Friday, 31 March 2023

Medieval Queens in the Family Tree - Isabella of France

Isabella of France (1295-1358)

Isabella of France married King Edward II

Isabella was born in Paris, probaby in 1295. Her parents were King Philip IV of France and Queen Joan I of Navarre and her brothers Louis, Philip and Charles became kings of France. Isabella was brought up in and around the Louvre Palace and the Palais de la Cité in Paris. She received a good education and developed a love of books. 

All of Philip's children were married young for political benefit to France. When she was ten years old Isabella was promised in marriage by her father to Edward, the son of King Edward I of England, in the hope of resolving the conflicts between France and England over England's possession of Gascony and claims to Anjou, Normandy and Aquitaine. Isabella and Edward II were married at Boulogne-sur-Mer on 25 January 1308 when Isabella was twelve and Henry II was twenty-three.

Isabella was considered to be very beautiful. She came from a wealthy family and loved beautiful objects. This included elaborate clothes and her wardrobe around the time of her marriage included dresses of silk, velvet, taffeta and other cloth, along with numerous furs. She had more than 72 head-dresses and coifs and she took to England two gold crowns, gold and silver dinnerware and 419 yards of linen.

Edward II had become King of England on 7 July 1307 when his father, Edward I, died. The coronation of Edward and Isabella was held at Westminster Abbey on 25 February 1308.

Isabella and Edward II had four children - the future Edward III, was born in 1312,  John in 1316, Eleanor in 1318 and Joan in 1321.

The relationship between Isabella and Edward II was not a close one. Isabella faced numerous challenges during their marriage. 

Edward was a handsome man, but he was unconventional as he appeared to form close romantic attachments to men: first to Piers Gaveston and then to Hugh Despenser the Younger. On the political front Edward often disagreed with the barons, in particular his first cousin Thomas, 2nd Earl of Lancaster. He also continued the war against the Scots that he had inherited from Edward I. 

Using her own supporters at court and the patronage of her French family, Isabella attempted to find a political path through these challenges. She successfully formed an alliance with Gaveston, but after his death at the hands of the barons, her position grew increasingly precarious. Edward then began to take revenge on his enemies, forming a strong alliance with the Despenser family, in particular his new favourite, Hugh Despenser the Younger. 

When Isabella had accompanied the English troops in a battle against Scottish forces in 1322, Isabella and her supporters were separated from the main army and had to escape by ship. During this time Edward cut Isabella's allowances and, from 1324, when tensions with France increased, her lands were confiscated and she was denied access to her younger children. Unsurprisingly this resulted in further animosity between Isabella and Edward. By 1326 Isabella finally made her own bid for power including an invasion of England. 

In 1325 Isabella had returned to France to negotiate a peace treaty with the French king. However many of the nobles opposed Edward's reign and Isabella was able to form an army to challenge Edward, in alliance with Roger Mortimer, 1st Earl of March. Isabella and Mortimer may have been in a relationship by this time.

Isabella and Mortimer returned to England with a mercenary army and gained control of the country in a lightning campaign. Members of the Despenser family were executed and King Edward II was forced to abdicate in favour of his son, King Edward III.  Edward II was initially imprisoned in a castle overseen by the Duke of Lancaster. Isabella strengthened her control, particularly in London, by taking over the Tower of London. A council of nobles and church leaders in January 1327 decreed that Edward II should remain in prison for the rest of his life. 

Due to fear that those opposed to the new government might make plans to free Edward II it was decided to move him to the more secure location of Berkeley Castle in Gloucestershire from approximately 5 April 1327.  How well he was cared for is in dispute. As a result of threats to rescue the former king, Edward was moved to other locations in secret before returning to permanent custody at the castle in late summer 1327. The political situation remained unstable. New plots appear to have been planned to free him. On 23 September Edward III was informed that his father had died at Berkeley Castle during the night of 21 September 1327. There are many stories about how Edward II might have died. There are even stories that he escaped. However the accepted story is that Edward II's body was buried at Gloucester Cathedral. Isabella continued to rule as regent until 1330, when her son, Edward III ruled in his own right.

During the four years when Isabella and Mortimer were regents, Isabella acquired huge sums of money and land. In 1330 Edward III deposed Mortimer in a coup, taking royal authority for himself. However Isabella survived the transition of power and remained a wealthy and influential member of the English court, though she was not directly involved in active politics.

For some time Isabella was transferred to Berkhamsted Castle,and then held under house arrest at Windsor Castle until 1332, when she then moved back to her own Castle Rising in Norfolk. After losing power in 1331, Isabella remained extremely wealthy despite having to surrender most of her lands.  She was reassigned an annual income of £3000, which increased to £4000 by 1337. 

Isabella lived an expensive lifestyle in Norfolk, including minstrels, huntsmen, grooms and other luxuries, and was soon travelling around England again. In 1348, there were plans for her to visit Paris in order to take part in peace negotiations, but this plan did not eventuate. However she was involved in the talks with Charles II of Navarre in 1358. Isabella became a nun at the Order of St Clare before she died on 22 August 1358 at Hertford Castle. Her body was taken to London for burial at the Franciscan church at Newgate.  

In her final years Isabella became closer to members of her immediate family. When she died Isabella left most of her property, including Castle Rising, to her favourite grandson, the Black Prince, with some personal effects being granted to her daughter Joan.

In later life, Isabella remained interested in Arthurian legends and jewellery and she continued to wear lavish costumes when making public appearances. For example, in 1358 she appeared at the St George's Day celebrations at Windsor wearing a dress made of silk, silver, 300 rubies, 1800 pearls and a circlet of gold.

Isabella was Queen of England for eighteen years, then served four years as Regent. She was a complex queen who was not afraid to use her power when she thought that change, such as removing her husband from the throne, was required. However Isabella was not univerially liked by her English subjects, especially when she became involved with Roger Mortimer. After her son, Edward III, was king she remained in the background of royal life for another twenty-eight years.

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