21 September, 2006

Edward II's Death (?)

Today marks the 679th anniversary of Edward II's death...allegedly. I suppose most people know, or think they know, the story of Edward's terrible death - the 'red-hot poker' narrative that's passed into legend.

After Edward II's forced abdication in January 1327, he was first 'imprisoned' at Kenilworth Castle, under the care of his cousin Henry of Lancaster, who treated him with respect and honour. In April, he was transferred to Berkeley Castle, Gloucestershire, where his jailor was Thomas, Lord Berkeley - the son-in-law of Roger Mortimer. Berkeley had been imprisoned for several years by Edward, and his father had died during his own imprisonment, so he had little reason to like the king.

The chronicle of Geoffrey le Baker, written about thirty years later, mentions Edward's ill-treatment. He was held in a cell above the rotting corpses of animals, in an attempt to kill him indirectly. But Edward was extremely strong, fit and healthy, and survived the treatment, until on the night of 21 September 1327, he was held down and a red-hot poker pushed into his anus through a drenching-horn. His screams could be heard for miles around.

This has become the standard narrative of Edward's death, but there are problems with taking it at face value. Baker hated Queen Isabella (the 'iron virago') and was constructing a narrative of 'Edward as martyr'. The chronicles written shortly after Edward's death (Anonimalle Chronicle, a shorter continuation of the Brut, Lichfield Chronicle, Adam Murimith) variously state only that he died (with no explanation given), that he died of a 'grief-induced illness', or that he was strangled or suffocated. The official pronouncement of Edward's death, in September 1327, claimed that he died of 'natural causes'. It wasn't described as murder until November 1330, when Roger Mortimer was accused of 'having [Edward] murdered at Berkeley' during his show trial.

The earliest reference to the 'red-hot poker' method is found in a longer continuation of the Brut, written in the 1330s. However, many other fourteenth-century chronicles do not repeat this allegation. None of the men who killed Edward - for the purposes of this post, I'm assuming that he really was murdered in 1327 - ever spoke about it publicly. Therefore, we're dealing with rumour and hearsay, how the chroniclers thought he'd been murdered.

Admittedly, I find it very hard to view Edward's death objectively - I'm very fond of him, and would rather believe that he didn't die in such a vile way. However, the red-hot poker story does seem implausible. The idea was to kill him in such a fashion that no marks of violence would be visible on his body. However, why then kill him in such an agonising fashion that his screams could be heard for miles around? Why torture him, so that his (dead) face wore an expression of agony, if you were trying to pretend that his death was natural? Surely strangling or smothering, or even poison, would have been more effective. These methods would also have left physical traces on Edward's body, but if his eyes were closed and his body covered up, they would have been missed by the people viewing his body.

Here are some other ideas on the story:
- Mary Saaler, in her 1997 biography of Edward II, quotes Adam Murimith's comment that Edward was killed per cautelam, by a trick, and wonders if this phrase became corrupted to per cauterium, a branding-iron.
- Pierre Chaplais and Ian Mortimer have commented on the death of King Edmund Ironside in 1016, said to have been murdered in a similar way to Edward, while sitting on the privy. The story was often repeated in thirteeth-century chronicles.
- And finally, Edward's brother-in-law the earl of Hereford was killed at the Battle of Boroughbridge in 1322 when he was skewered through the anus by a spear pushed up through the bridge.

It's my belief that the grotesque 'anal rape' narrative of Edward's death (Dr Ian Mortimer's phrase) is nothing more than a reflection of the popular belief that Edward was the passive partner in sexual acts with men, and that this means of death represented Edward receiving his 'just desserts'. The deaths of the earl of Hereford and Edmund Ironside may have provided the inspiration for this.
Similarly, the castration (or emasculation) of Edward's favourite, the younger Despenser, in November 1326, was said by the chronicler Jean Froissart to be a punishment for his sexual relations with Edward. Whether this is true or not is impossible to say, but I think the narratives of both men's deaths reflect the widespread belief that they had sexual relations and were punished for them. Often, a story that begins as a joke or a rumour takes on the aura of 'truth' - such as the death of Edward's descendant George, Duke of Clarence, who died in the Tower of London in 1478. He is supposed to have drowned in a 'butt of malmsey'. It's difficult to ascertain whether this is the truth, or merely reflects his reputation as a drunkard.

Perhaps the story also represents a general human willingness to believe the most gruesome story - after all, being murdered with a red-hot piece of metal in the anus is far more 'interesting' than being smothered. And perhaps we shouldn't discount the early account of Edward's death from 'grief-induced illness', the accusation against Mortimer notwithstanding. At first sight it's not very plausible, but it is possible - given that Edward had lost his throne, his friends were dead, his family had turned against him, and he never saw his children again. If Edward was murdered in 1327, I'm far more inclined to believe that he was suffocated or strangled. He was a strong man and would have resisted, but of course he could have been murdered while he was asleep, or drugged.

But a far more fascinating question is - was Edward really murdered in 1327? Some modern historians incline to the view that he wasn't - which will be the subject of a further post shortly!

Until then, I'm going to raise a glass to King Edward II, who may or may not have died exactly 679 years ago. Cheers, Your Grace!


Susan Higginbotham said...

To Edward II! (Lifting ice-cold can of Coca-Cola)

Carla said...

This is one of the (many) things we can never know the truth about - one of the fascinations and frustrations of history. The red-hot poker story does have the look of salacious gossip. Not to say that it couldn't have happened, but there are surely easier ways of murdering someone without leaving a mark on the body. Would smothering leave any trace at all?
Clifford Brewer, a retired surgeon, says of the red-hot poker story that such a method would normally result in death after a few days, when peritonitis had developed, whereas Edward II was said to be dead by the morning after the attack. Brewer just says that such a rapid death by this method would be 'unusual', though it seems to me that it could also be taken as evidence suggesting that Edward II was more likely to have died by some other means.

What's the evidence on the death of Edmund Ironside? I thought he died from wounds received in battle. Also the story about the Earl of Hereford is just the same as the one told about the Viking warrior at Stamford Bridge in 1066 who held off Harold Godwinsson's army singlehanded until one of Harold's men (unnamed in the sources, so invariably the fictional hero in historical novels on the subject) paddled a tub beneath the bridge and 'brogged the giant from below'. I share your suspicion that medieval chroniclers liked a good story as much as the rest of us - and weren't above recycling them!

