27 November, 2015

27 November 1358: Funeral of Isabella of France

Today is the 657th anniversary of the funeral of Edward II's widow Isabella of France, queen of England, on 27 November 1358.  Isabella died at Hertford Castle on 22 August 1358, probably aged sixty-two, having been ill for some months.  As was almost always the case when a king or queen died, there was a long delay between death and funeral, and three months was entirely usual.

Isabella was buried at the Greyfriars church in London.  Her aunt Marguerite of France, second queen of Edward I and stepmother of Isabella's husband Edward II, was buried there in 1318, and the heart of Edward I's mother Eleanor of Provence, queen of England (died 1291), rested there too.  Isabella's youngest child Joan of the Tower, queen of Scotland, would also be buried there four years later.  Isabella wasn't buried next to her husband Edward II in Gloucester, but then, she wasn't buried at Westminster Abbey either, where her husband's parents and grandfather Henry III, and later her son Edward III and daughter-in-law Philippa of Hainault, were laid to rest.  Everyone nowadays always seems to assume that burial at the Greyfriars was Isabella's decision before her death, but in fact it's not clear whether the site was in fact her own choice or her son Edward III's.  I suspect it's generally assumed to have been her own choice because of another assumption: that Isabella's 'favourite' Roger Mortimer, earl of March, was buried there after his execution on 29 November 1330.  He wasn't; he was buried a hundred or so miles away at the Greyfriars church in Coventry, and his remains may have been moved to his family's seat at Wigmore in Herefordshire following two petitions to Edward III by his widow Joan Geneville in 1331 and 1332.  It's extremely doubtful that Edward III would have allowed his royal mother to lie for eternity next to a man he'd had executed for treason, even if Isabella had asked or wished to be (and there's no evidence that she did).

Isabella did ask to be buried with the clothes she'd worn at her wedding to Edward II a little over fifty years previously on 25 January 1308.  I assume they were placed in the coffin with her, rather than her body being dressed in them (it would rather amazing if in her early sixties she could still fit into clothes she'd worn when she was twelve).  There's also a story that Edward II's heart was placed in a casket on her chest, though this is a later tradition and not contemporary, so we can't know for sure if it's true.  Some people online, determined to get the details wrong, have assumed that Isabella was buried with Roger Mortimer's heart.  Nope!  She wasn't buried next to him or with his heart, sadly for all the romanticisers.  One book of 2003 seems to think it's significant that Isabella was buried on 27 November, two days before the anniversary of Roger Mortimer's execution on 29 November 1330.  I have no idea why Isabella would ask her son 'Bury me almost but not quite on Roger's anniversary'.  Doesn't seem terribly likely, does it?  I have no idea why anyone would think she'd be able to choose the day of her own funeral anyway.

Isabella's body lay in the chapel at Hertford Castle until 23 November 1358, for three months and one day after her death, watched over day and night by fourteen 'poor people' who each received two pence a day plus food for this service.  Her funeral cortege arrived in London on 24 or 25 November and was met by her son the king; Edward III and his household stayed at a house in Mile End which belonged to a John Galeys (I don't know who he was) with her body for a little while.  On arrival at the Greyfriars church, the late queen's body was covered with two cloths of fine white silk.  Edward III visited his mother's funeral, the convention that kings did not attend funerals belonging to later centuries, not the fourteenth.

The sepulchral monuments of the Greyfriars church were sold off during the Reformation in the sixteenth century, and the church itself was destroyed during the Great Fire of London in 1666.  It was rebuilt and then destroyed again by bombs during the Second World War.  Isabella's resting-place and tomb, sadly, were lost, though perhaps she still lies somewhere beneath a busy London street.

9 comments:

Anerje said...

It's ridiculous to think Edward III would allow his mother to be buried next to Roger Mortimer! It just wouldn't have happened! And as you rightly say, there's no evidence she wanted to be. How convenient of her to die and time her funeral to almost the day of Mortimer's date of execution haha! As if.....what would these romantic novelists make of her being buried with her wedding clothes and possibly the heart of her husband?


I once read - years and years ago - that her ghost haunts the bypass built over the Greyfriars site. Such a shame the religious house was destroyed.

churchaholic said...

"there was a long delay between death and funeral, and three months was entirely usual." - out of interest why was this entirely usual? Presumably the corpse wasn't embalmed or kept on ice for three months and so three months after death...frankly I dread to think.

Was it a lack of knowledge of disease, a wish to bury the body in a certain place or everything stank so much a decomposing body didn't really add much to the ambience and had they not learnt from William the Bastard's end?

Really "three months was entirely usual"? That was for the serious hoi poilloi and the run of the mill were shrouded and buried within hours - and even a shroud would have been for the rich.

How many lost graves did she, Mortimer, her husband and son create?

And that's a question rarely asked, or answered by historians - what was the human cost?

Kathryn Warner said...

Edward I died 7 July 1307, buried 27 October; Edward II, died (?) 21 September 1327, buried 20 December; Philippa of Hainault, died 15 August 1369, buried 9 January 1370. There was generally a long delay because the splendour of royal funerals and inviting VIPs to attend took a long time to organise. And yes, royal bodies were embalmed - not sure why you presume they weren't - though some nobles specified in their wills that they didn't want to be, and hence were buried soon after death. 'That was for the serious hoi poilloi' - yes, which is why I specified 'when a king or queen died' in the post and didn't make it general to anyone else.

sami parkkonen said...

Fine stuff once again.

Her son attending her funeral is a nice touch too and should also clear the air about their relationship.

I find this somehow moving.

I am not familiar of the medieval funeral customs but I would assume that queen, or a royal, would have planned his/her funeral well beforehand and in some detail. I am not sure where from I got this idea but for some reason I think I read this from somewhere. Do not ask where from, I have no clue.

Anonymous said...

Great post, as usual. If her ghost does, in fact, haunt a bypass, it is a shame that the "paranormal investigators" they had on the Medieval Murder series didn't talk to her. I wish, though, that they could shut down the street and try to excavate the London Greyfriars as they were able to do somewhat in Leicester -- maybe Isabella could still be found.

Esther

Unknown said...

Hello! I'm one of your regular visitors from Russia! Just really fascinated by The Plantagenets and medieval history in particular! Thanks for posting amazing content on the blog! Can I ask if it's known weather any of Isabella's grandchildren were at her funeral? I think I read somewhere that Edward of Woodstock was her favorite so to say grandkid:)

Kathryn Warner said...

Hi, it's lovely to hear from one of my Russian visitors! :) Welcome, and thanks for reading!

I'm pretty sure that at least Edward of Woodstock and Lionel attended the funeral. Isabella spent quite a bit of time with those two in the months before her death. Not sure about the others, but it seems likely that they attended as well.

Anonym said...

Thank you for you reply!:)

Anonym said...

Thank you for your reply!:)