The “Naughtiness” of Edward II

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I am a history nerd, a geek. There I said it and it’s a sad state of affairs because history is something that tends to occupy my daily life—both personally and professionally. I like the old, ancient and traditional and I am not talking about ancient oldies like Sir Ian McKellen, Len Goodman or Bruce Forsyth or the old, backwards thinking of Michael Gove or Andy Gray.

Yet here in England it is exponentially increased due to the fact that so many places are sites of historic events, or produced incredible figures in history. I find it fascinating that we live in a place where history happened. In the United States where I am from, apart from the Salem Witch Trials, the American Revolution, the American Civil War, the Civil Rights Era and the Liberation movements in the 1960s and 70s, there are not the layers of history, such as castles, fortifications, old stately homes, in essence buildings and sites like there is in England. You can walk through a certain city or village in the UK and there is at least some historical significance from the past 1000 years.

I remember when I arrived in York to interview for my PhD with the history department at the University of York. I stepped out of the station and my mouth literally fell open (not just because of the hot bears that walked by and not because I was drooling, maybe…) but because of the rich historical sites that stood before me—the ancient Roman walls that surrounds the city, the old side streets, the buildings that dates from the sixteenth century and even further back. In the months ahead, I hope to share with you some interesting historical stories, facts and events as it relates to Yorkshire, a place we all have come to call home.

Edward II-1500So first up, why not start with a homosexual? Well, it’s near and dear to our hearts. Edward II reigned from 1307 to 1327. He married Isabella of France and it was widely rumored by those at court that Edward was intimate with his favorite Piers Gaveston. Edward and Piers’ relationship started early on when Edward’s father (Edward I) assigned Gaveston to be attendant to his son. The intensity of the relationship between Prince Edward and Gaveston caused considerable concern for the king and Gaveston was sent into exile. Gaveston was later recalled when Edward II succeeded his father.1

Knaresborough Castle

Knaresborough Castle

As king, Edward bestowed considerable gifts on Gaveston such as Knaresborough Castle in Yorkshire and the lands and estates that came with it. With the threat of Gaveston becoming too close for comfort and all too powerful and the king failing to manage his royal duties because of his relationship with Gaveston, the aristocracy and barons had had enough and ordered the Gaveston be removed from the kingdom.

Clifford's Tower

Clifford’s Tower, York

Not adhering to the demands, Edward kept Gaveston around. Finally, in a clash between the monarch and aristocracy, the threat of civil war loomed and Edward fled with his wife and lover to Yorkshire. Edward and his wife encamped at Clifford’s Tower in York while Gaveston retreated to nearby Scarborough Castle. Gaveston was captured at Scarborough Castle and eventually Edward and his wife were surrounded at Clifford’s Tower in York.2

Gaveston was executed a few months later. It wasn’t long after that Edward took a new lover (it is supposed)—Hugh Despenser. Much like the rise and fall of Gaveston, Despenser took the same route. And in the end, the affection and intimacy with Despenser led to not only his downfall and demise but the downfall of Edward II as well.

Scarborough Castle

Scarborough Castle

After considerable distress about the situation with King Edward and his failure to rule accordingly, his wife and her lover, Roger Mortimer while in Paris hatched a plan to invade England and put Edward and Isabella’s son, Edward III, on the throne. They succeeded! In a chronicle that reported the execution of Hugh Despenser, it describes how his genitals were cut off because he was a heretic and because he was guilty of unnatural practices.3

Edward II

Edward II and Gaveston by Marcus Stone (1872)

See what happens when you put things in naughty places? Some historians consider Edward II as a homosexual monarch; however, there are other historians that believe Gaveston was just a “close brother” and that Despenser was a close friend.

The amazing thing about history is that you can read and draw your own conclusions! I believe it was a little more than a “close brother” or friend. I mean, given the fact that the court and the Queen commented on the acts and intimacies of the king, it does suggest more. If you want to know more, please check out the sources below or I can direct you to additional information!

Hope you have enjoyed this installment of “The Beary Hairy Past”…until next month: keep calm and keep it beary!


2   Carolly Erickson, Royal Panoply, New York: St. Martin’s Press, 2003. P. 75-83; Richard Cavendish, “Piers Gaveston Executed,” History Today, Volume 62 (2012): accessed 11 May 2014,

3   Jean Froissart, Chronicles of England, France, Spain… (etc.)

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