Edward of Caernarvon (25 April 1284 – 21 September 1327) was the fourth son of Edward I, and one of at least 14 children from Edward's marriage to Eleanor of Castile. He became the heir apparent at the age of four months, when his 11 year old brother Alphonso died.
Having been raised as the future King, Edward was trained in the arts of war from an early age, but he also seems to have developed what were considered to be unhealthy interests in other areas, such as drainage engineering, boats, and rural crafts such as thatching and basket weaving.
Despite this, Edward was expected to perform his royal duties and to lead armies in the field as would befit a prince of the realm. He was present on the campaign of 1300 which took Caerlaverock castle, and in the next year he was the nominal leader of the western arm of the English army in a campaign which faltered just over the border.
It was during one of these campaigns that some indication appears of one of the difficult elements of his life - his close friendship with Piers Gaveston, a minor knight from Gascony. Gaveston had arrived in England in 1300 after service in Edward I's forces in Gascony, and it seems that Piers and Edward of Caernarvon became good friends very quickly. Gaveston was evidently a dashing and highly capable young man, with some success in tournaments at an early age. It was while on campaign in Scotland in 1306 that he and 21 other young knights including Humphrey de Bohun deserted the campaign to take part in a tournament, and it seems inconceivable that this happened without the knowledge and agreement of Edward of Caernarvon. An order for the arrest of the deserters was issued, but in January 1307 Queen Margaret secured a pardon for all of them.
Gaveston clearly had more influence on the young Edward than was thought to be good for either of them, and shortly after this episode Gaveston was ordered to leave England at the end of April.
With the death of Edward I in July 1307, one of the new king's first acts was to recall his favourite, and Gaveston was back in the country during early August. Indeed, Edward made him the Earl of Cornwall on 7th August, which capped a meteoric rise for a minor knight, and it seems that this didn't go down very well with the rest of the nobility.
Despite the popular image of Edward and Gaveston as homosexual lovers, Gaveston was married in November 1307 to the sister of the Earl of Gloucester, and in celebration Edward held a tournament at Wallingford in which Gaveston participated, leading one side, with the earls of Surrey, Hereford and Arundel on the other. In such a contest, it might be expected that the senior earls would win with some ease due to their ability to attract a better standard of participant on their side and given the opportunity to bring the jumped-up knight down a level or three, but it was Gaveston's team who won the tournament, upsetting the earls in the process.
Early in 1308, Edward left for France, where he was to be married to Isabella, the only surviving daughter of Philip IV. Gaveston was appointed regent during this absence, which seems to have upset the nobles even more, and when on his return Edward held a coronation for Isabella after which a feast was held, it seems he spent more time with Gaveston than with his new Queen. The nobility had had enough - at a Parliament in April, they demanded that Gaveston be exiled once again. Edward resisted, but on 18th May he consented to the exile when it became clear that his father in law was also unimpressed with his behaviour, which threatened the strategic alliance the marriage had made. To ensure that Gaveston went and stayed away, the Archbishop of Canterbury declared that he would be excommunicated if he ever returned.
Gaveston left by the end of June 1308, having been stripped of the Earldom of Cornwall, but not before Edward had bestowed on him enough land and power from the royal holdings that he would not be unduly discomfited. Gaveston left to take up his new position as Lieutenant of Ireland, which he seems to have fulfilled with some degree of success.
Edward seems to have demonstrated considerable political skill from this point, dividing those who opposed him and winning several of the key players back to his side, including Warwick and Lincoln. Through further manouevering, Edward also achieved the lifting of the threat of excommunication, with Pope Clement V removing the interdiction in April 1309. Within two months, Gaveston was back in England, and restored to the Earldom of Cornwall.
Throughout this period, Robert Bruce was building his strength in Scotland - having seized the throne in 1306, he overcame several early setbacks to consolidate his hold on the country, and it clearly must have helped to have the English nobility so divided against itself. Bruce had time to deal with the remnants of the Comyn forces in the north who had been his main opponents for the throne, and then to isolate and capture each of the English-held fortresses in turn.
