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Isabella of France



The sobriquet "she-wolf of France" was appropriated from Shakespeare's Henry VI, Part 3, where it is used to refer to Henry's Queen, Margaret of Anjou with the obvious implication that Isabella was more of a man than Edward II. Her legacy is inextricably linked with those of her husband, Edward and lover, Roger Mortimer. Neither man ruled competently. Edward wasted money, showering gifts on his favorites. Mortimer accumulated wealth for himself. Isabella was a gifted woman who found herself caught up in tumultuous times. Edward was faced by three rebellions, losing his life after the final revolt of which Isabella was herself the co-leader. Then her lover and co-regent, removed from power, was executed for treason. She was both the victim of circumstances, of Edward's debauchery and faithlessness. Committing adultery, which colors any assessment of her legacy, was immoral. Doherty says that until her visit to France, there is no evidence that Isabella had been unfaithful and surmises that her alienation from Edward went deeper than her dislike of his favorite. Doherty speculates that Edward may have proposed a three-part "marriage" involving Isabella, himself and his male-lover.16 Doherty points out that both the Pope and the English bishops supported Isabella while she was in self-imposed exile. The pope wrote to Edward II, upbraiding him for his treatment of Isabella and "for his lack of good government."17 Nor can it be ignored that she was allowed to take orders as a nun towards the end of her life.

Did Isabella move against Edward only for personal revenge, or because with the Pope she wanted to see England governed well? The wording of Parliament's statement regarding Edward's removal suggests that she was interested in restoring justice and good governance. Unfortunately, she became as much a tool of Mortimer as Edward had been of his favorites. At least in part, it is a mother of Edward III that Isabella is to be remembered. Edward III's reign is remembered for significant developments in Parliamentary governance. Isabella was also a mother; her firstborn son, Edward III, grew up with unfortunate examples for both parents and rulers; although his rule resulted in the strengthening of British parliamentary power. The House of Commons became a much more significant chamber, consolidating its right to approve new taxes which not only had to be justified but shown to benefit the people. The office of Speaker was also established. Through his mother, Edward III would claim the French throne. This set the Hundred Years' War in motion, which resulted in the loss of many lives. On the other hand, as the landed nobility and aristocracy grew tired on having to pay for and fight in wars that brought them no benefit, they began to assert their right in Parliament to refuse to pay for senseless wars. This led to further strengthening of parliament's power and role in governance of the nation.

Isabella in fiction

Isabella features in a great deal of fictional literature. She appears as a major character in Christopher Marlowe's play Edward II, and in Derek Jarman's 1991 film based on the play and bearing the same name. She is played by actress Tilda Swinton as a 'femme fatale' whose thwarted love for Edward causes her to turn against him and steal his throne.

In the film Braveheart, directed by and starring Mel Gibson, Isabella was played by the French actress Sophie Marceau. In the film, Isabella is depicted as having a romantic affair with the Scottish hero William Wallace, who is portrayed as the real father of her son Edward III. This is entirely fictional, as there is no evidence whatsoever that the two people ever met one another, and even if they did meet at the time the movie was set, Isabella was only three years old. Wallace was executed in 1305, before Isabella was even married to Edward II (their marriage occurred in January 1308). When Wallace died, Isabella was about ten years old. All of Isabella's children were born many years after Wallace's death, thus it is impossible that Wallace was the father of Edward III.

Isabella has also been the subject of a number of historical novels, including Margaret Campbell Barnes' Isabel the Fair, Hilda Lewis' Harlot Queen, Maureen Peters' Isabella, the She-Wolf, Brenda Honeyman's The Queen and Mortimer, Paul Doherty's The Cup of Ghosts, Jean Plaidy's The Follies of the King, and Edith Felber's Queen of Shadows. She is the title character of The She-Wolf of France by the well-known French novelist Maurice Druon. The series of which the book was part, The Accursed Kings, has been adapted for French television in 1972 and 2005.18 Most recently, Isabella figures prominently in The Traitor's Wife: A Novel of the Reign of Edward II, by Susan Higginbotham. Also, Ken Follett's 2007 novel, World Without End World Without End uses the alleged murder of Edward II (and the infamous letter) as a plot device. Susan Howatch's Cashelmara and The Wheel of Fortune, two Romans a clef based on the lives of the Plantagenet kings, depict her as a young abused wife and an old widow hidden from her grandchildren in a retirement home run by nuns.

