Last Updated on May 5, 2015, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 764
Edward II, the headstrong, dissolute king of England. In his attempts to please his sycophantic favorites, Gaveston and Spencer, he neglects his responsibilities to the state, alienates Queen Isabella, and provokes rebellion among his nobles, who deprive him of his crown and eventually of his life. He responds to his dethronement with histrionic protests that are echoed by William Shakespeare’s Richard II. Like Richard II, Edward II expresses a longing for a quiet life of contemplation.
Piers Gaveston (pihrz GAV-ehs-tuhn), Edward’s ambitious favorite. He deliberately plans to corrupt his weak monarch with music, poetry, and “Italian masks,” and to enrich himself at the expense of the English lords, whom he views with unceasing scorn. He overestimates Edward’s power to protect his friends and falls into the hands of his bitter enemies, Mortimer and Warwick, who have him killed.
Hugh Spencer, Gaveston’s protégé and successor in Edward’s favor. He urges the king to stand firm against the seditious barons and sends messengers to thwart Isabella’s pleas for aid from the French king. Loyal to Edward to the end, he flees with him to Ireland, where he is captured. He is returned to England and hanged.
Queen Isabella, Edward’s neglected wife. She remains loyal to her husband during his first infatuation with Gaveston, although it grieves and repels her. To please Edward, she even appeals to Mortimer to allow Piers to return from exile. The king’s continual rejection of her and her failure to win help from the king of France, her brother, drive her into the arms of Mortimer. She becomes a far less sympathetic figure as Mortimer’s mistress and accomplice in his rise to power, and her imprisonment by her son for conspiring in her husband’s murder seems just and inevitable.
Edmund Mortimer, the leader of the forces arrayed against Edward. He is enraged by the king’s submission to the flattery of Gaveston, whom he hates bitterly, and he insists on the use of force to rid the realm of his enemy. Although he begins his campaign to free his country from evil influences, he becomes trapped by his own ambition and resorts to regicide to secure the regency for himself and Isabella. He retains a certain grandeur in his death, boasting that Fortune raised him to the heights before she hurled him down.
The duke of Kent
The duke of Kent, Edward’s brother Edmund. He participates temporarily in Mortimer’s campaign against Gaveston after his advice and service have been rejected by Edward, but he comes to regret his disloyalty and tries unsuccessfully to rescue his brother from his murderers. He is beheaded by order of Mortimer, who fears his influence with young Prince Edward.
Prince Edward, later King Edward III, the precocious young heir to the throne. He is pathetically eager to win his father’s love and offers to help win aid from France to do so. Although he is not strong enough to prevent Kent’s execution, he musters a group of loyal lords to assist him in condemning Mortimer for his father’s death.
Old Spencer, the father of the king’s favorite. He supplies military aid for Edward’s defense and meets defeat with his son and the king.
Baldock, Hugh Spencer’s tutor, who rises and falls with his pupil. He accepts his fate philosophically, telling Spencer, “All live to die, and rise to fall.”
Sir John of Hainault
Sir John of Hainault, the kindly nobleman who aids Isabella and Prince Edward after the French king has rejected their suit.
Matrevis, Mortimer’s henchmen, Edward’s prison guards and murderers.
Lightborn, a hired assassin who devises the means of Edward’s death.
The archbishop of Canterbury
The archbishop of Canterbury,and
The bishop of Winchester
The bishop of Winchester, leaders of the rebellion against Gaveston and Spencer.
The bishop of Coventry
The bishop of Coventry, an outspoken prelate who is sent to the tower for voicing his opposition to Gaveston.
Arundel, a nobleman loyal to Edward.
Rice ap Howell
Rice ap Howell, Old Spencer’s Welsh captor.
Berkeley, Edward’s guardians, relieved of their charge by Mortimer, who finds them too lenient.
Edward’s niece, the daughter of the duke of Gloucester, married by her uncle to Gaveston.
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