September 21, 2007

September 21? | King Edward II

April 25, 1284 - September 21?, 1327: Age 43

The son and heir of the brilliant and ruthless Edward I, Edward II was “strong and handsome in body, weak and foolish in character” (Ronald Hamilton). He ruled in difficult times, but did it badly and, perhaps more important, tactlessly. Being openly gay is not in itself a game-ender when you are powerful, but heaping honours and titles on your palace squire boyfriend is pushing it. Edward and his homies didn’t bother hiding their contempt for various nobles, making fun of them with stupid names. Edward was equally foolish in his domestic and foreign policy, and his report card includes an ignoble defeat at the hands of the much smaller army of the Scots rebel Robert Bruce.

By 1324 there was an effective conspiracy that included the Queen and her boyfriend, who had possession of the Crown Prince. With plenty of baronial support, they seized power and deposited the King, imprisoning him in a filthy dungeon in the hope that he would die “naturally” of some disease. When he didn’t, they had him murdered. The date of death was uncertain, but it was announced officially on September 21.

It is not certain how he died, but a writer who knew someone who lived at the castle at the time claimed some years later he was “ignominiously slain with a red-hot spit thrust into his anus”. This horrible account, whether true or not, at least expresses the deep hatred and resentment Edward’s homosexuality aroused. It would also have ensured a clean corpse for display at the funeral.

Sources: Hamilton, Ronald, Now I Remember, The Hogarth Press, London, 1983; and Forbes, Malcolm, They Went That-A-Way, Simon and Schuster, New York, 1988.

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