In February 1310, several of the Earls refused to attend a parliament if Gaveston was included. Gaveston was sent away, and when the parliament met Edward was presented with a list of demands from his nobles. Edward attempted to divert the discontent at home in two ways - by appointing a panel of earls, bishops and barons to "ordain reforms of the royal household" in March 1310, and by addressing the Scottish problem. These Lords Ordainers had barely started work when Edward summoned an army in June to march on Scotland. The Ordainers refused to serve in the army, and so it was not until September and with a very reduced force that Edward set out for Scotland. His army failed to pin down the Scots, and in disarray and without a success to justify the time and expense, Edward withdrew, leaving Gaveston with the job of continuing the campaign through the winter where possible. A failed campaign by Gaveston in February 1311 coincided with the death of the Earl of Lincoln, one of the senior Ordainers, and with the Ordinances prepared for approval by a parliament, Edward had other matters to consider. The parliament duly met in August, and was presented with a wide-ranging list of recommendations and grievances, foremost among which was that Gaveston should again be exiled. Edward tried to offer some resistance, but his position was futile. Gaveston left in November 1311.
By Christmas, Gaveston was back. In January 1312, Edward declared the judgement against him to have been illegal, and he was reinstated to all of his lands and positions.
The barons reacted in the only way they could - by preparing for civil war. Gaveston settled in Scarborough, strengthening the fortifications around the castle, while the Archbishop of Canterbury delivered on his threat of excommunication for Gaveston. In May, the King and Gaveston barely escaped capture in Newcastle - the King fled to York, while Gaveston retreated to Scarborough, where Clifford, Percy, Pembroke and Surrey besieged the castle. Gaveston surrendered on 19th May, on condition that he would be brought to the King in York to assist in negotiations, and would be returned to Scarborough if no agreement could be reached.
During the negotiations, Gaveston was held by the Earl of Pembroke for safekeeping, but the Earl of Warwick became aware of his whereabouts and captured Gaveston on 10th June, taking him back to Warwick where he was tried for breaching the terms of the Ordinances, by a panel of barons which included Warwick, Lancaster, Arundel and Hereford. On 19th June, he was removed a few miles to the Earl of Lancaster's lands near Kenilworth, and was executed.
Edward was furious, and joined now by Pembroke who resented the insult to his honour, it soon became apparent that the Earls had lost much of their support as a result of their abduction and execution of Gaveston and had no more stomach for a fight, and they submitted to Edward by October 1313.
Meanwhile, the position in Scotland was becoming ever more serious. Early in 1314, only Stirling and Berwick of the great Scottish fortresses remained in English hands, and the commander at Stirling had entered into an agreement with the Scots that he would surrender the castle if it was not relieved by the 24th June. Edward had no choice - he had to march to the relief of Stirling, or give up any remaining hope of regaining Scotland.
Summoning his army in May 1314, Edward marched north, leaving Berwick on the 17th June. Bruce had plenty of warning of what was to come, and had used the time to equip and train his men as best he could, and to carefully choose the site and timing of the battle to his best advantage. On the 23rd and 24th June, the Battle of Bannockburn determined the future of both kings. Combined with poor tactics and a divided leadership, the English force was soundly beaten.
In the face of this defeat and the discontent of his nobles, it was inevitable that Edward would lose his grip on the throne. His cousin Thomas of Lancaster became the effective ruler of the country, but this didn't last long before others scented a chance for power. With the loss of Gaveston, Edward had replaced him with another favourite, Hugh Despenser, but this led to similar problems as the nobility resented the rapid rise of a landless knight who was showered with gifts and land by Edward. This came to a head in 1321 when the king was forced to banish the Despensers, but this in turn led to a campaign of revenge against those who had forced the King's hand, ending with the Battle of Boroughbridge in 1322 where the King's cousin Lancaster was defeated and captured. Tried for treason, he was executed at Pontefract.
Also facing difficulties in France, Edward sent his wife and young son to pay homage for his lands there in 1325. However, Isabella betrayed him, becoming the lover of the exiled Roger Mortimer, and with Mortimer's support an army was raised which invaded in September 1326 and took the throne without major opposition. Edward was captured in November 1326 and forced to abdicate in January 1327. Held at Kenilworth Castle, he was moved to Berkeley in Gloucestershire in April, but in September or October 1327 he was dead - probably murdered by an agent of Mortimer or Isabella to prevent him being used against them.