15 September, 2013

Isabella of France And Her Relationship With Edward II

This is a post which I originally wrote a few months ago as a guest post on my lovely friend Sarah's history blog, which is now sadly defunct, though she writes one about Edward II's grandfather Henry III instead, yay.

Isabella of France, queen consort of England, lady of Ireland, duchess of Aquitaine, countess of Chester and Ponthieu, had a remarkably illustrious lineage: she was the daughter of Philip IV, king of France and of Joan, queen of Navarre and countess of Brie, Bigorre and Champagne in her own right. Isabella was the sixth of Philip and Joan's seven children. Her three older brothers all reigned as kings of France, Louis X, Philip V and Charles IV, her younger brother Robert died in 1308 aged about eleven, and she also had two older sisters, Marguerite and Blanche, who both died in early childhood in or shortly after 1294. Her paternal grandmother Isabel, queen of Philip III of France, after whom she was presumably named, was the daughter of King Jaime I 'el Conquistador' of Aragon and the granddaughter of King Andras II of Hungary; via the Hungarian line, Isabella of France was the seven greats granddaughter of Harold Godwinson, the king of England killed at Hastings in 1066.  She and her husband Edward II were related: her great-grandmother Marguerite of Provence, queen of France was the older sister of Edward's paternal grandmother Eleanor of Provence, queen of England.  They were also related rather more distantly via the Castilian royal family, Edward's great-grandmother Berenguela, queen of Castile and Leon, being the sister of Isabella's great-great-grandmother Blanche of Castile, queen of France.

Isabella's date of birth is uncertain but is usually assumed to have taken place in the second half of 1295 or at the beginning of 1296. She was thus only three or four years old when in the Treaty of Montreuil of June 1299 her future marriage was arranged to fifteen-year-old Edward of Caernarfon, son and heir of Edward I of England, as a means of ending the latter's war with her father Philip IV over the English king's territories in the south-west of France. The pair were formally betrothed in May 1303. Otherwise, very little is known of Isabella's childhood. Her mother Queen Joan died when she was probably nine, in April 1305; Isabella's eldest brother Louis, then fifteen, succeeded her in Navarre. Isabella cannot have remembered a time when she didn't know that it was her destiny to marry the future King Edward II of England, and at the French court, after the death of Edward I but before her marriage, she was addressed as ma dame Yzabel royne Dangleterre, my lady Isabella, queen of England.

Isabella married Edward II in Boulogne on 25 January 1308, six and a half months after he acceded to the throne. She was, almost certainly, only twelve, he twenty-three. (Contrary to the depiction of her in the film Braveheart, she was never princess of Wales and never met her father-in-law Edward I, never mind William Wallace, who was executed in August 1305 when she was nine or ten.) The wedding ceremony, attended by much of the royalty and nobility of western Europe, was splendid. Isabella wore a red mantle lined with yellow sindon, over a gown and tunic in blue and gold; fifty years later, she would be buried with the mantle, at her own request. Edward wore a satin surcoat and cloak embroidered with jewels, and both wore crowns glittering with precious stones. With these sumptuous clothes and the good looks ascribed to both of them by contemporaries, they surely looked magnificent.

Much is made nowadays of Isabella's supposed 'neglect' by her husband in the first months and years of her marriage and life in England, usually by people who conveniently ignore that she was little more than a child married to a man almost twice her age who was, admittedly, involved in an intense relationship with Piers Gaveston, earl of Cornwall. She and Edward were crowned king and queen of England at Westminster Abbey on 25 February 1308, exactly a month after their wedding. Shortly afterwards, Edward granted Isabella a generous income out of the revenues of the county of Ponthieu in northern France, his inheritance from his half-Spanish, half-French mother Eleanor of Castile - Ponthieu was not Isabella's dowry, as is often stated - and a large household of close to 200 people. The king also paid all his wife's expenses. In February or March 1312 when Isabella was sixteen, she and Edward conceived their first child, the future Edward III, who was born on 13 November 1312. Contrary to popular belief, based on nothing more than a modern assumption that because Edward II was a lover of men he must have been incapable of intercourse with women, there is no doubt whatsoever that Edward was the boy's father. Three more children were to follow: John of Eltham, earl of Cornwall, born 15 August 1316; Eleanor of Woodstock, duchess of Guelders, born 18 June 1318; Joan of the Tower, queen of Scotland, born 5 July 1321.

