Isabella of France (1295-1358) was the so-called She Wolf of France. Her story involves conspiracy, assassination, and an unprecedented coup. She’s another one of the most controversial and contested figures in English history.
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Hello! From Wonder Media Network, I’m Jenny Kaplan. And this is Encyclopedia Womannica.
Today, we’re talking about the so-called She Wolf of France. Her story involves conspiracy, assassination, and an unprecedented coup. She’s another one of the most controversial and contested figures in English history. Let’s talk about Queen Isabella of France.
Isabella was born in 1295. She was the only surviving daughter of Philip IV, king of France, and his wife Joan I of Navarre. Isabella had three older brothers who at various times all reigned as kings of France or Navarre.
Isabella was 12 years old when she went to England and married Edward II. A month later, the pair was crowned king and queen of England.
Though Isabella was too young to participate in English politics at first, she soon became known for her intelligence and diplomatic skills. Those skills were vital when mounting tensions between the king and lower nobility erupted. Edward’s favorite noble, Piers Gaveston, was murdered in 1312 by jealous barons who believed he had become arrogant. Violence could have escalated quickly, but Isabella smoothed things over and for some time, her diplomacy worked.
Shortly after Gaveston’s murder, Isabella gave birth to her and Edward’s first child, Edward of Windsor. She would give birth to three more children over the next several years.
Later rumors claimed that Isabella and Edward had a troubled marriage from the start. But that wasn’t the case. They were a relatively happy, functional couple -- until Edward chose a new favorite noble house. In the 1320’s, Edward threw his adoration at the Despenser family, a father and son duo. The king had a particular affinity for Hugh Despenser the Younger, who had married one of his nieces in 1306 and was appointed as his chamberlain in 1318.
The Despenser family was despised by many in the royal court for Hugh’s arrogance, greed, and excessive wealth. Isabella in particular hated and feared them and Hugh may have contributed to some of the relationship woes between Isabella and her husband. When England went to war with Isabella’s brother, Charles IV of France, Edward started to treat Isabella like an outsider and confiscated her lands.
In March of 1325, Edward sent Isabella to France to negotiate peace with Charles. Thanks once again to her diplomatic skill, the talks were a success. Edward sent his and Isabella’s 13-year-old son, Edward of Windsor, to perform the final ceremony of the agreement.
With her son, the heir to the throne, under her control in France, Isabella saw an opportunity. She offered her husband an ultimatum. Isabella refused to return home unless King Edward removed Hugh Despenser from court and allowed her to return to her royal duties as normal. The king refused, so Isabella stayed in France.
While there, she started an affair with an English baron named Roger Mortimer, who had escaped from prison after being arrested for leading a rebellion against the king. Together, Roger and Isabella formed a political alliance, and decided the time had come to overthrow the king. Isabella secured ships, money, and troops by betrothing her son to a Belgian noble.
In September of 1326, Isabella arrived in England with an army of mercenaries and exiled nobles. Many of the king’s supporters joined her side right away, including his two half-brothers and his cousin. The Despensers were quickly captured and executed. Parliament forced King Edward II to abdicate his throne to his 14-year-old son.
In January of 1327, Edward III began his reign. He wasn’t yet of age, so the country was ruled by a regency council. Isabella and Roger weren’t officially part of that council, but they seemingly had de-facto ruling power and considerable influence for several years.
But Isabella and Roger Mortimer eventually became as unpopular as the king before them.
In 1330, Edward III ordered the arrest and execution of Roger Mortimer, and sent his mother into retirement. Isabella of France passed away in 1358.
Today, many see Queen Isabella as a historical seductress who led her male victims to their dooms. Plays and novels painted her as a cruel, manipulative person. That said, her behavior can be compared to many noblemen during the time of her reign. Perhaps she stands out and receives more criticism because of her gender.
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All May, we’re talking about Mavericks and Legends. We’re highlighting women who went against prescribed gender norms to make a name for themselves -- for better or for worse. Some of these women did incredible things for society and should be celebrated, others had a big impact that was not quite so rosy. The collection of women we’re featuring this month is complex and nuanced, much like all women are.
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