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In this vibrant biography, acclaimed author Alison Weir reexamines the life of Isabella of England, one of history’s most notorious and charismatic queens. Isabella 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 old political wounds between the two countries, an In this vibrant biography, acclaimed author Alison Weir reexamines the life of Isabella of England, one of history’s most notorious and charismatic queens. Isabella 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 old political wounds between the two countries, and in the years that followed she became an important figure, a determined and clever woman whose influence would come to last centuries. Many myths and legends have been woven around Isabella’s story, but in this first full biography in more than 150 years, Alison Weir gives a groundbreaking new perspective.


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In this vibrant biography, acclaimed author Alison Weir reexamines the life of Isabella of England, one of history’s most notorious and charismatic queens. Isabella 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 old political wounds between the two countries, an In this vibrant biography, acclaimed author Alison Weir reexamines the life of Isabella of England, one of history’s most notorious and charismatic queens. Isabella 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 old political wounds between the two countries, and in the years that followed she became an important figure, a determined and clever woman whose influence would come to last centuries. Many myths and legends have been woven around Isabella’s story, but in this first full biography in more than 150 years, Alison Weir gives a groundbreaking new perspective.

30 review for Queen Isabella: Treachery, Adultery, and Murder in Medieval England

  1. 4 out of 5

    Chrissie

    Is this primarily a book of history or biography? History is the answer. There is not enough reliable information to draw conclusions about Isabella's personality. Diaries and many personal letters do not exist. We can learn about what Isabella has done, but we can only make reasonably good guesses regarding her motivations, wishes and feelings. Her thoughts can only be guessed at. There exist widely divergent views of Isabella. What you will be told depends upon whom you ask and when they were Is this primarily a book of history or biography? History is the answer. There is not enough reliable information to draw conclusions about Isabella's personality. Diaries and many personal letters do not exist. We can learn about what Isabella has done, but we can only make reasonably good guesses regarding her motivations, wishes and feelings. Her thoughts can only be guessed at. There exist widely divergent views of Isabella. What you will be told depends upon whom you ask and when they were asked. Clearly, the author is knowledgeable and her research is thorough, but on closing the book I am dissatisfied; after reading all these pages I still don't really have a grip on what made this woman tick. I have learned a lot, so I’ll have to be satisfied with that. My three-star rating is not a criticism of the author, it is merely my personal reaction to the book. Isabella (1295 – 1358) was born in France. Her father was King Philip IV, her mother Joan I of Navarre. She arrived in England at the age of twelve, only to discover that her husband, Edward II, was homosexual and infatuated not with her but with Piers Gaveston. That was just the beginning of her troubles. The Despensers, the Elder and particularly the Younger, followed. In 1325 her marriage with Edward was crumbling, as were the relations between France and England. She travelled to France to mediate. Once there, she began a relationship with Roger Mortimer, and the two planned to depose Edward and the Despensers. Well, she was mad and she was jealous, but there were also sound reasons for why Edward should be deposed. There is no denying her actions were traitorous! Isabella has come to be known as the “She-Wolf” of France. Is this warranted? In the book’s introduction, Alison Weir states that her intention of the book is to rehabilitate Isabella. She feels how we have come to see her is unwarranted. Such an attitude doesn’t promote a balanced exposition of the facts. She does reveal both positive and negative attributes, but her overall premise is too dominant. Sometimes I found myself questioning the conclusions drawn. The author refers to previous sources, claiming that their views had been wrong. Too often, too little explanation is given. Not being an expert myself, I was left unconvinced and unsure of whose version to believe. I see Isabella as both intelligent and manipulative. Skilled in the art off diplomacy and covetous of wealth and power. That she was considered shamelessly adulterous is both true and a judgment of her time. Today we are much more lenient on such matters. Whether it is correct to denounce her for murder and regicide is hard to determine from today’s vantage point and with 100% accuracy. There are so many details in this book. For an ordinary reader it gets a bit heavy. The author goes on and on and on for pages and pages to make her point clear…….and even then I still was not always convinced. One example is her strong belief that Edward II was not murdered, that he instead escaped from prison. That with tine, even his son seemed to draw this conclusion is only somewhat convincing. I remain unsure. I listened to the audiobook narrated by Lisette Lecat. I have given the narration four stars. She reads clearly and slowly, giving you time to absorb the immense amount of information provided and time to jot down notes. She pronounces English and French accurately. As pointed out, this is basically a book of history. The people referred to are many. Beside Isabella, the following are the most important. I have put the links here for easy reference: Piers Gaveston (1284-1315) https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Piers_G... Thomas, 2nd Earl of Lancaster (1278-1322) https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Thomas,... Henry, 3rd Earl of Lancaster (1281-1345) https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Henry,_... Despenser the Younger (1286-1326) https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Hugh_De... Despenser the Elder (1261-1326) https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Hugh_le... Th Despenser War 1321-1322 https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Despens... Edward I (1239 – 1307) https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Edward_... Edward II (1284-1327) https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Edward_... Edward III (1312-1377) https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Edward_... Roger Mortimer (1287-1330) https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Roger_M... William, Ist Count of Hainault (1286-1337) https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/William... Philippa of Hainault (1314-1369) https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Philipp... Robert Bruce (1274 – 1329) https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Robert_... This is not my favorite by Alison Weir. I do not recommend the author’s books of fiction, but I do recommend these: The Life of Elizabeth I 4 stars The Six Wives of Henry VIII 4 stars The first is my favorite because I really got to know Elizabeth as a person, not just as a queen.

  2. 5 out of 5

    Roman Clodia

    This is undoubtedly well-researched but in typical fashion, Weir sets out to recuperate her subject and to read her through sympathetic modern eyes. I agree that Isabella is fascinating, but to whitewash her as an innocent victim of first a 'gay' husband who didn't love her, and second a dominant, rash, greedy and self-serving lover doesn't do her any favours. Mortimer might well have been all these things and more, but Isabella, daughter and sister to three kings of France, queen of England and This is undoubtedly well-researched but in typical fashion, Weir sets out to recuperate her subject and to read her through sympathetic modern eyes. I agree that Isabella is fascinating, but to whitewash her as an innocent victim of first a 'gay' husband who didn't love her, and second a dominant, rash, greedy and self-serving lover doesn't do her any favours. Mortimer might well have been all these things and more, but Isabella, daughter and sister to three kings of France, queen of England and Regent to her son, Edward III, was no easy pushover - to say that everything bad that happened to her can be written off as the responsibility of the men in her life makes her horribly passive, something not borne out by the sources. Ah, the sources: it's hard to write this kind of biography with confidence when the sources themselves are unstable. Weir rightly points out that they're fictionalized, dramatized, politically biased, written after the events on hearsay and rumour, and perpetuate ideological views. Despite that, too often this book reads them as 'straight' especially when they support the author's own vision. I was troubled throughout by the homophobic slant which dismisses Edward II as immoral and a corrupt ruler: firstly, there's no firm evidence that he had sexual relationships with his male favourites; secondly, slurs of sexual immorality are often coded ways of representing failures in other spheres in classical and other pre-modern texts. It's especially disheartening to see the author herself use anti-gay rhetoric: in describing Isabella's lover she says "he appears to have been everything that Edward II was not: strong, manly, unequivocally heterosexual, virile, courageous, audacious and decisive", implying the opposite qualities adhere to anyone not 'unequivocally heterosexual'. It's not just off-putting but also bad history. But there's good stuff here, too: Weir's analysis of the sources in relation to Edward II's death is excellent as she compares the various versions and looks at where and when stories of the infamous red-hot poker emerge, giving them the kind of comparative reality check that I'd have liked to have seen more of elsewhere in the book. So this can be a bit dry in places but with the caveats noted remains a good popular overview of Isabella.

