Isabella of France: The Scorned Queen

Isabella of France
c. 1295 – August 23, 1358

Her vengeance caused the overthrow of an English king. The only daughter of King Philip IV, Isabella of France, was born in 1295. During the 1290s, Philip fought against King Edward I of England over the duchy of Gascony. The French king wanted to assert his authority over Edward by confiscating Gascony. However, an angry Edward fought back. Thus, a series of battles commenced with both sides gaining little advantage over the other.

By 1303, the war had become irrelevant. With each side’s finances exhausted, Philip IV and Edward I agreed to a truce. As part of their peace treaty, the 8-year-old Isabella had to marry the 19-year-old Prince Edward. On January 25, 1308, the two formally married at Boulogne. Due to this, England and France experienced peace.

Queen of England

Edward II of England
Edward II of England

Isabella of France’s marriage didn’t begin well. It became painfully apparent that the couple was mismatched. Edward II was described as extravagant, a coward, and not too bright. On the other hand, Isabella proved to be cunning, ruthless, and highly intelligent.

The new queen’s French escort quickly realized that Edward II cared little for her. Edward hadn’t made plans for her household, and he gave Philip IV’s wedding gifts to his favorite: Piers Gaveston. This action proved to be the final straw for the escort. In response to Edward’s slight, they prematurely left the coronation banquet in disgust.

Isabella of France also recognized that she wasn’t important to Edward II. Instead of spending time with her, the king was often with Piers. The two men had a close relationship, and it was rumored they were lovers. Despite the neglect, Isabella continued to promote peace between England and France.

Piers Gaveston

Piers Gaveston was the son of a Gascon knight. He grew up in Edward I’s court and became familiar with Prince Edward. King Edward initially hoped that Piers would be a positive influence on Prince Edward. To his dismay, Piers instead wrapped Prince Edward around his finger. In response, the king banished Piers in early 1307.

However, after King Edward’s death, Edward II recalled Piers Gaveston to England. The new king generously gave Piers many titles and lands. Piers became the king’s chief advisor, the Earl of Cornwall, and married Edward’s niece Margaret. Pier’s rapid rise and his arrogance alarmed England’s barons. As a result, they demanded his banishment.

Edward II reluctantly sent his favorite into exile. However, in July 1309, Piers Gaveston returned. The tension between himself and the barons only got worse. By May 1312, the barons had enough of Pier’s antics. The barons captured Piers, and a mock trial ensured. After being found guilty, the barons beheaded Piers.

The Despensers

During the 1320s, Edward II found new favorites: the Despensers. Both Hugh and Hugh the Younger highly influenced the king. Their decisions proved to be widely unpopular and agitated the English barons. Once again, Isabella of France felt side-lined by her husband. However, this time, the scorned queen refused to accept Edward’s favoritism. In retaliation, Isabella began to plan her husband’s and the Despenser’s downfalls.

Isabella’s Revenge

Charles IV of France
Charles IV of France

In 1325, Isabella of France began to enact her plan. Edward II and Isabella’s brother, Charles IV, were at odds over Gascony. Despite the king and queen’s marriage, the issue of Gascony hadn’t ever been resolved. As a result, Charles demanded Edward appear before him as his vassal. Fearing the consequences, Edward refused.

Sensing an opportunity to take her revenge, Isabella of France offered an alternative solution. Instead of Edward II, Prince Edward and the queen would pay homage to Charles IV. After some consideration, both kings accepted this compromise. Thus, Isabella and Prince Edward departed for France.

At Charles IV’s court, Isabella of France informed her brother of the years of neglect that she had suffered in England. The queen also told Charles of her plan to take revenge on Edward II. In return, a supportive Charles offered troops. Isabella proceeded to claim that she won’t return to England unless the Despensers were deposed. To increase her support, the queen allied herself with exiled English barons, most notably Roger Mortimer. The two quickly became lovers.

Edward II’s Downfall

Edward II quickly realized how grave a mistake he had made. By trusting his wife, the king had given her safe passage to France and custody of his heir. Now, Edward and the Despensers were vulnerable. In 1326, Isabella of France and her gathered forces landed in Essex, England. Edward and Isabella’s forces clashed but the queen’s ultimately emerged victoriously.

As a result of her victory, Hugh and Hugh the Younger were violently executed. Edward II attempted to escape to safety but got captured by Isabella’s soldiers. While imprisoned, Isabella’s soldiers forced the king to renounce his throne. In turn, Prince Edward became King Edward III in 1327. The former Edward II later died in prison under suspicious circumstances.

Later Years

Isabella of France and Roger Mortimer controlled Edward III until 1330. However, the young king rebelled against their influence. Edward and his entourage arrested the two for their crimes. In retaliation for his father’s death, the king imprisoned his mother and executed Roger. Later in life, Isabella retired to a nunnery. She died there on August 23, 1358.

Conclusion

As a child, Isabella of France’s early life had been dictated by others. As an adult, she fought back and took control. The queen plotted, enacted, and accomplished her revenge against her husband. As a consequence, Edward II paid for his neglect of Isabella with his life. Due to her infamous actions, the scorned queen became known as the She-wolf of France.

Sources

Castor, H. (2011). She-Wolves: The Women Who Ruled England Before Elizabeth. New York: HarperCollins.

Cavendish, R. (2008, January 1). Edward II marries Isabella of France. Retrieved February 14, 2020, from https://www.historytoday.com/archive/edward-ii-marries-isabella-france

The Editors of Encyclopaedia Britannica. (2020, January 1). Isabella of France. Retrieved February 14, 2020, from https://www.britannica.com/biography/Isabella-of-France

ABOUT THE AUTHOR


Andy Tree

I'm a European history enthusiast who seeks to share his passion with others. I hope to inform and inspire readers with my posts!

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