Edward II (1284-1327) ruled England from 1307 until he was deposed by his wife Isabella in January 1327, writes local historian Dr Kevin Dixon.
Between the successful reigns of his father Edward I and son Edward III, the reign of Edward II is often portrayed as disastrous for England, and known for incompetence, political discord and military defeats – such as Bannockburn.
Edward fathered at least five children by two women, but was rumoured to have been bisexual. Notably, he was portrayed as an effeminate gay man in Mel Gibson’s historically unreliable movie Braveheart.
Edward died in Berkeley Castle, allegedly by murder.
It was 'popularly rumoured' that he had been suffocated or strangled, though most chronicles don't offer a cause of death other than natural causes. There's also a theory that he didn't even die in 1327, but lived on.
The popular story that the King was assassinated by having a red-hot poker thrust up him, however, has no basis in accounts recorded by Edward's contemporaries. This may just be a bit of homophobic propaganda.
Here's the Torquay link:
One of those supposedly involved in the death of Edward was Sir Kenneth Kent.
After the dirty deed was done, Sir Kenneth returned to the Bay to be with the woman he loved.
This was Serena, the daughter of Sir Harry Lacey, a man fiercely protective of his daughter's honour. Many legends include themes of tragedy and retribution for wrongs committed, and so we have an outraged Sir Harry plotting the death of Sir Kenneth.
In the legend, Serena warns Kent of the plans being drawn against him and he escapes to hide in Kent's Cavern - hence the name.
A fisherman witnessed Serena climbing to the Cavern with a lantern to join him in his escape. Neither was seen again and they were both thought to have fled to safety.
Yet, many years later it was said that a brave man went to explore the caves. Deep inside the Cavern, he found a rusty suit of mail. Alongside Kenneth's remains hovered a pale shape...
So, did Kenneth kill the King and collapse in Kent’s Cavern and lend his name to the caves?
Probably not - the earliest mention of the Cavern by name is in 1659.
As with a number of other Torquay legends, it may have been invented by Victorian tourist guides looking to enhance their gratuities.
Indeed, there doesn’t even seem to be a record of a Sir Kenneth Kent being involved with the Edward II story.
The name, therefore, has another origin. There is a nice local rhyme indicating that the caves were so extensive that they ended in Kent! We have a dog lost in the tunnels of the Cavern. He emerges on the other side of the country having lost all his fur to the grasping hands of subterranean pixies:
"'an’ ee he went
an’ ee went
until ee come out
in the county of Kent"
More likely is that the name originates in the Celtic 'canto' meaning 'border' or 'coastal'. Hence, in Devon we have Kenn and Kenton. The County of Kent and Canterbury have the same source.
Caves are mysterious places and attract stories and theories. There was an early Victorian belief that the god Mithras was worshipped in the caves during the third century. What a Roman mystery religion was doing in Torbay is also a mystery and doesn’t have any supporting evidence.
Today Kent’s Cavern is a fine tourist attraction and well worth a visit.
Yet, let’s end with a tourist who wasn’t impressed.
This was the author Beatrix Potter (1866-1943) who appears to have been a miserable so-and-so. She visited Torquay in 1893 and, after criticising other aspects of the town, she turned her attention to the caves:
"I can imagine no more unlikely or unromantic situation for a cavern. It is in a suburb of Torquay, half way up a tangled bluff, with villas and gardens overhanging the top of a muddy orchard with some filthily dirty cows in the ravine below"
"The dilapidated wooden door was flush with the bank. Outside an artificial plateau or spoil-bank of slate overgrown. A donkey-cart was encamped and the donkey grazing. The owner, a mild light-haired young man, was sawing planks. Papa enquired if there was anyone here, to which he replied with asperity 'I am', put on his coat and prepared to unlock the cavern. The youth hung a notice board outside the door saying that the Guide was in the cave and scrubbed out certain derisive remarks which had been scratched on the portal since the last descent."
"I implored him to take a good supply of matches. There was a quantity of ginger beer in a nice cool place, also an umbrella stand. I shall not go into details about the cave, which is well described in a pamphlet, and only remark it is very easy to explore and only moderately damp. Papa got dirty enough in all conscience, slipping off a board into the sticky red clay. I was puzzled by one feature which I took to be geological, but was in fact the dripping of innumerable candles"
Remarkably, Beatrix finally found herself ever so slightly impressed:
"I who had never been in a cave was extremely interested."