Isabella arrived in London in 1308, the spirited twelve-year-old daughter of King Philip IV of France. Her marriage to the heir to England's throne was designed to heal old political wounds between the two countries, and in the years that followed, she would become an important figure, a determined and clever woman whose influence would come to last centuries. But Queen Isabella's political machinations led generations of historians to malign her, earning her a reputation as a ruthless schemer and an odious nickname, "the She-Wolf of France."
Now the acclaimed author of Eleanor of Aquitaine, Alison Weir, reexamines the life of Isabella of England, history's other notorious and charismatic medieval queen. Praised for her fair looks, the newly wed Isabella was denied the attentions of Edward II, a weak, sexually ambiguous monarch with scant taste for his royal duties. As their marriage progressed, Isabella was neglected by her dissolute husband and slighted by his favored male courtiers. Humiliated and deprived of her income, her children, and her liberty, Isabella escaped to France, where she entered into a passionate affair with Edward II's mortal enemy, Roger Mortimer. Together, Isabella and Mortimer led the only successful invasion of English soil since the Norman Conquest of 1066, deposing Edward and ruling in his stead as co-regents for Isabella's young son, Edward III. Fate, however, was soon to catch up with Isabella and her lover.
Many mysteries and legends have been woven around Isabella's story. She was long condemned as an accessory to Edward II's brutal murder in 1327, but recent research has cast doubt on whether that murder even took place.
Isabella's reputation, then, rests largely on the prejudices of monkish chroniclers and prudish Victorian scholars. Here Alison Weir gives a startling, groundbreaking new perspective on Isabella, in this first full biography in more than 150 years. In a work of extraordinary original research, Weir effectively strips away centuries of propaganda, legend, and romantic myth, and reveals a truly remarkable woman who had a profound influence upon the age in which she lived and the history of western Europe.
Engaging, vibrant, alive with breathtaking detail and unforgettable characters, Queen Isabella is biographical history at its finest.
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December 25, 2006
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Excerpt from Queen Isabella by Alison Weir
On 20 May 1303, a solemn betrothal took place in Paris. The bride was seven years old, the groom, who was not present, nineteen. She was Isabella, the daughter of Philip IV, King of France; he, Edward of Caernarvon, Prince of Wales, the son and heir of Edward I, King of England.
The Prince had sent the Earl of Lincoln and the Count of Savoy as his proxies, and during the ceremony, they formally asked the King and Queen of France for the hand of their daughter, the Lady Isabella, in marriage for the Prince of Wales. Consent was duly given, then Gilles, Archbishop of Narbonne, the presiding priest, required Isabella to plight her troth. Placing her hand in that of the Archbishop, she duly did so, giving her assent to the betrothal on condition that all the articles of the marriage treaty were fulfilled.
This union had been arranged after tortuous negotiations to cement a lasting peace between those old warring enemies, England and France. Isabella's father, Philip IV, known as Philip the Fair, was the most powerful ruler in Christendom at that time and also the most controversial. Not only had he been engaged in territorial wars with both England and Flanders for the past seven years, he had also, despite boasting the title of "Most Christian King," become involved in a bitter conflict with the Papacy after imposing limitations on the Pope's authority in France. This was to lead to his excommunication only months after his daughter's betrothal.
Philip's war with Edward I was the result of a long-standing feud over England's possessions in France. In the twelfth century, through the marriage of Henry II to Eleanor of Aquitaine, the empire of the Plantagenets, the dynasty that Henry founded, had extended from Normandy to the Pyrenees, while the royal demesne of France had been limited to the regions around Paris. By 1204, Henry's son, King John, had lost most of the English territories, including Normandy, to the ambitious Philip II "Augustus" of France, and there were further French encroachments under John's son Henry III, as successive French monarchs sought to broaden their domain. By the time of Edward I, all that remained of England's lands in France was the prosperous wine-producing duchy of Gascony, the southern part of the former duchy of Aquitaine, along with the counties of Ponthieu and Montreuil, which had come to the English Crown through the marriage of Edward I to Eleanor of Castile in 1254.
Philip IV, who was vigorously carrying on his predecessors' expansionist policy, not surprisingly had his eye on Gascony, and in 1296, he invaded and took possession of it. There were two ways to settle a conflict: by military force or by diplomacy. Edward I wanted Gascony back, and Philip wanted to drive a wedge between Edward and the Flemings, who were uniting against him. By 1298, the two Kings were engaged in secret negotiations for a peace. Then Pope Boniface VIII intervened. In the spring of 1298, he suggested a double marriage alliance between France and England: his plan was that Edward I, a widower since the death of Eleanor of Castile in 1290, marry Philip's sister Marguerite, while Edward's son and heir, the Prince of Wales, be betrothed to Philip's daughter Isabella, then two years old. Once this peace had been sealed, Gascony could be returned to Edward I.
Boniface's suggestion appealed to both parties; it conjured up for Philip the tantalizing prospect of French influence being extended into England and his grandson eventually occupying the throne of that realm; and for Edward I, it promised the return of Gascony and a brilliant match for his son. As the daughter of the King of France and the Queen of Navarre, Isabella was a great prize in the marriage market: no Queen of England before her had boasted such a pedigree.
The deal was agreed in principle, and two weeks later, on 15 May, King Edward appointed Henry de Lacy, Earl of Lincoln, to negotiate both marriages. In March 1299, Parliament accepted the terms negotiated by Lincoln, and on 12 May following, plans were set in hand for the proxy betrothals. Three days later, the Earl of Lincoln, Amadeus, Count of Savoy, and the Earl of Warwick were appointed to act for Edward I and his son, and soon afterward, they departed for France. Edward I privately instructed the Count to find out as much as he could about the personal attributes of Marguerite of France, including the size of her foot and the width of her waist. The Count reported back that she was "a fair and marvellously virtuous lady," pious and charitable.