[EdwardthesecondBlogspot]/25 February 1308:”Coronation of Edward II


On this day 700 years ago, Edward II and Isabella were crowned king and queen of England at Westminster Abbey. Edward was exactly twenty-three and ten months, Isabella just twelve.The coronation differed from its predecessors in several respects. Firstly, the wives of peers attended for the first time. Secondly, Edward took his oath in French, not Latin – a fact often used to condemn him as ‘stupid, lazy, ignorant and uneducated’ by historians of the nineteenth and early twentieth centuries, conveniently ignoring the fact that Edward, even if he was ignorant of Latin, which is most unlikely, could easily have learnt the short responses by heart, and that French was the native language of probably everyone attending the coronation.* Thirdly, a new clause was added to the coronation oath: “Sire, do you grant to be held and observed the just laws and customs that the community of your realm shall determine, and will you, so far as in you lies, defend and strengthen them to the honour of God?”More ink has been spilt on the meaning and intention of this clause than you could possibly imagine, but I’m not going to analyse it here because, frankly, the whole subject is tedious beyond belief. (The full text of Edward’s oath, in the French original and English, is in the sidebar on the left.)





[* Edward III also took the coronation oath in French in 1327, and nobody has ever accused him of being stupid and ignorant because of it. Poor Edward II; every single damn thing he ever did has been used against him one way or another.]The coronation was delayed by a week, possibly because of all the conflicts caused by Edward’s obsession with Piers Gaveston, or more likely, because Robert Winchelsey, archbishop of Canterbury, was ill and out of the country, not returning until 24 March. Winchelsey was a staunch opponent of Edward I, who in 1306 asked the Pope to suspend Winchelsey, which he did. When Edward II acceded, he asked the Pope to reinstate the archbishop. The ungrateful git repaid Edward by joining his enemies, becoming one of Gaveston’s most implacable foes, and excommunicating him in 1312. Henry Woodlock, bishop of Winchester, performed the coronation ceremony in Winchelsey’s stead.Edward and Isabella stayed at the Tower of London from 19 to 24 February, and on that date, rode through London in procession to Westminster. On the morning of the 25th, they walked from Westminster Hall to the Abbey, along a carpet strewn with flowers. Edward wore a green robe and black hose, and was barefoot. Above them, the barons of the Cinque Ports carried an embroidered canopy, and before them, proceeded the prelates and the barons. Directly preceding Edward and Isabella were, in this order: William Marshal, carrying the gilt spurs; Edward’s brother-in-law the earl of Hereford carrying the royal sceptre; his cousin Henry of Lancaster carrying the royal rod; the earls of Lancaster, Warwick and Lincoln carrying the three swords. Then, four men carrying a board covered with chequered cloth, on which the royal robes were placed. They were Hugh Despenser the elder, Roger Mortimer, Thomas de Vere, son of the earl of Oxford, and Edmund Fitzalan, earl of Arundel. Mortimer, de Vere and Arundel were cousins. Then, Edward’s treasurer Walter Reynolds, carrying the paten of the chalice of St Edward the Confessor, and the chancellor John Langton carrying the chalice itself. And finally, and controversially, Piers Gaveston, just before the king and queen and therefore in prime position, carrying the royal crown.

The Pauline annalist, apparently an eyewitness, described Gaveston as “so decked out that he more resembled the god Mars than an ordinary mortal”. The other earls wore cloth-of-gold, as they were entitled to do in the king’s presence (cloth-of-gold is material shot through with gold thread, so sadly, they are unlikely to have much resembled the Bee Gees), but Gaveston wore royal purple, of silk, encrusted with jewels.

Isabella’s uncles Charles of Valois and Louis of Evreux attended the coronation, as did her brother Charles, the future Charles IV, and Edward’s sister Margaret and brother-in-law Jan, the duke and duchess of Brabant. Presumably, his other sisters Elizabeth, countess of Hereford, and Mary, the nun, also attended, as did the mayor, aldermen and citizens of London. Supposedly, a knight called John Bakewell was crushed to death in the great crowd of people in the Abbey.

At the altar, Edward and Isabella both made offerings of gold. During the ceremony, the count of Valois put on Edward’s left buskin (a kind of boot) and left spur, the earl of Pembroke Edward’s right buskin, and Gaveston the right spur – to the anger of many, as these duties were of profound significance, and Edward was publicly placing Gaveston above the rest of the nobility.

Edward swore his oath and was anointed with holy oil on head, hands and chest, then he himself raised his crown from the altar and handed it to Bishop Woodlock, who placed it on Edward’s head. Edward was then escorted to his gilded and painted throne, with the Stone of Scone underneath, which his father had removed from Scotland eleven years earlier. A long line of prelates and barons came to kneel before him and swear (homage and) fealty. Finally, it was Isabella’s turn to be consecrated, crowned and anointed, on the hands only.

Edward and Isabella received the sacrament, and then were escorted back to the palace, Edward carrying the royal verge (his staff of office) in his left hand. Piers Gaveston carried the sword Curtana, which the earl of Lancaster had carried previously in the procession to the Abbey, which caused more mutterings, or rather shouts, of discontent. Edward changed out of his coronation robes and proceeded with all the others to Westminster Hall, where a banquet was to take place. Edward knighted several young men at this time, including his sixteen-year-old nephew the earl of Gloucester.

Gaveston had been responsible for arranging the banquet, and it was a fiasco, either because Gaveston wasn’t much of an organiser or because he was already so resented the cooks, servers etc did their worst, in order to embarrass him. It was long after dark when the banquet finally got underway, and although there was a vast amount of food, it was badly cooked, badly served and close to inedible. (Possibly, the French had expected nothing less of English food.)

Edward had ordered tapestries bearing his own arms, and those of Piers Gaveston, to adorn the walls of the hall, as though Gaveston was his consort and not Isabella. Even by Edward’s standards, this was astonishingly tactless. He then made matters worse by sitting next to Gaveston and ignoring everyone else, including Isabella, talking and laughing with his friend. Isabella’s uncles were, not unreasonably, grievously offended. Although it’s understandable that a man in his twenties would prefer to talk to a friend of his own age than to a twelve-year-old he barely knew, there’s no doubt that Edward’s behaviour was extremely insulting to the French. Whether he intended to be rude, or just didn’t care, is not certain.

After the banquet, the counts of Evreux and Valois returned to France and complained to Isabella’s father Philip IV that Edward II favoured Gaveston’s couch to Isabella’s bed. Isabella herself wrote to her father declaring that her husband was “an entire stranger to my bed”. The chronicler Robert of Reading, who hated Edward, wrote scathingly about “the mad folly of the king of England, who was so overcome with his own wickedness and desire for sinful, forbidden sex, that he banished his royal wife from his side and rejected her sweet embraces.” And Adam Murimuth wrote that Edward “loved an evil male sorcerer [!!] more than he did his wife, a most handsome lady and a very beautiful woman.”

But Isabella was not a ‘woman’, and I for one find it impossible to condemn Edward for ‘rejecting the sweet embraces’ and shunning the bed of a girl not long past her twelfth birthday! I really doubt that Edward intended any offence or insult to Isabella personally, but he could hardly have been less interested in a girl too young to be his wife in anything but name, or of any political use to him.

Parliament met shortly afterwards. Edward’s antics at the coronation had strengthened the already pretty strong opposition to Piers Gaveston; most of the earls, barons and bishops abandoned Edward, and many threatened to make war on him if he didn’t banish Gaveston. Within eight months of his accession, Edward II had brought his country to the brink of civil war over his obsessive love for his Gascon favourite. What happened next, I’ll save for another blog post. 🙂

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