Monday, July 27, 2009

Monday Monarch Moment

Edward II (1307-1327)

For the record, I've got to say that I think Edward II holds the title of England's Gayest King.

Sure, I know what you're saying (if you're saying anything in particular): What about James I? And I hear you, I do. But whereas James mostly had boy-toys (to whom he tended to grant ridiculous amounts of power, yes), Edward pretty much wanted his boyfriends to be co-kings with him, and he didn't care who knew it (example: at the coronation feast of Edward and his wife Isabella, was it Isabella who sat next to Edward? Was it Isabella whose coat of arms hung next to Edward's in the hall? [Hint: no. It was his boyfriend]).

Granted, this measure of "gayness" may not perfect; I'm not sure who I would think was "straighter," Edward I, who was (as far as anybody can tell) faithful and devoted to his wives, or Henry I, who was a raging mistress-o-holic.

. . . What was I talking about? Oh right, Edward II. Did you know that Edward was the first son of an English King to be known as the Prince of Wales? Now you do.

Edward was also, let's face it, kind of dumb. In Alison Weir's Queen Isabella (a biography of Edward's to-be-monarch-momented-later wife), she wrote a sentence I loved so much I actually dog-eared the page (don't worry, I own the book). When analyzing a letter Edward wrote to his wife, claiming to be super confused about why she hated his super vindictive Boyfriend #2, Weir states: "In his next sentence, Edward demonstrates that he was a liar of the first order or capable of the greatest self-deception or perhaps extraordinarily stupid." They might all have been true in some measure, but if I had to choose, I'd pick door number three.

Admittedly, Edward didn't come to the throne with many advantages--the war in Scotland was already going badly, and the extremes to which his father had gone to prosecute the war had left the country's finances in sad shape. Still, his reign is just frustrating to read about--it's a continuous cycle of politically tone-deaf blunders, perpetrated by someone seemingly without the capacity to learn from his mistakes.

He'd lavish too much power and land on his boyfriend (at first, it was Piers Gaveston of the hair-pulling incident). The barons would get (understandably) fed up, and force the king to exile the boyfriend. Edward would find a way to bring the boyfriend back. Repeat a few times until boyfriend is killed by angry barons. Find a new boyfriend (Hugh le Despenser the younger). Lavish too much power and land on boyfriend until barons get fed up and force the king to exile the boyfriend. Boyfriend turns to piracy. Edward finds a way to bring him back. Edward, boyfriend, and boyfriend's father rule tyrannically and horribly until Queen invades and deposes them all--except that's a story better left for next time.

Even though he was a lousy king, it's hard not to have a soft spot for the poor fella. He was, on top of everything else, just kind of a weirdo (by, of course, the standands of his time, which are the only standards by which weirdness really matters). It was said that with his kingly stature and physical abilities, he could have been a great warrior like his father. He just . . . didn't feel like it. He preferred hanging out with commoners and doing common stuff:

[I]t was commonly reported that he [Edward] had devoted himself privately from youth to the arts of rowing and driving chariots, digging pits and roofing houses; also that he wrought as a craftsman with his boon companions by night, and at other mechanical arts, besides other vanities and frivolities where in it doth not become a king's son to busy himself.
The Chronicle of Lanercost, via The Oxford Book of Royal Anecdotes

As Weir puts it, Edward's barons were "horrified" by Edward's penchant for "digging ditches on his estates, thatching roofs, trimming hedges, plastering walls, working in metal, shoeing horses, driving carts, rowing, [and] swimming--even in February." But I think it's adorable! Even though he was just a terrible king, it makes me feel bad that he was eventually deposed and murdered (. . . or was he?!?!!), but again, I'll get back to that next week.


Neal said...

In his desire to just do commoner stuff, he reminds me a little of Louis XVI. Another guy who should have never been a King.

Rachel said...

Ooh, good point. It's guys like that who prove that genes aren't everything.