Nottingham Castle is proud to support Nottingham’s students. In fact, we have two PhD students working with us at the moment, exploring the Castle’s hidden histories. To celebrate LGBTQI+ History Month, we’re sharing research conducted by PhD student Emma Fearon on how views of Edward II’s sexuality have changed throughout history. Read on to find out more…

Content warning: graphic descriptions of sexual violence

Edward II, King of England (Bodleian Library MS Rawlinson C 292, folio 105r)
Edward II, King of England (Bodleian Library MS Rawlinson C 292, folio 105r)

Many visitors come to Nottingham Castle to see ‘Mortimer’s Hole’, the famed location where Queen Isabella and her lover Roger Mortimer were captured after their political coup to depose Edward II and replace him as King with his son Edward III.

However, a lesser known fact is that it was rumoured that Isabella’s husband, Edward II, engaged in same sex relationships with his male companions. One of them, Piers Gaveston, was appointed Constable of Nottingham Castle in 1308. According to one chronicler, Edward II ‘tied himself to him [Piers] against all mortals with an indissoluble bond of love’ (Hamilton, 1999, p. 27). However, was this romantic love, a bond of brotherhood, or a political smear against Edward’s reputation? Join me every Friday throughout February as I begin exploring Edward II’s identity.

 

Decriminalisation: how did the law impact studies on Edward II?

The decriminalisation of homosexuality in Great Britain in the 1960s led to the formation of LGBTQI+ culture as we know it today. This allowed scholars to explore the topic of sexuality more directly than ever before. From the 1970s, academics began to declare Edward II a gay man. This ‘outing’ of Edward II was not because of new evidence, but the reassessment of existing texts in a world that was more ‘tolerable’ to the LGBTQI+ community (Ormrod, 2006, p. 23).

Edward II and Piers Gaveston: a cause for conflict in the Royal Household

Edward II and Piers Gaveston met in the court of Edward I. Edward II and Gaveston were reported to be extremely close, with Edward’s love for him being ‘beyond measure and reason’ (Hamilton, 1999, p. 29). Edward’s father, Edward I, attempted to separate the pair on numerous occasions, firstly by reducing Edward’s household in 1305 and then by exiling Gaveston in 1306.

Gaveston was one of twenty-two knights who deserted the army to attend tournaments in France, and all except he was pardoned by the King (Hamilton, 1999, p. 28). With Edward II being betrothed to Isabella of France, some historians have seen Edward I’s actions as an attempt to prevent a relationship between the two men.

The violent death of Edward II

In 1327, Edward II was imprisoned in Berkeley Castle, and it was rumoured that he died from a red-hot poker being inserted into his rectum. The rumours surrounding Edward’s death are often viewed as a tragic consequence of extreme homophobia. The violent deaths of his ‘favourites’, Piers Gaveston and Hugh Despenser the Younger, at the hands of the English nobility, also support this argument.

The evidence above supports the idea that Edward II was ‘outed’ as a gay man not only by his peers, but by historians many years later.

Written by PhD student Emma Fearon

References

Hamilton, J.S. 1999, “Menage a roi: Edward II and Piers Gaveston”, History Today, vol. 49, no. 6, pp. 26-31.

Ormrod, W.M. 2012, “The Sexualities of Edward II” in The Reign of Edward II: New Perspectives, eds. G. Dodd & A. Musson, Boydell and Brewer Limited, Woodbridge, UK, pp. 22-47.

Image credit

Edward II, King of England (Bodleian Library MS Rawlinson C 292, folio 105r)