Sunday, 8 March 2015

Kind Edward II of England and his Shocking Execution

Grizzly regal deaths conjure up images of the fate of Charles I but even he did not suffer as bad as King Edward II way back in 1327. His spectacular fall from grace has never been surpassed by any monarch.

The origins of his demise owe to his personality clash with the leading barons of the day. He is sneered at for rowing, cutting hedges and digging ditches as these are considered jobs only for the low born and not fitting for a King. Most who despise him though do so because of his vain nature and close friendship with a select band of court favourites.

These issue fester and eventually become too much for his barons so much so they work together and depose him. On the 16th November 1326 King Edward II is captured in south Wales by Henry of Lancaster and taken to his stronghold at Kenilworth Castle.

His detractors quickly get to work in trying to legitimise their overthrow. On 15 January 1327, the Archbishop of Canterbury preaches that power comes through popular consent. ‘The voice of the people is the voice of God’ he says and follows up by saying that King Edward II is ‘never more to govern the people of England’.

Edward is then formally removed from his throne on the 20th January 1327 and deposed on the 25th. His son Edward III is then allowed to take over but only under the aegis of his mother, Queen Isabella and her lover, Roger Mortimer.

In the meantime King Edward II is moved around to stop support gathering for him and eventually ends up at Berkeley Castle in Gloucestershire on the 3rd April under the custody of Thomas de Berkeley, owner of Berkeley Castle and son in law of Roger Mortimer.

In spite of all these efforts at least two attempts are made to rescue Edward. The first is by a Dominican friar, Thomas Dunheved (the king's former confessor) acting together with his brother Stephen and a group of fellow conspirators from the Warwickshire area. The Dunheved gang spring a raid on Berkeley Castle and free Edward in around July 1327.

Thomas de Berkeley is at once angry and beside himself with embarrassment for losing such an important prisoner and so he hunts after him strenuously. His efforts pay off and on the 20th of August he  arrests a member of the gang, William Aylmer at Oxford. He tells all and using his new leads they recapture the former king and takes him back to  Berkeley Castle. As for Aylmer, he is acquitted and released whilst the  rest of his gang, bar Stephen Dunheved are soon captured. For this reason some historians speculate that William betrayed them in exchange for his own life.

Not long after a second attempt is organised by Rhys ap Gruffudd, but fails as William Shalford betrays the plans to Roger Mortimer. Anxious not to have more trouble Mortimer sends out William Ockle to Berkeley Castle to deal with Edward II once and for all. When he arrives he takes over from Thomas de Berkeley, who is called away. Ockle along with Thomas Gourney and Simon Bereford then take charge of the former king. Edward remains in good health so what happens next is shocking to all when they first hear it. 

On the 28th of September a public announcement states that Edward of Carnarvon, the former king of England has died of natural causes on the 21st September 1327 due to ‘internal trouble’ during the night. Given his previous fitness this is at once highly suspicious and incredible. The conclusion many reach is that a cover up is going on to conceal his murder. 

Edward's body remains at Berkeley until the 21st October when he is handed over to the abbot of St Peters Abbey in Gloucester and buried there in December. Naturally many inquisitive wonder aloud how Edward has died so to allay any fears that something untoward has happened several high ranking people are allowed to see his dead body afterward. They see nothing but the suspicions are not allayed.

Many local residents near the Berkeley Castle, Gloucestershire swear they heard screams from the castle shortly before the day his death was announced. Many years later a boy from the area, John Trevisa, who grows up to be a chaplain confirms these fears of foul play when he hears from the King’s jailer, Thomas Berkeley, what really happened following a confession.

He confesses that during September 1327 Edward II was subjected to increasing levels of torture to break his spirit. First his tormentors put him in a secure chamber full of the stench from rotting corpses. When this fails several men grasp him suddenly by surprise on 22 September and suffocate Edward. The final indignity is for a roast spit to be inserted up his rectum. As once chronicler memorably wrote the ex-King had to suffer a ‘hot spit put though the secret place posterial’. In so doing it leaves no visible external injury. This explains why the high ranking men saw nothing suspicious. It also acts as a final insult to someone considered abhorrent for being a homosexual. The attack also explains the screams that local people swore they heard outside the castle and left Edward II to suffer the worst indignity of any English ruler in history. 

His son King Edward III is also placed in a dreadful situation well Roger Mortimer plots to kill him so he can be King of England. If you want to find out how he escapes read my new History Book and if you liked that story then remember there are new stories on this site every week that can be found at my Secret History Stories homepage.