Isabella of France

(1292—1358) queen of England, consort of Edward II.

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Queen of England, b. c.1289, da. of Philip IV of France; m. Edward II, 25 Jan. 1308; d. Hertford 23 Aug. 1358; bur. Franciscan church at Newgate, London.

Isabella was promised to prince Edward in 1298 as part of a rapprochement between France and England. Soon after succeeding to the throne, Edward went ahead with the marriage, crossing to Boulogne for the ceremony, which suggests a certain enthusiasm. The marriage produced four children. Isabella is said to have disliked her husband's friendship with Piers Gaveston, and she was certainly on bad terms with the Despensers, who succeeded him in the king's favour. When war broke out with France in 1324, Isabella was in an awkward position, and the king took possession of her estates and placed her under some restraints. The following year she was sent to France to negotiate with her youngest brother, Charles IV, but while there became the lover of Roger Mortimer, a marcher baron at odds with the Despensers. When she was joined by her son, the young prince Edward, she negotiated a betrothal for him with Philippa of Hainault. In September 1326 she landed at Orwell in Suffolk with a small army of supporters, including Mortimer, the prince, and the king's youngest half-brother, the earl of Kent. They were joined at once by another of the king's half-brothers, Thomas, earl of Norfolk. The Despensers were captured and executed, her husband imprisoned, and her son proclaimed king.

For four years she and Mortimer ruled the country, making peace with France and Scotland. Mortimer took many of the Despensers' manors, and in 1328 was created earl of March. In October 1330 the young king carried out his own coup, surprising Mortimer at Nottingham Castle by means of a secret passage, and taking him off for execution. Isabella was treated with respect, and her long retirement at Castle Rising and other estates was not one of hardship. Though the poet Thomas Gray called her the ‘she-wolf of France’, it is more likely that she was a woman of some taste and cultivation, driven to defiance by the habits and folly of her husband.

Subjects: British History.

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