Badass Ladies of History: Isabella of France

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Isabella of France, infamously known as the She-Wolf of France, has suffered from a tattered reputation since her lifetime. You will soon see why the ages have largely not forgiven her. As the Queen Consort of Edward II of England, she was ignored by her husband, a man who spent the night of their wedding in 1308 celebrating with his favorite, Piers Gaveston. Piers even received Isabella’s jewels as gifts. Edward’s affection towards his favorite was so obvious that contemporaries wrote about it, some implying a sexual relationship (though this fact has never been confirmed). One can only imagine how a girl of twelve years old would have felt in a foreign country with not even her husband as an ally. I must admit that I sympathize with Isabella’s plight as an unwelcome wife. After Gaveston’s downfall and execution by the Earls who hated his pride and influence over the king, Edward merely found another favorite, Hugh Despenser. At last, Isabella returned home to France with the cover of negotiating peace (her brother was now King of France). In France, Isabella became lovers with Roger Mortimer, an Englishman in exile who had no love for her husband. The two conspired and eventually invaded England in 1326, capturing the king and forcing him to abdicate his throne. Unfortunately for Isabella’s legacy, her husband, Edward II, died in prison, likely on Mortimer’s orders (Isabella’s role in the death is murky at best). For those who love tales of medieval torture or grisly deaths, the legend surrounding Edward II’s murder may be up your alley, but I will spare those with squeamish tendencies the details (hint: it involves a rod). Isabella showed no sympathy for her husband’s favorite, Hugh Despenser, condemning him to public execution that included castration, hanging and quartering. The kingship passed to Isabella and Edward’s son, the new anointed Edward III, just a young man of fourteen years old at the time. Edward III would punish Roger Mortimer for his role in his father’s death, sending him to death, but Isabella was allowed a wealthy semi-retirement as the mother of the King. Unlike the previous two queens I have profiled who are often praised for their unconventional lives and ambitions, Isabella has had her share of revile in the centuries since her death in 1358. I do not care to condone her actions or absolve her; perhaps too I like her for her ambiguous morality. In this modern age we should be able to sort through the mire of myth and the past’s rigid idea of womanhood to find a middle ground where we can appreciate Isabella.

If you would like to read more on Isabella, Alison Weir’s Queen Isabella: Treachery, Adultery, and Murder in Medieval England is a good place to start.

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