw-up the Ordinances. This time it is not just the kings actions that are a problem but his inapprpriate relationship and delegated power to Gaveston.

Parliament sets up a committee of Lords Ordainers to control the King and improve administration. It was a set of reform measures issued by the Ordainers in 1311, similar to the Provisions of Oxford these sought to make the King more accountable to the barons via Parliament. These particular provisions were in response to Edward II’s financial difficulties which had arisen from his own mismanagement of his own affairs and those of the state.

The provisions required parliament to meet at least once a year, when the Ordainers (5 appointed lords)would hear complaints against the King’s ministers. Other clauses were designed to curb expenditure and the royal rights of patronage, But the key and most important clause was the expulsion of Piers Gaveston. It was a bitter pill for Edward II to swallow but he needed his finances resolving.

The ordinances were drawn up by the Ordainers, 5 earls, 6 barons and 7 bishops. They were led by the King’s cousin Thomas of LANCASTER and Archbishop WINCHELSEY of Canterbury. By 1312 the provisions had collapsed and Lancaster and the Archbishop  were locked in armed struggle against the king and Gaveson.

1311 Gaveston is back with Edward II in no time the corrupt influence of Gaveston is back at the Kings side. The Ordainers give up and the barons take-up armed rebellion.

1312 – Piers Gaveston KIDNAPPED and killed. Gaveston is captured by rebel barons after attack at Scarborough Gaveston is captured.

A group led by Thomas of Lancaster (the king’s cousin) using the dubious and possibly lapsed power of the Ordinances, sentence Gaveston to death for treason. They kill or execute Gaveston but those resposible will live to regret that action when Edward wins a victory at BOROUGHBRIDGE.

Edward and the English army are defeated at the Battle of Bannockburn by Robert Bruce. Edward II marched to relieve Stirling Castle. He issued a challenge to  that Robert Bruce reluctantly accepted. On the day Bruce exercised far superior tactical leadership and that combined with the fighting spirit of the Scottish infantry proved more than a match for Edwards, larger but incompetently led forces. This was the only time ever that an army led by an English monarch would be defeated by the Scots. The victory has taken on almost mythic significance to the Scots and in particular nationalists. It was a humiliating defeat and another failure of the King’s reign.

1320 – DESPENSERS curry favour with the King

Welsh border barons, father and son, both named Hugh Despenser, gain the King’s favour, it was the younger that had become the favourite and like Gaveston he was hugely avaricious and acquisitive. Thomas of Lancaster would rebel against their influence as well as Gaveston but once he had been defeated Hugh Despenser became even more arrogant and greedy. Public opinion was weighted heavily against them to the extent that when Edward’s mother and her lover Mortimer invade, no one will lift a finger to help them.


The Scots assert their independence by signing the Declaration of Arbroath, a letter sent to the  Pope John XXII written by Scottish barons, perhaps drafted in Robert Bruce’s chancery it leaves the pope in no doubt that if Bruce submits in overlordship to the Kings of England they will find another. Such is the fervor of the opposition to English supremacy.

“for as long as a hundred men remain alive we will never in any way be bowed  beneath the yoke of English domination; for it is not for glory, riches or honours that we fight but for freedom alone, tht which no man of worth yields up, save with his life”

Whatever your politics, when you read this quote and reflect on contemporary events such as the recent hard fought Scottish Referendum of 2014,that was narrowly lost by the Scottish nationalists you can’t help but feel that there are deep cultural prejudices that perpetuate across the centuries and sometimes we don’t even know why. Powerful words and capable leaders in Scotland and against this England relies on a weak  and inept king too easily led by despotic favourites, it certainly did not improve from his bad start.
1322 – 16th March Barons’ rebellion, led by Thomas, Earl of Lancaster, is crushed at the Battle of Boroughbridge in Yorkshire.

Edward II defeated Lancaster and the dwindling forces of the rebels when they were intercepted at the bridge crossing of the river Ure. Edward took savage revenge on Lancaster and the rebels executing approximately 20 leading rebels including Lancaster. The action shocked Edward’s contemporaries and would ultimately not show his kingship and ability to lead in a good light,

1325 Marriage to Isabella is at breaking point, she cannot abide the DESPESNER influence on the King. In the guise of a diplomatic mission she leaves England and begins an affair with Roger Mortimer. She hatches a plan to depose her husband and earns the name of the She-Wolf Of France. Her story is told in detail elsewhere but more remarkable is how her 17 year old son finds the support and strength to grasp his rightful crown and despatch not only Mortimer but his own father.

1326 – Edward’s wife, Isabella, abandons him and with her lover, Mortimer, seizes power and deposes Edward. The Despensers are both put to death. Isabella had led the invasion against Edward II her husband she and her collaborator Mortimer hardly met any resistance. Public opinion and the nobility were so opposed to the incumbent king.

1327 – Edward II is formally deposed by Parliament in favour of Edward III, his son, and is murdered in Berkeley Castle on the orders of his wife, Isabella.  Edward II( was the first  anointed king of England to have been dethroned since Ethelred in 1013). Edward II was later murdered at Berkeley Castle and was buried in Gloucester Cathedral.

1330, Isabella’s son Edward III deposed Mortimer in turn and Mortimer is executed. Edward III whilst still young was not ready to play 2nd fiddle to his mother or Mortimer. Mortimer was not spared but Edward’s mother was, her lands were confiscated and she would never reside at court but Edward II agrees to pay her a substantial pension of some £3000 annually. Isabella was able to live well although away from the court for the rest of her life.

Is it wrong o usurp an anointed King?

It can be all too easy to think that it is wrong to usurp a king but politically and for the sake of a country there are patterns that show sometimes the need is too great and the pressure from peers so huge that a change is needed and if not heeded then a civil war of some for results? The death of one against the many, a ruthless political expedience?

But the process of survival and the draconian basis of society makes it unlikely that the state of the nation is some altruistic reason for Edward III’s capitalising on his mother’s rebellion and agreement to the formal deposition of his father. Or was it?  That is part of Edward III’s chapter, what would he have learn’t from the error of his father’s ways? What happens next? Find out more starting here on our Plantagenet Period page and watch for the next update on the life and major events of Edward III.


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