English Literature » Summary » Christopher Marlowe’s Edward II: Summary
Edward II by Christopher Marlowe

Christopher Marlowe’s Edward II: Summary

Christopher Marlowe‘s Edward II dramatizes events in the reign of the historical Edward II, king of England from 1307–27.

Act 1: The Conflict Begins

Edward has just been crowned King Edward II of England. He arranges for his lover Gaveston, a Frenchman, to return to England after a long exile. The lovers are overjoyed to see each other. Edward immediately gives Gaveston aristocratic honors and titles. He also imprisons the Bishop of Coventry for opposing Gaveston’s return.

Several barons or powerful noblemen in the court—Mortimer Junior, Mortimer Senior, Warwick, Lancaster, and Pembroke—are outraged. Aristocratic titles are traditionally inherited through birth, and Gaveston hasn’t earned them since he is not from a noble family. The barons also object to the amount of money Edward spends on Gaveston. Queen Isabella—Edward’s wife—is angry that Edward has sexually rejected her. She begins an affair with Mortimer Junior. Only Kent—the Earl of Kent and Edward’s brother—supports the king.

The barons and the Archbishop of Canterbury arrange for Gaveston to be exiled again. But soon afterward Mortimer Junior decides the barons should allow Gaveston to return, ensuring they’ll keep the king’s favor. Meanwhile they hope to discreetly arrange Gaveston’s murder.

Act 2: Civil War

Although he continues to clash with the barons, Gaveston is glad to return to the king. To further increase Gaveston’s social status, Edward arranges a marriage between his niece—Lady Margaret, daughter of the powerful Earl of Gloucester—and Gaveston. In Act 2 Edward adds new allies to his court: the aristocrats Spencer Junior, Spencer Senior, and Lady Margaret’s tutor, the scholar Baldock.

But Mortimer Junior and Lancaster feel the king’s devotion to “favorites” and “flatterers” is compromising his ability to rule. They accuse Edward of ignoring foreign threats, abusing the country’s funds, and losing the respect of his subjects. Their arguments convince Kent to withdraw his support from Edward.

With Mortimer Junior as their leader, the barons prepare for civil war against the king. Kent fights on the barons’ side. Soon the barons capture Gaveston in battle. They plan to execute him, but at the king’s request, they agree to a final meeting between Gaveston and Edward. Warwick, however, murders Gaveston before he can see the king.

Act 3: Death and Vengeance

Furious, Edward vows to avenge Gaveston’s death and massacre his opponents. The barons offer to stop the conflict if Edward will dismiss Spencer Junior, his new favorite, from court. Edward refuses and the war continues.

Soon Edward gets the upper hand in battle. He captures Warwick, Lancaster, and Mortimer Junior. Warwick and Lancaster are executed and Mortimer Junior is imprisoned. Meanwhile Spencer Junior arranges for the French government to deny aid to Isabella, who is seeking allies for Mortimer Junior in France.

Act 4: Mortimer Junior Rises to Power

Kent helps Mortimer Junior escape from prison, and they travel to France together. They reunite with Isabella and her son, Prince Edward, who have found help from Sir John of Hainault. Sir John’s European fiefdom (area ruled by feudal lords who oversee tenants) is made up of territory that now lies partly in France and partly in Belgium. The group gathers battle reinforcements and returns to England. This time their forces are victorious.

After losing in battle, Edward escapes to Ireland with Spencer Junior and Baldock. But the fugitives are quickly discovered by English aristocrats acting on behalf of Mortimer Junior, who now controls the monarchy through his influence over Isabella. Their captors execute Baldock and Spencer Junior and imprison Edward at Berkeley Castle in Gloucestershire, England.

Act 5: The End of Edward’s Reign

The Bishop of Winchester and the Earl of Leicester ask Edward to resign as king. At first Edward is enraged by the idea. But the Earl of Leicester tells him his son, Prince Edward, will lose his right to the monarchy unless Edward resigns. Reluctantly, Edward gives in.

Mortimer Junior arranges for Edward to be tortured and killed. He also plans to become Prince Edward’s protector. Since the prince is not old enough for the responsibilities of the monarchy, Mortimer Junior will govern in his place.

Meanwhile Kent is increasingly appalled by Mortimer Junior and Isabella’s behavior. He regrets his own disloyalty to Edward. Kent attempts to help Edward escape. But the attempt fails, and Mortimer Junior orders Kent’s execution despite Prince Edward’s protests. Prince Edward is officially crowned King Edward III, and his father’s reign ends.

After days of torture, Edward is murdered by Lightborne, an assassin Mortimer Junior hires. At first Mortimer Junior is confident he will not be convicted of plotting the murder. But Isabella thinks the truth will be found out, and she’s proven right. King Edward III discovers Mortimer Junior’s role in the murder and has him beheaded. He imprisons his mother, Isabella, for her role as an accomplice and then leaves to perform funeral rites for his father.