Isabella of France

Isabella of France

Infobox British Royalty|majesty|consort
name =Isabella of France
title =Queen consort of England
reign =25 January 1308 - 20 January 1327
coronation =25 February 1308

imgw =150px
spouse =Edward II
issue =Edward III
John of Eltham, Earl of Cornwall
Eleanor, Countess of Guelders
Joan, Queen of Scots
full name =
titles =Queen Isabella
"HG" The Queen
Lady Isabella of France
royal house =House of Capet
father =Philip IV of France
mother =Joan I of Navarre
date of birth = c. 1295
place of birth =flagicon|France Paris
date of christening =
place of christening =
date of death = August 22, 1358
place of death =flagicon|England Hertford Castle, Hertford
date of burial =
place of burial = Grey Friars' Church at Newgate|

Isabella of France (c. 1295 – August 22, 1358), known as the She-Wolf of France, [ A sobriquet appropriated from Shakespeare's "Henry VI, Part 3", where it is used to refer to Henry's Queen, Margaret of Anjou] was the Queen consort of Edward II of England and mother of Edward III. She was the youngest surviving child and only surviving daughter of Philip IV of France and Joan I of Navarre.


Isabella was born in Paris on an uncertain date, probably between May and November 1295 [ She is described as born in 1292 in the Annals of Wigmore, and Piers Langtoft agrees, claiming that she was 7 years old in 1299. The French chronicler Guillaume de Nangis and Thomas Walsingham describe her as 12 years old at the time of her marriage in January 1308, placing her birth between the January of 1295 and of 1296. A Papal dispensation by Clement V in November 1305 permitted her immediate marriage by proxy, despite the fact that she was probably only 10 years old. Since she had to reach the canonical age of 7 before her betrothal in May 1303, and that of 12 before her marriage in January 1308, the evidence suggests that she was born between May and November 1295. See Weir, Alison, "Isabella" ] , to King Philip IV of France and Queen Jeanne of Navarre, and the sister of three French kings. Isabella was not titled a 'princess', as daughters of European monarchs were not given that style until later in history. Royal women were usually titled 'Lady' or an equivalent in other languages.

While still an infant, Isabella was promised in marriage by her father to Edward II; the intention was to resolve the conflicts between France and England over the latter's continental possession of Gascony and claims to Anjou, Normandy and Aquitaine. Pope Boniface VIII had urged the marriage as early as 1298 but was delayed by wrangling over the terms of the marriage contract. The English king, Edward I had also attempted to break the engagement several times. Only after he died, in 1307, did the wedding proceed.

Isabella's groom, the new King Edward II, looked the part of a Plantagenet king to perfection. He was tall, athletic, and wildly popular at the beginning of his reign. Isabella and Edward were married at Boulogne-sur-Mer on January 25, 1308. Since he had ascended the throne the previous year, Isabella never was titled Princess of Wales.

At the time of her marriage, Isabella was probably about twelve and was described by Geoffrey of Paris as "the beauty of the kingdom if not in all Europe." These words may not merely have represented the standard politeness and flattery of a royal by a chronicler, since Isabella's father and brother are described as very handsome men in the historical literature. Isabella was said to resemble her father, and not her mother Jeanne of Navarre, a plump woman of high complexion. [Thomas B. Costain "The Three Edwards", P.82] This would indicate that Isabella was slender and pale-skinned. However, despite her youth and purported beauty, Isabella was largely ignored by King Edward II, who paid little attention to his young bride and bestowed her wedding gifts upon his favorite, Piers Gaveston.

Edward and Isabella did manage to produce four children, and she suffered at least one miscarriage. Their itineraries demonstrate that they were together 9 months prior to the births of all four surviving offspring. Their children were:

#Edward of Windsor, born 1312
#John of Eltham, born 1316
#Eleanor of Woodstock, born 1318, married Reinoud II of Guelders
#Joan of the Tower, born 1321, married David II of Scotland

Although Isabella produced four children, the apparently bisexual king was notorious for lavishing sexual attention on a succession of male favourites, including Piers Gaveston and Hugh le Despenser the younger. He neglected Isabella, once even abandoning her during a campaign against the Scottish King, Robert Bruce, at Tynemouth. She barely escaped Robert the Bruce's army, fleeing along the coast to English-held territory. Isabella despised the royal favorite, Hugh le Despenser, and in 1321, while pregnant with her youngest child, she dramatically begged Edward to banish Despenser from the kingdom. Despenser was exiled, but Edward recalled him later that year. This act seems finally to have turned Isabella against her husband altogether. While the nature of her relationship with Roger Mortimer is unknown for this time period, she may have helped him escape from the Tower of London in 1323. Later, she openly took Mortimer as her lover. He was married to the wealthy heiress Joan de Geneville, and the father of nine children.

When Isabella's brother, King Charles IV of France, seized Edward's French possessions in 1325, she returned to France, initially as a delegate of the King charged with negotiating a peace treaty between the two countries. However, her presence in France became a focal point for the many nobles opposed to Edward's reign. Isabella gathered an army to oppose Edward, in alliance with Roger Mortimer, 1st Earl of March. Enraged by this treachery, Edward demanded that Isabella return to England. Her brother, King Charles, replied, "The queen has come of her own will and may freely return if she wishes. But if she prefers to remain here, she is my sister and I refuse to expel her"."