Kathryn Warner said...
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Kathryn Warner said...

Carla, thanks for raising the important point about how long it would take someone subjected to the 'red-hot poker' method to die. I forgot to mention it in the post, but I remember reading once that it would generally take a few days for the person to die, whereas it's normally implied that Edward was dead within hours, or even minutes.

Apparently, a classic sign of smothering is blood in the nose - something it would have been extremely easy to hide by merely cleaning out Edward's nose. There's also often something called 'petechial haemorrhages' in the eyes and skin, but I don't know how obvious these would be.

Pierre Chaplais' 1994 bio of Piers Gaveston cites the twelfth/thirteenth-century chronicles of William of Malmesbury and Henry of Huntingdon, and the Liber Eliensis, which mention Edmund Ironside's murder in this fashion.

William of Malmesbury: "they drove an iron hook into his posteriors, as he was sitting down for a necessary purpose."

Henry of Huntingdon: "having occasion to retire to the house for relieving the calls of nature, the son of the ealdorman Edric, by his father's contrivance, concealed himself in the pit, and stabbed the king twice from beneath with a sharp dagger, and leaving the weapon fixed in his bowels, made his escape."

From this page.

How accurate these accounts are, I don't know - or whether modern historians find them plausible - but it shows that the concept of 'death by sharp object in the anus' was known in the Middle Ages. Chaplais also points out that Duke Godfrey of Lower Lorraine was said to have been murdered the same way in 1076.

Carla said...

Petechial haemorrhages are tiny haemorrhages caused by the rupture of small blood vessels. They look like little blood spots just under the skin or in the whites of the eyes. They would probably look like ordinary 'bloodshot eyes' to anyone other than a trained observer specifically searching for them, and they can be caused by anything that increases venous blood pressure in the head - coughing can do it, for example. Their presence wouldn't prove murder even if anyone at the time had gone in for forensic medicine. If the body was left lying with the head lower than the torso, blood would also pool in the head after death and might produce much the same signs - or obliterate those produced by smothering. I have the impression that smothering would be hard to prove even with modern forensics. It would be more consistent with the speed of Edward's (supposed) death.
One of the red-hot poker accounts says he was held down by a heavy weight (a door, I think). Chest compression by a heavy weight would kill someone in the same way as smothering, with the same limited and inconclusive signs and no external mark on the body.

One way of reconciling the accounts with the speed of death may be to postulate that Edward died from chest compression while being held down, possibly before his murderers managed to do anything vile with the red-hot poker. So the poker method may have been the murderers' sadistic intention, but the actual effect might well have been a much quicker end by asphyxia due to chest compression. Loss of consciousness would happen in minutes, and death a few minutes after that.

If I were writing a fictional account, this is the explanation I'd choose - it's a plausible cause of death; it fits with the reported speed of death; it fits with the surviving accounts if the poker was the intended method of murder; and it fits with the reports of screams, if the victim cried out for help before losing consciousness.

Thanks for the sources re Edmund Ironside. Both are quite late, aren't they? The Anglo-Saxon Chronicle which is more or less contemporary with events just says that Edmund died, with no details. I'd be inclined to take it as natural causes or death from wounds (he had fought at least one battle shortly before), as the Chronicle happily records other murders. As you say, the later accounts of his death show that the story or idea of death by an unpleasant object up the fundament was in widespread currency in the Middle Ages, so it could easily have been borrowed by a chronicler wanting a sensational story about Edward's death.

What a horrible subject. Sorry. But FWIW, I don't think the balance of evidence suggests that Edward died such a horrible death.

Susan Higginbotham said...

These are fascinating comments. I tend to think Edward II was murdered by more prosaic means than by a red-hot poker, though I went with tradition when I wrote the scene and had the murderers use the poker (and an upside-down table, which would fit in with Carla's last comments). I do think that he died at Berkeley Castle in 1327 rather than escaping and dying later, though--but I'd be happy to be proven wrong there too.

Kathryn Warner said...

No need to apologise, Carla - it's entirely my fault for raising such a horrible topic! Thanks a lot for the info - it confirms my suspicion that Edward could easily have been smothered or strangled, with nobody necessarily being any the wiser.

That's especially interesting that Edward might have died of suffocation before the intended torture could be carried out. One of the chronicles (Geoffrey le Baker, I think) claims that Edward was held down by fifteen men before the 'poker' was inserted, which is obviously a ludicrous exaggeration - but I can see how the table might have compressed his chest and caused a quick death.

I'm pleased that other people share my opinion of the red-hot poker murder...

..and maybe Edward wasn't murdered at all....but I'll discuss that in another post soon! ;)

BTW, I'm also inclined to believe that Edmund Ironside died of battle wounds, given how much later the chronicles mention the 'privy' death. It certainly seems odd that the A-S chronicle doesn't mention it, if it really happened.

Anonymous said...

You make a very good argument, Alianore! I've always thought the hot poker thing was very melodramatic anyway . . .

How frustrating for his enemies that he was so fit physically!

Carla said...

Given that Edward was physically strong it might have taken a lot of men to hold him down - fifteen sounds rather a lot, but it might not be too far off. Two or three would have had trouble, unless he was drugged or drunk (in which case, it becomes hard to explain the reports of screams). Fifteen men would be able to overpower him quickly without a significant struggle that would have run the risk of injuring him and thus leaving marks of violence on the body. It also occurs to me that the chief instigators might have wanted to involve a lot of other conspirators in the actual murder, so making it more likely that they would all have to stick together afterwards because they would all know each other's guilty secret. A little like the large number of men involved in Julius Caesar's assassination (or Murder on the Orient Express, for that matter).

It also occurs to me that pinning him down with a large flat object such as a table might have been thought less likely to cause visible injury than 15 men sitting on him. It's the amount of force at a given point that causes bruising or other injury, so if he was gripped by attackers their hands would leave bruises, whereas if he was immobilised by their collective weight under a table it probably wouldn't, because the pressure would be more evenly spread over the area of the table. The attackers could have known this sort of thing by empirical observation of injuries at tournaments or in battle.

By the way, I ought to say that in my previous comment I should have said 'neck compression' rather than 'smothering'. I was thinking of the signs that might have been left by strangling with something that wouldn't leave obvious marks on the neck. Actual smothering, i.e. obstructing the airway by means of putting something airtight over the mouth and nose, wouldn't leave any signs at all that would be visible after death. It would just look as if Edward had died in his sleep of a heart attack or something - or of grief.
By the way, I vaguely recall a study in the medical literature not too long ago that found a correlation between emotional trauma (bereavement, relationship breakdown, depression, that sort of thing) and heart attacks, i.e. you really can die of a broken heart.

