Church and society condemned homosexuality in the 14th century. Despite this, many continue to suspect Edward II was a homosexual. Suspicions center around his relationship with Piers Gaveston. Edward elevated his close friend to unprecedented power causing friction with the nobles. Edward was accused of sodomy, but that could have been propaganda and justification for his removal. People continue to believe Edward and Gaveston engaged in a romantic relationship. In the end, there is no way to know the exact nature of Edward II’s relationship with Piers Gaveston.
Piers Gaveston’s father was a household knight that served Edward I. The younger Gaveston joined the future Edward II’s retinue in 1300. The pair became inseparable leading to Gaveston’s knighthood. In 1307, Edward I banished Gaveston for reasons unknown. Some believe Edward I wanted to exile his son’s lover. Others think the king was punishing his son, but not Gaveston. The expelled knight lived comfortably with a stipend which indicates the punishment was for the prince and not his knight. Also, if Edward believed Gaveston was gay, he would have killed him.
Edward II recalled his favorite when he ascended to the throne. Then, he lavished Gaveston with titles and honors. At one point, Gaveston ran the government while Edward was in France. At Edward’s wedding with Isabella of France, the pair insulted the French and English nobility alike with their behavior and Gaveston’s extravagant dress. The suspicious behavior led many to question the pair’s heterosexuality. Gaveston’s relationship with Edward remained a point of friction for several years.
The nobility eventually executed Gaveston in 1312. Surviving anecdotes regarding his homosexual relationship with Edward date to the following decade. 14th century reporters speak of the pair’s “love” and how they “bound” themselves together. Over 20 years after Gaveston’s death, the Bishop of Winchester openly accused Edward of sodomy. Tradition holds that Edward died when his executioner stuck a hot poker up his rectum.
The charges of homosexuality might have been invented to justify Edward’s abdication in 1327. Both the king and Gaveston had wives, mistresses, and children. However, this could have been for appearances as well as political reasons. It has been suggested the pair considered each other adopted brothers. Although possible, it does not preclude a sexual relationship. Perhaps most importantly, there does not seem to be any evidence of Edward I condemning his son’s alleged homosexuality. Additionally, the charges seem to have appeared as Edward’s kingship was slipping from his grasp. Homosexuality was a convenient charge for the powerful to level against powerful enemies. For example, Philip the Fair used it against the Knights Templar. Whatever the reality, Edward II’s sexuality was eventually immortalized in the 1995 movie Braveheart. The film portrayed Edward as effeminate, weak, cowardly, and heavily implied homosexuality as the root cause of his faults. Part of the portrayal was used to contrast the prince from Edward I. However, the producers clearly used the historical charges against Edward to flesh out the character.
There remains no conclusive evidence to support nor contradict Edward II’s alleged homosexuality. He did have a very close friendship with Piers Gaveston. At times, that friendship appeared to many to have crossed the line of propriety. Edward II was removed from power and his enemies leveled the charges against him. The charges might have been true or they may have been contrived to justify a coup.