Capetian Women pp 225-252 | Cite as

Isabelle of France and Her Manuscripts, 1308–58

  • Anne Rudloff Stanton
Part of the The New Middle Ages book series (TNMA)


Isabelle of France has been remembered primarily for her role in the deposition and murder of her husband, King Edward II, and is thus one of the more notorious medieval queens. It is true that in 1326 she and her lover Roger Mortimer invaded England and raised support to depose the king, and that she may have colluded in her husband’s murder. She then ruled in the name of her son Edward III, until the young king was able to take control of the throne in 1 330 and force his mother to retire from public life, when she was all of thirty-five years old. Although she lived a conventional life for nearly three more decades, subsequent histories and fictional accounts have locked her into the romantic imagination as a creature of passion. Who could forget poet Thomas Gray’s characterization of her as “the she-wolf of France”?1 Popular historical fictions of the twentieth century often have portrayed Isabelle sympathetically, although again she is usually a passionate, romantic character; perhaps the queen, with her apparent love of French romances, might not have felt these stories to be so off the mark.2 Nevertheless, scholarly evaluations of Isabelle’s character remind us that she could only have been called a “she-wolf” for that short period when she rebelled against her husband, and then ruled.As historian Hilda Johnstone wrote in 1936, “Surely we need not fix our whole and sole attention upon the grisly spectacle of the wolf tearing its prey.”3 During the balance of Isabelle’s long life as queen consort and queen dowager her actions better suited the customary and legal roles defined for her, and indeed contemporary chroniclers were more likely to approach Isabelle, la noble et sage dame Ysabiau, as very nearly the model of a good queen.4


Documentary Evidence British Library English Court Historiated Initial Great Famine 
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  1. 4.
    Suzanne Lewis, “The Apocalypse of Isabella of France: Paris, Bibl. Nat. MS Fr. 13096,” Art Bulletin 72 (1990): 224–60; see especially lines from the Chronique métrique, cited on p. 225, n. 8, extolling Isabelle’s virtues.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  2. 7.
    Paul C. Doherty, “The Date of Birth of Isabella, Queen of England 1308–1330,” Bulletin of the Institute of Historical Research 48 (1975): 246–48, and “Isabella, Queen of England, 1296–1330” (D. Phil. thesis, Oxford University, 1977), pp. 6–27.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  3. 8.
    Elizabeth A.R. Brown, “The Political Repercussions of Family Ties in the Early Fourteenth Century: The Marriage of Edward II and Isabelle of France,” Speculum 63 (1988): 573–95.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  4. 10.
    J.R. Maddicott, Thomas of Lancaster 1307–1322: A Study in the Reign of Edward II (London: Oxford University Press, 1970) pp. 110–12, and J.C. Davies, The Baronial Opposition to Edward II (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1918). Edward’s biography is published as Vita Edwardi Secundi: The Life of Edward the Second by the So-called Monk of Malmesbury, ed. and trans. Nigel Denholm-Young ( London: Thomas Nelson, 1957 ).Google Scholar
  5. 14.
    Richard F. Green, Poets and Princepleasers: Literature and the English Court in the Later Middle Ages ( Toronto: University of Toronto Press, 1980 ), p. 93.Google Scholar
  6. 35.
    T.A. Sandquist, “The Holy Oil of St. Thomas of Canterbury,” in Essays in Medieval History Presented to Bertie Wilkinson, ed. T.A. Sandquist and M.R. Powicke (Toronto: University of Toronto Press, 1969), pp. 334–35 [330–44].Google Scholar
  7. 62.
    Lucy Freeman Sandler, “A Pucelle Follower in England,” Art Bulletin 52 (1970):371 [363–72].CrossRefGoogle Scholar

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© Kathleen Nolan 2003

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  • Anne Rudloff Stanton

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