Despite this public show of support by the King of France, Isabella and Mortimer left the French court in summer 1326 and went to William I, Count of Hainaut in Holland, whose wife was Isabella's cousin. William provided them with eight men of war ships in return for a marriage contract between his daughter Philippa and Isabella's son, Edward. On September 21, 1326 Isabella and Mortimer landed in Suffolk with an army, most of whom were mercenaries. King Edward II offered a reward for their deaths and is rumoured to have carried a knife in his hose with which to kill his wife. Isabella responded by offering twice as much money for the head of Hugh the younger Despenser. This reward was issued from Wallingford Castle.

The invasion by Isabella and Mortimer was successful: King Edward's few allies deserted him without a battle; the Despensers were killed, and Edward himself was captured and forced to abdicate in favour of his eldest son, Edward III of England. Since the young king was only fourteen when he was crowned on 1 February, 1327, Isabella and Mortimer ruled as regents in his place.

According to legend, Isabella and Mortimer famously plotted to murder the deposed king in such a way as not to draw blame on themselves, sending the famous order "Edwardum occidere nolite timere bonum est" which depending on where the comma was inserted could mean either "Do not be afraid to kill Edward; it is good" or "Do not kill Edward; it is good to fear". In actuality, there is little evidence of just who decided to have Edward assassinated, and none whatsoever of the note ever having been written. Alison Weir's biography of Isabella puts forward the theory that Edward II in fact escaped death and fled to Europe, where he lived as a hermit for twenty years.

When Edward III turned 18, he and a few trusted companions staged a coup on October 19, 1330 and had both Isabella and Mortimer taken prisoner. Despite Isabella's cries of "Fair son, have pity on gentle Mortimer", Mortimer was executed for treason one month later in November of 1330.

Her son spared Isabella's life and she was allowed to retire to Castle Rising in Norfolk. She did not, as legend would have it, go insane; she enjoyed a comfortable retirement and made many visits to her son's court, doting on her grandchildren. Isabella took the habit of the Poor Clares before she died on August 22, 1358, and her body was returned to London for burial at the Franciscan church at Newgate. She was buried in her wedding dress. Edward's heart was interred with her.

Titles and styles

*Lady Isabella of France
*Isabella, by the grace of God, Queen of England, Lady of Ireland and Duchess of Aquitaine


Isabella in fiction

Queen Isabella appears as a major character in Christopher Marlowe's play Edward II, and in Derek Jarman's 1991 film based on the play and bearing the same name. She is played by actress Tilda Swinton as a 'femme fatale' whose thwarted love for Edward causes her to turn against him and steal his throne.

In the film Braveheart, directed by and starring Mel Gibson, Isabella was played by the French actress Sophie Marceau. In the film, Isabella is depicted as having a romantic affair with the Scottish hero William Wallace, who is portrayed as the real father of her son Edward III. This is entirely fictional, as there is no evidence whatsoever that the two people ever met one another, and even if they did meet at the time the movie was set, Isabella was only three years old. Wallace was executed in 1305, before Isabella was even married to Edward II (their marriage occurred in January 1308). When Wallace died, Isabella was about 10 years old. All of Isabella's children were born many years after Wallace's death, thus it is impossible that Wallace was the father of Edward III.

Isabella has also been the subject of a number of historical novels, including Margaret Campbell Barnes' "Isabel the Fair", Hilda Lewis' "Harlot Queen", Maureen Peters' "Isabella, the She-Wolf", Brenda Honeyman's "The Queen and Mortimer", Paul Doherty's "The Cup of Ghosts", Jean Plaidy's "The Follies of the King", and Edith Felber's "Queen of Shadows". She is the title character of "The She-Wolf of France" by the well-known French novelist Maurice Druon. The series of which the book was part, "The Accursed Kings", has been adapted for French television in 1972 and 2005. Most recently, Isabella figures prominently in "The Traitor's Wife: A Novel of the Reign of Edward II" by Susan Higginbotham. Also, Ken Follett's 2007 novel, "World Without End" uses the alleged murder of Edward II (and the infamous letter) as a plot device.
Susan Howatch's "Cashelmara" and "The Wheel of Fortune", two romans a clef based on the lives of the Plantagenet kings. depict her as a young abused wife and an old widow hidden from her grandchildren in a retirement home run by nuns.

ee also

*Hundred Years' War
*Geoffrey le Baker
*Vita Edwardi Secundi



*Blackley, F.D. "Isabella of France, Queen of England 1308-1358, and the Late Medieval Cult of the Dead". (Canadian Journal of History)
*Doherty, P.C. "Isabella and the Strange Death of Edward II", 2003
*McKisack, May. "The Fourteenth Century 1307-1399", 1959.
*Woods, Charles T. "Queens, Queans and Kingship", appears in "Joan of Arc and Richard III: Sex, Saints and Government in the Middle Ages", 1988.
*Weir, Alison. "Queen Isabella:Treachery, Adultery, and Murder in Medieval England", Balantine Books, 2005.

External links

*Heidi Murphy [ Isabella of France (1295-1358), Britannia biographical series]

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