Isabella-art - 2/18/98
"Isabella, the She-Wolf of France" by Jan van Seist. (humor)
This article was submitted to me by the author for inclusion in this set
of files, called StefanŐs Florilegium.
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Copyright to the contents of this file remains with the author.
While the author will likely give permission for this work to be
reprinted in SCA type publications, please check with the author first
or check for any permissions granted at the end of this file.
Mark S. Harris
AKA: Stefan li Rous
stefan at florilegium.org
[NOTE - originally written for Storm Tidings, the newsletter of the Shire of Adamastor (Cape Town) in the Kingdom of Drakenwald]
Isabella, the She-Wolf of France.
by Jan van Seist
History lessons place little emphasis on dates in these mundane times, partly because they are often irrelevant, but mostly because they are rather tedious. This is a pity as a passing knowledge of William Wallace's chronology might have helped the director of the recent popular film, Braveheart. The Wallace's somewhat extreme appendectomy took place in 1305. The film's love interest, Isabella, was born in 1296 and did not arrive in Britain until 1308. By all accounts, Isabella was a precocious child but I doubt that she was quite as precocious as the film would suggest.
Leaving aside this petty pedantry, Isabella is one of the more interesting ladies of our period. Eleanor of Aquitane may have been more influential and Elizabeth of England more powerful but Isabella certainly gave mediaeval life her best shot. She was the daughter of King Phillip IV of France (a.k.a. Phillip the Fair) and was married at the tender age of 12 to the recently crowned King Edward II of England. Phillip gave her a large quantity of jewellery as a wedding present and the revenues of two French counties for pocket money. Isabella was rather distressed when, on her arrival in England, Edward gave most of her wedding jewellery to his (ahem) favourite, Piers Gaveston. Piers was definitely not Isabella's favourite and, together with a number of the senior barons, she prevailed upon Edward to banish him.
Unfortunately for Piers, Edward changed his mind. He not only recalled him but gave him effective command of the English army. Some of Isabella's friends (the Earls of Pembroke & Surrey) showed what they thought of that idea by capturing Piers and making him sit down very hard on a large sharp pole. Edward was not very happy about this. However, Piers had stirred up the Scots before being rudely relieved of his command and the prospect of a good war helped reconcile the king and his barons. So, in 1314, Edward & co. rode north to teach the Scots a lesson. The campaign did not go entirely Edward's way* and, after his somewhat hasty return to England, he choose to console himself with two favourites, a father and son combination called Hugh le Despenser.
The Despensers became the effective rulers of England but were eventually expelled by an army led by three barons, two called Roger Mortimer and one not. Isabella was naturally grateful to the barons and it was widely rumoured that she was rogering the younger Mortimer. At this point, Edward decided that the Despensers were inDespensible. He recalled them and Roger Mortimer recalled pressing duties elsewhere. Isabella was left to face the music.
Some years earlier, Isabella had inherited a vast amount of property making her the richest woman in England. On their return, the Despensers promptly accused her of treason and seized her estates, thus making themselves the richest favourites in England and permanently removing their names from Isabella's Christmas card list. The following year, a less than impressed Isabella managed to persuade Edward to send her to France to help solve the Gascony question. Isabella's answer to the question appears to have been: team up with Mortimer, invade England and put the Despensers to death. It is unlikely that this was Edward's preferred answer but it was certainly emphatic.
After seizing power, Isabella and Mortimer had Edward II declared officially incompetent, Isabella's son declared king and themselves named as regents. Shortly thereafter, Edward II was found impaled on a large stake in suspicious circumstances but, as no one was brave enough to suspect the culprits, no charges were laid.
The two regents ruled England for almost four years and it was during this period that their happy and contented subjects gave Isabella her charming pet name. Their reign would undoubtedly have been longer but for the impatience of the young king. King Edward III, who by this stage was happily married to Phillipa of Hainault and the proud father of a black prince, decided he was old enough to be king in his own right. In one of the world's most sucessful teenage rebellions, he used a secret underground passageway to sneak into Nottingham castle at night and captured Mortimer. Edward promptly declared the regency (and Mortimer) at an end.
Edward encouraged Isabella to retire from public life but, as he allowed her to retain the revenues from her various estates, she was able to live relatively comfortably in the country. When she eventually grew tired of being incredibly wealthy, she joined a religious order, the Poor Clares, and retired to an abbey where she died peacefully of old age in 1358.
* Bannockburn, Battle of,
Edward II had replaced Edward I in the war with Scotland during the half time interval. In the first half, the Wallace had put the Scots in front at Stirling but Edward I's equaliser at Falkirk and the suspension of the Wallace had swung the war England's way. As Edward II had started his reign as the recognised ruler of Scotland, all he really had to do was play for a draw. Despite this, both Scotland and England kept up the aggression in the second half and, in 1314, Robert the Bruce sliced through the English defence at Bannockburn to win the war for Scotland and give the Scots independence up until the end of history in 1600.**
** The SCA is an ideal home for Scottish nationalists as the more embarrassing events of Scots history (its attempt to colonise South America, its subsequent bankruptcy and the sale of Scotland to England) occurred in the 17th Century and, therefore, didn't happen.
Copyright 1997 by Dr. I.G. van Tets. <ivantets at bgumail.bgu.ac.il>
Mitrani Dept. of Desert Ecology
Blaustein Institute for Desert Research
Permission is granted for republication in SCA-related publications,
provided the author is credited and receives a copy.
If this article is reprinted in a publication, I would appreciate a notice in
the publication that you found this article in the Florilegium. I would also
appreciate an email to myself, so that I can track which articles are being
reprinted. Thanks. -Stefan.