There is no reason to suppose that until about 1322 at the earliest, Edward and Isabella's marriage was an unhappy or tragic or even a particularly unusual one; for many years there is ample evidence of mutual support and affection between the couple, with modern assumptions that it must have been a disaster from start to finish, and that Isabella must have always loathed her husband, based solely on hindsight knowledge of how it ended. How Isabella felt about her husband's 'favourite' Piers Gaveston is unknown and unknowable, but there is no evidence for the assertion that she must have loathed him and wished him ill. Here are some examples of the couple's apparent closeness: in 1313 Edward and Isabella spent a few weeks in France at her father Philip IV's court. One morning, Edward arrived late for a meeting with Philip because he and Isabella had overslept, and on another occasion, he saved her life when a fire broke out in their bedchamber one night and he scooped her up and rushed outside with her, although they were both naked or in their bedclothes. It certainly seems to me that their intimate marital relations were entirely normal, even close. They conceived Edward III during Lent in 1312, a time when intercourse was forbidden, which hardly implies that Edward slept with his wife unwillingly; Lent gave him a perfect excuse to avoid it if he wanted to. In 1316 when Isabella was pregnant with their second son John, Edward paid for cushions for her carriage so that she could travel in greater comfort, and bought new horses to carry her litter. In his letters to her (few of which survive, sadly), Edward called his wife 'dear heart' while in her own letters she called him 'my very sweet heart' (mon tresdoutz coer). Even in 1326 when she refused to return to him and remained in France with their son, and later led an invasion of England against him, Isabella still referred to her husband as "our very dear and very sweet lord and friend" (nostre trescher and tresdouz seigneur et amy), which is a most unconventional form of address and hints that, despite her anger and humiliation at his confiscating her lands, reducing her income and his permitting his 'favourite' Hugh Despenser to treat her with disrespect, she neither hated Edward nor felt "profound revulsion" for him, as a modern writer has claimed. On the contrary, this unconventional way of referring to her husband as 'sweet' and her 'friend' implies that, despite her rebellion against him as a king, she still felt affection for him as her husband. When Edward was detained in custody in 1327 after his forced abdication in favour of his and Isabella's son Edward III, Isabella continued to send him gifts and letters - something she had absolutely no reason to do unless she genuinely wanted to, which again implies that despite everything, Isabella still felt affection for the difficult, unpredictable, erratic, fiercely emotional man who had been her husband for nearly twenty years and whose existence had been a constant in her life since she was a toddler. Edward II and Isabella's relationship was, in my opinion, far more complex and interesting than the tediously basic 'nasty cruel Edward / suffering neglected little Isabella' way it is most often depicted nowadays. It seems to me, however, that this is something some people don't want to hear; I've been told here and on my Facebook page about Edward that I'm wrong to think that maybe, just maybe, Edward and Isabella's relationship was slightly more complex and one-dimensional than the usual 'he ignored her, she hated him' way it's mostly written these days.  That I'm wrong to think that a marriage which lasted nearly twenty years might change and develop, that each partner's feelings might likewise have evolved and changed and might not have been relentlessly negative all the damn time.  It's not as though either of them had foreknowledge of what would happen in 1325/27; as far as both Edward and Isabella were concerned, they would be married for life, and it was in both their interests to make their relationship work as well as they could.