English royalty Preceded by:
Marguerite of France Queen Consort of England
25 January, 1308 - 20 January, 1327 Succeeded by:
Philippa of Hainault Preceded by:
Eleanor of Provence Queen mother
1327 - 1358 Succeeded by:
Catherine of Valois

See also


  1. ↑ She is described as born in 1292 in the Annals of Wigmore, and Piers Langtoft agrees, claiming that she was seven years old in 1299. The French chronicler Guillaume de Nangis and Thomas Walsingham describe her as 12 years old at the time of her marriage in January 1308, placing her birth between the January of 1295 and of 1296. A Papal dispensation by Clement V in November 1305 permitted her immediate marriage by proxy, despite the fact that she was probably only ten years old. Since she had to reach the canonical age of seven before her betrothal in May 1303, and that of 12 before her marriage in January 1308, the evidence suggests that she was born between May and November 1295. Alison Weir. Queen Isabella: treachery, adultery, and murder in medieval England. (New York, NY: Ballantine Books, 2005).
  2. ↑ Weir, 2005, 23.
  3. ↑ Thomas Bertram Costain. 1958. The Three Edwards. (Garden City, NY: Doubleday), 82.
  4. ↑ Ian Mortimer. The Greatest Traitor: The Life of Sir Roger Mortimer, Ruler of England, 1327-1330. (New York, NY: Thomas Dunne Books, 2006), 37.
  5. ↑ Paul C. Doherty. Isabella and the strange death of Edward II. (New York, NY: Carroll & Graf Publishers, 2003), 95.
  6. ↑ Doherty, 2003, 82, 102.
  7. ↑ Mortimer, 2006, 143.
  8. ↑ Mortimer, 2006, 133.
  9. ↑ Doherty, 2003, 103.
  10. ↑ Michael Prestwich. Plantagenet England, 1225-1360. (Oxford, UK: Clarendon Press, 2005), 25.
  11. ↑ Arthur Lyon Cross. A Shorter History of England and Greater Britain. (London, UK: Macmillan. 1920), 123.
  12. ↑ Doherty, 2003, 130.
  13. ↑ Doherty, 2003, 193.
  14. ↑ Mortimer, 2006, 219.
  15. ↑ Mortimer, 2006, 238.
  16. ↑ Doherty, 2003, 101.
  17. ↑ Doherty, 2003, 81.
  18. Les Rois maudits (The Cursed Kings) (1972) television mini-series. and Les Rois maudits (2005). Internet movie Data Base. Retrieved November 22, 2008.


  • Barnes, Margaret Campbell. 1957. Isabel the Fair. Philadelphia, PA: Macrae Smith.
  • Costain, Thomas Bertram. 1958. The Three Edwards. Garden City, NY: Doubleday.
  • Cross, Arthur Lyon. 1920. A Shorter History of England and Greater Britain. London, UK: Macmillan.
  • Doherty, P.C. 2003. Isabella and the strange death of Edward II. New York, NY: Carroll & Graf Publishers. ISBN 9780786711932.
  • Doherty, Paul. 2006. The cup of ghosts. Leicester, UK: Howes. ISBN 9781845059279.
  • Druon, Maurice. 1956. The accursed kings. New York, NY: Scribner.
  • Druon, Maurice, and Humphrey Hare. 1960. The She-Wolf of France. New York, NY: Scribner.
  • Felber, Edith. 2006. Queen of shadows: a novel of Isabella, wife of King Edward II. New York, NY: New American Library. ISBN 9780451219527.
  • Follett, Ken. 2007. World without end. New York, NY: Dutton. ISBN 9780525950073.
  • Fryde, Natalie. 1979. The Tyranny and Fall of Edward II: 1321-1326 New York, NY: Cambridge University Press. ISBN 9780521222013.
  • Gibson, Mel (director), and Randall Wallace (scriptwriter). 2000. Braveheart, Hollywood, CA: Paramount. ISBN 9780792164937.
  • Higginbotham, Susan. 2005. The traitor's wife: a novel of the reign of Edward II. New York, NY: iUniverse. ISBN 9780595359592.
  • Honeyman, Brenda. 1974. The Queen and Mortimer. London, UK: Hale.
  • Howatch, Susan. 1974. Cashelmara. New York, NY: Simon and Schuster. ISBN 9780671217365.
  • Howatch, Susan. 1984. The wheel of fortune. New York, NY: Simon and Schuster. ISBN 9780671499891.
  • Jarman, Derek, Stephen McBride, Ken Butler, Steve Clark-Hall, Steven Waddington, Kevin Collins, and Andrew Tiernan. 1992. Edward II. United Kingdom: Sales Co.
  • Lewis, Hilda Winifred. 2006. Harlot Queen. Stroud, UK: Tempus. ISBN 9780752439471.
  • Marlowe, Christopher, and Charles R. Forker. 1999. Edward the Second. Revels plays. Manchester, UK: Manchester University Press. ISBN 9780719030895.
  • Mortimer, Ian. 2006. The Greatest Traitor: The Life of Sir Roger Mortimer, Ruler of England, 1327-1330. New York, NY: Thomas Dunne Books. ISBN 9780312349417.
  • Peters, Maureen. 1985. Isabella, the she-wolf. London, UK: Hale. ISBN 9780709016854.
  • Plaidy, Jean. 1982. The follies of the king. New York, NY: Putnam. ISBN 9780399126901.
  • Prestwich, Michael. 2005. Plantagenet England, 1225-1360. Oxford, UK: Clarendon Press. ISBN 9780198228448.
  • Weir, Alison. 2005. Queen Isabella: treachery, adultery, and murder in medieval England. New York, NY: Ballantine Books. ISBN 9780345453198.

External links

All links retrieved March 6, 2018.

  • Heidi Murphy Isabella of France (1295-1358), Britannia biographical series.