A central plank of the 'Isabella loathed and resented Piers' notion is a letter she allegedly sent to her father Philip IV shortly after her wedding in 1308 - when she was only twelve - complaining that Piers was the cause of all her troubles and was alienating Edward's affections from her and leading him into improper company. She called herself "the most wretched of wives." This letter, however, is only recorded by the much later chronicler Thomas Walsingham, who died in about 1422 (not 1322). Isabella's correspondence from 1308 does not survive, and Walsingham, a monk of St Albans, had no possible access to the private letters sent from the queen of England to the king of France many decades previously. He began writing in about 1377, the year Edward II and Isabella's great-grandson Richard II acceded to the throne, seventy years after Isabella supposedly wrote this letter to her father. Although the letter is often cited in modern books as though Isabella certainly wrote it and as though we still have a copy of it somewhere, there is no reason to take it seriously as evidence or to think that it's anything but a total invention. Thomas Walsingham was a medieval gossip; taking his 'most wretched of wives' story as gospel truth is like taking a 2014 edition of the National Enquirer seriously as a source for events of the 1930s or 40s. The Annales Paulini do say, however, that Isabella's uncles the counts of Valois and Evreux returned to France after Edward and Isabella's coronation of 25 February 1308 and complained to Philip IV that the king frequented Piers Gaveston's couch (or bed) more than the queen's. Given that Isabella was only twelve, one might think that Edward's shunning her bed really wasn't a bad idea anyway, and it may even be that Philip IV had demanded that consummation be delayed until Isabella was older.
There does exist, though, a certainly contemporary letter, written by a monk of Westminster sometime between late February and late June 1308, relating to Piers Gaveston's meddling in the abbey's business.* I won't go into it all in detail - it involved Piers' siding with the abbot against the prior - as that would require another blog post, but the monk, Roger de Aldenham, suggested that Isabella and the earl of Lincoln might be persuaded to write to the pope, the cardinals and Philip IV re: the whole situation, on the grounds of their hatred of Piers (quod propter odium illius Petri). So someone in Westminster in 1308, within a few weeks of Edward and Isabella's wedding and coronation also at Westminster, thought that Isabella hated Piers, and he may well have been correct. It's interesting to note Aldenham's suggestion in the letter that the whole story of Piers' interference should be related to the countess of Hereford and other confidantes of the queen, who would then inform Isabella. The countess of Hereford was, of course, Edward II's sister Elizabeth. It's also interesting to note that, in a letter written the following year, Aldenham had completely changed his mind about Piers, whom in 1308 he had detested: he described him as a man of good conscience who was willing and able to correct any errors he had made when confronted with the truth. Did Aldenham genuinely have a sound basis in 1308 for stating that Isabella hated Piers, or was he projecting his own feelings onto her and assuming that she shared them, given Piers' and Edward's antics at the coronation (see below)?
A story you often see in Edward and Isabella novels is Isabella expressing shock, horror and disgust when she arrives in England in February 1308 and sees her new husband kissing and hugging Piers Gaveston. Edward really did do that, yes, but it is extremely doubtful that Isabella witnessed it, as she and Edward came ashore at Dover separately and she arrived later than he did, as an entry on the Fine Roll makes clear. It's also important to understand that Edward's kissing Piers does not automatically mean that the two men were lovers (though of course they might have been) or that the king's actions were necessarily sexual; this was an age when physical affection between men was far more common than it is now, and kissing on the lips was a normal form of greeting. The problem was not so much that Edward kissed Piers, it was that he ignored and didn't kiss the other barons present. Edward did behave badly at his and Isabella's coronation banquet at Westminster Abbey on 25 February 1308, when he is said to have ignored everyone and talked only to Piers, whose arms he had had put up on the walls of Westminster Hall with his own, rather than the French royal arms (ouch!). Edward's discourteous conduct was certainly insulting to the French and probably to Isabella personally, and it can't have been easy for the young queen, to arrive in a new country and have to build a relationship with the fiercely emotional and erratic Edward while knowing that her husband was already involved in an intense relationship with someone else. It may well have been Edward's blatant favouritism towards Piers at the coronation which prompted the monk Roger de Aldenham's statement that Isabella (and the earl of Lincoln) hated Piers, at least in part.
Other stories central to the idea that Isabella must have hated Piers Gaveston are that Edward gave her jewels to Piers in 1308, and that he abandoned her while she was pregnant in order to save Piers in 1312. These two stories are complete myths (see here for the jewels story and here for the alleged abandonment). The jewels story is a spectacularly silly one often repeated in modern books, which does at least usefully demonstrate which writers actually bothered to look at the source and which ones just mindlessly repeated the story from other modern writers without checking. So, Isabella almost certainly did not write a letter to her father in 1308 complaining about Piers Gaveston; she did not have her jewels removed from her to be given to him; she was not abandoned when pregnant in order for Edward to protect Piers instead. This leaves Roger de Aldenham of Westminster's statement as the only real evidence I can think of for Isabella's supposed hatred and resentment of Piers.
