Edward II and Queen Isabella married in January 1308, and conceived their first child a little over four years later. The long delay was because of Isabella's youth - she was only twelve years old at the time of her wedding. Exactly when the royal couple first consummated their marriage cannot of course be known, but may not have taken place before Isabella was fourteen. Early marriage, and a gap of several years between marriage and first conception, was normal in the royal family at this time. Edward II's de Clare nieces all married at thirteen, and didn't conceive for several years: Eleanor was fifteen or sixteen, Elizabeth sixteen, and Margaret seventeen or close to it. Edward's grandmother Eleanor of Provence married Henry III when she was twelve or thirteen, and didn't give birth to her first child for three and a half years.
It's very likely that Edward delayed consummating his marriage until Isabella was old enough to carry and give birth to a child without danger to her developing body. John Carmi Parsons, biographer of Eleanor of Castile, believes that Eleanor gave birth to a stillborn daughter in 1255, seven months after her marriage, when she was only thirteen years old. If Edward had heard that story - of a sister twenty-nine years his senior - it may have encouraged him to delay consummation. Rather than condemn him for 'ignoring' and 'neglecting' his young wife in favour of Piers Gaveston, as many novelists and historians do, perhaps we should be applauding him for taking his wife's youth and physical immaturity into consideration, although, like all kings, he desperately needed a son and heir.
The future Edward III was born on 13 November 1312. A full-term pregnancy is thirty-eight weeks from the date of conception, which takes us back to Monday 21 February 1312. On that day, Edward II was in York with Piers Gaveston and Margaret de Clare, celebrating the birth of Piers' and Margaret's daughter Joan. Isabella's Household Book shows that on the 21st, she was at Copmanthorpe or Bishopthorpe, three or four miles outside York, where her belongings were put on a barge to be taken along the river Ouse into the town. She had been travelling the approximately 210 miles from Windsor since early February, to join her husband; on 17 February, she sent him a basket of lampreys from Doncaster, and the two kept in close contact via messengers. [Four days to travel the forty miles from Doncaster to just south of York: an interesting illustration of the slowness of medieval travel.]
Edward III was probably conceived within a week or so of Isabella's arrival in York on the 21st or 22nd. I'm pointing all this out in detail to make it perfectly clear that Edward and Isabella WERE together at the right time to conceive Edward III - although many people still try to argue that their marriage can't have been consummated, as this silly thread from the 2003 archives of the Richard III Society Yahoo group shows. Even if Edward III was premature, Edward and Isabella were together in York until the beginning of April 1312. Easter Sunday fell on 26 March that year, so they evidently conceived their son during Lent, when intercourse was forbidden. Tsk.
I'll also point out that there isn't even the most oblique hint in any contemporary or later source that Edward II might not have fathered Edward III; as far as I can tell, it was the late twentieth century before that occurred to anyone. Whatever Edward II's contemporaries thought of his sexuality, nobody ever doubted that Edward III and his siblings were Edward's children. And to put paid to the theory that Roger Mortimer was Edward III's real father (also put forward in Paul Doherty's Death of a King), Roger was in Ireland in 1312, a country Isabella never visited. Neither was she in Scotland in 1312, abandoned by Edward, as in Edith Felber's 2006 novel Queen of Shadows - which constantly drops coy hints that some mysterious Scotsman fathered Edward III without ever revealing who it was, a plot device I find pointless and irritating. [Robert the Bruce? The ghost of William Wallace? Who knows?]
Isabella was four months pregnant when Piers Gaveston was killed in June 1312 - proof, if nothing else, that whatever the nature of Edward's close relationship with Piers, it wasn't an impediment to his marital relations with Isabella (or to Piers' with Margaret, for that matter - or to both men's relations with other women, as they both fathered illegitimate children).
Edward III was born on Monday 13 November 1312, at Windsor Castle. Edward spent a few weeks at Windsor with Isabella late in her pregnancy, from mid-September to 25 October. He left, then returned on 30 October, and left again on 9 November for Sheen, another royal palace, about twenty miles away. He hurried back on 12 November, probably because he'd received a message that Isabella had gone into labour. The ecstatic Edward rewarded John and Joan Launge, who brought him the message, with £20 and the vast sum of £80 a year for life, which gave them a higher income than some knights.
Isabella sent a letter to the Mayor and aldermen of London proclaiming the birth (it's quoted in the sidebar on the left) and the Londoners went mad with joy. The Mayor himself led the dancing in the streets and ordered tuns of free wine to be provided for the citizenry. The festivities continued for a full week.
Isabella was probably just seventeen, or close to it, and Edward II was twenty-eight. The birth of his son helped to assuage his terrible grief for Piers, while for Isabella, becoming the mother of the heir to England dramatically enhanced her status. The young Edward, created Earl of Chester when he was eight days old, had six godfathers, including Isabella's uncle the Count of Evreux and Hugh Despenser the Elder. A little less than fourteen years later, young Edward would watch his godfather executed at Bristol.
The fortunate survival of an apothecary's account of November 1313, which mentions two purchases of pennyroyal for Isabella, tells us that the Queen had probably suffered a miscarriage. The traditional medicinal use of pennyroyal is to stimulate uterine activity; it increases uterine contractions and menstrual flow, and can be used to induce abortion. [In modern times, pennyroyal is considered too dangerous to be used in this way, because of the adverse side effects.]