  3. 4 out of 5

    Chris

    I’m really not sure what to think of this book. Alison Weir attempts to tackle the subject of Isabella of France, Edward II’s French wife, and one of the more unusual queens in English history. Historically portrayed as an evil, grasping, adulterous woman who becomes a corrupt tyrant, Weir turns her subject into a feminist hero who saves England from Edward II. Weir admits early on she approached this not liking Isabella and wanted to portray her in a more sympathetic light, but by the end, she I’m really not sure what to think of this book. Alison Weir attempts to tackle the subject of Isabella of France, Edward II’s French wife, and one of the more unusual queens in English history. Historically portrayed as an evil, grasping, adulterous woman who becomes a corrupt tyrant, Weir turns her subject into a feminist hero who saves England from Edward II. Weir admits early on she approached this not liking Isabella and wanted to portray her in a more sympathetic light, but by the end, she drank her own kook-aid. The problem with all of this is the simple fact that Isabella is all of the above and more. Like most historic figures (particularly powerful queens) she had her positive and negative aspects, and instead of confronting this fact, and examining the figure in a historical context, Weir’s narrative is all over the place without ever really going anywhere. She obviously has a bias towards Saint Isabella, but she doesn’t really ever offer firm proof for that conclusion, and as often as not, she actually undermines her own not-very-clearly-stated argument. The work starts out with Isabella the victim, married to evil Edward II, and utterly helpless as he bungles his rule of the country. Unfortunately Weir manages to skim over much of that in favor of the trendy historian game called ‘Guess what? I found some household account books.’ As a result, we hear much more about every time Isabella traveled a few miles and spent the night, or every time she spent 2p on stockings, than about the actual historical events at this point during English history, which is quite silly. This is the slowest part of the story. Then the book shifts to Isabella as the avenging angel who takes back the country, in theory for her son, but mostly (in my reading) because she wanted to try ruling. What follows is a long section in which every good aspect of ruling is Isabella’s wonderful reign, but every bad aspect (ie virtually everything) is somehow the fault of every man around Isabella. Around this time, it becomes painfully clear that Weir is somehow unironically painting a picture of a ruler much worse than Edward II while trying to make it sound like everything isn’t quite so bad as it sounds. Then at the age of 35, it’s all over, and the nearly three decades remaining of Isabella’s life are mostly skipped over as Weir readily admits she only found two account books. I recall learning in a freshman history class that, when you can’t find a source that neatly does your research for you (ie most of the time) then you look to other sources to piece together a picture of what happened. I guess Weir was absent that day. I was also a little surprised at some of the anti-gay language in this piece. Generally speaking, I’m very tolerant of this sort of thing in history and honestly can’t recall more than a few times in thousands of books that something actually made me pause, but I was particularly taken aback by the comment that when Edward consummated his marriage with Isabella, he ’finally played the man’. Really? Comments like this are sprinkled throughout this book. It isn’t all terrible, however. In spite of Weir’s aimless wanderings through the material and clear axe to grind, the work is more interesting than one would imagine. It isn’t great by any means, but it isn’t the worst history writing I’ve encountered. Even more impressively, there is considerable confusion and controversy as to when and how Edward II died—either murdered/naturally/due to ill treatment in England when he was supposed to have died, or as a monk in Europe decades later. Weir handles the whole thing very clearly and adeptly. She argues for the monk theory (which I personally find questionable) but manages to make discussions of this complicated issue the most well written and clearly communicated aspect of this whole adventure.

  4. 5 out of 5

    Rachel72

    Weir's premise, that Isabella has been demonised throughout history and therefore merits a more objective analysis, was what interested me in this. Unfortunately, in trying to "rehabilitate" the subject, it goes way too far in the other direction. This was a terribly biased biography, in fact I would describe it as hagiography, completely with purple prose describing Isabella and Mortimer's relationship (which Weir posits as having been sexual - while this is widely assumed to be the case, there Weir's premise, that Isabella has been demonised throughout history and therefore merits a more objective analysis, was what interested me in this. Unfortunately, in trying to "rehabilitate" the subject, it goes way too far in the other direction. This was a terribly biased biography, in fact I would describe it as hagiography, completely with purple prose describing Isabella and Mortimer's relationship (which Weir posits as having been sexual - while this is widely assumed to be the case, there's no actual evidence of it), and offensively homophobic comments about Edward II and his close relationships with Piers Gaveston, Hugh Despenser etc. Observations such as "Mortimer was everything Edward II was not: manly, virile, unequivocally heterosexual" did not read merely as reflections of contemporary attitudes, but appeared to stem from authorial bias. What was even more disturbing though was the whitewashing of Isabella, and presentation of her as a tragic victim - she is represented as a strong, independent woman ... except when she does something unpalatable, and then she's the pawn of unscrupulous men. This strikes me as a very paternalistic analysis. I can't recommend this, I'm afraid.

  5. 4 out of 5

    Orsolya

    I have a soft spot for historical females figures whom receive negative attention. Perhaps it is my feminist qualities coming out to play. Whatever the nature of my interest, I have read several books on Queen Isabella. Being that Alison Weir is one of my favorite authors, this was a double whammy for me. With names running through my head (Piers Gaveston, the Despensers, Roger Mortimer), I began reading to a much detailed beginning of the book. In fact, at times it was too detailed and lost my a I have a soft spot for historical females figures whom receive negative attention. Perhaps it is my feminist qualities coming out to play. Whatever the nature of my interest, I have read several books on Queen Isabella. Being that Alison Weir is one of my favorite authors, this was a double whammy for me. With names running through my head (Piers Gaveston, the Despensers, Roger Mortimer), I began reading to a much detailed beginning of the book. In fact, at times it was too detailed and lost my attention. In the beginning, Weir stresses that that not too much is known about Isabella's early life so what does she really have to write about? Resources were limited. Weir goes on to descibe that Isabella's exact birth year is unknown but "Document X said this and Person Y said that, so her age must be Z...". It was a bit too much in the beginning. You know what I heard in my head? The Peanuts teacher, "Wa wa wa waa wa wa". Further, this over-detail was evident when describing state rooms and palaces. I understand setting the scene but excessive descriptions on the rooms and additions to castles and manors isn't necessary and loses my attention. Despite the early over-detail, smaller storylines were mentioned which to some may be considered tangents but to me were interesting (such as the adultery of Isabella's sisters-in-law to her brothers and the rumors that Edward II was a changeling per John of Powderham). Do I smell tpoics for historical fiction books? The first major revealing piece of information is the false cry of historian Agnes Strickland that Isabella began an affair with Mortimer in 1321. This is false because he clearly opposed the King and Despensers while Isabella supported her husband. This claim of Strickland's is based on the false date of Princess Joan's birth. What does all this mean? That Weir successfully debates claims made by comtemporary sources which added to the negative perceptions of Isabella. Weir disputes traditional claims against Isabella citing that certain accusations against her were never brought against her during her time and thus, were a creation of biographers and propagandists. These arguments of Weir's could have been slightly stronger but were still convincing. What people need to understand about Isabella and her actions was that due to the Despensers, Isabella's incomes were drastically cut which is an insult to her royal person and even her household was cut back merely because of Hugh's thirst for power and fear that Isabella would join forces with her brother (King of France) against Edward II. She was treated like a mere pensioner and of course wasn't going to accept that! When she was sent to France (let us stress that since Edward was the initial securer of her passage); she wasn't alone. She was surrounded by disenfranchised English lords and exiles but she is made out to be singular in rebellion like it was a personal battle with Edward, her husband. Does anyone stop to think that Edward II was merely siding with the Despensers? It doesn't matter if he didn't thing Hugh was wrong or not, significant others would always pick the wife first. People may ill-conceive Isabella but truth be told, most of England supported her and when the King would order gates to be shut to her, cities would open them. Hers was a supported and bloodless coup, aside from the 6 deaths of Despenser and some of his followers. She was not as bloodthirsty as portrayed. Weir also debunked rumors that Isabella fled to France with Roger Mortimer because there is no proof which asserts her having any relations with him until after December 1325, at which point they were both already in France individually. The books presents many letters in whole which add to the argumentative properties. Surprisingly, the book wasn't overly biased and allowed you to make your own mind up regarding whether Isabella was driven to actions or was an evil woman. Method claims were also disputed that Edward II's murder from sources, dates, errors in continuity, etc. For example, if a plot was believed that he was suffocated and tortured, screaming; how could he scream in agony if chroniclers claim he was suffocated with heavy pillows? Plus, modern medicine says it would have taken 5 days for him to die under such duress versus immediately as claimed. Basically, Weir does a terrific job looking at the situation with a investigative eye versus just bias or rumor. She also mentioned the rumors that Edward II escaped and that Edward III later met with him. Weir also detailed Lady Mortimer, daughter Eleanor who married Reginald II, and the creation of the Order of the Garter. These were interesting details that certainly deserve books of their own. Overall, this was a terrific book which investigatively presents the truth behind Isabella and seeks to help rehabilitate her. It does take some time to pick up speed and at the end, you may find herself "done with it" but it is certainly a strong piece. Perhaps not as strong as Weir's "Lady in the Tower" or "Mary Queen of Scots and the Murder fo Lord Darnley" but still worth a read for royal history lovers. I think it could have been slightly stronger in Isabella's field though. Weir may have tried to too hard to be unbiased and thus lost some "oomph".

