16. Edward II, Of Caernarvon, A.D. 1307—1327
Unlike his father in everything was the young Edward, who had just come to manhood in mind, for he was silly and easily led as his grandfather, Henry III., had been. He had a friend—a gay, handsome, thoughtless, careless young man—named Piers Gaveston, who had often led him into mischief. His father had banished this dangerous companion, and forbidden, under pain of his heaviest displeasure, the two young men from ever meeting again; but the moment the old king was dead, Edward turned back from Scotland, where he was so much wanted, and sent for Piers Gaveston again. At the same time his bride arrived —Isabel, daughter to the King of France, a beautiful girl—and there was a splendid wedding feast; but the king and Gaveston were both so vain and conceited, that they cared more about their own beauty and fine dress than the young queen's, and she found herself quite neglected. The nobles, too, were angered at the airs that Gaveston gave himself; he not only dressed splendidly, had a huge train of servants, and managed the king as he pleased, but he was very insolent to them, and gave them nick-names. He called the king's cousin, the Earl of Lancaster, "the old hog;" the Earl of Pembroke, "Joseph the Jew;" and the Earl of Warwick, "the black dog." Meantime, the king and he were wasting the treasury, and doing harm of all kinds, till the barons gathered together and forced the king to send his favorite into banishment. Gaveston went, but he soon came back again and joined the king, who was at last setting out for Scotland.
The nobles, however, would not endure his return. they seized him, brought him to Warwick Castle, and there held a kind of Court, which could hardly be called of Justice, for they had no right at all to sentence him. He spoke them fair now, and begged hard for his life; but they could not forget the names he had called them, and he was beheaded on Blacklow Hill.
Edward was full of grief and anger for the cruel death of his friend; but he was forced to keep it out of sight, for all the barons were coming round him for the Scottish war. While he had been wasting his time, Robert Bruce had obtained every strong place in Scotland, except Stirling Castle, and there the English governor had promised to yield, if succor did not come from England within a year and a day.
The year was almost over when Edward came into Scotland with a fine army of English, Welsh, and Gascons from Aquitaine; but Robert Bruce was a great and able general, and he was no general at all; so when the armies met at Bannockburn, under the walls of Stirling, the English were worse beaten than ever they had been anywhere else, except at Hastings. Edward was obliged to flee away to England, and though Bruce was never owned by the English to be King of Scotland, there he really reigned, having driven every Englishman away, and taken all the towns and castles. Indeed, the English had grown so much afraid of the Scots, that a hundred would flee at the sight of two.
The king comforted himself with a new friend—Hugh le Despencer—who, with his old father, had his own way, just like Gaveston. Again the barons rose, and required that they should be banished. They went, but the Earl of Lancaster carried his turbulence too far, and, when he hear that the father had come back, raised an army, and was even found to have asked Robert Bruce to help him against his own king. This made the other barons so angry that they joined the king against him, and he was made prisoner and put to death for making war on the king, and making friends with the enemies of the country.
Edward had his Le Despencers back again, and very discontented the sight made the whole country—and especially the queen, whom he had always neglected, though she now had four children. He had never tried to gain her love, and she hated him more and more. There was some danger of a quarrel with her brother, the King of France, and she offered to go with her son Edward, now about fourteen, and settle it. But this was only an excuse. She went about to the princes abroad, telling them how ill she was used by her husband, and asking for help. A good many knights believed and pitied her, and came with her to England to help. All the English who hated the Le Despencers joined her, and she led the young prince against his father. Edward and his friends were hunted across into Wales; but they were tracked out one by one, and the Despencers were put to a cruel death, though Edward gave himself up in hopes of saving them.
The queen and her friends made him own that he did not deserve to reign, and would give up the crown to his son. Then they kept him in prison, taking him from one castle to another, in great misery. The rude soldiers of his guard mocked him and crowned him with hay, and gave him dirty ditch water to shave with; and when they found he was too strong and healthy to die only of bad food and damp lodging, they murdered him one night in Berkeley Castle. He lies buried in Gloucester Cathedral, not far from that other foolish and unfortunate prince, Robert of Normandy. He had reigned twenty years, and was dethroned in 1327.
The queen then wanted to get rid of Edmund, Earl of Kent, the poor king's youngest brother. So a report was spread that Edward was alive, and Edmund was allowed to peep into a dark prison room, where he saw a man who he thought was his brother. He tried to stir up friends to set the king free; but this was called rebelling, and he was taken and beheaded at Winchester by a criminal condemned to die, for it was such a wicked sentence that nobody else could be found to carry it out.