Agreed re Edmund Ironside. The Chronicle records details of some deaths, e.g. the Norwegian Viking at Stamford Bridge, and doesn't hesitate to attribute murders to prominent men, so it seems likely that if the story of Edmund's murder was current at the time it would have been mentioned, especially if the instigator was an important man like Eadric Streona (I assume 'ealdorman Edric' = Eadric Streona). Absence of evidence isn't evidence of absence, though :-)

Kathryn Warner said...

Thanks a lot, Lieven!

Carla, you make some fascinating points - a few things that had never occurred to me, such as a large group of men being involved for the reasons you suggest, or the knowledge of injuries they would have had from tournaments and battle. Lots for me to think about - thank you. ;)

I couldn't quite visualise fifteen men around one man, but perhaps with the table involved, it becomes more plausible. I also wondered if Ed was considerably weakened by a few months of captivity, no exercise, and probably minimal rations of food. Then again, a weakened Edward was probably still stronger than most men!

Interesting about the connection between emotional trauma and heart attacks. I certainly haven't discounted the possibility that Ed's 'grief-induced illness' was the true cause of his death, though I can't think offhand of any historians who've accepted it, or even discussed it.

Yes, 'ealdorman Edric' was Eadric Streona.

Carla said...

I hadn't thought about any of this until you mentioned it either! Which is the fun of a discussion like this.

It's certainly possible that Edward died of natural causes or of illness brought on by imprisonment. James V is said to have died of a broken heart after his defeat at Flodden, and as far as I know that's widely accepted. But Edward's death in captivity was so convenient for his enemies that it automatically looks suspicious - what would they have done if he hadn't died? They could hardly let him go, but if they kept him imprisoned, alive, he would quickly have become a focus for another faction composed of their own enemies (look at what happened to Edward IV a century later when he imprisoned Henry VI instead of killing him - Warwick the Kingmaker takes umbrage, changes sides, and Edward IV is in danger of his life). Once they had deposed him, it was going to be his life or theirs. If Edward II died of a broken heart, Roger Mortimer was a very lucky man; and Roger Mortimer sounds to me like the sort of man who made his own luck.

Interestingly, the story about the cell above rotting carcasses suggests a considerable empirical knowledge of infectious disease, even if they didn't know exactly how it was transmitted. My guess is that a group of experienced soldiers would have a pretty accurate idea of what sort of injury would kill a man and how to go about it. Smothering, strangling and suffocation are all fairly tried and tested methods, and death by crushing under a heavy object might easily have been seen or heard about in an accidental building collapse or a landslide or in siege warfare or being crushed under a fallen horse. Whereas the poker can hardly have been in common use and must have been something of an unknown quantity, however much its symbolism might have appealed. Unless they practised (horrible thought!) how would they have known it would kill him, or whether it would leave a mark, or how long it would take for him to die? It's hardly the sort of injury they would have seen inflicted on a battlefield or by accident, and it has no parallel in common methods of execution like hanging. One would imagine that an intelligent and ruthless man plotting a murder would pick a technique that he knew would be effective, even if he did add on an extra element of torture either for cruelty or as some form of 'punishment'. I wonder if they justified the murder of an anointed king - a terrible act to a medieval mind - to themselves by claiming they were punishing him for the mortal sin of sodomy? In which case that element of punishment might have been in the original tale as a justification for the murder, and might then have been picked up and given a graphic form by later chroniclers. Even if the cosnspirators themselves didn't actually do it and just applied straightforward suffocation without the addition of any flashy techniques.
The more I think about it, the more unlikely the poker story seems. I'm thinking it sounds like a literary device, like the common motif in thrillers and action films of shooting a lock off with a handgun, which is very dramatic but when someone actually tried it on a rifle range they found it doesn't actually work.

Carla said...

A few more things. I was reminded yesterday evening that pinning someone down with a heavy door or table would be likely to leave bruises on the high points of the body, e.g. the buttocks, shoulder blades and back of the head if the victim was lying face down. However these might not be the sort of marks that would have been expected from a violent struggle and might not be noticed.
Also that if the victim was lying face down on something soft, such as a bed or floor covering of straw or rushes, pressing his face down into that would result in death by suffocation.
I suggested that the involvement of a large number of men might have been to make them all complicit in the crime. Also perhaps possible that it shared out the guilt of the murder, so that no one individual was personally responsible for the king's death, which might have helped salve their consciences.
And I should have said that the more I think about it the more unlikely the poker story seems to me as the primary cause of death.

Kathryn Warner said...

I agree it seems mightily convenient for Ed to die of natural causes, as he was a great focus for rebellion against the regime of Isabella and Mortimer. In fact, he was freed from Berkeley in July 1327 - by a group led by the Dunheved brothers, one of whom had been Ed's confessor. They'd already tried to free him from Kenilworth, one reason why he was transferred to Berkeley. Ed also had a few friends among the Welsh princes and the Scottish nobility, who would have supported any plots to rescue him and (presumably) restore him to the throne.

Interestingly enough, it's not at all clear from the contemp documents that Ed was ever re-captured. ;)

Assuming he was, perhaps his short period of freedom, followed again by harsh imprisonment, broke his spirit and caused his death. Just thinking out loud here, and I do think it's far more likely that what *appeared* to be a natural death was in fact smothering, with no visible signs.

That's very true about the poker being an unknown quantity - it strikes me as a method that might have been considered, but then rejected, because the killers couldn't possibly have known how effective it might be. Surely if you're going to kill an anointed king, you want it done as quickly and efficiently as possible.

The later depositions (and murders) of Richard II and Henry VI had a precedent, while Edward II's didn't. I'm not quite sure what my point is here (!) - maybe only that it's easier to kill a king when you know it's already been done. In 1327, it must have seemed a terrible, almost unthinkable thing to do - and I think you're right that accusing Ed of sodomy might have minimised the crime somewhat in their eyes. Ian Mortimer has written an excellent article on the accusations of sodomy against Ed, pointing out that Philip IV of France (Isabella's father) had used the same argument against the Templars in 1308, as an excuse to destroy them.
Apparently, it was Adam Orleton, the Bishop of Hereford (a zealous supporter of Isabella and Mortimer) who made the first accusation of sodomy against Ed, in October 1326 - i.e., after Isa and Mortimer's invasion, but before Ed and Despenser were captured. Ian Mortimer also points out that this was essentially a political accusation, designed to undermine Ed's political and moral authority. And, as Roy Martin Haines says, to make it lawful to rebel against him.

