A Berkeley Castle and Corfe Castle  story

Did a man land on the moon? Who shot JFK? Did King Edward II die in Berkeley castle on 21st September 1327?

Edward II, the first English “Prince of Wales” is considered by many historians as one of the worst kings of his time. Medieval kings did not really need to do much. Their “to do” list included mainly three items. They had to be good warriors, they had to control the relationship with their barons, and they had to produce a legitimate heir. Edward II managed to achieve only the last task.

It seems that he was homosexual. But this wasn’t the main reason for his downfall; it was his bad habit of showering his lovers and favourites with gifts of lands and titles. You can read more about the horrible things Edward II did in my stories about Leeds Castle, Kenilworth Castle, Chirk Castle and Corfe Castle. Eventually, it was his French wife who raised an army and overthrew him. Edward II discovered that no one was left on his side beside his last two favourites. They were a father and son, both called Hugh Despenser. His original idea was to grab as much money from the royal treasury, escape to Ireland and raise an army over there, however, it all went horribly wrong and Edward was captured in South Wales. At first, he was held in Monmouth castle and then he was moved to Kenilworth Castle. Both of the Despensers were executed in the most barbarous way possible (they managed to make many enemies, read a bit about their “acts” in my Goodrich Castle stories). But you could not simply execute the King, especially not in an era when people believed in the divine rights of kings.

The solution was to someway abdicate him, but there was no precedent on how to do that. Finally, they decided to force the King to sign off on his crown, threatening him that if he did l not do so, his son would not be the next king. It was probably a bluff but it worked. Edward III was crowned in Westminster on 2nd of February 1327, but it did not solve the problem of the ex-King who was still alive and potentially dangerous. The King has moved again, this time it was to Berkeley castle.

Edward II arrived at Berkeley Castle in April, At first, they tried to get rid of the King in a very creative way. They placed him in a small cell next to the castle dungeon which was literally a deep hole in the ground. The dungeon was where they left prisoners to rot, and to make things even more uncomfortable for the King, they even added few corpses of animals to the fun. In medieval times, people believed that bad smells bring sickness and the hope was that the stench from dead prisoners and animals would make Edward sick and that would solve the issue in the cleanest way. Six months later, they had to admit that the ex-King was very resilient, and worse than that, he still had supporters who tried to liberate him… so they had to switch into plan B, but here things become a bit vaguer.

Officially, we know that on the 23rd of September, Edward III received news from Lord Berkeley that his father had died in his castle on the 21st. This is the date of his death according to Wikipedia (so it must be true, right?) but things are not that simple…

The “traditional” story which is also the gory one, tells us the Edward II was held upside down. His guards then took some sort of spear, put it in the fire and when it was red hot, they thrust it through the ex King’s backside… (which was obviously a reference to his sexual behaviour). This awful story was first suggested in a book that was written 3 years after the events of the 21st, but some historians question it and accept a different version that the King was killed from a “grief-induced illness” which I think means he was suffocated.

However, there are historians who even question the fact the King died in the castle at all…They even question the fact that the King died that day. You see Lord Berkeley was the person who sent a letter to Edward III. But later in Parliament, Berkeley admitted that he did not even hear about the King’s death until the rest of the nobles heard of it. And what about the King’s body? There was an official funeral but the body of the King was covered entirely so it could have been anyone buried in that coffin.

 

So did he die in Berkeley or not? Well three years later, in 1330 the “late” King’s half brother was executed for treason for trying to release the King from Corfe Castle in Dorset. Why would he do that if the King was already dead? Perhaps he was just stupid? Well, you should know that he had some help planning this rescue attempt, and one of his conspirators was the former jailor at Corfe Castle, the man who knew exactly who was imprisoned in that castle cells.

So what did happen to Edward II? When did he die and where? Well, perhaps the answer is kept in a hidden safe in an unmarked government building along with the information about the “moon landing”, JFK and area 51…

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