Isabella, the “She-Wolf” of France was the most notorious woman of the medieval ages. Known for her beauty, intelligence, and ability to shmooze her way in or out of anything, she was most famous for her role in dethroning her own cheating husband. Here's the dramatic story of Queen Isabella, the femme fatale who fought her way to the crown.
One day in 1295, the French royal couple welcomed their tiny newborn daughter Isabella. From the get-go, her life was worthy of a lush period drama. Isabella's mother was beautiful and ambitious, while her father was notoriously icy. Cold, calculated, and obsessed with gaining power, Isabella definitely inherited her parents' drive to be on top.
Isabella's dad, King Philip, was particularly infamous. One of his nicknames was Philip the Fair, but another was "The Iron King" and, in my opinion, option B is more fitting. He banished Jewish people and had Templars executed on charges of heresy and sodomy. If you think he sounds bad, just wait until Isabella sets her sights on the throne.
Isabella began life as part of a big family. She had six siblings, but back in the medieval times, getting even one kid to reach adulthood was a big ask. Unfortunately, Isabella learned this the hard way. Her eldest sister Marguerite passed before her sixth birthday while her second sister Blanche passed the same year that Isabella was born. Just months into her life, Isabella was now the royal couple's last living daughter. No pressure.
And the tragedy just kept coming. Isabella's mother, Queen Joan, breathed her last when Isabella was just 10 years old. Historians don't know exactly what happened, but some say she perished while giving birth to one of Isabella's siblings. Other rumors propose a darker story. Some accused the queen's enemy, Bishop Guichard, of using medieval voodoo to end Joan's life. According to some sources, the Bishop pricked a picture of the queen with a needle and used dark magic to make his emo art become a reality.
Another rumor about Joan's passing makes the Bishop's revenge-painting look like child's play. Some historians believe that Isabella's own father, King Philip, was responsible for his wife's death. Ice cold, Philip.
Back in the 1300s, people had to start adulting fast...maybe too fast. When Isabella was just three years old, royal families already started vying for the princess's hand. After her father considered options for his toddler's new husband, he eventually settled on England's Prince Edward II who was a slightly-older-but-still-much-too-young 14 years old. Reader, this was a BAD choice.
The match between Princess Isabella and Prince Edward II was far from romantic. This alliance can be described as one thing and one thing only: Strategic. The thinking was that the young couple would get together, have some kiddos who were half French and half English, and through their motley brood, put an end to a conflict between the two countries. Unfortunately, this idea would fail. It would fail real hard.
Almost immediately after France and England agreed to pair up their kids, they went back to doing what they did best: Fight all the time over nothing. Isabella's new father-in-law apparently regretted agreeing to the match between his son and the French princess. He made numerous attempts to break off the marriage but kicked the bucket before he could actually get the wedding cancelled. With him out of the picture, the marriage went ahead—and Isabella's life changed forever.
On the surface, Edward II was a total catch. He was tall, blonde, good-looking, and athletic—everything a medieval girl could want in a husband. But looks were about all he had going for him. The future king was said to be cowardly, frivolous, bad with money, and a party boy. Oh, but these character flaws were far from the biggest problem with having Edward as your husband.
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The marriage between Edward and Isabella never stood a chance because Edward was already in love with someone else. And as though that wasn't bad enough, there was no way for Isabella to compete with her rival. You see, Edward's teenage lover wasn't some bar wench; it was a man named Piers Gaveston. Yup, Isabella was about to marry England's first gay king.
At the same time as a 12-year-old Isabella was getting ready for her wedding, her fiancé was hard at work getting the person he actually loved to come back to England. After becoming king, Edward celebrated by invited his exiled lover back into court and giving him a cushy new title as the Duke of Cornwall. To make sure his boyfriend had an excuse to stick around the palace, Edward also made Gaveston marry one of his royal nieces as a cover.
...At least Isabella wasn't the only beard in the royal court?
Despite King Edward II's disinterest in women, he and Isabella married on January 25, 1308. The bride was a vision on her wedding day. With her porcelain skin and elegant figure, Isabella was called "the beauty of beauties... in the kingdom if not in all Europe." Edward, however, didn't get the hype. At their wedding, he treated Isabella like actual trash.
Poor 13-year-old Isabella did not have a greatest initiation into the English royal family. From the moment she arrived at court, her husband Edward snubbed her. He refused to interact with his bride, instead cozying up to his not-so-secret boyfriend Piers Gaveston. But Ed's biggest insult was when he refused to sit next to his new wife...at their own friggin' wedding.
