The government of Isabella and Mortimer was so precarious that they dared not leave the deposed king in the hands of their political enemies. On 3 April, Edward II was removed from Kenilworth and entrusted to the custody of two subordinates of Mortimer, then later imprisoned at Berkeley Castle in Gloucestershire where, it was generally believed, he was murdered by an agent of Isabella and Mortimer on 11 October 1327, although Edward’s death is commemorated annually at Berkeley Castle on 21 September.
The closest chronicler to the scene in time and distance, Adam Murimuth, stated that it was ‘popularly rumoured’ that he had been suffocated. The Lichfield chronicle, equally reflecting local opinion, stated that he had been strangled. Most chronicles did not offer a cause of death other than natural causes.
The popular story that the king was assassinated by having a red-hot poker thrust into his anus has no basis in accounts recorded by Edward’s contemporaries. Thomas de la Moore’s account of Edward’s murder was not written until after 1352 and is uncorroborated by other contemporary sources. Not until the relevant sections of the longer brut chronicle were composed by an anti-Mortimer Lancastrian polemicist in the mid-1430s was the story widely circulated.
Nevertheless a public funeral was held in 1327, attended by Isabella, after which Edward’s body was said to be laid in Gloucester Cathedral. An elaborate tomb was set up by his son, which attracted pilgrims from far and wide.
Following the public announcement of the king’s death, the rule of Isabella and Mortimer did not last long. They made peace with the Scots in the Treaty of Northampton, but this move was highly unpopular. Consequently, when Edward III came of age in 1330, he executed Roger Mortimer on fourteen charges of treason, most significantly the murder of Edward II (thereby removing any public doubt about his father’s survival). Edward III spared his mother and gave her a generous allowance, but ensured that she retired from public life for several years. She died at Hertford on 23 August 1358.
According to the Calendar of Fines Edward III (1327–1330) held at Winchester records office, Edward III made every effort to track down his father’s killers, William Ockley (not Ogle), Sir Thomas Gurney, and Sir John Maltravers, but they fled the country. Ockley, Gurney and Maltravers were Roger Mortimer’s henchmen from the Welsh Marches. William Ogle died before the event; he was a bailiff of Newcastle according to family history.
Fieschi Letter
The Fieschi Letter was written to Edward III in circa 1337 by a Genoese priest at Avignon, Manuele Fieschi (d. 1349). He was a papal notary and a member of the influential Fieschi family, who later became Bishop of Vercelli. The letter is best known for its claim that Edward II was not murdered in 1327 but escaped and spent the remainder of his life in exile in Europe. It has been a source of controversy ever since a copy was discovered in 1878 in Montpellier.
The Fieschi letter begins by following the historically accepted story that Edward II fled to South Wales after the invasion of England by Isabella of France and Roger Mortimer before being arrested and imprisoned at Kenilworth Castle and Berkeley Castle in 1326. But according to Fieschi, when the king heard that he was to be killed at Berkeley Castle he changed clothes with a servant. Using this disguise he reached the gate and escaped by killing the gate-keeper. He then went to Corfe Castle where he remained for 18 months.
Edward is then said to have stayed in Ireland for nine months. He then crossed to the Low Countries and travelled to Italy, visiting the Pope in Avignon on his way through France. Edward reported to have lived the rest of his life in monastic hermitages near Milan.
The letter was discovered by a French archivist in an official register dated before 1368 which had been the property of Gaucelm de Deaux, Bishop of Maguelonne, and was preserved in the Archives Departmentales d’Herault at Montpelier. It is still there today. The letter has been tested and is not a later forgery. Fieschi is a well known historical figure. He had several livings in England and knew the country though the letter shows some confusion between the rank of a knight and that of a lord.
No one doubts the authenticity of Fieschi’s letter, only its veracity; the letter contains details that very few people knew at the time and was written long before the accepted accounts of the flight, imprisonment and murder.
Ian Mortimer has argued that it is ‘almost certain’ that Edward II did not die in 1327. It is possible that Edward II knew he had no support at home and never tried to regain the throne, especially after his son, Edward III, had removed Roger Mortimer. In the Italian town of Cecima (75 km from Milan), there is a tradition that a king of England was buried there and there is an empty mediaeval tomb said to be the place of his burial before his body was repatriated to England by his son.
The elaborate funeral in Gloucester of the person supposed to be Edward II may have been that of the gate-keeper. Many local dignitaries were invited to view the body from a distance, but it had been embalmed and may have been unrecognisable. For the first time a carved wooden effigy of the dead king was carried through the streets rather than the body on a bier.
Diplomatic documents also show in 1338 that Edward III travelled to Koblenz to be installed as Vicar of the Holy Roman Empire and there he met someone called William le Galeys, or William the Welshman, who claimed to be the king’s father. (Edward II was born in Caernarvon and was the first son of an English king to be given the title Prince of Wales.) Claiming to be the king’s father would have been dangerous, and it is not known what happened to William. Some historians claim that the person was William Ockle.
Opponents who challenge the veracity of the contents of the letter argue that the letter should be seen rather as an attempt by the bishop of Maguelone who had been sent to Germany to disrupt an Anglo-German alliance. The letter may therefore be an attempt to blackmail Edward III by undermining his position at the German court. Fieschi held various church appointments in England from 1319 and may also have been attempting to gain royal patronage.
Looking at the different arguments nothing is certain about the fate of Edward, on balance my own thoughts would be to believe that Edward did escape from Berkeley Castle and his death there was pure fabrication, as was pointed out to me here on facebook, people prefer a gory end to a persons life. Ian Mortimer in my opinion is a good historian, and put forward a very good argument for his theory about the final years of Edwards’s life, and one that is more believable than Berkeley. I have presented facts as I have found them, but at the end of the day, as reader of historic events you can decide where the truth lies……if any.

  1. […] Death of Edward II (hchroniclesblog.wordpress.com) […]

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