There often seems to be a kind of unspoken assumption that Isabella and Piers were somehow rivals for Edward's affections, as though Edward's heart was a cake and the large slice of it that belonged to Piers meant that there was little left for Isabella, as though because he loved Piers this necessarily means that he didn't love Isabella or even that he didn't care about her very much. This is an assumption we definitely need to question. Human beings are capable of loving different people in different ways at the same time. This assumption of emotional rivalry between the queen and the earl of Cornwall, the idea that they consciously or otherwise were competing for the king's affections, leads to the further assumption that Isabella must have been sexually jealous of Piers and his important place in her husband's life (and bed?). Maybe she was. I can't read her mind, so I don't know. But it is an assumption, a theory, not a certain fact, and based to a large extent - as far as I can tell - on what modern writers think they themselves might feel in this situation. I'm convinced that Edward genuinely loved Isabella. For sure, in a different way to the way he loved Piers and less intensely, perhaps. But the fact that he loved Piers does not in any way prove that he did not love Isabella, and the important position Piers held in his heart does not mean that Edward did not honour, respect and cherish Isabella as his wife and queen.
Just before Piers Gaveston was sent into exile for the third time, on 29 October 1311, Isabella sent a letter to the receiver of Ponthieu "concerning the affairs of the earl of Cornwall." Apparently she had agreed to help Piers in his exile, at least financially, and perhaps in the naming of him as 'earl of Cornwall', which title had been stripped from him, we may see some sympathy on Isabella’s part towards him. Her reaction to his death is unrecorded, though she was with Edward in York when the king received the news on or just before 26 June 1312 and would have seen his terrible grief and rage first-hand. Edward left York on the 28th and headed south; Isabella sent a letter after him on the 29th. The letter doesn't survive, only the payment to a messenger for carrying it, but sending a letter after her husband only a day after his departure doesn't sound unsupportive and uncaring to me.
Having said all this, it is of course possible that Isabella did despise Piers Gaveston, his influence over her husband, and Edward's intense feelings for him. I'm not attempting to state that she definitely didn't, just querying the frequent assumption that she certainly did. Isabella didn't write any letters telling anyone how she felt about Piers and his relationship with her husband (as we can safely discount the one recorded many decades later by Walsingham as pure invention), and in the absence of her own words telling us what she thought, modern writers have rushed to fill the gap. I've so often seen declarations that 'Isabella must have felt XYZ' when there's no 'must' about it at all and off the top of my head I can think of a dozen other emotions she might equally plausibly have felt. No-one can know for sure what Piers' wife and Edward II's niece Margaret de Clare felt about the two men's relationship, either. It would be great to know, but of course we can only speculate, and we shouldn't pretend that we do know, by saying (as at least two modern writers have) that Margaret was 'tragically married' to Piers when she might have adored him for all we know, or assuming that Isabella hated Piers. Human feelings and relationships are complex and of course change, develop, deepen, over time. A lot of modern commentators seem to forget this or ignore it, and paint relationships of many years' duration in simplistic, one-dimensional terms: Isabella loathed Piers! Isabella loathed Edward! Edward neglected Isabella! Yaaaawwwwn, it's like painting by numbers, no insight, no empathy, no attempts to understand complexity and nuance. Anyway, to sum up, it's possible that Isabella hated and resented Piers, and possible that she didn't. Or perhaps she did at the beginning, then changed her mind. Or perhaps she was actually quite fond of him, at least sometimes. Or perhaps she had days when she didn't like him being around, and other days when she didn't much care. Perhaps she appreciated his wit and intelligence but found him annoyingly arrogant. Perhaps she felt a hundred other things for this man who loomed large in her life for four and a half years. It strikes me that many of Isabella's modern so-called defenders actually do her a great disservice a lot of the time, by stripping her of her humanity and complexity and depicting her as little more than a one-dimensional, one-note automaton with the emotional depth of a shallow puddle.
I'm going to end the post with a quotation from Christopher Marlowe's c. 1592 play about Edward II, Act 1 Scene 4:
Isabella: Villain! 'tis thou that robb'st me of my lord.
Gaveston: Madam, 'tis you who rob me of my lord.
* Pierre Chaplais, Piers Gaveston, Edward II's Adoptive Brother (1994), pp. 61ff, 115ff; J. R. Maddicott, Thomas of Lancaster 1307-1322: A Study in the Reign of Edward II (1970), pp. 85-6.