Isabella of France (1295 – August 22, 1358), known as the She-Wolf of France, was the Queen consort of Edward II of England.
Isabella was born in Paris in 1295, the daughter of King Philip IV of France and Queen Jeanne of Navarre, and the sister of three French kings. When she was only a infant, her father arranged a marriage between Isabella and Edward, the son and heir of Edward I of England. The marriage had been under negotiation for several years. Its political intent was to settle the conflicts between the two kingdoms which had arisen over the English continental possessions, namely Gascony. Pope Boniface VIII had urged the marriage as early as 1298. In the intervening years there had been a great deal of wrangling over the precise conditions of the marriage contract, and the English king attempted to break this engagement several times. Only after Edward I died in 1307 did the wedding go forward.
Her groom, the new King Edward II, looked the part of a Plantagenet king to perfection. He was tall and athletic, and wildly popular at the beginning of his reign. She married Edward at Boulogne-sur-Mer on January 25, 1308. He had ascended the throne the previous year, hence Isabella never held the title of Princess of Wales, as was wrongly portrayed in the film Braveheart.
At the time of her marriage Isabella was about twelve, described by Geoffrey of Paris as "the beauty of beauties...in the kingdom if not in all Europe." This may not merely have been a chronicler's politeness, as Isabella's father and brother were likewise very handsome men. Despite her youth and beauty, King Edward paid little attention to his bride, bestowing her wedding gifts upon his favorite, Piers Gaveston.
Despite Edward's homosexuality, he and Isabella produced four children, and she suffered at least one miscarriage. The itineraries of Edward II and Queen Isabella also show that they were together 9 months prior to the births of all four surviving offspring. Their children were:
Edward, born 1312
- John , born 1316
- Eleanor, born 1318, married Reinoud II of Guelders
- Joan, born 1321, married David II of Scotland
Although Isabella produced four children, the king was popularly believed to be homosexual, and lavished his attention on a succession of male favourites, including Piers Gaveston and Hugh le Despenser. He neglected Isabella, once abandoning her in Scotland, at Tynemouth. She barely escaped Robert the Bruce's army, fleeing along the coast to English soil. Isabella despised his favorite, Hugh the younger 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, and this act seems to have finally turned Isabella against him all-together. She may have helped Roger Mortimer, escape from the Tower of London in 1323.
When her brother, King Charles IV of France, seized Edward's French possessions in 1325, she returned to France and gathered an army to oppose Edward, in alliance with Roger Mortimer, 1st Earl of March, who had become her lover. Enraged by this, 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."
Isabella and Mortimer left the French court in summer 1326 and went to William III, Count of Hainaut, who's wife was Isabella's cousin. He provided them with eight men-of-war in return for a marriage contract between his daughter Philippa and Isabella's son, Edward. On September 21, 1326 Isabella and Mortimer landed at Suffolk with their mercenary army. King Edward offered a reward for their deaths, and even carried a knife in his hose with which to kill his wife, and said that if he had no other weapon he would crush her with his teeth.
King Edward's few allies deserted him; the Despensers were killed, and Edward himself was captured and abdicated in favour of his eldest son, Edward III of England. Since the young king was only fourteen when he was crowned on January 25, 1327, Isabella and Mortimer ruled as regents in his place.
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 "Fear not the killing Edward, it is good" or "No killing of Edward, it is good to fear".
When Edward III attained his majority, he remembered their disloyalty, 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, but Isabella's life was spared 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. 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, with Edward's heart interred with her.
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 in this version.
In the historically-based by fictional film Braveheart, directed by and starring Mel Gibson, Queen Isabella was a major character, played by the French actress Sophie Marceau. In the film, Isabella is depicted as having a romantic affair with the Scottish hero William Wallace. This is entirely fictional, as there is no evidence whatsoever that the two people ever met one another.
See also: Hundred Years' War
- 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.
- Geoffrey le Baker
- Vita Edward Secundi
Last updated: 10-19-2005 02:30:44