A Leeds Castle story

Edward II was probably one of the worst kings who ever set foot on the English throne; his failure was even more significant when you consider the success his father had with conquering Wales and beating up the Scots. Many historians believe that Edward II was gay, but I’m sure his barons would live with that. Unfortunately, though, he had this terrible habit of rewarding his “favourites” with gifts of titles and lands.

Edward II needed a Queen and Isabella of France was a perfect candidate. She was the daughter of the Kings of France, so such a union would create a great bond between the countries. When she first arrived in England, she was only 12. For us, this seems very young, but it was perfectly reasonable in the 14th century.

Things did not look good for Isabela from the start. In her coronation with the King, she realized that the star of the ceremony was actually a guy called Piers Gaveston who was the 1st Earl of Cornwall, and probably a perfect looking man. Edward and Piers were BFF’s and Isabela even realized that Piers was wearing some of the jewels she had brought with her as part of her dowry.

Isabela was not happy, and she wrote to her dad and said that she was the most miserable wife in the world, but her miseries did not end. When the barons had had enough of Edward II and rebelled, Edward decided to teach them a lesson, and he used Isabela as a pawn in his little game. Isabela travelled to Leeds Castle in 1321. The castle belonged to one of his rebelling barons. He was not there, and his wife, Margaret held the fort. Isabela asked the wife to open the castle gates and grant her entry. The wife became extremely anxious. Saying no the queen was never a good idea, but opening the gates to the Queen that was escorted by a band of soldiers in the middle of a rebellion? So she refused, and things became a bit tense. Isabela’s soldiers could not break the walls of Leeds by themselves, and when things got ugly, and a few arrows flew and killed 6 of her man, Isabela had to retreat.

Was she aware that the King needed an excuse to attack Leeds and teach his baron a painful lesson? I don’t know, but things unwrapped quickly. Edward sent an army with the right sieging machines; this time he was also leading the army. It was clear that Leeds was doomed. Margaret surrendered after a week, she and her kids sent to the tower, 13 of her men hanged and Leeds went back to the Crown.

By the year 1325, there were two new players in Edward’s court. They were both named Hugh Despenser, and they were father and son. Not sure if the son was another of Edward’s BFF’s but he did get a lot of presents, including all the Queen’s lands in England, and he even convinced Edward to take Isabela’s kids away from her for “safe keeping.”

Isabela was not a little girl anymore, and she had a plan. In the same year, the tension between France and England was high. The King of France was ready to negotiate, and Isabela managed to convince her husband that she would be the best person to send to France- after all the new king of France was her brother. She also assured Edward II that it would make sense to take with her the Prince of Wales, her eldest son, to pay respect to the French King.

Isabela went to France without any intention to negotiate; she had a completely different plan. First, she found a partner. He was an exiled baron named Roger Mortimer. The Despensers had murdered his uncle and confiscated his castle in England, so he needed his revenge as well.  Next, she married her son with a wealthy heiress and used the dowery to get in ships and soldiers. Edward’s many enemies realized that things were happening in the French court and they started to arrive, and in 1326 they invaded England.

By travelling with her son, the future king, Isabella gained a lot of support. When the King and Hugh Despenser the younger heard about the invasion, and about all the crucial barons deserting them and moving to the other camp, they realized that the game was over. They took as much gold as they could carry and tried to escape.

The duo got caught in Wales. Hugh’s fate was harsh and swift. He got castrated, and his genitals thrown into an open fire, then he was hanged, quartered and beheaded. His body given to the dogs and his head was sent to put on a spike on London Bridge. Next, it was Isabella’s turn to deal with her husband. The King was forced to sign his abdication and surrender the throne to his young son, and then he was sent to be imprisoned in Berkeley castle. What happened to him over there? Well, there are many speculations, some are extremely gruesome, and since we visited this castle as well, you can read about it here.

Back to Isabella. Her son was too young to rule on his own, so she and Roger became his regents. Unfortunately, Isabela did not learn much from her husband’s mistakes, and instead of being a gentle and kind queen, she spent her time trying to grab as much land and money as possible, she raised her annual income from 4500 marks to 20,000 marks, and she also started to be interested in real estate. Guess which of the castles she indeed fancied? Leeds Castle of course. She became the third queen to hold it.

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