Death of Edward II
Those opposed to the new government began to make plans to free Edward and restore him to the throne and Roger Mortimer decided to move him to the more secure location of Berkeley Castle in Gloucestershire, where Edward arrived around April 5, 1327.
It is unclear how well cared for Edward was; the records show luxury goods being bought on his behalf, but some chroniclers suggest that he was often mistreated.
Concerns continued to be raised over fresh plots to liberate Edward, some involving the Dominican order and former household knights, and one such attempt got at least as far as breaking into the prison within the castle.
As a result of these threats, Edward was moved around to other locations in secret for a period, before returning to permanent custody at the castle in the late summer of 1327.
On September 23 King Edward III was informed that his father had died at Berkeley Castle during the night of September 21. Most historians agree that Edward II did die at Berkeley on that date, although there is a minority view that he died much later. His death was, as Mark Ormrod notes, “suspiciously timely”, as it simplified Mortimer’s political problems considerably, and most historians believe that Edward probably was murdered on the orders of the new regime, although it is impossible to be certain.
Several of the individuals suspected of involvement in the death, including Sir Thomas Gurney, Maltravers and William Ockley, later fled England. If Edward died from natural causes, his death may have been hastened by depression following his imprisonment.
In the autumn of 1328, three members of the Royal Family United in a conspiracy against Isabella and Mortimer. these members were: Edmund of Woodstock, 1st Earl of Kent (August 5, 1301 – March 19, 1330) the sixth son of King Edward I of England by his second wife Margaret of France and his brother, Thomas of Brotherton, 1st Earl of Norfolk (June 1, 1300 – August 4, 1338), the fifth son of King Edward I of England (both half-brothers of King Edward II). They were joined by Henry of Lancaster (c. 1281 – September 22, 1345) was a grandson of King Henry III (1216–1272) of England and was one of the principals behind the deposition of King Edward II (1307–1327) and also his first cousin.
The conspiracy was a product of shared interest, however, rather than strong personal ties. Once it became clear that it would fail, the two brothers and the Earl of Lancaster abandoned the venture. One reason for the failure of this rebellion was due to the passivity of the young Edward III.
After participating in the planned rebellion, Edmund of Woodstock, 1st Earl of Kent became less popular at court. However, He was still allowed to accompany the king’s wife Philippa of Hainault to her coronation in February 1330, but his appearances at court became less frequent. At this point he became involved in another plot against the king, when he was convinced by rumours that his brother was still alive.
It later emerged that Roger Mortimer himself was responsible for leading Edmund into this belief, in a form of entrapment. The plot was revealed, and in the parliament of March 1330 Mortimer ordered the execution of Edmund and he was indicted and condemned to death as a traitor.
Upon hearing that the verdict was death, the condemned earl pleaded with Edward III for his life, offering to walk from Winchester to London with a rope around his neck as a sign of atonement. Edward III however knew that leniency was not an option for the aforementioned entrapment utilized by Mortimer could extend to him and potentially be subversive to his own kingship if his father, Edward II truly was alive. Thus Edward III sanctioned the killing of his uncle.
It was almost impossible to find anyone willing to perform the execution of a man of royal blood, until a convicted murderer eventually beheaded Edmund in exchange for a pardon. Edmund’s body was initially buried in a Franciscan church in Winchester, but it was removed to Westminster Abbey in 1331.
After the execution of Edmund of Woodstock, Henry of Lancaster prevailed upon the young king, Edward III, to assert his independence. In October 1330, a Parliament was summoned to Nottingham, just days before Edward’s eighteenth birthday, and Mortimer and Isabella were seized by Edward and his companions from inside Nottingham Castle. Mortimer was put on trial for treason.
In spite of Isabella’s entreaty to her son, “Fair son, have pity on the gentle Mortimer,” Mortimer was conveyed to the Tower. Accused of assuming royal power and of various other high misdemeanors Isabella was portrayed as an innocent bystander during the proceedings, and no mention of her sexual relationship with Mortimer was made public. Mortimer was hanged at Tyburn on November 29, 1330, but Edward III showed leniency and he was not quartered or disemboweled.
Mortimer’s body hung at the gallows for two days and nights in full view of the populace. His his vast estates forfeited to the crown. Mortimer’s widow Joan received a pardon in 1336 and survived until 1356. She was buried beside Mortimer at Wigmore, but the site was later destroyed.
After the coup, Isabella was initially transferred to Berkhamsted Castle, and then held under house arrest at Windsor Castle until 1332, when she then moved back to her own Castle Rising in Norfolk. Agnes Strickland, a Victorian historian, argued that Isabella suffered from occasional fits of madness during this period but modern interpretations suggest, at worst, a nervous breakdown following the death of her lover.
As the years went by, Isabella became very close to her daughter Joan, especially after Joan left her unfaithful husband, King David II of Scotland. Joan also nursed her just before she died. She doted on her grandchildren, including Edward, the Black Prince. She became increasingly interested in religion as she grew older, visiting a number of shrines.
She remained, however, a gregarious member of the court, receiving constant visitors; amongst her particular friends appear to have been Roger Mortimer’s daughter Agnes Mortimer, Countess of Pembroke, and Roger Mortimer’s grandson, also called Roger Mortimer, whom Edward III restored to the Earldom of March.
Isabella took the nun’s habit of the Poor Clares before she died on August 22, 1358 at Hertford Castle, and her body was returned to London for burial at the Franciscan church at Newgate, in a service overseen by Archbishop Simon Islip.
With Mortimer’s execution in 1330, controversies rapidly began to circulate that Edward II was not still alive had been murdered at Berkeley Castle. Accounts that he had been killed by the insertion of a red-hot iron or poker into his anus slowly began to circulate, possibly as a result of deliberate propaganda; chroniclers in the mid-1330s and 1340s spread this account further, supported in later years by Geoffrey le Baker’s colourful account of the killing.
It became incorporated into most later histories of Edward II, typically being linked to his possible homosexuality.Most historians now dismiss this account of Edward II’s death, querying the logic in his captors murdering him in such an easily detectable fashion.
Another set of theories surround the possibility that Edward did not really die in 1327. These theories typically involve the “Fieschi Letter”, sent to Edward III by an Italian priest called Manuel Fieschi, who claimed that Edward escaped Berkeley Castle in 1327 with the help of a servant and ultimately retired to become a hermit in the Holy Roman Empire. A few historians have supported versions of its narrative.
The popular historian Alison Weir believes the events in the letter to be essentially true, using the letter to argue that Isabella was innocent of murdering Edward. The historian Ian Mortimer suggests that the story in Fieschi’s letter is broadly accurate, but argues that it was in fact Mortimer and Isabella who had Edward secretly released, and who then faked his death, a fiction later maintained by Edward III when he came to power. Ian Mortimer’s account was criticised by most scholars when it was first published, in particular by historian David Carpenter.
Edward II was ultimately a failure as a king; the historian Michael Prestwich observes that he “was lazy and incompetent, liable to outbursts of temper over unimportant issues, yet indecisive when it came to major issues”, echoed by Roy Haines’ description of Edward as “incompetent and vicious”, and as “no man of business”.
Edward II did not just delegate routine government to his subordinates, but also higher level decision making, and Pierre Chaplais argues that he “was not so much an incompetent king as a reluctant one”, preferring to rule through a powerful deputy, such as Piers Gaveston or Hugh Despenser the Younger. Edward’s willingness to promote his favourites had serious political consequences, although he also attempted to buy the loyalty of a wider grouping of nobles through grants of money and fees.