BTW, I didn't know that James V is said to have died of a broken heart - I'd always assumed he was killed at Flodden.

Carla said...

I had no idea that Edward had escaped in July. Now that's fascinating. I wonder how it was done and how and when he was recaptured. And if he wasn't recaptured then what happened to him, as that would make both the surviving legends (the murder and the escape after killing the porter) wrong? This has almost as much potential for romance (in the John Buchan sense) as the Princes in the Tower....

I was wondering if Edward II was the first king to be deposed and murdered since the Norman Conquest (there were plenty before) but hadn't got around to looking it up. I think that's not to be underestimated given the sanctity of medieval kingship. It must have felt only one step from killing a god. I can imagine them standing back from the body after the deed and waiting for a thunderbolt or for the sky to fall in - and when it didn't, perhaps feeling that they must have divine approval and therefore they had been right in executing a wicked sinner. So the sodomy charge might have had a moral as well as a political dimension. The Templars is a fascinating precedent - I'd forgotten about that.
I think you're right re Richard II and Henry VI that it is easier to do anything if there is a precedent - their murderers knew that Edward II had been murdered and the world hadn't ended, therefore at some level it was obviously possible to kill a king.

I got my King James's and my Scots battles mixed up. Apologies. (Serves me right for posting a comment without checking it). Right king, wrong battle. James IV was the one killed at Flodden in 1513. James V died after the battle of Solway Moss in 1542, after having some sort of nervous breakdown. The accounts of his death say he lay on his bed alternately railing against his cruel fate and lying in silent melancholy, and then turned his face to the wall and died. I don't think I'm the first to characterise James V's death as 'died of a broken heart' but I can't remember where I saw the phrase. (I don't know what he actually died of, unless it was one of these grief-induced heart attacks - perhaps starvation and dehydration if he had refused to eat or drink properly for several days or more during his nervous breakdown)

Kathryn Warner said...

Oops, we both got our Jameses mixed up. ;) Of course, it was James IV who was killed in 1513, and James V who was the father of Mary Queen of Scots. Now you mention it, I remember hearing that James V died in bed, muttering something like 'it came with a lass, it will pass with a lass'.

Philip IV, as part of his ongoing struggles with the Papacy and in addition to his attack on the Templars, accused Pope Boniface VIII of sodomy (also simony, sorcery and heresy) in 1303. Boniface was actually arrested by French troops, but died shortly afterwards. Again, this was a direct attack on the moral authority of the Pope - and aimed at his ultimate deposition. What's really interesting is that Adam Orleton, Bishop of Hereford, spent a lot of time in Avignon around the period when Philip was throwing out accusations of sodomy against his enemies - it seems to have given him ideas of how best to destroy Edward.

Paul Doherty's Isabella and the Strange Death of Edward II contains a fascinating account of the Dunheveds' rescue of Edward in June/July 1327. He points out that there were several thick woods in the vicinity of Berkeley Castle where the gang could have hidden, and that repairs were being carried out on the castle at this time. He postulates that a member of the gang could have infiltrated the group of craftsmen working in the castle, who could have opened a postern gate and let the others in. The attack probably took place at night, and several guards and sentries were killed.

According to some other books I've just looked at, Edward was back at Berkeley by early September, when yet another plot (at least the third) was made to rescue him, but the whole affair is shrouded in secrecy, and it's very difficult to work out just what was going on. Understandably, of course, Isa and Mortimer did not want it widely known that the king had escaped. There's really very little direct evidence that Edward was in fact re-captured - other than his (alleged) murder at Berkeley on 21 September (and then there's the whole 'porter substituted for Ed' theory), and that a Welsh knight, Rhys ap Gruffydd, tried to rescue him in early September - which is not necessarily proof that Ed was back in Berkeley, only that Rhys thought he was. ;)

And I haven't even mentioned the Fieschi letter yet! ;)

Carla said...

How about another post on the escapes of Edward II, lest all this gets lost in the comments? I know absolutely nothing about his imprisonment and the attempts made to rescue him, and it's just the sort of thing that fascinates me (as you can probably tell). I can see the potential for a story in it; my fingers are itching! Who were the Dunheveds, and what was their connection with Edward II that made them prepared to take such a risk for him? And what happened to them afterwards - did Isabella and Mortimer take revenge on them for trying to free Edward? Dunheved sounds vaguely like a Scottish name. And who was Rhys ap Gruffuyd and what was he going to get out of it? - hard to imagine a Welshman having much love for the son of Edward I, but then again quite easy to imagine a Welshman being an enemy of Roger Mortimer...
(This lot ought to keep you in blog posts for quite a while....)

The Pope Boniface evidence does support the idea that allegation of sodomy was a powerful political weapon that deprived its target of rights and sympathy - a bit like a politician now being accused of 'relations' with his intern or having his fingers in the till. Come to that, it's not so very long ago that homosexuality was an instant killer for high office and a Shameful Secret. Plus ca change.

James V is reported to have said that when told of his daughter's birth (the future Mary Queen of Scots), referring to his family having inherited the throne through Marjory Bruce, Robert the Bruce's daughter. He was right but not in the way he thought; the last Stewart/Stuart monarch was Anne, nearly 200 years later.

Susan Higginbotham said...

There's a couple of interesting articles related to the rescue attempts: "Edward II and the Allegiance of Wales" by J. Beverley Smith (sorry, haven't got the journal name handy) and J. R. S. Phillip's "Edward II and Ireland" in Irish Historical Studies. I haven't got time to expound on them in detail now, but I will if Alianore does her escape post! The first article touches on some of the Welsh attempts to free Edward II, and the second suggests that Robert Bruce himself may have wanted to restore Edward II to the throne! Certainly Bruce's nephew Donald, earl of Mar, was among those trying to restore Edward II. The government of Mortimer and Isabella had very good reason to be nervous in September 1327.

Kathryn Warner said...

Lots and lots of material for future posts, Carla! :) Unfortunately, they'll probably have to wait till I get back from holiday - I'm going to Gloucestershire on my 'Great Edward II Tour'!

