Queen Isabella by Alison Weir

queen-isabellaIsabella arrived in London in 1308, the spirited twelve-year-old daughter of King Philip IV of France. Her marriage to the heir to England’s throne was designed to heal ld political wounds between the two countries, and in the years that followed she became an important figure, a determined and clever women whose influence would come to last centuries. But Queen Isabella’s political machinations led generations of historians to malign her, earning her a reputation as a ruthless schemer and an odious nickname, “the She-Wolf of France.”

Praised for her fair looks, he newly wed Isabella was denied the attentions of Edward II, a weak, sexually ambiguous monarch with scant taste for his royal duties. As their marriage progressed, Isabella was neglected by her dissolute husband and slighted by his favored male couriers. Humiliated and deprived of her income, her children, and her liberty, Isabella escaped to France, where she entered into a passionate affair with Edward II’s moral enemy, Roger Mortimer. Together, Isabella and Mortimer led the only successful invasion of English soul since the Norman Conquest of 1066, deposing of Edward and ruling in his stead as co-regents for Isabella’s young son, Edward III. Fate, however, was soon to catch up with Isabella and her lover.

Many mysteries and legends have been woven around Isabella’s story. She was long condemned as an accessory to Edward II’s brutal murder in 1327, but recent research has cast doubt on whether that murder even took place. Isabella’s reputation, then, rests largely on the prejudices of monkish chroniclers and prudish Victoria scholars. Here, Alison Weir gives a startling, groundbreaking new perspective on Isabella, in this first full biography in more than 150 years. In a work of extraordinary original research, Weir effectively strips away centuries of propaganda, legend, and romantic myth, and reveals a truly remarkable woman who had a profound influence upon the age in which she lived and the history of western Europe.

The aim of Queen Isabella is to restore “the She-Wolf of France’s” reputation. Weir states in the prologue that she began her research into Isabella’s life prepared to not like her, but that she was pleasantly surprised as she came to admire her. I knew nothing about Isabella and very little about the time period she lived in, so I began this biography without that prejudice. I chose Queen Isabella because I usually enjoy Weir’s biographies. Her research is always meticulous, and Queen Isabella upholds that standard.

The author largely succeeds in establishing Isabella as a strong individual who acted only to protect herself and her children. However, her portrayal is weakened after Isabella becomes greedy almost bankrupts the English because of her appropriation of English resources for herself and her lover, Mortimer.

“History has been unkind to Isabella. For centuries, she has been condemned, mostly by male historians, for her adultery, her violation of marital conventions, her cruelty, her misgovernment, and her connivance in a murder that probably never took place. She is the femme fatale of the English monarchy. Yet Isabella is deserving of great pity for the impossible situation in which she found herself and also of admiration for the way in which she dealt with it.” (pg. 387)

Her theory that Edward II escaped from his imprisonment — thereby avoiding the hot poker up the bum — would almost be implausible coming from anyone else, but Weir backs up her theory with facts dug up from documents. She connects dots I don’t see, but her evidence is very persuasive and while Isabella’s involvement may have been suspected by her own son, but Weir’s logical conclusion helps proves the Queen and Mortimer did not conspire to kill the king.

However, around the third part of Queen Isabella, Weir slips out of her own wonderful writing style into a series of “Lancaster did this” and “then Mortimer did this. A very interesting read about a very interesting person and a great way to delve into England’s medieval history.

Others’ Thoughts:

Book Mentioned:

  • Weir, Alison. Queen Isabella: Treachery, Adultery, and Murder in Medieval England. New York: Ballantine Books, 2005. Print. 482 pgs. ISBN: 0345453190. Source: Library.
Book Cover © Ballantine Books. Retrieved: January 25, 2009.
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