This month’s edition of ‘History Today’ mentions in passing a certain bishop called Adam of Orleton who in a sermon on October 15th, 1327 declared that King Edward II of England, who was in the process of being deposed by his wife and a rebel army, was a sodomite. The magazine says this is the first known reference to Edward II being gay – or a ‘sodomite’ to use the unpleasant terminology of the time.
Orleton didn’t actually specifiy who King Edward had sodomised or when – he was just a sodomite. As History Today then points out, this was a tried and tested way of denigrating somebody and had even been used against a Pope. What makes Orleton’s accusation interesting was that he had previous form. Because just a few years earlier, the good bishop had condemned the Templars as sodomites before the pope at his residence in Avignon.
If only Freud had been alive in the Middle Ages, we might have put Orleton’s obsession with homosexuality down to a latent desire to do some sodomising himself. But hey ho, no psychoanalysis for another six hundred years.
So who was bishop Orleton? Well, he seems to have been something of a serial bishop, starting with Hereford. He got that bishopric in the teeth of opposition from Edward II – who he later accuses of being a sodomite. The pope who appoints him is John XXII – often claimed to be the pontiff who initiated an interest witch-hunting that would take off in succeeding centuries. He would be charged with treason by Edward II and had to be placed under the protection of the Archbishops of Canterbury and York.
Once Edward II had been overthrown by his wife and her associate Mortimer, Orleton had the joyful experience of visiting the imprisoned king to force him to abdicate. What happened to Edward II next has always been the subject of salacious gossip. The goriest account is that he had a red hot poker shoved up his backside – some say to leave no mark on his body but others as a kind of commentary on his sexual preferences. But the one person who claimed to have witnessed the king’s death later retracted his remarks and some claimed to have seen the ex-king alive years later.
As I said, Orleton had spoken against the Templars a decade before in Avignon accusing them of sodomy. At the trial of the Knights of the Temple, they were said to have kissed each other on the mouth, anus, end of the spine (in anca), naval and ‘virga virilis’. Some say this was done to awaken the ‘kundalini’ serpent of knowledge.
Orleton died in 1345 a wealthy man as bishop of Winchester. His alleged role in the death of Edward II was immortalised by Shakespeare’s contemporary Christopher Marlowe.