It would be so great if you wrote a story about all this!! I'll dig through all my books and see what else I can find about it - everything I'm posting here is from memory. I think Doherty's Isabella book and Alison Weir's bio of Isa are probably the best sources.

Thomas Dunheved was Ed's confessor, a Dominican friar (Ed's favourite order). There was a rumour in about 1325 that Ed had sent him to the Pope to try to obtain a divorce from Isabella, and he was also used as a messenger by Ed and the younger Despenser when they were in Wales in late 1326.
Thomas's brother Stephen was Lord of Dunchurch in Warwickshire - I'm afraid that's all I know about him. Thomas was arrested after Ed's escape and incarcerated at Newgate - he wasn't given the benefit of clergy he was entitled to. Stephen apparently remained at large, though this is far from certain. Thomas is also said to have died in prison at Pontefract, and Weir states that Stephen took part in the earl of Kent's 1330 conspiracy - though she describes Stephen as the friar and Thomas as the lord, which is the other way round from all the other accounts I've read.

Some other members of their gang were caught and 'disappeared', though one was, surprisingly, released - Doherty speculates that he turned King's evidence against his former colleagues.

Why they were so fanatically loyal to Ed, I don't know. Ed seems to have had the ability to inspire deep devotion in certain people - and loathing/disgust in many others. Another man who was devoted to him was Donald, earl of Mar. He was Robert Bruce's nephew, and was captured by Edward I in 1306 and sent as a hostage to England - although he was only a child. Somehow he ended up in Ed's household, and when Ed had to release all the Scottish hostages after Bannockburn in 1314, Donald refused to leave him. He was with the elder Despenser in Bristol in October 1326, managed to flee before Isa and Mortimer took the city, and escaped to Scotland. He was also implicated in the earl of Kent's conspiracy in 1330 (Kent was Ed's half-brother).

Ed, for some reason, was rather popular in Wales - maybe the fact that he was born there was a minor reason. The Welsh lords helped him enormously against the Contrariants (rebels) in 1321/2, and he fled there in 1326 because that was the part of the country where he was most likely to find support. Unfortunately, he was with the younger Despenser, who was Lord of Glamorgan and hated by the Welsh (even more than Roger Mortimer was, probably). Therefore, the expected support didn't come. Ed would surely have been far more successful if he'd sent Despenser away - but then again, if he'd been willing to do that, he wouldn't have been facing an invasion in the first place.

Rhys ap Gruffydd is described by Natalie Fryde (The Tyranny and fall of Edward II) as a 'South Wales potentate'. He was the nephew of Gruffydd Lloyd of North Wales, also a loyal supporter of Ed, and both men accompanied Ed on the Scottish campaign of 1322. Somehow, both of them failed to join up with Ed in late 1326 - Fryde speculates that Roger Mortimer sent men to prevent them meeting up, and Rhys is next heard of as a fugitive in Scotland - until his attempt to release Ed from Berkeley in Sept 1327.

Just noticed Susan's comment - apparently Donald of Mar tried to persuade his uncle Robert Bruce to invade England, which Bruce duly did - although most likely not because of Donald's pleas, but because he wanted to take advantage of the political chaos in England.

Carla said...

It would be so great if I didn't have a full-time job to hold down and a house to run, etc, etc .... so don't hold your breath! Anyway, I thought you were writing Edward's story, Alianore? - and I'm also guessing that Susan must have at least touched on his escapes in The Traitor's Wife, no? Though this sort of 'what really happened, and why, and why did X do that and not that?' is fascinating, and "the ability to inspire deep devotion in certain people - and loathing/disgust in many others" is great material for the hero of a story. Arguably that dichotomy still applies to this day, doesn't it? - otherwise this blog wouldn't be here!
The Welsh and Scottish connections are interesting. I can well imagine that Robert Bruce, wily strategist and politician that he was, would far rather have Edward II (nominally) in charge south of the border, as this was likely to produce troubled waters that Bruce could profitably fish in. I wonder if some of the Welsh notables had their own hopes of independence, to mix in with whatever personal loyalty they had for Edward?

Kathryn Warner said...

I'm trying to write something, but with the same problems of work and household! With any luck it'll be finished in the next year or five. I've abandoned the idea of writing the full story of Edward's reign - I prefer to delve more into specific parts of it, and try to work out why people did the things they did.

Edward and Despenser signed a 13-year peace treaty with Robert Bruce in 1323, which Robert broke in 1327 - I suppose he thought the change of regime was too good an opportunity to miss.

Carla said...

Good luck with it, and I hope to read it one day!
Did Robert break the peace treaty after Edward II was deposed? If so, I guess he could claim he hadn't broken it, as it had presumably been made between monarchs not between nations and the monarch on the other side had now changed. And as you say it would have been much too good an opportunity to miss.

Kathryn Warner said...

Thanks, Carla. Ingeld's Daughter is still on my TBR list - I'll get round to it one of these days!

Bruce invaded England in July 1327, several months after Ed's deposition (or forced abdication, rather). One of the armies was led by Ed's friend Donald of Mar. The Lanercost Chronicle claims that Mar was planning to release Ed from captivity, though that's impossible to confirm.

A peace treaty was ratified in April 1328, and in July Bruce's son, the future David II, (aged 4) married Ed and Isabella's daughter Joan (aged 7).

Carla said...

A nice story, though, Edward's friend setting out to his rescue with the cavalry - even though shrewd political advantage was the more likely reason. I forgot to say, have a great holiday on your trip to Gloucestershire!

Kathryn Warner said...

Thanks - the trip's yet another thing I'll have to blog about when I get back!

Gabriele Campbell said...

Oh, someone's setting plotbunnies free here. *grin*

It's not my time, so I'm not in danger. I've just returned from Trier and I'm too tired to cook up a longer post now, but sexual misbehaviour as political argument is something for which I can dig out some examples from German history.

Kathryn Warner said...

Hope you had a great trip, Gabriele! Trier is fantastic.