  6. 4 out of 5

    Teresa

    I know it took me a long time to finish this book, but that has nothing to do with the book itself and everything to do with life-circumstances. I always enjoy Weir's books and this one was no exception. She has a lively, engaging style and always finds something new, fascinating, and convincing to add to the history of the subjects of her books. I know it took me a long time to finish this book, but that has nothing to do with the book itself and everything to do with life-circumstances. I always enjoy Weir's books and this one was no exception. She has a lively, engaging style and always finds something new, fascinating, and convincing to add to the history of the subjects of her books.

  7. 5 out of 5

    Louise

    This is the best of the Alison Weir books I have read, and the others are 5 star books as well. The beginning part develops the characters, the later part is more reportorial. Weir concludes with a summary of Isabella's role as a revolutionary. Isabella clearly defied the narrow female role of her times, but her revolutionary role, in my view, was accidental. It was not the confiscation of land of the nobles, nor the suspension of habeas corpus that motivated her, it was the suspension of her rev This is the best of the Alison Weir books I have read, and the others are 5 star books as well. The beginning part develops the characters, the later part is more reportorial. Weir concludes with a summary of Isabella's role as a revolutionary. Isabella clearly defied the narrow female role of her times, but her revolutionary role, in my view, was accidental. It was not the confiscation of land of the nobles, nor the suspension of habeas corpus that motivated her, it was the suspension of her revenues and it seems to a lesser extent, her forced separation from the crown prince. She was clever in "networking" with the many who had grievances against Edward II, and wise in her pardoning her adversaries and paying her supporters. Weir guides us towards blaming Mortimer for the re-institution of confiscatory policies. I'm not convinced. As a woman in this time, Isabella surely needed male support and advice. Perhaps he steered in the directions she wanted to go. Medieval England is barbarous, in many ways. The descriptions of the hangings anesthetize the reader to the ultimate burial of Isabella. There are incisive descriptions of the relationships with Scotland, France and other continental courts, and the church. These narratives contribute to making the book more than just a good read for the lay reader.

  8. 4 out of 5

    Liza Martin

    Okay, so during the 14th century, this 12-year-old French queen from the most royal house in Europe marries King Edward II, a suspected homosexual and weak-willed English monarch, only to be mistreated, ignored and eventually deprived of her status, children, lands, and inheritance. What is a woman to do? Well, this bad-ass dame sneakily returns to France, begins a scandalous affair with her King's mortal enemy, and then invades England and easily deposes her husband and makes her son king. You c Okay, so during the 14th century, this 12-year-old French queen from the most royal house in Europe marries King Edward II, a suspected homosexual and weak-willed English monarch, only to be mistreated, ignored and eventually deprived of her status, children, lands, and inheritance. What is a woman to do? Well, this bad-ass dame sneakily returns to France, begins a scandalous affair with her King's mortal enemy, and then invades England and easily deposes her husband and makes her son king. You can't make this stuff up! This is a great piece of history that it seems has been largely ignored by the masses. Alison Weir delivers a compelling saga of Queen Isabella. Recommended to history buffs and anyone who is impressed with strong, successful and tenancious females.

