Edward II, that most unconventional of kings, enjoyed swimming and rowing, widely considered totally incompatible with his royal dignity. He probably got a taste for the water, as it were, while growing up at Langley near St Albans, rowing on the Gade. Before he became king, he had to pay compensation to his Fool, Robert Buffard, for accidentally injuring him in the water. Wonder what he did - dived on top of him? Pretended to drown him a little too sucessfully?
A few years later, the archbishop of Canterbury sent a member of his household to Edward with a belt he'd lost in the Thames - which implies that he'd gone swimming fully dressed, and also that some poor unfortunate had to plunge in and retrieve the belt!
Edward's most famous aquatic activity came in the autumn of 1315, when he spent an entire month on holiday at Fen Ditton near Cambridge, with the company he liked best, "a great concourse of simple people". He spent the time swimming and rowing, and apparently having a whale of a time - except for the time he fell in and nearly drowned. Edward does seem to have been rather unlucky in water, which in fact is fortunate for us, as otherwise his pursuits might not have been recorded.
However, this particular holiday - which sounds very healthy and relaxing to me, at least - was mentioned in the contemporary Flores Historiarum (Flowers of History) chronicle, written by a monk named Robert of Reading. Robert never passed up a chance to bash Edward, and he's in full force here. He states sarcastically that Edward went to the Fens so that "he might refresh his soul with many waters", and refers to his bracing activities as "childish frivolities".
Then he comments, brilliantly, that when the holiday was over, Edward "set off with all speed, he and his silly company of swimmers, for the parliament which he had ridiculously caused to be summoned to Lincoln."
That makes me giggle every time I think about it. I think it's the 'ridiculously' that tickles my funny bone. What a shame for Edward, though, that he was born in the fourteenth century, an era that didn't understand him and his love of swimming, digging, hedging, thatching, and so on. Just think how much of a role model he'd be nowadays, with his love of the outdoors and physical exercise. I can just see him on TV, doing public infomercials, imploring a nation of overweight couch potatoes to give up their sedentary lifestyles and their junk food and to get outside in the fresh air.
Robert of Reading also slammed Edward for spending time at Burgundy, the hut he'd built himself in the precincts of Westminster. It sounds rather pleasant, actually; it had a large garden.
Criticising Edward's eccentric pursuits was a common theme of the age. In July 1314, a member of Edward's own household, Robert le Messager, was arrested for saying that "it was no wonder the king couldn't win a battle [Bannockburn], because he spent the time when he should have been hearing Mass in idling, ditching, digging and other improper occupations". Queen Isabella, no doubt as bemused (and humiliated) by her husband's weird hobbies as anyone else, interceded for the man.
On the day Edward agreed to Parliament's decision to depose him, 20 January 1327, a delegation sent to him at Kenilworth Castle read out the reasons why his subjects had rejected his rule. Included in the second one, which began "he has not been willing to listen to good counsel", was "he has always given himself up to unseemly works and occupations". Some of these unseemly things were: that Edward had bought cabbages from gardeners to make soup, and had held a meeting on a barge. (The HORROR!!!)
If ever a man was born in the wrong century, it was Edward II...