Isabella may have been almost half her husband’s age, but that didn’t mean she was content to sit by and watch him parade around with another man. When she saw Edward giving his boy toy Gaveston some of the precious jewels from Isabella's extravagant dowry, Isabella decided that enough was enough. Our girl was not going to take this lying down.
By May of 1308, Isabella was officially over being a third wheel. She wrote to her father, basically complaining that Edward wasn’t performing his husbandly duties. The formidable king of France intervened in his daughter's disastrous marriage, forcing Edward exile his bestie/lover to Ireland. But Isabella's rival wasn't out of the picture just yet.
With Gaveston gone, Edward started treating Isabella a little bit better. After giving her some land and a beautiful castle, it looked like Edward and his wife had patched things up pretty well. Heck, by the time the king's boyfriend Gaveston got back to England in 1311, the throuple settled into an oddly tolerable arrangement. No, it wasn't the marriage she'd wanted, but Isabella was a loyal and supportive wife—for now...
In 1311, Edward and Isabella tried something new: War! The young royals tried and failed to fight the Scots, who were constantly in one feud or another with the English. After this defeat, Edward and Isabella barely avoided getting captured by their burly enemies. The English people already disliked their new king and this humiliating loss pushed their hatred to a whole 'nother level...which unfortunately spelled doom for our girl Isabella.
A bunch of barons started to rebel against King Edward, specifically targeting the person he loved most. No, not his wife Queen Isabella. His boyfriend, Piers Gaveston. Apparently, this was the right way to get under the king's skin. By the next year, King Edward and 17-year-old Queen Isabella were engaged in a full blown civil war against the barons.
In the midst of this enormous conflict, Edward romantically stood by his terrified bride, offering her support and love. Just kidding! He up and left her to go fight alongside his boyfriend, Gaveston. But don't worry, Gaveston didn't feel smug for too long. When the going got tough on the battlefield, Edward abandoned Gaveston to the barons, who captured the king's royal side piece and sentenced him to death.
Needless to say, Isabella didn’t shed any tears over Gaveston's loss.
Amidst all this drama, Isabella accomplished a feat that was pretty incredible for the time—she gave birth to four healthy children. In 1312, she had her son Edward, who became the future King of England, before giving birth to another son and two daughters. But don't be fooled. All these babies did not mean that Edward and Isabella had solved their bedroom problems. Not even close.
After Gaveston’s execution, Isabella and Edward seemed to get along for a few years. All that ended with the entrance of Hugh Despenser the Younger, a ruthless nobleman who caught Edward’s eternally wandering eye. In 1318, Despenser became a "close advisor" to the king, but anyone with two brain cells knew what was really going on: Edward and Despenser were lovers—and Isabella was a third wheel once more.
Edward wasn't the only one causing scandals at court. In 1313, Isabella and Edward travelled to Paris to get support for their fight against the Barons. However, things did not go according to plan. While visiting her family, Isabella gave her brothers' wives delicate purses. Flash forward a few months later: Edward and Isabella throw a banquet in England and invite her family.
At the party, Isabella sees the purses—not on her brothers or their wives, but on some knights. Immediately, Isabella suspected that her sisters-in-law were having some extra-marital fun...
Isabella told her father what she suspected, leading him to go after the cheating noblewomen with a vengeance. He spied on the knights and when he saw enough, he publicly accused everyone and had them all apprehended. The men were castrated, then drawn and quartered, while the women had their heads shaved and spent the rest of their lives behind bars. It was a horrific fate—and it all happened because of Isabella.
People say the stress of the whole affair, now called "The Tour de Nesle," literally led Isabella's dad, King Philip, to an early grave. After his passing, people in France grew to hate Isabella for her role in the scandal. Not only did they blame her for her father's demise, they also called her a traitor, whispering that she should have stood by her sisters-in-law.
It was not a good time for Queen Isabella, and unfortunately, things would only get worse.
In 1314, it seemed like Queen Isabella's entire life was in a downward spiral. Her jerk husband was still cheating on her, plus he'd just lost another important battle against the Scots. There was tons of drama in the court, with one of Isabella's old allies turning against her and attacking her castle. And as though that wasn't enough for Isabella to deal with, there was also a huge famine in England and she was pregnant. Woof.
At this point, Isabella's hold on power was shaky at best, leading a man named John Deydras to take advantage of the gong show in the English court. He claimed that he and Edward had been, get this, switched at birth, making him the real king and Edward a pretender. It was a ludicrous tale, but as a sign of how much everyone hated Isabella's husband, people actually supported Deydras's soap opera story.