  9. 5 out of 5

    Lisa

    Isabella of France was the wife and dutiful queen of Edward II who turned into a notorious rebel. At one stage, she was celebrated for ridding England of her unpopular and increasingly tyrannical husband and his favourite, Hugh Despenser. But her own rule alongside her own favourite, Roger Mortimer, was just as inept and unpopular as Edward II’s and history remembered her as a “she-wolf” and femme fatale. Alison Weir attempts to discover the woman beneath the legend in Isabella: She-Wolf of Fran Isabella of France was the wife and dutiful queen of Edward II who turned into a notorious rebel. At one stage, she was celebrated for ridding England of her unpopular and increasingly tyrannical husband and his favourite, Hugh Despenser. But her own rule alongside her own favourite, Roger Mortimer, was just as inept and unpopular as Edward II’s and history remembered her as a “she-wolf” and femme fatale. Alison Weir attempts to discover the woman beneath the legend in Isabella: She-Wolf of France, Queen of England. Weir says in her introduction that when she set out to begin this book, she did not much like Isabella, but through her research she found a woman that could be admired and celebrated. Thus, her purpose in writing this biography is to rehabilitate Isabella’s reputation. It’s a noble goal – undoubtedly, misogyny has coloured and veiled our perception of Isabella, flattening her into a two-dimensional villain. But Weir’s approach goes too far in the opposite direction and her Isabella remains just as flat as a result. Her Isabella is a victim of her neglectful husband, Edward, and her masterful lover, Mortimer, and the narrative feels blatantly unbalanced. Isabella is the only notable strength behind Edward II’s reign. She is more perceptive and possesses the quicker-wits. His follies are entirely his own and unsympathetically rendered. His tyranny is because he is a weak, blind man concerned with his own pleasures. In Edward III’s minority, where power is wielded by Isabella and Mortimer, Isabella is a victim of circumstance and “blinded by” her lust or love for Mortimer. Her follies are entirely the result of her being “in thrall” to and dominated by her lover, her tyranny is because of her impossible situation, and thus her responsibility for her own actions is greatly diminished. I suppose it may be true that Isabella was so lust-addled that she just happily went along with everything that Mortimer wanted, signed off on his tyranny and didn’t care when he threatened her son’s life, but I doubt there is much evidence for such an interpretation and it begs belief that the smart, rational, perceptive Isabella suddenly loses her abilities because she has, in Weir’s opinion, a decent sex life at long last. This was entirely disappointing for me. I’m fascinated by Isabella, not because of the narrative that Weir perpetuates – that she was the victim of a neglectful husband who found love, or at least good sex and revenge, with her saviour, Mortimer, who then takes the rap for all her bad decisions – but because it is obvious that she and Edward II once deeply cared about each other before everything went downhill into disaster land. I don’t believe in “innocent victim” Isabella. I believe in a complicated Isabella who was likely both victim and villain. Even leaving aside the question of the narrative, Weir’s grasp of history seems fairly weak. A number of her statements are simply ludicrous. Her suggestion that Hugh Despenser raped Isabella is complete and utter speculation built on the flimsiest of evidence (that is, Despenser wished to dishonour her “by every possible means”) and one of the two works she cites as backing up her argument is a literal work of fiction! The discussion of Isabella’s affair with Mortimer and how much of it was public knowledge is extremely convoluted. When Weir discusses their affair beginning in France, she gives the impression that everyone knew, including the English involved in their rebellion. But later, Weir claims that they were so discrete in England, that no one knew. Even, presumably, the English that had travelled with them from France. Weir then has the Earl of Kent’s discovery of their affair be a deciding factor in the Earl of Lancaster’s actions of rebellion against Isabella and Mortimer, even though, Weir says, Lancaster never used it against them because he didn’t want to damage Edward III’s conflict with France. And, honestly, I was just lost. I couldn’t keep track with how it was open knowledge in France, but not England, how Lancaster knew but didn’t want to use it against them because it would jeopardise their conflict with France – but then French knew but didn’t use it against Edward III! I also absolutely failed to understand what Weir claimed happened to Edward II in 1327 and beyond. It has been theorised by some historians that Edward II did not die in 1327, murdered on the orders of Roger Mortimer and possibly Isabella, as was traditionally believed, but instead his death was faked and he eventually ended his life as a hermit in Italy. Ian Mortimer is probably the most notable historian who has advanced this theory and believes that Edward’s escape was engineered by Roger Mortimer, who then held him in captivity. Weir argues that Edward did indeed escape, but Mortimer (and therefore Isabella) was not involved. This is fair enough, but she doesn’t present an argument for why Mortimer was not involved and fails to explain what Edward was doing after his escape in any satisfactory manner, leaving me to guess why he didn’t try to reclaim his throne or make contact with anyone, before he went and lived in Italy. The way Weir discussed Edward II’s sexuality left me deeply uncomfortable. I will be generous and assume that Weir was not aiming to be blatantly homophobic and wrote, instead, from a place of ignorance. Yet her discussion often stunk of homophobia. Edward II and Piers Gaveston are said to be capable of “normal” sexual intercourse because they fathered children, thus implying that homosexual sex is abnormal. Edward II is said to have “at last played the man” when he consummated his marriage to Isabella, thus implying that masculinity and manhood are inherently linked to heterosexual sex – an attitude that is also found when Weir describes Mortimer as everything Edward II wasn’t, including “manly” and “virile”. Furthermore, Weir suggests Edward II’s sexuality and romantic/sexual relationships with men as an “insult” to Isabella’s femininity. It may well be that Isabella, in a historical context that saw sexual relations between men as a sin against God and nature, believed Edward’s intense, likely sexual relationships with Gaveston and Despenser were deeply unnatural and insults to her, but there is no reason for Weir to parrot such views without challenging them. To round off the homophobia, Weir seems to espouse that view that Edward II not having sex with Isabella was a grave insult to her and that, regardless of his personal feelings on the matter, he should just “act the man” and have sex with her as a sop to her feelings. Because, apparently, Isabella’s desire for sex should always trump Edward’s right not to have sex in Alison Weir’s world. To be positive, I found Weir’s actual prose-writing quite good. It was engaging and readable and never too heavy – I definitely found Isabella to be a quicker, easier read than Weir’s Katherine Swynford: The Story of John of Gaunt and His Scandalous Duchess. Weir also provides plenty of rich detail for the historical novelist, such as descriptions and inventories of Isabella’s clothes and residences. But this little compensation overall for such a shoddy work of historical biography.

  10. 4 out of 5

    Jamie Collins

    This is a very readable account of Isabella's life, although Weir struggles to extrapolate Isabella's motives from meager evidence. It's necessarily very detached, as are all biographies of people who lived such a long time ago, particularly women. For me, historical fiction usually makes for a more satisfying read, but I enjoyed this book. Isabella is quite pitiable when she arrives in England as a 12-yr-old bride to find that her husband is homosexual and is dominated by his lover, Piers Gavest This is a very readable account of Isabella's life, although Weir struggles to extrapolate Isabella's motives from meager evidence. It's necessarily very detached, as are all biographies of people who lived such a long time ago, particularly women. For me, historical fiction usually makes for a more satisfying read, but I enjoyed this book. Isabella is quite pitiable when she arrives in England as a 12-yr-old bride to find that her husband is homosexual and is dominated by his lover, Piers Gaveston, who egregiously flaunts his ill-gotten power. And once Gaveston is gone the pattern repeats with another of Edward's lovers, Hugh Dispenser, who is vicious as well as power-hungry. Edward seems completely under the spell of his lovers, making incredibly foolish decisions and disregarding the welfare of his family, his throne and his country. You can't help but cheer Isabella when she escapes to France and raises forces to invade England and depose Edward in favor of their son. Modern readers also won't blame her for taking a lover, Roger Mortimer, even though history condemns her for this and blames her (unfairly, Weir claims) for Edward's supposed murder. Unfortunately Isabella was nearly as foolish as her husband in her choice of a lover, since Mortimer proves to be avaricious and tyrannical. The young Edward III eventually tires of being ruled by Mortimer and his mother, and seizes power for himself. Legend holds that Edward II was murdered in an infamous manner, but Weir is inclined to agree with those historians who think he actually survived and lived as a monk for several years after his supposed death, with no inclination to reclaim his throne. It's amazing that Edward III emerged from such a childhood as a great king with an unusually (for British royalty) happy family of his own.