When you have more time, I'd love to hear some examples of 'sexual misbehaviour used as political weapon' in German history.

ilya said...

wow, an interesting conversation indeed! i can't believe i missed it.

wasn't impaling common yet at that time? cause if it was, that might have given the red hot poker idea to the conspirators. however, impaling was a LONG painful death, and if this was what the conspirators wanted they had to make sure they had time for it. maybe it was just torture, punishment for edward's sin as you guys said.

it's interesting to see the history of deposed kings in england: harald was deposed by being killed in the battle. john lackland proved you could rebel against the king and make him do stuff you want (not so divine anymore...). henry 3rd was actually ruled by simon of montfort, for months if not years. again, it was proven that you could rise against the king. edward 2nd proved you could kill the king. richard 2nd proved you could kill the king and install someone other than the legal heir in his place. by the time the wars of the roses came by, it didn't even matter who the legal heir was. therefor - henry 7th. mary queen of scots proved you could trial a king - the divine right is already going down the drain when you have a king brought to human justice. and charles 1st of england was the culmination of all that. after james 2nd, the english realized that they could name whatever king they liked (in no way was george of hannover the rightful king).

interesting how things evolve..

Kathryn Warner said...

Hi Ilya, I've never heard of 'death by impaling' in England at this time. I think it's unlikely in Edward's case because of something that came up in the discussion; when you kill a deposed king, you want it done quickly and efficiently. I don't think they'd have messed around with fancy methods, however much they might have *wanted* to torture or punish him.

That's really interesting about the evolution of deposed kings in England and how they were treated - I'd never thought of it like that before, but you're quite right.

Anonymous said...

FWIW - James IV did die at Flodden and his son, James V was said to have died of a broken heart after hearing news of the defeat at Solway Moss (although he was already ill before the fight).

Kathryn Warner said...

Thanks, Denis!

Anonymous said...

it dont say what he died of ?:S

Kathryn Warner said...

Bill: no-one knows how Edward II died.

Ron Haller-Williams said...

With regard to the traditionally alleged fate of Edward II, I am surprised that nobody seems to have mentioned Chaucer's "THE MILLER'S TALE". There is a discussion of it (and some others) in context of earlier fabliaux etc. at http://www.thefreelibrary.com/Chaucer's+Miller's+Tale+and+Reeve's+Tale,+Boccaccio's+Decameron,+and...-a0124560859
[Don't you just hate these invalid-looking ultra-long URL's?]

Joanne said...

I find it nessacery to mention that many current historians who deny the murder of Edward II, do so in an attempt tp exonerate one or both of the main suspects. Roger Mortimer or Isabella.

Thier bias should be taken into account.

It would not have made good political sense for Mortimer to kill Edward II, as his position would not be secure as long as the King Lived.

Also, Edward II did not abdicate willingly, so why would he have been happy to just trot off to Italy on his escape?

Surely he would have wanted his throne back, and fought for it.

Joannw said...

Mistake in my post I meant to say it WOULD have made political sense for Mortimer to have the King murdered.

炒米粉Ken said...
This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.
John Butler said...

Interesting comments on Edward II. I've always thought that the poor man my old professor referred to as "Red Hot Eddie" was in fact killed in that horrible way; the Latin mistake is a very convincing argument for it simply being a legend. It seems as though this one may go the way of King Harold's arrow in the eye, now pretty much debunked. I would be curious about Richard II's murder in 1400 that of the Duke of Clarence in 1479 (I think), and I am sure there are others, not to mention Edward V and his brother in 1483.

Unknown said...

I agree that the story of Edward II's `poker' death and Despenser's sexual mutilation are little more than gossip.

The problem with medieval history is that much of what we `know' is based on the witterings of monks writing about events which allegedly took place decades, or sometimes a century or so in the past. If we imagine five newspapers and fewer than 50 writers describing the key evenst of WWI, that sums up the value of medieval narrative evidence.

Many chroniclers were PR people for whichever bunch of aristocratic gangsters, and their brutal friends in the Church, who were in charge of England at the time of the `chronicle' being written.

I've just watched a BBC4 documentary where the same old `horrid histories' fairy story about Edward II was trotted out yet again. Very disappointing, the past deserves more respect and intelligent assessment than that.

John Guthrie said...

Never watch history programmes on television. Badly researched, trite, superficial, and with a constant flickering between the presenter's face and actors clumping through little dramatic scenes.
I have always been determined that Edward did not die that horrible death. It was easy to build a strong case against it, and I am pleased that others have done the same.
In Berkeley Castle, there is a small room with a window on an outside wall, in which Edward was believed to have been killed. Not my choice for a secret murder, especially one which is likely to cause some screaming. One account states that he was held down by a table, another by cushions. I don't know from where the fifteen men came; I thought that it was two or three. A door wouldn't have been very effective because of its tendency to roll with the body. And don't forget a man on each leg because there would surely have been some mule-like kicking. It wouldn't surprise me if something had been done after his death by the nasty people who carried out the deed. As has been mentioned, contrary to the homophobic persistence in portraying him as feeble and effeminate, Edward was very strong. But people don't like to abandon their comforting stereotypes. The best historians still prefer to avoid Richard I's homosexuality.

Robert Copeland said...

In recounting "sad tales of the death of kings," especially the gay ones (which after all could threaten the orderly succession of a dynasty), don't forget William Rufus, the victim of "an unfortunate hunting accident."

Re: "Ed:" the portraits and tomb effigy do not suggest a strong, robust man, and he had been imprisoned for several years (?) by the time of his death. He was not an effective warrior, and he much preferred music and costume to alarums and battles.

I should think a door would break some ribs and leave bruises, but these were not found in the body.

Impalement was a favorite method of ghastly death among the Turks and adopted by Vlad the Impaler (aka Dracula). I've never heard of its use in Western Europe, but that's not to say it's impossible. Might a red-hot poker be enough of a shock to the system of a weak and broken man to kill him quickly? (Just a suggestion; I've no experience with such things personally.)

Kathryn Warner said...

Firstly, Edward II fathered four children by his queen and was succeeded by his fourteen-year-old eldest son, so certainly was not threatening his dynasty. Secondly, almost all contemporary chroniclers comment on his enormous strength; one of them calls him 'one of the strongest men of his realm'. Thirdly, he was sent to Berkeley Castle on 3 April 1327 and allegedly died there on 21 September, so it wasn't years, and the idea that he was mistreated there has been debunked (it's a later invention disproved by Berkeley Castle accounts).

Unknown said...

Fascinating stuff.

I've never been inclined to accept the rather melodramatic account of the red hot poker method of dispatch in Ed II's death. This piece has made me reconsider (well, a wee bit), and given me a couple of thoughts.