While all this was going down, Queen Isabella's husband was busy doing what he did best: Ruining her life. As Edward fought the barons, he stupidly ignored the very real threat of the Scots, who were hard at work on an attempt to kidnap Queen Isabella. Luckily for her, their plan failed—but the fact that the Scots even knew Isabella’s location could only mean one thing.
There was a traitor in the queen's midst.
At first, King Edward thought the culprit was his cousin (and lifelong frenemy) Lancaster, but the real perpetrator was an English knight. When the knight was captured and interrogated, he spilled the beans, but even then, nobody really thought he was telling the truth. My money on who really betrayed the queen? It had to be one person and one person only: The king's new boyfriend, Despenser.
After years of disrespect, it seemed that this betrayal was the last straw for Isabella.
As all this went down, Isabella seems to have started losing faith in her husband's ability to...well, do anything. Frustrated and beyond done with the king, Isabella began plotting for herself. The queen's new rebellious streak saw her attend council meetings, seize control of her own lands, and begin to align herself with the power players in the court.
The first thing on the newly kick-butt Queen Isabella's "To Do" list? Kick out her husband's boyfriend, Hugh Despenser. While Isabella could at least deal with her husband's old flame Gaveston, she and Hugh HATED each other. Isabella even called him an "intruder" into her marriage. But getting rid of him wouldn't be easy.
While Queen Isabella was busy plotting, her husband King Edward was busy banging everyone in sight. He had his fling with Hugh Despenser, his tryst with Hugh Despenser's wife (!), and he paid off a bunch of commoner men, strongly suggesting that he got involved with them too. All these affairs made Isabella mad—but instead of lashing out, she got crafty...
By 1421, another civil war seemed unstoppable. The king's new favorites, the Despenser family, had annoyed a group of nobles called the Marcher Lords so much that they headed into London, determined to fight. However, when they arrived, Isabella stunned everyone with a legendary gesture. She got on her knees in front of the entire kingdom and begged the King to exile the Despensers. As Isabella said, it was the only way to prevent a war.
With the pressure on him, Edward kicked out his boyfriend's family. Isabella: 1. Hugh Despenser: 0.
Sadly, Isabella's baller phase quickly hit a snag. Edward started plotting to bring back his boy toy—and who better to entrap in his dumb plan than his long-suffering bride? Edward ordered his wife to go to his enemy's headquarters at Leeds Castle in Kent, knowing that they'd refuse to let her in. The snub would give him a perfect excuse to start fighting with his old enemies and eventually, bring back his beloved Despensers.
Making an enemy of Isabella was not a good idea, as Margaret Badlesmere learned after denying her entry to Leeds Castle. She hated Isabella for refusing to give one of her friends a fancy position. So, in an act of petty retaliation, she had her archers shoot at Isabella when she tried to enter. This was not a good move. After the attack, Margaret became the first female prisoner in the Tower of London.
It was a victory for Isabella—but the good times wouldn't last long.
Surprise, surprise, the kerfuffle at Leeds Castle caused yet another conflict to pop up. Somehow, when the dust settled, Edward turned the situation to his favor and used it to accomplish his number one plan: To get his beloved Despensers back to court. With his boyfriend back in the English castle, Edward was thrilled. As for Queen Isabella and the rest of the country? Not so much.
When Edward and his boyfriend Hugh Despenser got back together, their number one date idea was making everyone in England miserable. They took away land, punished anyone associated with their enemies, and chucked a ton of people behind bars. The whole situation made Isabella miserable. You see, she knew some of the people being punished and felt powerless to help them. And that wasn't all.
At this time, Isabella's own feud with the Despensers was getting even messier. The family didn't just seize her money and her castles, some historians believe that Hugh Despenser took his hatred of the queen to a chilling extreme. In a 1326 letter, Queen Isabella accused him of dishonoring her "by every possible means"—medieval speak that could allude to sexual assault.
Unsurprisingly, all these events led Edward and Isabella to hate each other even more than before. Isabella blamed her husband's recent defeats on his new, unpopular allies, the Despensers. Meanwhile, Edward publicly humiliated Isabella by refusing to give her any gifts of land or castles from his rare victories—which did not go unnoticed in the kingdom.
Soon enough, the king and queen just plain refused to be in the same room. And then, after a stunning betrayal, they separated permanently.