  11. 4 out of 5

    boogenhagen

    This review has been hidden because it contains spoilers. To view it, click here. My biggest complaint with Alison Weir is that she typically tries to impose 21 century attitudes on her subjects and fails abysmally at truly explaining the medieval mind and thought processes. She attempts to redress the viciousness of the "She Wolf of France" title that Isabella earned from the chroniclers of her lifetime. I do believe there was a certain amount of bias involved but what she and Mortimer did was overthrow an anointed monarch and then wholeheartedly engage in the biggest medieva My biggest complaint with Alison Weir is that she typically tries to impose 21 century attitudes on her subjects and fails abysmally at truly explaining the medieval mind and thought processes. She attempts to redress the viciousness of the "She Wolf of France" title that Isabella earned from the chroniclers of her lifetime. I do believe there was a certain amount of bias involved but what she and Mortimer did was overthrow an anointed monarch and then wholeheartedly engage in the biggest medieval land-grab of the fourteenth century. Not even Edward II and Hugh Despencer had the audacity to dispossess so many widows and heiresses. At least Despencer stuck to consolidating his hold on the Wales marches, but Isabella did not care where or who it was, if there was a vulnerable widow or heiress, she stepped right up and used threats, coercion and force to enrich herself. When her son deposed Mortimer, Isabella had co-opted over 2/3 of the royal lands for her personal revenue and added to that as much as she could from widows, attained nobles and unmarried heiresses (over 1/3rd of the country and the country at that time was only about 130,000 square miles- the US is 3.7 million miles in comparison). This was no 14th century women's liberator crusading for the ladies and children. This woman was a devoted student of her father Phillip the Fair of France - the man who brought down a Pope, moved the Papacy to Avignon (putting it in his personal control) and destroyed the Knights Templar, debased his own currency multiple times (thus harming his lower classes) and destroyed his own nobles in pursuit of yet more money and power. She also came from a mother who had no problems leading armies against her vassals and if there is one word to describe to Issy it would be "ENTITLEMENT" - she was queen by right of god so she should have it if she wanted it. Weir tries to insinuate that Despencer either raped or tried to force a three way between Edward, herself and Despencer and I find that scenario fairly ludicrous. Hugh Despencer co-opted HER revenues and lands so she had a vastly reduced income and this totally pissed her off. Despencer's wife Eleanor became one of Edward II most beloved companions and rumors abounded for years that their relationship was beyond familial and this also displaced Isabelle as Edward's advisor and councilor, which she had been in the years between Gaveston and Despencer. -- Kings have mistresses/lovers all the time, her own French court has a specific royal position for the King's mistress and the position was rarely vacant.-- What Issy resented was the loss of what she felt was her due rights, powers and prerogatives. What she failed to understand was that in France, the law is whatever the King wants, in England, the king is bound to the law in order to stay enthroned. There is no evidence that Hugh Despencer and Edward were lovers, it far more plausible to think that Despencer loaned out his wife to Edward. I think Piers Gaveston was the love of Edward's life and while their relationship may have been sexual, a modern reader needs to understand that who you slept with (if you were a man in the fourteenth century) did not really matter - it was more a case of who penetrated who and for obvious reasons a King in a militarized society better be doing the penetrating. William Rufus (William the Conqueror's son and the 2nd Norman king of England), openly preferred men and never married and yet because he was a great war leader nothing is really mentioned about it. The King just had unusual tastes. The accusation of sodomy was a very common propaganda tool thrown out whenever one side wanted to goad the other, and since sodomy could mean anything other than the missionary position, the accusation isn't a lot to go on. What is evident is that Edward II had no interest in ruling, nor had he any map of kingship in his head. He looked like a king, he was tall, broad and highly athletic, he slept with women and had illegitimate children but his father was always off fighting wars, his mum died when he was 6 and so he really had no tutor in kingship and was a disaster at strategic warfare, ruling bored him and riding herd on his Baron's was not his idear of a good time. Medieval Kingship is really all about a cult of personality, the King has no standing army so the King has to be able to use personal force and charisma to control his Barons - lots of gifts and rewards help a bunch too, but Edward II just did not do this. He tended to latch on to one person and in his devotion, let that person take huge advantage of the kingly position. This willingness to let his favorites take over the hated chores of ruling was probably what led to the accusations that he was catching rather than pitching and that just isn't acceptable in a 14th century military society whose other members are elitist aristocrats and really don't want all the prizes going to a low-ranked sharply witted knight one step above a peasant. Edward II was intelligent, pious, athletic and a good dad but he really was a lousy King for the time period, he just couldn't intimidate his barons enough. Edward's ruling persona really bothered Isabelle, HER dad ruled with a sledgehammer and a whip and she couldn't see why Edward didn't. Then when her status and revenues are cut (she did have enough to live on, she certainly wasn't starving) and her place by Edward's side is usurped by the Despencer's, Issy starts plotting to get even and does so brilliantly. That she is able to accomplish this and initially give herself excellent press and be hailed as the "Savior of England" is a credit to her intelligence and determination. I wholly respect that, but to present her as an early women's libber fighting for justice for herself and her children is really just to much to swallow. I think of her as a remarkably adept student of her parent's lessons and a charismatic character who was able to bend a nation to her will for a little while at least, and that is no mean feat for anyone - man or woman. I would also recommend Ian Mortimer's The Greatest Traitor: The Life of Sir Roger Mortimer, Ruler of England 1327-1330 and also his Edward III: The Perfect King for another, (and in my opinion better researched even though I don't agree with his Issy analysis) take on the rule of the Edward's in 14th century England.

  12. 4 out of 5

    Tracey

    A very good factual historical read .

  13. 4 out of 5

    Marta

    This was my beach read, and it took up the entire vacation to get through it. I enjoyed it a lot. The story is fascinating and the writing is good. The downsides are the slow start and the dense historian minutiae, which makes it tedious on occasion. Isabella's story is worthy of an action and sex-packed HBO series. The daughter of the powerful French king marries Edward II, king of England. He should be so lucky having the best bred, most beautiful, richest, most diplomatically astute bride in C This was my beach read, and it took up the entire vacation to get through it. I enjoyed it a lot. The story is fascinating and the writing is good. The downsides are the slow start and the dense historian minutiae, which makes it tedious on occasion. Isabella's story is worthy of an action and sex-packed HBO series. The daughter of the powerful French king marries Edward II, king of England. He should be so lucky having the best bred, most beautiful, richest, most diplomatically astute bride in Christendom, right? Unfortunately, he prefers men. If this was a discreet hobby, it would not be a problem - but he lets his favorites rule him and the country. The favorites are greedy and cruel, and the king alienates nobles and common people alike. The situation gets so bad tha Isabella barely escapes with her life - and ends up leading the only successful invasion of England. She is greeted as a liberator, Edward II is taken prisoner, and Isabella's son, Edward III becomes king. There is more. We have salacious details of adulterous queens, and terrible, wide-ranging political consequences of their dalliances - including the Hundred Year War between England and France. There are plots to murder and depose, and one political takeover involving a secret passage in a castle. Yep, if this was not history, we would cry cliché. We also have a murder of a king. Or do we? Maybe it is the escape of a king that was hushed up? As Weir unveils the evidence, mind gets blown. You have to be a bit of a history buff to appreciate this book, but if you are, it is well worth the time.

  14. 4 out of 5

    bkwurm

    Isabella, the she-wolf of France, is so named because she, together with her lover led a rebellion against her husband, Edward II of England, deposed him, imprisoned him and is believed to have had him murdered. She had her son crowned as Edward III and ruled badly in his name, surrendering Scotland to Robert the Bruce. Eventually, Edward III seized power back from her and executed her lover. The aim of this book is to rehabilitate Queen Isabella’s reputation. Well researched, the author largely Isabella, the she-wolf of France, is so named because she, together with her lover led a rebellion against her husband, Edward II of England, deposed him, imprisoned him and is believed to have had him murdered. She had her son crowned as Edward III and ruled badly in his name, surrendering Scotland to Robert the Bruce. Eventually, Edward III seized power back from her and executed her lover. The aim of this book is to rehabilitate Queen Isabella’s reputation. Well researched, the author largely succeeds in rehabilitating Isabella as a strong individual who acted only to protect herself and her children. While the assertion that Isabella was innocent of any involvement in the subsequent death of the deposed Edward II, the author’s other claim regarding Edward II’s fate is somewhat implausible although the evidence is persuasive. Good read.

