In 1290, Edward’s father Edward I of England, had confirmed the Treaty of Birgham, in which he promised to marry his six-year-old son to the young Margaret of Norway, who had a potential claim to the crown of Scotland. Margaret was the daughter of King Eric II of Norway and Margaret of Scotland, the firstborn child of King Alexander III of Scotland and Margaret of England (Margaret of England was the daughter the second child of King Henry III of England and his wife, Eleanor of Provence).
Alexander III died in 1286, his posthumous child was stillborn, and Margaret inherited the crown. Owing to her young age, She was finally sent to England in September 1290, but died in Orkney, sparking off the succession dispute between thirteen competitors for the crown of Scotland.
Edward II, King of England and Lord of Ireland, Duke of Aquitaine.
Edward’s mother, Eleanor of Castile, died shortly afterwards, followed by his grandmother, Eleanor of Provence. Edward I was distraught at his wife’s death and held a huge funeral for her; his son inherited the County of Ponthieu from Eleanor.
Next, a French marriage was considered for the young Edward, to help secure a lasting peace with France, but war broke out in 1294. The idea was replaced with the proposal of a marriage to a daughter of Guy, Count of Flanders, but this too failed after it was blocked by King Philippe IV of France.
Edward I returned to Scotland once again in 1300, and this time took his son with him, making him the commander of the rearguard at the siege of Caerlaverock Castle. In the spring of 1301, the king declared Edward the Prince of Wales, granting him the earldom of Chester and lands across North Wales; he seems to have hoped that this would help pacify the region, and that it would give his son some financial independence.
Edward I mobilised another army for the Scottish campaign in 1307, which Prince Edward was due to join that summer, but the elderly king had been increasingly unwell and died on 7 July 7, at Burgh by Sands. Edward travelled from London immediately after the news reached him, and on July 20, he was proclaimed king. The new King Edward II continued north into Scotland and on August 4 he received homage from his Scottish supporters at Dumfries, before abandoning the campaign and returning south.
Edward promptly recalled Piers Gaveston, who was then in exile, and created him Earl of Cornwall, before arranging his marriage to the wealthy Margaret de Clare. Edward II also arrested his old adversary Bishop Langton, and dismissed him from his post as treasurer. Edward I’s body was kept at Waltham Abbey for several months before being taken for burial to Westminster, where Edward erected a simple marble tomb for his father.
Isabella of France
In 1308, Edward’s marriage to Isabella of France proceeded. Her parents were King Philippe IV of France and Queen Joan I of Navarre; her brothers Louis (X), Philippe (V) and Charles (IV) each in time became kings of France.
Edward crossed the English Channel to France in January, leaving Gaveston as his custos regni in charge of the kingdom. This arrangement was unusual, and involved unprecedented powers being delegated to Gaveston, backed by a specially engraved Great Seal. Edward probably hoped that the marriage would strengthen his position in Gascony and bring him much needed funds. The final negotiations, however, proved challenging: Edward II and Philippe IV did not like each other, and the French king drove a hard bargain over the size of Isabella’s dower and the details of the administration of Edward’s lands in France.
As part of the agreement, Edward gave homage to Philippe IV for the Duchy of Aquitaine and agreed to a commission to complete the implementation of the 1303 Treaty of Paris. Edward II and Isabella were married in Boulogne on January 25, 1308. Edward gave Isabella a psalter as a wedding gift, and her father gave her gifts worth over 21,000 livres and a fragment of the True Cross.
The pair returned to England in February, where Edward had ordered Westminster Palace to be lavishly restored in readiness for their coronation and wedding feast, complete with marble tables, forty ovens and a fountain that produced wine and pimento, a spiced medieval drink. After some delays, the ceremony went ahead on February 25, at Westminster Abbey, under the guidance of Henry Woodlock, the Bishop of Winchester.
As part of the coronation, Edward swore to uphold “the rightful laws and customs which the community of the realm shall have chosen”. It is uncertain what this meant: it might have been intended to force Edward to accept future legislation, it may have been inserted to prevent him from overturning any future vows he might take, or it may have been an attempt by the king to ingratiate himself with the barons.
The event was marred by the large crowds of eager spectators who surged into the palace, knocking down a wall and forcing Edward to flee by the back door.
Isabella was only 12 years old at the time of her wedding, young even by the standards of the period, and Edward (aged 24 at the time) probably had sexual relations with mistresses during their first few years together. During this time he fathered an illegitimate son, Adam, who was born possibly as early as 1307. Edward and Isabella’s first son, the future Edward III, was born in 1312, when Isabella was 17, amid great celebrations, and three more children followed: John in 1316, Eleanor in 1318 and Joan in 1321.
Gaveston’s return from exile in 1307 was initially accepted by the barons, but opposition quickly grew. He appeared to have an excessive influence on royal policy, leading to complaints from one chronicler that there were “two kings reigning in one kingdom, the one in name and the other in deed”. Accusations, probably untrue, were levelled at Gaveston that he had stolen royal funds and had purloined Isabella’s wedding presents. Gaveston had played a key role at Edward’s coronation, provoking fury from both the English and French contingents about the earl’s ceremonial precedence and magnificent clothes, and about Edward’s apparent preference for Gaveston’s company over that of Isabella at the feast.
Edward II and Piers Gaveston
Parliament met in February 1308 in a heated atmosphere. Edward was eager to discuss the potential for governmental reform, but the barons were unwilling to begin any such debate until the problem of Gaveston had been resolved. Violence seemed likely, but the situation was resolved through the mediation of the moderate Henry de Lacy, 3rd Earl of Lincoln, who convinced the barons to back down.
A fresh parliament was held in April, where the barons once again criticised Gaveston, demanding his exile, this time supported by Isabella and the French monarchy. Edward resisted, but finally acquiesced, agreeing to send Gaveston to Aquitaine, under threat of excommunication by the Archbishop of Canterbury should he return. At the last moment, Edward changed his mind and instead sent Gaveston to Dublin, appointing him as the Lord Lieutenant of Ireland.