Alison Weir says that Isabella suffered no known miscarriages or stillbirths, but she doesn't mention the pennyroyal purchases, and besides, it suits her purposes to say that Edward rarely visited Isabella's bed, to portray the Queen as a long-suffering and neglected wife. But certainly the long gap between Isabella's and Edward's first and second children - November 1312 to August 1316 - suggests that a miscarriage or stillbirth, or even more than one, is possible. Poor Isabella was in a bad way in 1313: when she and Edward were visiting France in June that year, the silken pavilion where they were sleeping caught fire one night, and Edward had to scoop up Isabella and rush outside with her to safety. She suffered burns to her arm, bad enough that they were still being treated two years later. All their possessions were destroyed.
On Friday 15 August 1316, Edward and Isabella's second son John - the 'spare' part of 'the heir and the spare' - was born at Eltham Palace south-east of London, which Edward had given to Isabella. Again, approximately thirty-eight weeks prior to the birth, in November 1315, Edward and Isabella were together, at the royal hunting lodge of Clipstone in Sherwood Forest. [Roger Mortimer was in Ireland.]
Edward was in York when his son was born, and rewarded Isabella's steward Ebulo de Montibus with the huge sum of £100 for bringing him the news. He paid £40 for the boy's baptism, which took place on 20 August, and gave Isabella gifts of jewellery and land. She and the little Lord John joined Edward in York in late September.
On Sunday 18 June 1318, Edward and Isabella's elder daughter Eleanor was born at Woodstock Palace near Oxford. Edward arrived at Woodstock on the day of Eleanor's birth, and spent ten days there. The likely conception date of mid to late September 1317 puts Edward and Isabella together at Lincoln, Tickhill Castle and York; in fact, they spent most of 1317 together, and Roger Mortimer was in Ireland for the entire year. Edward paid £333 for a feast to celebrate the birth, his first daughter after three sons (including his illegitimate son Adam).
Isabella and Edward spent most of the year 1319 in York. The chronicler Robert of Reading claims that Isabella gave birth to a daughter, Joan, sometime this year. No other source mentions this birth, and it's likely that the chronicler made a mistake and placed the birth of their later daughter Joan during this year. Although it's possible that he was correct, and a daughter was born who presumably died shortly after birth, given the absence of any commemoration for a dead child, it's more likely that Robert made a mistake.
Isabella gave birth to their second (third?) daughter Joan on Sunday 5 July 1321, at the Tower of London, in the middle of the Despenser crisis. Edward was thirty-seven at the time of his youngest child's birth, Isabella probably twenty-five. The Tower was rather run-down and dilapidated, and rain came in on Isabella's bed while she was in labour - a furious Edward later dismissed the Constable of the Tower from his post.
Edward's son Adam is presumed to have died in 1322, as he never appears in any records after this year. That Edward and Isabella had no more children after 1321 is probably indicative of the breakdown of their relationship after the younger Despenser's return from exile and piracy, but it's also possible that Isabella miscarried, or suffered stillbirths. Despenser himself certainly fathered several children after 1321: Eleanor de Clare is known to have given birth in 1323 and late 1325, and may also have borne Hugh's posthumous child after November 1326. [At least four or five of Despenser's ten children by Eleanor were born after he became Edward's favourite. Nicholas de Litlyngton, Abbot of Westminster 1362-1386, may have been his illegitimate son.]
Isabella's affair with Roger Mortimer began in Paris in late 1325. The chronicler Jean Froissart reports that, not too long before their downfall in October 1330, "it was reported that she was with child by Mortimer". Froissart wasn't even born in 1330, and his chronicle is often unreliable and heavily based on hearsay, but he knew Edward III and Queen Philippa very well, so it seems unlikely that he would have written down scurrilous unsubstantiated gossip about Edward's mother if he wasn't sure it was true.
Froissart's allegation is given substance by Isabella's making a kind of will that settled some of her properties on Roger in September 1329, and again in July 1330 - something she had previously done only once before, when pregnant in 1312. Ian Mortimer postulates that Isabella gave birth in December 1329, when she and Roger spent many weeks at Kenilworth; Alison Weir's theory is that she was pregnant at the time of Roger Mortimer's arrest in October 1330, and either miscarried, suffered a stillbirth, or the child died shortly after birth. It's unclear, but certainly there was no living child of Isabella and Roger, which was probably a source of great relief to Edward III; any son would be his half-brother, and Roger Mortimer would be linked to the King by blood. Given Isabella and Roger's five-year relationship, perhaps the only surprising aspect is that she hadn't conceived earlier (again, it's possible that she did, but no records survive.)
In conclusion, there's no reason at all to doubt that Isabella's children were Edward II's. Although she had a relationship with Mortimer, this happened in France when she was beyond Edward's reach, and after she had already borne Edward's children. Anyone who believes that Isabella took a previous lover must explain how the Queen of England, with a household of 180 people and surrounded by servants and courtiers every minute of her life, with a lack of privacy modern Western people can scarcely comprehend, could have conducted an affair without anyone noticing. Amusingly, in Queen of Shadows, Isabella 'escapes' from court and manages to have sex with Mortimer, her husband's enemy imprisoned in the Tower, by the simple expedient of wearing a hood - apparently a magical hood that renders her invisible. Two of Isabella's sisters-in-law in Paris did commit adultery, but inevitably they were found out - they were imprisoned for life, and their lovers grotesquely executed. If Isabella had taken a previous lover, we would know all about it, because it would be one of the great scandals of the Middle Ages.