  15. 5 out of 5

    Lisa

    When it comes to my historical education, I’m finding myself drawn again and again to Alison Weir, who has a real talent for making lives led long ago pulse with real vitality. In this outing she sets out to not only tell us about the life and times of Isabella, one of our most notorious queens, but to rehabilitate her image. She’s not entirely successful – while she succeeds in imparting a lot of information on this deeply interesting woman, I didn’t feel that the rehabilitation part went so we When it comes to my historical education, I’m finding myself drawn again and again to Alison Weir, who has a real talent for making lives led long ago pulse with real vitality. In this outing she sets out to not only tell us about the life and times of Isabella, one of our most notorious queens, but to rehabilitate her image. She’s not entirely successful – while she succeeds in imparting a lot of information on this deeply interesting woman, I didn’t feel that the rehabilitation part went so well. Long thought of as one of history’s femmes fatale thanks to overthrowing her husband, King Edward II, and making her lover unofficial ruler of England, Weir seeks to paint Isabella as a woman trapped by circumstance and a victim to her times, whereas I saw her as an enormous hypocrite with an insatiable lust for wealth and power, whose tyranny and corruption equalled (if not dwarfed) her husband’s. Whether or not she was involved in Edward’s death (Weir thinks not – and in fact also points to evidence that Ed wasn’t murdered at all but fled abroad and was later even possibly reunited with Edward III) didn’t affect my opinion anywhere near as much as her blatant grabbing of lands, wealth and titles for herself and Roger Mortimer (disinheriting people wherever needed) and I also felt that Weir was actually guilty of double standards; the very offences that Edward is guilty of – excessive lavishing of wealth, power and titles to his favourites and turning a blind eye to their crimes (which were indeed many) – and for which he is condemned within the book are the very same crimes that Isabella is guilty of, only in the latter case Weir shifts the blame from Isabella to Mortimer. In my book, if Ed was responsible for the excesses of his favourites and deserved deposition for it, so did Isabella. In fact, I feel that by shifting the responsibility from her to Mortimer, she’s actually being robbed of her agency. Whilst I am well aware that women in the 14th century were the property of men, I find it hard to believe that a woman who managed to overthrow the reign of her husband was entirely at the mercy of and a victim to the whims her lover, when he only wielded the power that he did through her. The fact that she didn’t even attempt to curb his behaviour and continued to lavish more wealth and power upon him – even joining him in bullying her son, the young King Edward III, into compliance with his wishes – shows me that she wasn’t a helpless victim but a partner-in-crime. None of this makes Isabella any less interesting in my eyes, in fact it makes her more so, and I’d rather have seen Weir revel in her bad behaviour than try to whitewash it. Contrary to what seem to have been Weir’s intentions, I also felt incredibly sorry for Edward II. It’s believed his relationships with his favourites, Piers Gaveston and Hugh Le Despenser, were homosexual in nature (many of the chroniclers of the time made allusions to this, and generally whipped themselves into such a froth that I can only believe that, like modern homophobes, they secretly got off on imagining in great detail the ‘wicked and forbidden sex’ that they thought Ed was having). If this was indeed the case, it must have been unimaginably awful for him to live in a society where homosexuality was viewed as such a vile sin that its practitioners faced a brutal death, complete with their genitals being cut off (while they were still alive) and thrown to the dogs (as was the case with Le Despenser). If anything, the only thing that I feel Ed was guilty of here was appalling taste in men (he seemed to have a thing for bad boys. But then, who doesn’t?) With regard to everything else, once again I was struck by how our country has always been prey to the whims of the ruling class, who have always been an insanely greedy, duplicitous, ruthless and vicious shower of shits loyal only to their own wallets and ambition. I doubt this will change over the next 1000 years, either. So, in conclusion, whilst I enjoyed this book enormously (anything that can teach me so much in such a short space of time has to be applauded), I felt that it failed in its stated aim, hence the 3 stars. **Also posted at Randomly Reading and Ranting**

  16. 4 out of 5

    Jeanette

    Comprehensive history of Queen Isabella, wife to Edward II of England. Having read several fiction tomes on this woman and her role in the developing English monarchy, I already knew much of the facts of her life. But this one set it far more securely within the male and serf sensibilities of that particular century, which gave it my 3 star enjoyment. It was written as a history and quite dry. There are pages of detail about dress items or ship's contents or legal documents which did add to seein Comprehensive history of Queen Isabella, wife to Edward II of England. Having read several fiction tomes on this woman and her role in the developing English monarchy, I already knew much of the facts of her life. But this one set it far more securely within the male and serf sensibilities of that particular century, which gave it my 3 star enjoyment. It was written as a history and quite dry. There are pages of detail about dress items or ship's contents or legal documents which did add to seeing Isabella as she was. Not through present day or last century revisionist judgments, but with 1308-1315"eyes". It has always fascinated me how this girl could have gotten through the circumstances from her 12-16 years that she seemed to have bridged. Seemingly without immense emotional and physical reversals at that but with increased diplomatic development/abilities. And how she could have surmounted the situation of her placement to the outcomes that she did accomplish. It was a verbose history and at points seemed to lose Isabella's personality of persuasion. But it was also honest and admitted holes to opinion when they existed. IMHO, it did not excuse Isabella or enhance her reputation in a positive way, as much as some other posters perceived here. It states what she initiated and what she enabled. For a woman, any woman, during this period- that holds considerable talent and value.

  17. 5 out of 5

    Karen

    I found this an interesting read rather than a gripping one, although it was educational before listening to this all I knew about Isabella was that she had had her husband murdered by means of a red hot poker up his bum. She appears to have been a very good diplomat and in reality probably played no part in her husbands death.I find it strange that one of the acts that made her really unpopular with the English was negotiating peace with Scotland. Isabella believed that the war with Scotland cou I found this an interesting read rather than a gripping one, although it was educational before listening to this all I knew about Isabella was that she had had her husband murdered by means of a red hot poker up his bum. She appears to have been a very good diplomat and in reality probably played no part in her husbands death.I find it strange that one of the acts that made her really unpopular with the English was negotiating peace with Scotland. Isabella believed that the war with Scotland could never be won, given that it had been on and off since the time of the norman conquest and so far no englishman had been crowned king of scotland she may have had a point. She also believed that it was expensive in terms of lives and money, money that the country didn't have. The fact that she was greedy and abused her position also didn't make her popular. A time machine would be handy, then I could go back and tell Edward III to give it up you are never going to be king of scotland, you may occupy various parts of the country but the first king to be crowned as both king of england and scotland will actually be a scot and he is 250 years in the future so stop wasting lives and money.

  18. 4 out of 5

    Liene

    A cautionary tale of what happens to monarchs who put too much trust/power/wealth into the hands of their friends and lovers. The moral of the story – don’t share.

  19. 5 out of 5

    Eustacia Tan

    After some pretty good experiences with other Alison Weir books, I was pretty confident in buying more of her biographies. I’ve read a bit about Isabella of France from Helen Castor’s book, She-Wolves, so I was excited to delve into the life of this fascinating woman. Born to a royal line, French Princess Isabella is married off at the age of twelve to Edward II of England. Unfortunately, Edward was more taken with his current favourite, Piers Gaveston, and his actions during their wedding were s After some pretty good experiences with other Alison Weir books, I was pretty confident in buying more of her biographies. I’ve read a bit about Isabella of France from Helen Castor’s book, She-Wolves, so I was excited to delve into the life of this fascinating woman. Born to a royal line, French Princess Isabella is married off at the age of twelve to Edward II of England. Unfortunately, Edward was more taken with his current favourite, Piers Gaveston, and his actions during their wedding were serious enough to anger Isabella’s relatives. After Gaveston dies at the hands of angry nobles, Isabella and Edward have a somewhat peaceful family life, with Isabella proving herself to be a good and capable queen. Unfortunately, history repeats when Edward’s new favourite, Hugh Despenser the Younger, gains power and essentially rules England as a petty tyrant. Isabella flees to France, falls in love with one of the rebels, successfully deposes her husband to put her son on her throne, and then is overthrown herself because she can’t say no to her lover (history repeats itself again). Yes, that is quite a story. Because the first time I heard of Isabella was in She-Wolves, I’m a bit unfamiliar with her negative reputation. Weir sets out to rehabilitate the image of Isabella, and I think she managed to present a pretty positive account of a smart and savvy Queen who managed to protect herself against enemies (especially since she was on her own since the age of twelve!). But you do have to bear in mind that because this book was written, as least partly as a counter for the negative press Isabella has received over the years, Weir refers to those historians quite a bit so that she can disprove them. In some sense, this book is a refutation of other books. I’m not a historian so I can’t comment on this, but Weir does take two stands in areas that I understand may be contentious: - She argues that Edward and Piers (and later, Hugh) were lovers and that Edward was either gay or bisexual (I’m not sure if this is still debated but a cursory search on the internet makes it seem like it is?) - She argues that there is a strong possibility that Edward escaped after being imprisoned by Mortimor and Isabella. This is a bit harder to believe, since it comes after Weir arguing that certain accounts of Edward’s death in captivity were likely to be fake. Overall, Queen Isabella is a fascinating and sympathetic biography of Isabella of France. I finished this book with no small amount of respect for Isabella and what she managed to accomplish despite being constrained by her society (and, I would argue, the disadvantage of having to come of age in a foreign court). This review was first posted at Eustea Reads

