Isabella of France is a B.A. (Hons) Babe of History. She was the daughter, sister, and mother of Kings of England and France, and also the daughter of Queen Joan of Navarre. She was said to be as beautiful as her father, Philip the Fair, but was wise and tenacious as both her parents.
A Wife and the Mistress
At a young age she was betrothed to the future Edward II of England. They married after his accession in 1308. However, all was not well with the new couple. Edward was preoccupied with his favourite and rumoured lover, Piers Gaveston. To the ire of Isabella and the nobility, Edward showered Gaveston with gifts, including his wedding gifts, until he was forced to exile Piers twice. The situation only got worse, as the other nobles resented Gaveston, and it finally came to a head in 1312, when Gaveston was caught and executed. Edward was crushed. Isabella was not yet 20 years old, but had given birth to the future Edward III.
Let’s get this straight; daughter, sister, and mother of Kings of England and France. What a woman!
The Natural Referee
As she grew, Isabella became a keen negotiator. She would act as mediator between her husband and the nobility, and also settled territorial disputes between Edward and her father. She would be called to referee between Edward and the Nobles again in 1319. She attempted to be with Edward while he and the barons fought with Scotland, but she was delayed by an attempted kidnapping. The Scottish Wars were a fiasco.
Isabella of France as portrayed in the film, Braveheart.
However in 1320, things took a turn for the worse. A father and son team, both named Hugh Despenser emerged from Edward’s household. They were devious and clever; the younger was rumored to be Edward’s lover.
Within four years the Despensers would be exiled twice, like Gaveston. However, they went after the noble’s lands instead of just embarrassing them. As nobles died, or were arrested, the Despensers would find ways, both legal and not, to claim properties. They even snaked lands from Isabella, which did not sit well with the jilted queen.
I’d rather be a widow, thanks!
The situation came to a head in 1324, when Isabella’s brother, Charles, became king of France. The King of England still held land in France, and was required to pay homage to the French king. Edward refused to go, because of the political situation in England. Charles invaded Gascony. Isabella was called on to be the go-between and traveled to France, where it was decided that the younger Edward would be made Duke of Aquitaine and be sent to pay homage to Charles, who would then leave Gascony. The investiture was performed, and the teenaged Edward left for France, where he was welcomed by Isabella.
The elder Edward would realize what Isabella was really up to when he sent for her and the Prince to return. At her brother’s court, Isabella declared herself a widow. She said a marriage was between two people, and someone had come between her and her husband. Dressed in all black, she stated she would live and act as a widow until that person was gone. Edward wrote to Charles demanding he send her home. Charles stated that she was there as a state guest and his sister, and he would not force her to leave.
Isabella began to rally support from the disenchanted nobility who fled England, and secured military support from the Count of Hainaut. She also is suspected to have started an affair with Roger Mortimer around then as well. September of 1326, they set sail for England with an invasion force. Edward’s exiled half-brother accompanied them.
When they landed, the soldiers on the coast defected to Isabella. This became familiar, as every city they landed in offered them shelter, money, and soldiers. Edward, meanwhile, declared them traitors, but it was no use. He and the Despensers fled London. The elder Despenser was caught and executed in Bristol. Edward and the younger Despenser were caught in November. The King was imprisoned and Hugh was executed. In early 1327, Edward II was forced to abdicate in favour of his fourteen year old son, now Edward III. The elder Edward died in prison later that year.
Isabella spent the first three years of Edward’s reign as a de facto regent, along with Mortimer. However, the power went to their heads, and people began to feel that they exchanged one tyrant for two. Finally in 1330, the young king took the reigns of power, had Mortimer hung as a traitor, and Isabella was held under house arrest until she acquiesced power.
She would live out her days in semi-retirement, acting as an advisor and grandmother. After her death in 1358, Edward, as a grandson of Philip IV, attempted to claim the French throne, starting the Hundred Years War. Isabella has a mixed legacy of a “she-wolf of France” and a “savior of England”. Whichever your opinion of her, she is still discussed and debated. And that makes her a B.A. Babe to me.