It can hardly be denied, however, that when their marriage did go wrong, it went spectacularly wrong. Although often-repeated stories such as, for instance, Edward cruelly 'removing' Isabella's children from her and giving her jewels to Piers Gaveston, are modern inventions, he did confiscate her lands in September 1324 and reduce her income when he was at war with her brother Charles IV, to Isabella's understandable fury. It was almost certainly this, and her hatred and fear of her husband's chamberlain and 'favourite' Hugh Despenser the Younger and his father the elder Hugh Despenser, which led Isabella to take a momentous step, and lead a rebellion against her own husband. Sent to Paris by her husband in March 1325 to negotiate a peace treaty with her brother, and reunited with her son the future Edward III there six months later, the queen refused to return to England and to her husband unless he removed Hugh Despenser from his side, which he refused to do. She began a relationship with Sir Roger Mortimer, lord of Wigmore, a Contrariant (baronial rebel) who had been imprisoned in February 1322 and escaped from the Tower of London in August 1323, and fled to the continent. Whatever is claimed nowadays, the true nature of Isabella and Roger's relationship is uncertain; usually assumed with very little evidence to have been passionately sexual and a great love affair, it may merely have been, at least at the start, a political alliance between two people who hated the Despensers and their influence over the king, and wanted their lands back. Perhaps I'm just cynical, but it seems highly unlikely to me that Roger Mortimer fell deeply and sincerely in love with Isabella in late 1325, given the benefits he was to derive from the relationship, ultimately becoming the richest and most powerful man in England. (In the same way, I certainly don't believe that Hugh Despenser the Younger just happened to fall madly and genuinely in love with Edward II in 1318.) The first people to suggest that Isabella had some kind of relationship with Roger Mortimer before late 1325 were the dramatists Christopher Marlowe and Michael Drayton in the 1590s, and although some fourteenth-century chroniclers say that the pair were rumoured to have had a 'liaison' or a 'familiarity', others state merely that Mortimer was Isabella's 'chief counsellor' or even just 'of her faction', and don't hint at any kind of romantic or sexual relationship. It was nowhere near as 'notorious' or 'flaunted' as it's usually said to be nowadays. Many modern writers assume that Isabella had something to do with Mortimer's escape from the Tower in 1323, or at the very least smoothed his path to her brother's court afterwards, but this is also based solely on centuries of hindsight and cannot be corroborated.

I'm afraid that I simply cannot see the romance that many others see in Isabella and Mortimer's actions of 1326 to 1330. Assuming that their relationship was indeed sexual, it was doubly adulterous, yet the same modern commentators who complain about how tragic and awful it is that Isabella was 'neglected' by her husband for other people never express the same compassion for Mortimer's loyal wife Joan Geneville, who had borne him a dozen children and was held in close confinement for years because of his treason against his king. The people who applaud Isabella's cleverness, courage, strength and amazing empowerment in acting against her husband and invading England never seem to consider what it involved: keeping her thirteen-year-old son little more than a prisoner in a foreign country; forcing him to act as a weapon against his own father; leading an illegal invasion with mercenaries; destroying her husband's relationship with his children. When Isabella and Mortimer were in power from late 1326 to late 1330, they proved no more competent and more greedy even than Edward II and the Despensers; in four years, Isabella bankrupted her son's kingdom by enriching herself and her favourite almost beyond measure (they reduced the treasury from almost £80,000 in November 1326 to a mere £41 four years later), kept for herself the £20,000 given to England by Robert Bruce in exchange for peace, kept her son, again, little more than a prisoner while she and Mortimer ruled in his name (which they had no right to do as they had never been appointed to the regency council), kept him and his queen Philippa of Hainault humiliatingly short of money, and put spies in his household. The Brut chronicle says that by the late 1320s 'the community of England began to hate Isabel the queen', other chroniclers point out how she and Mortimer destroyed the kingdom, and their downfall in October 1330 when Mortimer was arrested, tried and hanged by the teenage king was greeted with universal joy and relief. Isabella was kept under house arrest for a while, but otherwise treated with respect by her son for the rest of her life, which was an entirely conventional one. She was not sent to a nunnery, or imprisoned, and did not go mad. She died at Hertford Castle on 22 August 1358 at the age of sixty-two or sixty-three and was buried at the Greyfriars church in London, not next to Roger Mortimer, as is still often claimed today - he was buried in Coventry - but with her husband Edward II's heart (not Mortimer's, as is also sometimes stated these days) and the mantle she had worn to their wedding. Some modern writers assume that Isabella continued to love Roger Mortimer for the rest of her life, and barely gave her husband a second thought. I have no idea one way or the other, but little in the evidence we have bears this out. I do think that Isabella was a woman with a strong sense of her royalty and high position, and her marriage to Edward had made her a queen. And as I've pointed out elsewhere in this post, although Isabella didn't meet Edward until she was twelve, she had known of his existence as her future husband for her entire life. To suggest that she never gave her husband, the father of her children, the man who had put a crown on her head, another thought after 1327 seems utterly ridiculous to me.

