Abdication, Charles IV of France, Earl of Lancaster, Hugh Despenser The Elder, Isabella of France, King Edward II of England, Parliament, Roger Mortimer, Westminster Abbey
Fall from power (1326–1327)
Isabella, with Edward’s envoys, carried out negotiations with the French in late March. The negotiations proved difficult, and they arrived at a settlement only after Isabella personally intervened with her brother, King Charles IV of France. The terms favoured the French Crown: in particular, Edward would give homage in person to Charles for Gascony. Concerned about the consequences of war breaking out once again, Edward agreed to the treaty but decided to give Gascony to his son, Edward, and sent the prince to give homage in Paris.
Edward now expected Isabella and their son to return to England, but instead she remained in France and showed no intention of making her way back. Until 1322, Edward and Isabella’s marriage appears to have been successful, but by the time Isabella left for France in 1325, it had deteriorated. Isabella appears to have disliked Hugh Despenser the Younger intensely, not least because of his abuse of high-status women. Isabella was embarrassed that she had fled from Scottish armies three times during her marriage to Edward, and she blamed Hugh for the final occurrence in 1322.
When Edward had negotiated the recent truce with Robert the Bruce, he had severely disadvantaged a range of noble families who owned land in Scotland, including the Beaumonts, close friends of Isabella’s. She was also angry about the arrest of her household and seizure of her lands in 1324. Finally, Edward had taken away her children and given custody of them to Hugh Despenser’s wife.
By February 1326, it was clear that Isabella was involved in a relationship with an exiled Marcher Lord, Roger Mortimer. It is unclear when Isabella first met Mortimer or when their relationship began, but they both wanted to see Edward and the Despensers removed from power. Edward appealed for his son to return, and for Charles IV to intervene on his behalf, but this had no effect.
During August and September 1326, Edward mobilised his defences along the coasts of England to protect against the possibility of an invasion either by France or by Roger Mortimer. Roger Mortimer, Isabella, and thirteen-year-old Prince Edward, accompanied by King Edward’s half-brother Edmund of Woodstock, landed in Orwell on September 24, with a small force of men and met with no resistance. Instead, enemies of the Despensers moved rapidly to join them, including Edward’s other half-brother, Thomas of Brotherton; Henry, 3rd Earl of Lancaster, who had inherited the earldom from his brother Thomas; and a range of senior clergy.
London descended into anarchy, as mobs attacked Edward’s remaining officials and associates, killing his former treasurer Walter Stapledon in St Paul’s Cathedral, and taking the Tower and releasing the prisoners inside. Edward continued west up the Thames Valley, reaching Gloucester between October 9 and 12; he hoped to reach Wales and from there mobilise an army against the invaders. Mortimer and Isabella were not far behind.
Charles IV, King of France
Edward’s authority collapsed in England where, in his absence, Isabella’s faction took over the administration with the support of the Church. Her forces surrounded Bristol, where Hugh Despenser the Elder had taken shelter; he surrendered and was promptly executed. Edward and Hugh the Younger fled their castle around November 2, leaving behind jewellery, considerable supplies and at least £13,000 in cash, possibly once again hoping to reach Ireland, but on 16 November they were betrayed and captured by a search party north of Caerphilly. Edward was escorted first to Monmouth Castle, and from there back into England, where he was held at the Earl of Lancaster’s fortress at Kenilworth. Edward’s final remaining forces, by now besieged in Caerphilly Castle, surrendered after five months in April 1327.
Isabella and Mortimer rapidly took revenge on the former regime. Hugh Despenser the Younger was put on trial, declared a traitor and sentenced to be disembowelled, castrated and quartered; he was duly executed on November 24, 1326.
Edward’s position, however, was problematic; he was still married to Isabella and, in principle, he remained the king, but most of the new administration had a lot to lose were he to be released and potentially regain power.
There was no established procedure for removing an English king. Adam Orleton, the Bishop of Hereford, made a series of public allegations about Edward’s conduct as king, and in January 1327 a parliament convened at Westminster at which the question of Edward’s future was raised; Edward refused to attend the gathering. Parliament, initially ambivalent, responded to the London crowds that called for Prince Edward to take the throne.
Shortly after this, a representative delegation of barons, clergy and knights was sent to Kenilworth to speak to the king. On January 20, 1327, the Earl of Lancaster and the bishops of Winchester and Lincoln met privately with Edward in the castle. They informed Edward that if he were to resign as monarch, his son Prince Edward would succeed him, but if he failed to do so, his son might be disinherited as well, and the crown given to an alternative candidate.
In tears, Edward agreed to abdicate, and on January 21, Sir William Trussell, representing the kingdom as a whole, withdrew his homage and formally ended Edward’s reign. A proclamation was sent to London, announcing that Edward, now known as Edward of Caernarvon, had freely resigned his kingdom and that Prince Edward would succeed him. The coronation took place at Westminster Abbey on February 2, 1327.