  20. 4 out of 5

    Leah

    2020 Reading Challenge Category: A book featuring one of the seven deadly sins. Okay, to be honest, probably all seven of the seven deadly sins were featured at some point in this true story of the medieval English monarchy. We've got adulterous spouses, a slothful king, pride running rampant in over-powerful advisors, and wrath galore in vengeance-fueled judicial killings. And that's all before Isabella leads a rebellion against her husband. At its core, this is a really dramatic story of a woma 2020 Reading Challenge Category: A book featuring one of the seven deadly sins. Okay, to be honest, probably all seven of the seven deadly sins were featured at some point in this true story of the medieval English monarchy. We've got adulterous spouses, a slothful king, pride running rampant in over-powerful advisors, and wrath galore in vengeance-fueled judicial killings. And that's all before Isabella leads a rebellion against her husband. At its core, this is a really dramatic story of a woman who defies convention to depose the reigning king and seize power for herself--a move that, as Alison Weir notes in the final chapter, had implications for centuries to come. While the heart of the story is as dramatic as they come (perfect fodder for a a Netflix/Starz/HBO series), Weir's biography moved a bit slowly for me at times. It probably didn't help that I listened to the audio book, which made it much more difficult to "skim" over long lists of household items bought, places visited while on progress, letters written, etc., as I would if I were reading a physical book. While I do appreciate thorough research and historical accuracy, there were times when I felt I didn't need quite so much detail. Worth reading if you're a big fan of history/biography. If you're more of a historical fiction fan, though, I'd probably skip this one and look for a good novel/movie/tv series about Isabella's life.

  21. 5 out of 5

    Jon

    Finally finished it! Isabella's story is interesting, involving adultery, murder and the usurpation of power, but Weir's account is far too long, padded out with irrelevant and unnecessary detail (court peregrinations and land grants, mainly). The book is also flawed by Weir's espousal of the dubious conspiracy theory concerning the survival of Edward II, especially when she builds towers of speculation on the flimsy foundations. The real problem, though, is that Isabella stands just beyond the bo Finally finished it! Isabella's story is interesting, involving adultery, murder and the usurpation of power, but Weir's account is far too long, padded out with irrelevant and unnecessary detail (court peregrinations and land grants, mainly). The book is also flawed by Weir's espousal of the dubious conspiracy theory concerning the survival of Edward II, especially when she builds towers of speculation on the flimsy foundations. The real problem, though, is that Isabella stands just beyond the boundaries of knowing; she left no personal accoount, and no contemporary left any account of her. We do not know what she really looked like or what her real thoughts, feelings and motivations were, or anything of the true nature of her relationships with her husband or her lover Mortimer. She eludes our grasp, despite all Weir's detail.

  22. 4 out of 5

    Kay Wahrsager

    Standard Alison Weir though quite the apologist for Queen Isabella and quite a bit of speculation about what really happened to King Edward II. Not her best though Isabella was quite a character.

  23. 4 out of 5

    Reborn

    I love all of Weir's books, but this might be my favorite. I love all of Weir's books, but this might be my favorite.

  24. 4 out of 5

    Tim Phillips

    A great biography of one of the most remarkable women in history.

  25. 5 out of 5

    Debbi

    I knew very little about Queen Isabella and found her story quite interesting. As usual Alison Weir takes a microscope to her subject and brings us a fascinating story of another historical figure.

  26. 5 out of 5

    Steven Peterson

    Remember the movie "Braveheart" and its rendering of the relationships among William Wallace, Edward I, his son (later to become Edward II), and Isabella? Forget about it! This and other works make rubbish of some of the themes raised in that very entertaining and rousing movie. This is the story of the daughter of Philip IV of France, betrothed to Edward, son of Edward I of England (to later become Edward II), to cement peace between the two countries. Wed young, their marriage was probably not Remember the movie "Braveheart" and its rendering of the relationships among William Wallace, Edward I, his son (later to become Edward II), and Isabella? Forget about it! This and other works make rubbish of some of the themes raised in that very entertaining and rousing movie. This is the story of the daughter of Philip IV of France, betrothed to Edward, son of Edward I of England (to later become Edward II), to cement peace between the two countries. Wed young, their marriage was probably not consummated for some time. Perhaps a part of that was the relationship of Edward to a young companion--Piers Gaveston. This was the first in what apparently were two intimate relationships with a male--Hugh Despenser being the other. Both led to hardships to Isabelle, as she was displaced in Edward's affections by his male partners, and as she was marginalized in terms of her role as queen. When Edward ascended to the throne, he was woefully inept. He allowed others (Piers and Hugh) to influence his decisions, creating hatred among other nobles. Isabelle found ways during some of this time to create a role for herself, but she was often pushed to the side by the two comrades--at different times--of Edward II. She bore Edward children, including the son who would become Edward III. At one point, she felt so compromised that, once she went to France on a diplomatic mission to her French royal family, she did not return and began a scandalous relationship with Roger Mortimer, who also had fled England in fear of losing his life. Then, the compelling story of Isabella and Mortimer gathering a force and invading England, driving Edward II from the throne, Mortimer's and her misrule under the facade of Edward III's reign (featuring acquisitiveness of property, cruelty by Mortimer, a very unpopular settlement of affairs with Scotland and France, the apparent death/murder of Edward II) led to Edward III asserting himself and assuming command. Mortimer’s fate was hideous; Isabelle was allowed to lead a life appropriate to the Queen Mother and reached a ripe old age. There are mysteries addressed--not wholly convincingly--in this work, such as the contention that Edward II may well have escaped his fate and lived out a longer life in exile. I was not over convinced, but others have raised the same suggestion. This is a well written work, with much historical detail, on the life of Queen Isabelle and the context in which she lived. Details are richly provided, giving a sense of the reality of the era. A worthwhile historical piece. . . .

  27. 5 out of 5

    Alice

    This book was a hard slog. Early on in the book, I knew I was going to disagree with Alison Weir. It was presented as the hapless King Edward II that ruled wisely when he listened to the counsel of Queen Isabella. He was a tyrant when listening to the counsels of his Rasputins, Piers Gaveston or the Despensers Ms. Weir does like Edward II more than Richard III. This is not saying much. From other accounts Edward II was effective at delegation. He sent Piers Gaveston to be Governor If Ireland. By a This book was a hard slog. Early on in the book, I knew I was going to disagree with Alison Weir. It was presented as the hapless King Edward II that ruled wisely when he listened to the counsel of Queen Isabella. He was a tyrant when listening to the counsels of his Rasputins, Piers Gaveston or the Despensers Ms. Weir does like Edward II more than Richard III. This is not saying much. From other accounts Edward II was effective at delegation. He sent Piers Gaveston to be Governor If Ireland. By all accounts Gaveston had done well in that post. Ireland could not have been a cushy sinecure at that time. The Despenser were tasked with mankind's most unpopular task..Revenue Collection. In Weir's account it wasn't said how revenues were disbursed. As for every man, woman, and child hating the Despensers with all their being day and night; I'm a skeptic. The average English subject probably cared more for immediate everyday concerns than who was the favorite in the Kings court. The mobs at the Despenser trials in London are not enough proof either. If you grabbed any person out of a packed crowd and screamed "Traitor!" people would scream for blood. This is as much true today as it was nearly 800 years ago. To Alison Weir's credit her presentation of Isabella isn't hagiography. In her flight to France we do know that deposition was part of her plans and a real fear for her safety from the Despensers. She did take her eldest son with her as a way to fulfill her first objective. I liked other accounts of Alison Weir such as The Children of King Henry VIII and the Court of King Henry VIII. In one interesting reviews of the reigns of Edward, Mary I, and Queen Jane Grey are presented. Many times these monarchs are over looked because of the Elizabethan tsunami. In the other the reader finds out the function of a Master of Horse or a Clerk of the Wardrobe in a royal court. It is when she has an historical ax to grind that any sharp analysis of history is forfeit. It brings to mind David Starkey's series "Monarchy". Much of it was excellent and entertaining. However, when he ominously intoned, "Next came the worst King in all the history of England!" I the viewer thought, "Hey, You've five or six candidates already! So which one is it? Ethelred, Stephen, John, HenryIII, Edward II, Richard II or Richard III?" I recommend this with reservations. I recommend other accounts and even the historical novels of the Despensers by Susan Higganbotham to balance this account.