In the past, Isabella was unfairly condemned by many writers as a 'She-Wolf' (a nickname first given to her in a 1757 poem, and still, annoyingly, sometimes used even today) and condemned as wicked and unnatural by writers incensed that a woman could commit adultery and rebel against her lawfully wedded spouse. In recent decades her reputation has been re-examined, however, and in the many novels and non-fictional works about her she is more often portrayed as a long-suffering, put-upon victim of her cruel neglectful husband who is miraculously transformed into an empowered feminist icon, striking a courageous blow for women everywhere by fighting back against marital oppression and finding an opportunity for self-fulfilment by taking a 'strong, manly, virile, unequivocally heterosexual' lover. The 'She-Wolf' nonsense is ridiculous, but perhaps the pendulum has been swinging too far in the other direction lately. Depictions of Isabella reflect the way society currently views women who step outside the bounds of conventional behaviour rather than the real woman, who was neither a modern feminist and believer in sexual equality transplanted to the Middle Ages, nor an evil unfeminine caricature. Like her husband, Isabella was a complex character with qualities both admirable and not. Avaricious and extravagant to a degree extraordinary even by the standards of the time, she nevertheless had many fine qualities, including compassion, loyalty, generosity, piety and courage. The contemporary chronicler Godefroy of Paris claimed that she was "very wise", and although for sure Isabella was an intelligent person, most of her actions during her regency of 1327 to 1330, the only period in her life when she had much of a chance to act independently, hardly seem to demonstrate wisdom.

There is a tendency in modern writing to excuse, minimise and justify (or preferably ignore altogether) Isabella's less pleasant actions by blaming them on the convenient scapegoat Roger Mortimer and her infatuation with him, which I find patronising and paternalistic. Edward II's many errors and flaws are not excused on the grounds of his infatuation with Piers Gaveston and Hugh Despenser; Roger Mortimer's own errors and flaws are not excused on the grounds of infatuation with Isabella. If Isabella is to be praised for her courage and intelligence and assumed to have been acting under her own agency when doing things modern writers approve of, she must be held equally responsible for the actions they don't like, in the same way as men generally are. Isabella was, in many ways, a remarkable person, who would probably not recognise herself in the frequently mawkish, inaccurate tales invented and related about her in modern times, such as having her children 'removed' from her, being 'abandoned' by her husband when pregnant in 1312 and having to see her husband's lover parade around in front of her wearing her own jewels. I truly hope that one day we see a more accurate, scholarly re-telling of her life which puts these tiresome myths to rest rather than perpetuating them, and examines Isabella and her life and actions fairly without whitewashing or blackwashing either her or Edward II. Re-writing Isabella's life to cast her as either a helpless victim of nasty men or as an evil manipulative bitch is simplistic, inaccurate and unhelpful. Isabella and Edward were both complex, fascinating people and their marriage was equally complex, and too much modern writing about them reduces them both to the level of one-dimensional, tedious caricatures.


Sami Parkkonen said...

I think so many modern writers and commentators conviniently forget what royalty was back in those days. It was not an occupation or relic from days gone by. It was not a hobby or choice. It was a mandate from God, directly.

That must have influenced greatly to the actions of all royals including Isabella. I think this also partly explains why Edward II was not killed.

I think that, along side the fact that she had to face her son later on and explain what she had done to the King of England, her husband and his father, she also propably did not want to kill a man who was chosen by God to his position.

And I also happen to believe that despite of everything that had happened, she always had feelings for Edward II. If nothing else, then as a father of her children.

As a father myself and divorcee, I know that despite everything that happened between me and my ex, she always remained and will always be the mother of my child. She always said the same: you will always be the father of our child.

Not a small thing for a man like me and the main reason why we overcame our personal differences and why we managed to take care of our child and duties as parents.

I can only assume that Isabella felt that too: this man is the father of my childrens, despite of everything. And with all the other considerations, that sealed the faith of Edward II, whom she could have killed right off. There would not have been any one for the opposition to gather around, no conspiracies to free him, no need for paranoia etc.

