Isabella of Valois, Queen of England

by Susan Flantzer

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Miniature detailing Richard II of England receiving his six-year-old bride Isabel of Valois from her father Charles VI of France; Credit – Wikipedia

The second wife of King Richard II of England, Isabella of Valois, was born on November 9, 1389, at the Louvre Palace in Paris, France. She was the third, but the eldest surviving, of the twelve children of King Charles VI of France and Isabeau of Bavaria. Isabella’s younger sister Catherine married King Henry V of England and was the mother of King Henry VI. Through her second marriage to Owen Tudor, Catherine was the grandmother of King Henry VII of England.

Isabella’s eleven siblings:

From a very early age, Isabella was part of the French dynastic marriage plan. At the age of two, she was betrothed to John, the six-year-old son and eventual heir of Peter II, Duke of Alençon, but nothing ever came of this proposed marriage. Soon after the death of his first wife Anne of Bohemia in 1394, the childless King Richard II of England began a search for a new wife. He turned to France seeking an alliance, and after negotiations, a marriage was arranged between Isabella and Richard who was 22 years older than his bride. This marriage had many opponents, especially Louis I, Duke of Orléans, younger brother of the French king and Thomas of Woodstock, Duke of Gloucester, youngest uncle of the English king. Nevertheless, on November 1, 1396, at the Church of St. Nicholas in Calais, seven-year-old Isabella married 29-year-old Richard. Richard and Isabella left for England a few days later and on November 23, 1396, she made her state entry into London. The crowds in London were so great, that people were crushed to death on London Bridge. Isabella was crowned at Westminster Abbey on January 8, 1397. Isabella lived apart from Richard at Windsor Castle. Richard visited her frequently and a strong affection developed between the partners of this unconsummated marriage.

Richard and Isabella on their wedding day; Credit – Wikipedia

In 1398, Henry Bolingbroke, the first cousin of King Richard II and the eldest child of King Edward III‘s third son John of Gaunt, quarreled with Thomas de Mowbray, 1st Duke of Norfolk, who accused him of treason. The two men planned to duel, but instead, King Richard II banished them from England, and Henry went to France. John of Gaunt died on February 3, 1399, and Richard confiscated the estates of his uncle and stipulated that Henry would have to ask him to restore the estates. Henry returned to England while his cousin Richard was on a military campaign in Ireland and began a military campaign of his own, confiscating land of those who had opposed him. King Richard II eventually was abandoned by his supporters and was forced by Parliament on September 29, 1399, to abdicate the crown to his cousin Henry. King Henry IV was crowned in Westminster Abbey on October 13, 1399. Richard was imprisoned at Pontefract Castle in Yorkshire where he died on or around February 14, 1400. The exact cause of his death, thought to have been starvation, is unknown.

Richard II’s funeral; Credit – Wikipedia

Henry IV had confined Isabella, a widow at age 10, to the Bishop of Salisbury’s palace on the River Thames in Sonning, England. Isabella’s jewels were seized and divided among Henry IV’s children. Henry’s council declared that Isabella had no rights to any dower, a provision accorded by law, but traditionally by a husband or his family, to a wife for her support in the event that she should survive her husband. Eventually, Isabella’s return to France was arranged and she left England on July 1, 1401. Henry IV made several attempts to arrange for Isabella to marry his son and heir the future King Henry V, but the French royal family declined.

Isabella married her cousin Charles of Orléans in Compiègne, France on June 29, 1406. In November 1407, Isabella’s husband became Duke of Orléans when his father, who had opposed Isabella’s marriage to Richard, was murdered on orders of John the Fearless, Duke of Burgundy, who had helped arrange that marriage.

Charles, Duke of Orleans, Isabella’s second husband; Credit – Wikipedia

Isabella had a happy, but short second marriage. At the age of 19, she died on September 13, 1409, in Blois, France a few hours after giving birth to her only child, a daughter named Joan (1409 – 1432), who married John II, Duke of Alençon, but had no children. Isabella was buried at the Abbey of St. Saumer in Blois, France. In 1624, Isabella’s remains were transferred to the Church of the Celestines in Paris, which was destroyed during the French Revolution.

Charles, Duke of Orléans survived Isabella by many years, marrying two more times and dying in 1465. He fought in the Battle of Agincourt in 1415, King Henry V of England‘s great victory, and was captured by the English. He spent 25 years as a prisoner in the Tower of London. Charles was an accomplished poet. Five hundred of his poems, written in both French and English, during his 25 years spent as a prisoner of war, survive.

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