In 1322, Queen Isabella went north toward one of her strongholds, while Edward went south to rally the troops. This was a problem because, for once, Isabella actually wanted her husband around. She knew that without him, she was effectively abandoned and she worried that the Scots would take advantage of her vulnerability. Scared, Isabella asked Edward to send her reinforcements.
In a catty move, he would only give her the Despensers, who she didn't trust. Isabella refused to let them "help" her—and soon enough, her prediction came true. The Scots surrounded Isabella and trapped her within her home.
Isabella was in a desperate situation. She had to think fast—and our girl delivered in spades. She got some squires to fight the Scots whenever they approached her castle. At the same time, she ordered her knights to sneak out and take over an enemy ship. With that done, Isabella and her allies creeped out of the door and headed towards their boat. Unfortunately, at this point, their plan fell apart in catastrophic fashion.
When the Scots saw Isabella and her allies attempting to escape, they attacked, leading two of Isabella's ladies-in-waiting to perish in the fray. Luckily, the queen made it to her boat and managed to sail away unharmed—physically, at least. Isabella was heartbroken—and mad as hell. Her husband had basically abandoned her to their enemies, and she wasn't going to let him get away with it.
When Isabella and Edward eventually met up after the disastrous attack, she reamed her husband out. Unfortunately, Edward responded like he always did: By passing the buck. He somehow blamed the entire thing on one of Isabella's friends. After this, Isabella decided to take some time off from her marriage. She went on an elaborate year-long trip around England.
And if Edward thought that when she got back, she'd be willing to give their marriage another shot, he was wrong.
When Queen Isabella returned to the court, she stunned everyone by publicly breaking with her husband. When he ordered her to stand by him and declare her loyalty to the Despensers, Isabella point-blank refused. With this, Isabella wasn't the only one done with the marriage. Now Edward, who was furious at her defiance, was over it too. He lashed out against his bride with a series of brutal gestures.
Hugh Despenser was quite the bug in Edward’s ear when it came to ruining Isabella's life. He made Edward paranoid about a French invasion and helpfully pointed out that Isabella had strong ties to France. Edward took the bait and seized his wife’s lands, while Despenser installed his own wife as Isabella’s "housekeeper." Of course, she wasn't actually doing any housekeeping. She was there to spy on Isabella.
But the worst part was yet to come. Edward then took Isabella's children away from her and gave them to the people she hated most: The Despensers.
Let's remember: Queen Isabella wasn't a nobody. Her brother was the King of France, and he didn't like how his brother-in-law was treating Isabella. He attacked Edward by confiscating his French lands, leading Edward to make Isabella pay her brother a visit. At first, it seemed like Isabella would meekly go make peace—but that is not what happened. Once she and her brother were under the same roof, they teamed up and started plotting against Edward. ABOUT TIME, GIRL.
Normally, defying your husband was not a good look in the medieval times. But throughout her marriage to Edward, Isabella played peacemaker, becoming popular and respected by the English people and the political elite. They all knew about Edward’s preferential treatment of his male favorites, and largely felt that he had mistreated Isabella. So when the queen eventually looked for love beyond her husband, no one stopped her.
With the way things were going between Isabella and Edward, it’s not surprising that she ended up falling into the arms of Roger Mortimer—an English knight who had a track record of hating both the Despensers and King Edward II. Historians believe that he and Isabella hooked up while she was visiting her brother's court. With their romance, it looked like Edward's days were finally numbered.
There was just one itty bitty problem with Queen Isabella's new beau: Mortimer, uh, wasn't exactly single. Dude had a wealthy wife and a whopping twelve children. But that didn't bother Isabella one bit. She and Mortimer fell head over heels for each other and quickly became medieval England's most illicit power couple.
Some historians say that this isn't the full story. According to some documents, it seems like Mortimer and Queen Isabella met years before her time at the French court. In this version of their romance, they caught feelings during the Despenser War. When Mortimer was captured and locked up in the Tower of London, some sources allege that Isabella played knight in shining armor and rescued her lover. Go girl!
Isabella certainly had a flair for the dramatic. While in France, she went on a PR campaign against her husband. Isabella dressed in widow’s clothing and told anyone who would listen that her husband was a good as dead, since the Despensers had so thoroughly destroyed her marriage. She publicly vowed to mourn until they were taken care of. Was this subtle? No. But was it effective? Oh, yes.