But she was a queen, a royal, and a mother and this was his king, ousted and prisoned perhaps but still a royal with a mandate from God, and most of all: this was the father of her children.

Anonymous said...

Great article. I wonder where the idea that Isabella loathed Gaveston came from; during his term as favorite (as well as after his death), Isabella backed Edward (and him) as best she could as against Lancaster, et. al. I also doubt that her relationship with Mortimer was true love or passion; she had absolute power with him for three years, and I would expect there would be some sign of a strong personal relationship (sort of like Elizabeth I tickling Robert Dudley's neck when creating him an earl). IMO, if Edward blocked Despenser from treating her as an enemy alien, the rebellion need not have happened.

Also, was there any talk about Isabella being involved with the death of Edward II during her lifetime? If so -- and if Edward II wasn't trying to become king again -- why wouldn't Edward III make public his survival. If "William the Welshman" was Edward II, as some have suggested, I would think that Edward III would want to bring him to England to show he was alive; he was claiming the French crown through Isabella, so clearing her name would make his claim look better, and, a speech by Edward II renouncing the crown again in favor of serving G-d and giving his blessing to his son would have given Edward III's reign a public relations boost. (I don't think the invasion put an intolerable strain on the father son bond between Edwards II and III; Edward III refused the throne unless his father consented; Edward II abdicated to secure the throne for Edward III, as opposed to offering to abdicate in favor of John only, as he might have done.


Kathryn Warner said...

Sami and Esther, many thanks for your excellent and insightful comments! Much appreciated.

Anerje said...

I'm afraid I still think if Isabella as more 'she-wolf' (however annoying the title is) than victim. In many ways, she was a strong woman in that she took control of her destiny and to ensure her survival, which was put at risk more through her brother and the war between France and England. She must surely have been aware of the relationship between Edward II and Piers - her father would have made her aware of court politics despite her age. I'm so tired of reading how Isabella was shocked/devastated to find her 'handsome' prince preferred his favourite to her etc. And it's always reinforced how beautiful she was - as if Edward should have been 'converted'. Terribly tedious. Being only 12, I'm sure her father would have insisted no physical relationship would take place until her body had matured and she was ready.

Gabriele Campbell said...

Good to see that essay on your blog. It's a pity Sarah chose to go private with her blogs; I miss them.

Sami Parkkonen said...

"why wouldn't Edward III make public his survival. If "William the Welshman" was Edward II, as some have suggested, I would think that Edward III would want to bring him to England to show he was alive; he was claiming the French crown through Isabella, so clearing her name would make his claim look better, and, a speech by Edward II renouncing the crown again in favor of serving G-d and giving his blessing to his son would have given Edward III's reign a public relations boost."

The problem was that Edward III himself had decleared his father as being dead because the Berkely letter. There was no way he could come back few years later and bring his dead father back from the dead and just say: Gotcha!

No, Edward III was stuck. Not only he could not be sure how some noble men around him would react on such news but also he knew that bringing the old king back from the dead would create all sorts of legal problems from parliamentar desicions to any of his orders which would have to be called back since he had given them as a king etc.

I think William The Welshman and his introduction to Edward III's family etc. told everyone what was going on without going public and officially declare the thing.

I also assume that Edward II was never happy as a king. I think he felt just fine being free from that burden, he could live pretty much in peace in Italy and do things he never was able to do as a king. Perhaps he dug some ditches, planted his own vegetable garden, swam more often etc.

No, I think Edward III was stuck with what he had said as a teenager all those years ago. I also think that Isabella sighed from relief when things went the way they did.

And hers a thought for all you die hard romantics:

We do not know much of the quiet life of Isabella after his son took over. We know less about this William of Wales/Welshman. What if they met? After all, Isabella was out from the limelight and nobody knew who the heck William des Galles was.

Maybe one warm august evening there was a visitor. Isabella let him see her and BANG knew immeadiately who he was.

Perhaps they strolled on garden for a while, just two of them, and talked things over. Just two much older grown ups clearing things from between themselves, perhaps coming to agreement that maybe this was best for all of them. They all survived after all, Edward, Isabella and their son.