"Baker hated Queen Isabella (the 'iron virago') and was constructing a narrative of 'Edward as martyr'." Constructing a narrative of martyrdom, on a version of events that a) is suggestive of the rumours of the victim's indulgence in the sin of sodomy; b) Reminds the listener of the cause for complaint the hated 'iron virago' had as a wronged wife (his preference for 'unnatural' acts), seems a little odd. Unless Baker is constructing his narrative around what he believed was a core of truth.

When they refer to a table as being used to hold him down, it would of course have been the table top, or detachable flat board (as in the origin of the phrase bed and board), that would have been used, not anything with legs attached. Very similar to a door in structure and effectiveness, but easier to lift off and use quickly (no hinges).

How likely impaling was a method of killing then is a good question. But bear in mind that his assassins would have been far more familiar with internal human and animal anatomy than us, with spitting animals, and with the use of hot irons for purposes of branding and cauterising (and possibly inflicting torture/ punishment). I'm not sure they would have seen killing him that way problematic, or had much doubt as to its practice. If as described they used a drenching horn to prevent any external signs of penetration, inserting the iron fairly deep would probably cause extensive internal damage and bleeding, which would have killed him within hours, if not quicker. There would have been no need to wait days, for peritonitis to set in. It would have been essentially a way of stabbing him to death, without leaving any visible stab wounds - with the added 'refinement' of the heated iron maximising internal damage and cauterising anal bleeding. And maybe just for sheer judgemental/ self justifying sadism, anticipating the diabolic 'punishment' that awaited him in hell for his 'sinful' proclivities.

James V's death; Antonia Fraser suggests it was caused by porphyria. She ascribes George III's symptoms to this disease, and traces it back through the Stuart line. Mary QoS apparently exhibited a very similar pattern of psychological collapse to her father, during episodes of great stress (stress is an established cause of porphyriac attacks). In her case the attacks weren't fatal.

Fraser concludes that the origins of the disorder in the Stuarts probably go back to into their Scottish ancestry. I'm not sure it can't be traced from the French royal family, and may have entered the Tudor/ Stuart line though Catherine de Valois. Several of the Tudor's medical histories make interesting reading, with porphyria in mind. And features of the illness/ madness of Catherine's son (Henry VI), and father (Charles VI), are strikingly similar to George III's.

Unknown said...

Are you people mice or prudes?

Red-hot-poker, now I know this is difficult for some people to figure out how he could have died quickly, but here's a thought; how long was the poker? Doh!

phattybuoy said...

Don't be so naive folks ... !!!

How would Mortimer not take particular glee in giving it to Eddie II in the "end" ... !

If Mortimer & Isabella casually ate dinner while attending Despenser's execution mutilation, it likely is not much of a stretch to consider Eddie's "backdoor" mutilation a fitting "end" to this "butt pirate's" ignominious reign.

He would die quickly from this impalement depending on the length of the rod.

Ockley, Gurney and Maltravers were Roger Mortimer's henchmen from the Welsh Marches.

According to the Calendar of Fines Edward III (1327–1330) held at Winchester records office, Edward III made every effort to track down his father's killers, William Ockley (not Ogle), Sir Thomas Gurney, and Sir John Maltravers, but they fled the country.

Kathryn Warner said...

You really are pretty clueless, aren't you? I've written countless posts about what became of Ockley, Maltravers, Gurney and Berkeley, and by the way, there's no such thing as the Fine Rolls 1327-1330 - they run 1327 to 1337 - and why on earth would you expect to find Edward III's attempts to find these men in there, when he was still under the regency of Mortimer and Isabella?

Not that I'd expect anything better from a person who uses the word 'butt pirate', of course.

david bruce said...

These were times in which homosexuality was frowned upon, so what better way to besmirch somebody's name, than to label them homosexual. Edward's death would have been seen as " just desserts" for those people living in England at that time. It was probably a clever piece of 14th century propaganda, put about for the above reason. It was widely known that he was homosexual, so what better than invent a suitably gruesome story to befit his demise. These were the days of the story-teller. He was probably poisoned or even drugged then suffocated.

YIGEAL said...

Spectacle scripts go a long way and are very hard to crack.
Re:Biblical storyteller's horror portraits of personages such as Queen Jezebel and Queen 'Athalyyah took millenniae in getting to be dismantled for the politicking slander that they in fact are...

Anonymous said...

Interesting stuff. I'm surprised at Winston Churchill's retelling of this tale with no scepticism whatsoever. Vide vol.1 of "A History of the English Speaking Peoples".
One would expect more circumspection from a historian of that calibre :)

Anonymous said...

I am not saying I agree with this perspective, but it is an interesting argument. The post is older yet still worth the read:

a red hot poker it was just a red herring

Malcolm Beddard said...

I've just finished reading this fascinating series of posts on the subject of Edward II's deposition/forced abdication and subsequent 'death'. The tomb in Gloucester Cathedral is beautiful and well-worth a visit. During building repairs in the 19th century, the king's tomb was exposed for a short time. It consisted of a kind of lead envelope which resembled a tent. It was completely intact and no attempt was made to open it. There are contemporary accounts of Edward II's body lying in state with the face exposed. Nevertheless, chroniclers were careful to note that no-one was permitted to approach the corpse and viewers were kept at a considerable distance.

A particular point of interest is the reply made by Pope John XXII to the letter from Mortimer and Isabella informing him of Edward's death. It is a masterpiece of irony and heavily implied doubt. According to the famous Fieschi Letter, Edward II escaped and made his way to Avignon where he had an audience with Pope John. He was then, it is said, blessed, provided with money and sent to a refuge in Italy.

Mortimer and Queen Isabella were, of course, both arrested in Nottingham Castle and Mortimer was put on trial soon afterwards. Throughout this judicial 'hearing', he was bound and gagged to prevent his either struggling or, more importantly, speaking. Execution followed - but strangely enough his son was allowed to inherit his earldom of March without difficulty. There were rumours at the time that Queen Isabella was pregnant by Mortimer and that her immediate confinement (not imprisonment) was imperative to Edward III. She lived on for another twenty-eight years after Mortimer's death, mostly at Castle Rising. This was not a prison, but it was situated at a distance from Edward III's court. She did make ceremonial appearances from time to time and the king was always at pains to seem to be on good terms with his mother.

MacKnee said...