By this point, many of the English nobles were fed up with King Edward. As a sign of his unpopularity, he weathered run-of-the-mill assassination attempts and dramatic necromancers who tried to use dark magic to kick him off the throne. Isabella, meanwhile, used her time in France to go big before she went home. She amassed a powerful army to oppose husband-turned-enemy, King Edward.
King Edward tried to demand that Isabella return to England, but this is where having a king for a brother comes in handy. The French king told Edward that Isabella had arrived in France of her own free will, and that she’d only return to England if and when she felt like it, because he had no intention of kicking her out. Medieval mic dropped.
Um, maybe Isabella's brother spoke too soon. King Charles IV was a supportive big brother, but Isabella’s affair with Roger Mortimer created a lot of headaches for him. As rumors of their romance spread throughout Europe, Charles was forced to hear complaints about her scandalous behavior from the Pope himself. After that, Charles politely kicked Isabella out of his court.
In the summer of 1326, Isabella and her lover Mortimer drew a line in the sand. They left France, but instead of heading back to England, they met up with William I, Count of Hainaut in Holland and made him an offer he couldn't refuse. Isabella traded powerful ships for a marriage between the Flemish king's daughter and Isabella's eldest son. With this, Isabella couldn't have made her plans for a coup more obvious if she tried.
A few months later, in the fall of 1326, Isabella and her boy toy returned to Suffolk with their mercenary army. King Edward was naturally ticked off by his wife's betrayal and allegedly offered a reward for her death. However, Isabella was ready for this kind of attack. She responded in kind by offering twice as much money for the death of her old rival, Hugh Despenser.
Years of being an unpopular jerk finally caught up to King Edward. As he tried to garner support from his people, he failed HARD. He demanded that 2000 people come fight for him and only 55 showed up. His own half-brother publicly teamed up with Queen Isabella instead of him. And, as the cherry on top, all of London rose up against him. At that, Edward had no choice but to flee.
While Edward and his boyfriend Hugh Despenser bravely turned and fled, Queen Isabella got down to business. She successfully attacked the Despenser family's stronghold and finally showed them who was boss. Then, after years of being separated from her beloved daughters, Isabella valiantly rescued Joan and Eleanor from the Despenser castle.
Edward and his boyfriend knew they couldn't stick around England. They tried to flee to Ireland, but only made it as far as Wales, where Isabella's forces promptly captured them. With the king out of the picture, Isabella had victory in the palm of her royal hand. By April of 1327, her men had defeated all of Edward's forces. Finally, Isabella had the power.
Isabella hated Hugh Despenser, so when she got to oversee his execution, she was ready to make him pay. But even for medieval England, she kinda went overboard. Isabella demanded that Despenser suffer a truly horrific fate. Evidently, Despenser knew his end would be heinous. He tried to starve himself, hoping to pass before Isabella could get her hands on him. Unfortunately, that method did not work, leaving Despenser to Isabella's non-existent mercy.
In autumn of 1326, Queen Isabella had Despenser stripped and paraded through London's crowded streets. Then she demanded that her underlings write Despenser's sins all over his body. With this done, Isabella had Despenser hanged, but before he passed, she took him down, tied him up, and cut off his private parts. Then Isabella's men disembowelled him, cut out his heart, and beheaded him. And even then, Isabella wasn't done.
As a final insult to Despenser, Isabella had his body chopped up. Then, she proudly displayed her enemy's decapitated head on London's gates.
With Despenser gone, Isabella now turned her sights to her no-good husband, King Edward. The people of London were fully on Isabella's side, demanding that Edward step down and allow his eldest son to take the crown. To give the people what they wanted, Isabella and the barons took Edward to court and subjected him to a humiliating spectacle.
During a dramatic trial, Isabella and her allies read a long, detailed list of Edward's failings and had him declared too incompetent to be king for any longer. Then, to rub salt in the wound, the court threatened to disinherit Edward's son if the king didn't "voluntarily" walk away from the throne. Weeping, Edward agreed to give up. But even then, Isabella wasn't done with her husband.
Edward’s deposition from the throne did not guarantee smooth sailing for Isabella. There was still a chance that Edward’s supporters retaliating and trying to take back his throne, and many lawyers at the time didn’t think she had solid legal grounds for deposing him in the first place. So, when Edward kicked the bucket in September 1427, people definitely noticed that the convenient timing. Was it a coincidence or something more sinister?
To this day, people argue over Edward's demise. It's one of medieval England's biggest mysteries, with many historians specifically wondering if Queen Isabella had a potential role in it. According to legend, she and Mortimer arranged for the king's death. In one gruesome version of the story, King Edward is impaled by a red-hot poker...right up the bum. Ouch.
