If I tell you that I read German and French fluently (which is true), but if I have to read a letter or legal document in either language which is vital for me to understand fully and accurately, I'd much rather read an English translation if there's one available, would your first reaction be 'Oh my goodness, what a stupid, uneducated, lazy and illiterate woman!' Or if I have to take an oath and I decide to say it in English rather than in Latin, because using my native language makes the oath feel more real to me and because all the hundreds of spectators understand English but not necessarily Latin, would you roll your eyes and think 'Ugh, what a thicko!' about me?
I'm guessing you wouldn't. I wouldn't either; I'd think it was entirely normal to prefer to read complicated texts in your own language, or to speak the most important oath you're ever going to give in your life likewise. Yet this is precisely how some historians have reacted to Edward II's choice in February 1308 to give the responses to his coronation oath in French, rather than Latin. We get sneering comments like "It was stupidity or laziness, and not want of opportunity to learn Latin, that made it necessary for Edward II to take his coronation oath in French." There are other very similar statements, including that he was illiterate. We have no direct evidence of Edward's ability to read or write, but it is extremely unlikely that he was illiterate. Most probably he couldn't write Latin particularly well, but then, I can't write French that well either, not nearly as well as I can read it, and no-one's ever thought that makes me illiterate. Given that speaking his responses to the coronation oath in Latin would have meant learning only about six words, assuming Edward didn't know them already (which I really doubt), 'laziness' or 'stupidity' is a very, very bad and unlikely explanation. It's far more likely that Edward wanted to ensure that everyone present understood what was happening, including his twelve-year-old French queen, by having the oath spoken and responding to it in French. But oh no, a common sense explanation is never good enough for historians desperate to criticise every single thing Edward II ever did. So there we go, he was stupid and lazy. That's all there is to it. Funnily enough, Edward's son Edward III and great-grandson Richard II also used French at their coronations in 1327 and 1377, and no-one has ever called them 'stupid' and 'lazy' because of it. Edward I may also have given his oath in French at his coronation in 1274; we don't know as the records are missing. Is he guilty of stupidity and laziness in historians' eyes? Take a wild guess.
In 1317, Pope John XXII thanked the archbishop of Canterbury Walter Reynolds for translating one of his (the pope's) letters from Latin into French for Edward. You won't be surprised to learn that this has also been taken as evidence of Edward's stupidity, laziness and illiteracy. Papal letters were, however, written in very complex Latin which even scholars find hard to follow. In 1317, Edward II was thirty-three and it must have been at least fifteen years or more since he'd last learnt Latin. How many people would be able or willing to read a very complex text, containing sentences the length of paragraphs with numerous sub-clauses, in a language they'd had no contact with since school? Especially if it was a very important letter, and it was vital that they understood it in full and absolutely correctly? Very few, I bet. It makes far more sense to have the text translated into your native tongue rather than struggling for ages trying to grasp the meaning of a foreign language. Who wouldn't? I've seen highly specialised technical texts in German which I've tried to grasp, failed to understand one word in three, think I've understood something then seen a long additional sub-clause and thrown my hands in the air in despair, and given up. But common sense is lacking in our Edward II detractors, not to mention compassion for anyone who struggles to comprehend a long complex text in a foreign language. He was unable to read a complicated letter in Latin and that's enough evidence to condemn him as 'stupid' and badly educated. Never mind the fact that Edward's brother-in-law Charles IV of France was reprimanded by the pope in 1323 for writing to him in French rather than Latin, never mind that this demonstrates that Charles was, obviously, also more comfortable in his native language than in Latin. Charles IV wasn't stupid because of this, but Edward II was. Good to know.
Edward II may not have been a great scholar (he wasn't raised or trained to be one anyway), but his interest in learning is evident. He owned plenty of books. He is one of only a tiny handful of people throughout history to found colleges at both Oxford and Cambridge, and has an important place in the history of Cambridge University particularly. He encouraged the archbishop of Dublin to found a university there. None of this indicates a stupid, ignorant man unconcerned with learning. How many of us struggled at school with Latin conjugations and declensions and the ablative and translating De Bello Gallico and what have you? I was hilariously rubbish at maths at school, and I'm far from being the only one. How unpleasant and unfair to think that this would be used to condemn us as stupid, uneducated, lazy and illiterate nearly 700 years later.