  28. 4 out of 5

    Joanna

    Interesting subject matter for me so I was expecting to love it, but her writing style was problematic at times. She spent a lot of time trying to discredit previous historical depictions of Isabella which got old pretty fast, I would have liked for her to focus a little more on bringing her own view of her to life.

  29. 5 out of 5

    Maria

    I’m grateful I had the opportunity to read this book. I found it through the Montgomery County Public Library e-book consortium. I search for what books are available, and open myself to the possibilities. It’s like a treasure hunt. The first 30% of the book was a list of travels and expenditures. Her movements were recreated as a result of where she spent money, and what was listed in accounting sheets. Once major male players of late 13th century and early 14th century England and France starte I’m grateful I had the opportunity to read this book. I found it through the Montgomery County Public Library e-book consortium. I search for what books are available, and open myself to the possibilities. It’s like a treasure hunt. The first 30% of the book was a list of travels and expenditures. Her movements were recreated as a result of where she spent money, and what was listed in accounting sheets. Once major male players of late 13th century and early 14th century England and France started to include Isabella in their letters or policies the author could cross-reference Isabella’s accounts with the lords or law-makers accounts, and the book became interesting. Ms. Weir’s biography became a richer reading experience. The author definitely had an angle. Isabella was mostly the *wronged* wife until her first husband was dead. Then when she assumed power, and when she and her lover manipulated her son’s policies to be what was best for them, the author wrote her as slightly wicked and evil. There was a lot of torture, bloodshed, jewels, and travels within the pages. Two points were inconsistent with the rest of the writing. Ms. Weir seemed to think that Edward II’s death did not occur as originally thought, and that Isabella was possibly pregnant by her lover. The reason to assume this is because she devoted so much time to these hypotheses. However, I wondered why she devoted so much time to hypotheses when the rest of her story was written as if it could be corroborated with historical record. Would I read it again: No Would I recommend it: No Was prose elevated to poetry: No

  30. 4 out of 5

    Kristin Strong

    Queen Isabella (no, not the Columbus one) ruled 14th-century England as queen and as queen mother and regent. She lived through a time of turmoil in European history and her deeds sowed seeds of modern democracy during an era of absolute monarchies. But she isn't known for her intelligence, bravery, or political skill; she's more famous for ditching her husband, knocking him off his throne with the help of her married lover, placing their son on that throne, and wielding power behind it for year Queen Isabella (no, not the Columbus one) ruled 14th-century England as queen and as queen mother and regent. She lived through a time of turmoil in European history and her deeds sowed seeds of modern democracy during an era of absolute monarchies. But she isn't known for her intelligence, bravery, or political skill; she's more famous for ditching her husband, knocking him off his throne with the help of her married lover, placing their son on that throne, and wielding power behind it for years until he reached his majority. Along the way, she conducted the first successful invasion of England since the Norman Conquest and managed a kingdom's policies and diplomacy during her regency. Sadly, she's also notorious for allegedly having a hand in her deposed husband's murder and for her acquisitiveness and enabling of government corruption and ineptitude. But you can be sure that people were afraid of Isabella. Fear is what gets you epithets like "harridan" and "She-Wolf". Isabella, daughter of French king Philip IV, was married to Edward II of England when she was only twelve. Upon her arrival in her new realm, she learned what Edward's subjects had known for some time: The king was infatuated with Piers Gaveston, his favorite companion. Their relationship may have been physical but it was definitely what we would call today an emotional affair. Edward spent more time with Piers than he did with his wife, and he lavished Piers with gifts of land, money, and treasure. Isabella did her best to be a good consort, but how you gonna come between a king and his boy toy? After years of slights by the favorite, she must have been a little satisfied when a group of magnates executed him and put restraints on Edward. But Edward found other favorites. Hugh Despenser the Elder and Hugh the Younger were next. Like Gaveston, these two grasped for material gain, but also enjoyed the power to manipulate the king and act almost as shadow rulers. When Isabella was sent to France as an emissary to negotiate for peace with that country (her brother was king there), she asked to have her son, Edward's heir sent to her. When he arrived, Isabella had a bargaining chip. Ignoring her husband's pleas that she return to him, she found support among Englishmen living in exile who hated the Despensers and used her connections to the Count of Hainault to assemble and finance an invasion force that would depose Edward and place his heir on the throne as Edward III. One of the exiled was Roger Mortimer, a married man, ruthless and militaristic, who took charge of the force and was also Isabella's lover. The invasion achieved its objects and Isabella and Mortimer acted as regents for Edward III. Edward II was imprisoned and guarded by men loyal to Isabella and Mortimer. But a foiled escape attempt, the discovery of other plots to free the former king, and the knowledge that he would always be the focus of efforts to subvert Isabella's government and return him to the throne, sealed his fate. Mortimer probably ordered Edward's murder, Isabella probably knew nothing of it until afterward, and suddenly Edward wasn't a problem anymore. The author speculates that Edward didn't really die, though; there is circumstantial evidence in the form of letters, diplomatic contacts, and financial awards that point to his possibly outwitting his would-be murderers, killing a porter to escape (whose body would be substituted for Edward's, once the circumstances became known to Mortimer and his men), and living a peripatetic existence on the continent until he died in the early 1340's. There is nothing in the record about this, but then there wouldn't be. It's super awkward to have somebody turn up alive after you've stripped people of their property and executed at least one for their part in his murder. Isabella bore the brunt of public opinion on the matter at the time and in later historians' writings. We'll probably never know for sure what really happened on the night that Edward II is supposed to have been murdered, but there were other things to condemn her for. Her callous treatment of her daughter-in-law, Philippa of Hainault, as Isabella tried to stay powerful and relevant after Edward III reached his majority; her taking property and money that she really should not have; the inconsistent policies and disastrous military moves that she and Mortimer planned and carried out...those things were what actually got her in trouble. In addition, Mortimer had laid a trap for Edward II's brother, the Earl of Kent, to make it look like he was treasonous. He wasn't, but he was still executed. When Edward III reached 18, he joined with like-minded nobles to seize control of his own realm. Mortimer was captured, tried (though he was not permitted to speak in his own defense), and executed. Isabella was packed off to the country -- Edward III hoped to pin all the regency's wrongs on Mortimer, so as to spare Isabella, former queen and now queen mother, the opprobrium that she probably did deserve for abetting and at least allowing Mortimer's excesses, both material and political, to proceed. Isabella lived out her life quietly, largely at Castle Rising, near present-day King's Lynn. She died in 1358, aged 63, a ripe old age in those days. She was buried in the Grey Friars' convent in London, which was destroyed in the Great Fire of 1666, rebuilt by Wren as Christ Church, and destroyed again in the Blitz, leaving only fragments. Today the convent site is a park, a Post Office building, and a roadway. Change and history have buried Isabella's remains as deep as the truths behind what her contemporaries believed her to be. Isabella's deposition of her husband was the first of its kind, and set precedent for a series that followed, down to Charles I in 1648. This restraint of monarch's power laid the groundwork for the eventual decline of royal rule and the rise of democracy. Isabella was also the dynastic thread that bound her son to the throne of France, which allowed him to press his claim to it and led to a war that lasted over a hundred years. A woman who never ruled in her own right influenced events in her time in such a way that the effects rippled out into modern times.

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