After kicking Edward off the throne, Isabella didn't get to enjoy her triumph for very long. Support for her and Mortimer quickly dwindled when it became apparent that they were no better than Edward and the Despensers. They seized land from their enemies left, right, and center, and instead of redistributing them, kept the territories and the wealth for themselves. And then, Isabella sealed her fate with one catastrophic error.
The Treaty of Northampton was one of Queen Isabella’s most important achievements, but it was also her downfall. Isabella knew that the ongoing conflict with Scotland was expensive and wanted to end it diplomatically. As part of the treaty, she agreed to marry her daughter Joan to the heir of the Scottish throne. She also promised that Edward III would let Scotland become a sovereign nation. The English nobles were none too happy about this treaty, marking the beginning of Isabella's end.
As soon as Prince Edward III was old enough to level up and become the king, he overturned his mother's deal and kick-started the Second War of Scottish Independence. And that wasn't the only way that little Edward defied his momma. You see, between the previous king’s mysterious death and the unpopular Treaty of Northampton, Isabella and her beau Mortimer weren't exactly beloved. To solidify his own power, young prince Edward turned on the pair...
The new King Edward III claimed power with a huge betrayal. He defied his mother and had his men capture both Isabella and Mortimer from Nottingham Castle. As her son dragged away her lover, Isabella begged him to "have pity on the gentle Mortimer." Well, her words didn't quite take. Edward had his men transport Mortimer to the perilous Tower of London, where he awaited a brutal fate.
The queen's lover had squirmed out of trouble before—but this time, his fate was sealed. Edward III refused to grant Mortimer a fair trial, instead sentencing his mother's lover to hang in front of a crowd. As a further sign of disrespect, Edward III left Mortimer's body hanging for two long days, making sure that everyone could see what he had done.
Thankfully, King Edward III showed his mother much more leniency than Mortimer. At Queen Isabella's trial, the young king painted his mother as an innocent victim, rather than her actual status as a wily manipulator. Clearly, Edward was just trying to lighten his mother's sentence. As a sign that he knew Isabella wasn't a naive maiden, he kept her well, but made sure to keep her powerless for the rest of her life.
Isabella had lost both her lover and her power—and she didn't take these traumatic events well. She went through a mental breakdown after Mortimer's execution, with one historian arguing that his demise caused Isabella to lapse into fits of madness for the rest of her life.
Other, less romantic, versions of Isabella's later years see her adjusting to life without Mortimer pretty well. According to most sources, she enjoyed her retirement, studying a broad range of subjects and entertaining guests at her castle. She also found solace in a close relationship with her daughter Joan, who had scandalously left her own cheating husband. I guess it runs in the family?
In the end, the ferocious Queen Isabella lived to the ripe old age of 62. She passed of unclear reasons, though no one suspects foul play to be involved, given her old age. What was scandalous was Isabella's weird funeral...
After Isabella's passing, the queen was buried in a deeply ironic ceremony. She wore her wedding dress (from the time she married a gay man who made her life miserable) and then, for reasons I can't understand, Isabella made one final, incomprehensible request. She specifically asked to have King Edward's preserved heart buried with her.
The first description of Isabella as a “She-Wolf” came courtesy of the 18th-century poet Thomas Gray. In his poem “The Bard,” Gray combined Christopher Marlowe’s depiction of the French queen with Shakespeare’s portrayal Margaret of Anjou as the she-wolf of France in his historical plays. As befitting of a wolf, he describes her as “ripping open her husband’s bowels with her unrelenting fangs.” Brutal!
Considering what a tough gal she was in life, Queen Isabella has been pretty negatively portrayed in modern history books. One of the first mentions of her was in a book about the queens of England written by a pair of Victorian sisters in 1894. One of the authors, Agnes Strickland, totally disapproved of Isabella, and stated that she was “one of the worst women that ever occupied the throne of England.”
This negative opinion was formed primarily because Isabella was the exact opposite of the ideal Victorian woman. Her estrangement from Edward and affair with Roger Mortimer didn’t exactly paint her as pious, and I’m pretty sure submissive wasn’t in her vocabulary.
In the popular Mel Gibson film Braveheart, Queen Isabella is depicted as an adult woman who has a passionate affair with William Wallace and then tells King Edward that she’s carrying Wallace’s baby. Considering that Isabella would only have been two years old at the time the film took place, that’s a pretty big poetic license...
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