Maybe, they perhaps said to each other, this was Gods will. And just maybe, maybe he looked at her and told her how pretty she still was and she called him Dear Heart and Husband.

Oh well, just a thought...

Sonetka said...

Her continuing to send Edward gifts is interesting, but I'm not sure it would indicate that she was still really in his corner emotionally -- couldn't she have been either trying to make him think she was (so that he would be more pliable) or hedging her bets? There was a real chance that he could be rescued and restored to the throne, and where would she be then if she had made it undeniably clear that she was his enemy?

Kathryn Warner said...

Edward was in prison and no longer king in 1327, so Isabella had no need to make him pliable, as he'd already abdicated. I really doubt she was hoping to keep him on side in case anyone restored him to the throne, because she must have known that he'd never forgive her for her actions. Sometimes, I think the correct explanation is the simplest one.

Anonymous said...

Re: Sami's comments on why Edward III couldn't go public ... on the assumption that Edward II wanted to serve G-d, not be king -- and was ready to repeat his abdication, renouncing the crown, what sort of problems do you think could arise with Parliament? Couldn't Edward II say that he approved of all Edward III had done to deal with any problems created by the terms of his first abdication? Serving G-d is a respectable occupation for an ex monarch (Charles V, Holy Roman Emperor, for example), so the second renunciation should be OK.
Also, why do you think Edward III be stuck because of his letter announcing Edward II's death? Wouldn't he appear more concerned with justice if he said that he believed the letter at the time, but wanted to investigate after Berkeley's statement before Parliament, rather than punish him immediately for a crime that did not occur? I would think his unexplained failure to punish the people in charge when Edward II was allegedly killed risked being taken as weakness; a claimed need to investigate can be passed off as a desire to do justice. This isn't like the case against Mortimer, where his plot against the Earl of Kent warranted the death penalty, even assuming that he didn't kill Edward II.


Sami Parkkonen said...

Dear Esther,
Edward III was stuck because it had been years after the letter. He had been acting as a king, had taken his land to war, had made laws, given orders and judgements. If it turned out that his father had not been dead all this time, then Edward III had not been a king according to the law of that time, which would have meant that all his laws, orders, wars and desicions had been lawless and invalid.

There is also the political situation: war with Scotland and France and others, not wholly stable realm yet. Had it turned out that Edward II was not dead, that would have meant that Edward III had been an impostor all this time. How the people would have reacted? What the pope and church would have said? What about his allies in Flanders etc.?

As for Edward II, I simply think he was never comfortable with his position as a king. He never got it under control, he seemed to behave at times not as a medieval king, he made desicions based on emotions more than once etc. I think the whole situation suited for just fine and I believe he would never had come out, even if his son would have suggested something like it.

Coming Out would have propablhy spelled the end for both Edwards, I must say.

Anonymous said...


Edward III became king because of Edward II's deposition/forced abdication (that it was forced doesn't alter its form), not his death; IIRC, Edward III even had his coronation before the alleged "murder". I'm afraid I still can't see how Edward II not being dead would affect the laws or anything. Wouldn't Edward III's laws have the same effect that those laws passed between Edward II's deposition and his alleged murder would have had (at least, as much effect as those laws would have had if not affected by the later deposition of Isabella and Mortimer)?


Sami Parkkonen said...

Well I'm not an expert on medieval law but I assume that any deal Edward III made with the Holy Roman Empire, him being crowned as the next emperor etc. for example, would have been seriously affected. Also any deals he made with church would have been reconsidered and revoked. Perhaps some laws and desicions at home could have survived but I doubt that none made abroad.

It is possible that your scenario could have been done but then there are also the barons. How they would have reacted? I doubt that they would have been very happy.

And also, why would Edward III give up his crown? He was the king now. And by the time he met his father again and was confirmed that he was indeed alive, it had been years since his official death. Was it ten years or something like that?

I do not believe that Edward III was a kind of guy who would have given up his crown to any one once he got rid of Mortimer and put his mother under his will.

Also, would the parliament have accepted the return of the old king? I doubt it very much indeed.

Jerry Bennett said...