From Wikipedia

Peine forte et dure (Law French for "hard and forceful punishment") was a method of torture formerly used in the common law legal system, in which a defendant who refused to plead ("stood mute") would be subjected to having heavier and heavier stones placed upon his or her chest until a plea was entered, or the defendant died.

It does not take a big leap for 'Peine forte et dure' to become crushed by a door.

Anonymous said...

James IV, his father, was killed at Flodden when V was very young..

Unknown said...

I've always considered that IF Edwards was murdered at Berkley, (and I'm not convinced he was) the cause of death need not have been so secretive. If, as I understand, his body was covered in a cerecloth prior to its traditional embalming, then surely few could have viewed it, and certainly not examined it closely. I would suggest that given that his heart was removed, as was a custom, his body was not going to look much better than a patchwork anyway! Although, the role of the local woman who embalmed the body is interesting and frustratingly elusive!!
My money is on suffocation after being drugged. With any luck, he would not have suffered too much. That is of course if he DID die at Berkley..........

Mabinogion Astronomy said...

Hi Kathryn,
In my day job I'm a sculptor, restorer and conservator of historic monuments and in 2011 I was privileged to be part of the team which restored, over many months, the tomb of Edward II at Gloucester Cathedral. It was at this time that I became interested in the 'tale' of the manner of Edwards 'murder' whilst a prisoner at Berkley Castle. My interest was piqued by the several notifications of Edwards screams being heard for many (five?) miles around, and in particular that they were heard across the Severn in Wales.
I was reminded of an episode in the (probable 11th century) Welsh tale from the 'Mabinogion' - 'Culhwch and Olwen, and known as 'The Oldest Animals'. In this episode Arthur's men have been set the task to find the 'exalted' prisoner 'Mabon vab Modron', (Son, son of the Mother). After consulting a series of increasingly older animals who do not know where Mabon is, they are led to the Salmon of Llyn Llyw, (a river lake in the Severn Estuary near the Beachley peninsula). I write a blog 'Mabinogion Astronomy'. Here's the relevant passage, (as it were).

It is not Gwrhyr Interpreter of Languages who addresses the Salmon of Llyn Lliw but the Eagle of Gwernabwy himself, the oldest animal in this world, ('and he travels the most') The Salmon of Llyn Lliw is therefore, The Wisest Animal in the World and he it is who knows the whereabouts of Mabon son of Modron. Says the Salmon:

'As much as I know, I will tell. With each flood tide I come up along the river as far as the bend at the wall of Caerloyw, and there I found such misfortune as I have never found in my life. And so that you may believe it, let one of you come here on my two shoulders'.

So Cai and Gwrhyr travelled on the two shoulders of the Salmon until they came to where the prisoner was and 'they could hear lamenting and groaning on the other side of the wall from them'. Gwrhyr said, 'What man is lamenting in this house of stone?' to which the answer is 'Mabon son of Modron is here in prison' and 'As much as may be got of me will be got by fighting.' So they returned to Arthur who summoned the warriors of Britain:

'and went to Caerloyw where Mabon was in prison. Cai and Bedwyr went on the two shoulders of the fish. While Arthur's warriors were fighting at the fort, Cai broke through the wall and took the prisoner on his back...Arthur came home and Mabon with him, free.

It is interesting that the groans of the prisoner could be heard from the Severn. Just a thought.

Unknown said...

Yes, I think he was killed by the red hot poker. There is no smoke without fire, as they say. Why make up such a story in the first place? If one is going to contrive a story of Edwards's murder, why choose this manner of death. Edward was gay.Homosexuality was not tolerated in those days, and one had to exact a high price for being gay.Royalty included.

Unknown said...

Yes, I think he was killed by the red hot poker. There is no smoke without fire, as they say. Why make up such a story in the first place? If one is going to contrive a story of Edwards's murder, why choose this manner of death. Edward was gay.Homosexuality was not tolerated in those days, and one had to exact a high price for being gay.Royalty included.

Unknown said...

Hi...great read.. Edward I and his line has always fascinated me. His early progeny, in particular...Edward II and III, Richard II, son of Edward the Black Prince... So on and so on...

Anyway, I'm surprised you never mentioned in this blog the possibility of Edward II surviving his captivity and living on in secrecy as "William the Welshman". Edward III meeting his father in Antwerp in 1338...

The question I'm posing is simple: What are your thoughts on *that* particular topic? I haven't yet read the comments here...it could be talked about already... I'll check, however...my question still stands... 👍☺✌

Oh, almost forgot *raises glass to Edward II, of Canaervon, 1st Prince of Wales, son of Edward, King of England.* chug chug chug 😋😄

Unknown said...

Sorry there, Kathryn 😋 Guess I shoulda reread this! You stated that you were going to talk of Edward's potential survival of captivity....sorry, feel like a dummy! I'm gonna look for *that* Thank you!

Kathryn Warner said...

It's all right :) :) I've written a whole book about Edward's murder or survival actually - 'Long Live the King: The Mysterious Fate of Edward II'. :) And there are a few posts about it here, I think, and certainly about his brother the earl of Kent's plot to free him in 1330.

Unknown said...

Oh, Indeed? Excellent 😀 Stumbled upon your Edward II Blog here by happy accident. You were on first page Google results. Leastways, on King Edward II's mysterious death..

Thanks again, for the 'Head's up' 👍My fascination with 12th-13th century English Kings, the culture of the time, their ideas on family bloodlines and the concept of Nobilty, has always interested me. Lover of History and Cultures of *most* periods, especially 9th-14th century Kingdom of England. Learning and absorbing all I "ingest". When you think you (me) know everything...keep lookin, there's always more to learn! That's what I say, anyway! 😋

Anyways, Keep on fighting the good fight! You're a great writer! Friendly, to boot! More people can learn more, if they're willing, by visiting this blog! If anyone ever asks *me* (they know to come to me), will send 'em this way😀 Thanks! Later...

Kathryn Warner said...

Thank you, Michael, appreciate it! :) Happy reading and always great to meet a fellow history lover :)

Annie said...

This is so interesting. I remember being about 13 and reading a Jean Plaidy novel , "Isabella The Fair" . As I read the book, I became a little in love with Edward II. When I read about his murder in the book, It really affected me and couldn't stop thinking about it for quite some time. I struggled to think that men could be so evil to do this..naively I know. In my heart, I hope that he didn't endure such a horrific demise. I have enjoyed reading this blog. Thankyou.