The Tragedy of Edward II, the Least Respected Plantagenet
Plantagenet kings always had to contend with powerful nobles, who might challenge their royal authority at any time. One such was Roger Mortimer, 1st Earl of March (1287 – 1330), a powerful aristocrat who fell out with king Edward II over the king’s maladministration and corrupt royal favorites. Mortimer led a baronial revolt, but was defeated in 1322 and captured. He was imprisoned in the Tower of London, but escaped and fled to France.
King Edward II (1284 – 1327) was a poor monarch, but what damaged his authority the most was the perception that was a homosexual, and an effeminate one at that. That was a problem in Edward’s England, a kingdom ruled by a macho warrior caste. Edward often promoted his male lovers to positions of power, only for those lovers to abuse those powers, to the disgust of the king’s subjects. His latest lover, Hugh Despenser, fit that pattern.
Edward made things worse by publicly fawning upon Hugh, which humiliated and alienated Edward’s queen, Isabella. Roger Mortimer took advantage of that, and while Isabella was on a diplomatic mission to France in 1325, he met and seduced her, and made her his mistress. In 1326, the couple invaded England, executed Hugh Despenser and his relatives, and deposed Edward II. They replaced the king with his 14 year old son, who was crowned as Edward III, with Mortimer as regent.
Reports of plots to rescue the deposed king reached Mortimer’s ears, so he had the former monarch relocated to a more secure site. As news of fresh plots to free Edward kept surfacing during the spring and summer of 1327, he was repeatedly shuttled between various locations. The fear that one of those schemes might finally succeed eventually decided Mortimer on a permanent solution: to put Edward II beyond rescue, by killing him.
In order to avoid leaving marks of murder on the body, and contemptuous of Edward’s perceived effeminacy, the killers held him down, and inserted a red hot poker up his behind to burn his bowels from the inside. Another version has it that a tube was first inserted in his rectum, then a red hot metal bolt was dropped down the tube into his bowels. Either way, it was a gruesome way to go, and Edward II’s dying screams were reportedly heard for miles. Mortimer retained power as regent until 1330, when Edward III decided he was old enough to rule on his own, seized Mortimer, and had him executed.