Hi Kathryn,

I wonder if the differences between Isabella and Edward were down to politics rather than a cooling of personal affection? She was the daughter of Philip the Fair, the most powerful king in Europe, and must have been quietly appalled at the chaos in England.

Their relationship started to sour in 1322, a year which started well but went rapidly downhill as far as both their lives were concerned. The victory over the contrariants, preceded the great raid by the Scots, a fiasco of an attack by the English, and finally the Scots invading again, almost capturing Edward at Rievaulx and forcing Isabella's frantic flight from Tynemouth. The Scots had the run of all of England north of the Humber, a state of affairs that must have affected Isabella gravely when she compared that to her father's rule.

She appears to have taken some initiative in January 1322, writing personally to Simon Warde and Andrew Harclay to ask them to halt Lancaster's retreat to Scotland. Was this driven by Edward's earlier reply to Harclay in December to say that he could not do anything about Scotland, even though the truce was about to end? Was Isabella trying to take a more active role in governing England, despairing of her husband's abilities? If so, it would have brought her into direct competition with the Despensers.

I still cannot understand how the Tynemouth situation arose later in 1322. It would have been a good base for Isabella while Edward was leading the invasion of Scotland, but surely not once he had returned? Edward's actions at that time appear little short of inexplicable. Summoning fresh troops to Barnard Castle would make sense if he felt he might have to fight the Scots on either side of the Pennines. But then retreating up onto the Cleveland hills... what was he thinking? Who advised him to act that way?

Andrew Harclay had given him an object lesson at Boroughbridge on how to stop a larger army in its tracks using archers and dismounted hobelars, and archers were Edward's great advantage over Robert Bruce. Why retreat onto the North York Moors which would be much more suitable ground for the Scots? Once Isabella had reached safety and heard the details of what had occurred, she must have been truly appalled.

Did she try to have any influence over the peace treaty of 1323, and if so, what influence? She must have known it was necessary after the previous year, but how much was she consulted, if at all? And once the war with France had begun, she must have been truly in despair.

It is not impossible, at least for me, to imagine she still wanted to rule England as Edward's queen, but found herself thwarted by the Despensers primarily, but also by other major barons still close to the Despensers like Arundel, or by the young earl of Kent as well as by the more powerful bishops. Was it political frustration as much as anything that led her to stay in France in 1325, and finally consider invading one year later? It would partly explain why she continued to feel affection for Edward, even after he had abdicated.

Did she have any say in his supposed murder? I can imagine her being heavily set against the latter action if it was ever proposed. As the daughter of a king as well as being a queen herself, she must have believed that the king ruled by God's decree. If Edward was murdered, what could happen to her if her fortunes changed?

Finally, was William the Welshman the aged King Edward? My own suspicion is that he was not, but it may have been someone who knew what had really happened to Edward. If he brought news of Edward dying peacefully in an Italian monastery, or something similar, it would have eased the mind, and possibly the conscience, of Edward III. He was by all accounts treated well, and both Edwards had a reputation for generosity to those who brought them good news.

Sami Parkkonen said...

Good points, Jerry.

How ever, about the said William:

He claimed he was the father of the king. Anyone who made a statement like that and was not, was done at once. Period. No ambiguity of the kings father was allowed to stand. The king had inherited his crown from his father, one way or the other, and if some guy walks up and says "I am the real father of the king" and is not, well... Lets just say he would have gone straight to gallows at least.

I think that is one of the strongest points about the real identity of William the Welshman. How could anyone say something like that and live? And why would the king entertain anyone who said that? Why would king introduce this man to his immeadiate family and children if he was just someone who happened to come up and claim that he is the father of the king?

Well, we do not know who he was for sure but I suspect he was who he said he was.

MRats said...

A splendid post, as always, Kathryn.

First allow me to state that I believe in the theory that Edward escaped and survived based upon a sound and unimpeachable fact: I want to.

But, going farther back, I think I may know how the idea came about that Edward neglected Isabella.

Kathryn, I e-mailed you my thoughts on the source I'm about to mention, so you know I'm not stating it as fact. But a few decades ago, there weren't many widely circulated books about Edward's life. When I was young, there were only two that could be found in the public library. One was Harold Hutchison's "Edward II", which is a sympathetic, though not always accurate, biography. The other was Thomas Costain's "The Three Edwards".

In a chapter entitled, "The Marriage of Edward" Costain writes, "Queen Isabella wrote to her father, 'I am the most wretched of wives.' Once she wrote that Piers de Gaveston was the cause of all her troubles, adding that the king had become 'an entire stranger to my bed.'"

For a long time, outside of university libraries, one couldn't find many references to Edward other than Costain, which might explain how the idea that Edward neglected Isabella became so popular. But that's only a guess and not an attempt to unjustly accuse the author of perpetuating a myth.

It's my personal belief that Edward was a kind and attentive husband to his child bride, even though Piers remained first in his heart. There is even strong evidence that Edward and Isabella became passionate toward one another later on. That's rare for a royal marriage, even between two people renowned for their physical attraction.

But what confuses me is the quotation marks that Costain puts around Isabella's alleged statements to her father. Kathryn, do such letters actually exist?

Kathryn Warner said...

I'm almost certain (though will have to go and check!) that Isabella's letter calling herself 'the most wretched of wives' was invented by the chronicler Thomas Walsingham, who died in 1422 (not 1322!). It's not a primary source, it's an invention by a man living nearly a century later. Offhand, I don't think any of Isabella's letters to her father still survive.

Kathryn Warner said...

And many thanks to everyone here for all the fascinating comments! I thoroughly enjoyed reading them, and they really made me think.

Anerje said...

Thomas Costain's "The Three Edwards" - that was my university 'textbook'!

Katherine Longhi said...

Wow! As a Tudor-file I seldom go back before the Plantagenets. So glad I came across this post on Edward II and Isabella. Sounds like the stuff of Hollywood. Surely someone's done a movie on this?

Kathryn Warner said...

Thanks, Katherine, glad you found the post! The only film featuring Edward and Isabella is Braveheart, and they're totally unrecogisable as themselves in it (for one thing, Isabella never met her father-in-law Edward I).

Chris Klein said...

Hi Kathryn -

I came across your Edward II blog as one of my interests (hobby, chemist by profession, but armchair historian) is Robert the Bruce, whom I find a fascinating and compelling character.

This particular post into the nature of the relationship between Isabella and Edward II I found to be much like the other posts I read this evening - intelligent, compelling, practical, and refreshingly fact-based, which certainly appeals to my scientific training.

I think it is extremely important people realize Edward II and Isabella were complex and intelligent people who likely developed a complex and evolving relationship, and experience much of the same emotions we all feel at different junctions of our marriages. My relationship with my wife of 22 years is far different than when we met 26 years ago. We only rule three grown boys on a vast 1/2 acre plot in the rural kingdom of upstate New York where our struggles include keeping the Royal lawnmower running and fighting off the onslaught of chipmunks, rabbits and deer into the Royal vegetable garden. The complications and complexities of their lives are almost overwhelming to imagine. I read something today (perhaps in one of your other posts?) where the author commented how we like to romanticize kings and queen of long ago when, in fact, their lives were often very difficult, often tragic and in many cases, quite short.

Keep up the good work and I look forward to continuing to peruse your informative writing!

Thank you,


Ariadne said...

I find it very important to be source-critical about everything and i'm very glad to have discovered this website (there is so much shit in the internet these days).
What I think is the most irritating is that people seem to see historical personalities as either "good" or "bad" and think they can't develop into anything else. You're absolutely right, twenty years of marriage often begin one way and end as something entirely different. That so few people realize that is really odd.
I just found this blog and i will certainly be around much longer:)
Only one thing: In my opinion (i'm of course not such an expert as you on the facts) a sexual relationship between Isabella and Mortimer IS likely. I don't believe that madly-in-love-thing either, but judged merely out of psychological view it could've happened...Perhaps it was something between the two extremes, as it often is.
Beautiful website! Dankeschön!
(I hope my english is okay)

Anonymous said...

Thank you for the wonderful information you provide. Using the ancestry site we have been able to trace our family back to Edward I thus far. I am curious to learn how far back we will be able to trace, but it has been an interesting journey. It is incredible to be able to trace our family ties, and my children have discovered a love of history.

I can not wait to share this information with them.