Let’s Talk About Queen Isabella of Valois

Let’s talk about the courage shown by Isabella of Valois, who was married to King Richard II and was Queen of England for the last four years of the 14th century.

She was born on 9 November 1389, the third child of King Charles VI of France and Isabeau of Bavaria. Her older siblings died in infancy, so Isabella was the eldest surviving daughter and dearly beloved by her parents. Sadly, her dad would have intermittent episodes of mental illness that made him unable to govern his realm, and France was falling apart at the seams because of it.

Little Isabella still only 7 years old when she married King Richard II on Halloween of 1396, which produced a hella creepy visual to commemorate the union:

Isabela of Valois married Richard II

This marriage was both a shrewd and stupid move on Richard’s part. Although she was too young to beget heirs (her husband had the decency to never molest his child bride) she did bring a kind of peace with France. At the time, Richard was dealing with enough crap from his own nobles to have the time or inclination to continue his father’s invasion of the continent.

Richard was very kind to the young girl, and by all accounts she loved her husband – who was in his 30s and handsome — very much. His gentle treatment and care of his wife worked in his favour when Richard’s chief enemy, his cousin Henry of Bolingbroke, was exiled to France. Initially, the exile was supposed to be for 10 years, but when Henry’s father John of Gaunt died 3 February 1399 the king extended Bolingbroke’s exile for life. Moreover, Richard wouldn’t let Bolingbroke inherent Gaunt’s title as Duke of Lancaster. Since Bolingbroke was living in Paris, Richard’s father-in-law kindly prevented the potential rebel from leaving the city and raising an army to usurp Richard’s throne.

Unfortunately for Richard and Isabella, Charles VI had another incapacitating episode and the reins of leadership in the French court was taken over his younger brother, Louis, Duke of Orléans, in June 1399. Orleans had no interest in playing nicely with Richard; so he sent Henry of Bolingbroke on his merry way to depose Richard II:

“Bolingbroke landed at Ravenspur in Yorkshire towards the end of June 1399. Men from all over the country soon rallied around the duke. Meeting with Henry Percy, Earl of Northumberland, who had his own misgivings about the king, Bolingbroke insisted that his only object was to regain his own patrimony. Percy took him at his word and declined to interfere. The king had taken most of his household knights and the loyal members of his nobility with him to Ireland, so Henry experienced little resistance as he moved south. Edmund of Langley, Duke of York, who was acting as Keeper of the Realm, had little choice but to side with Bolingbroke. Meanwhile, Richard was delayed in his return from Ireland and did not land in Wales until 24 July. He made his way to Conwy, where on 12 August he met with the Earl of Northumberland for negotiations. On 19 August, Richard II surrendered to Henry at Flint Castle, promising to abdicate if his life were spared. Both men then returned to London, the indignant king riding all the way behind Henry. On arrival, he was imprisoned in the Tower of London on 1 September.”

Richard II died while in custody. The Lancaster faction claimed that the former king starved himself to death in February of 1400 … but his death was awfully convenient for them so I have to wonder if they ‘helped’ Richard shuffle off his mortal coil.

Bolingbroke, now Henry IV of England, decided that the newly widowed queen would make a fine wife for his son, Henry of Monmouth. The Prince of Wales was only 13 and therefore the 11 year old Isabella and he could grow up together.

Isabella wasn’t having any of it. As far as she was concerned, this was the son of a bitch that killed her beloved husband and there was no way she’d marry into the Lancaster pit of vipers. She gave King Henry IV the metaphorical finger and went into full mourning.

Seriously, going into mourning and turning down the man who held her captive was some Lady Lyanna Mormont from Game of Thrones next level sass. She was only 11 years old, a captive in a strange land, friendless across the narrow sea with a husband who had recently been murdered by the dudes holding her hostage … but she faced down King Henry IV anyway. To his credit, Henry IV wasn’t such a monster that he would force the child to wed his son, but there was no way Isabella knew that at the time.

Meanwhile, her parents were demanding vociferously to get their daughter back and refusing to consent to the union between Isabella and the prince. With Isabella fighting him tooth and nail on her side of the channel, and her parents throwing six kinds of a fit on their side of the channel, Henry IV finally gave up and allowed Isabella to return to her native land.

In 1406 Isabella married again, this time to a Frenchman, her first cousin Charles, Duke of Orléans. As often happened to women in this era, Isabella died young in childbed. She was a few months shy of her 20th birthday when she gave birth to her daughter Joan. The baby lived, but the former queen did not. Isabella was interred at Blois on 13 September 1409.

Much later, Henry V would invade France and take Isabella’s baby sister,  Catherine of Valois, as his bride. It didn’t do them much good in the end, though. Henry V’s son by Catherine of ValoisHenry VI,  and his grandson Edward of Westminster, Prince of Wales, murdered by King  Edward IV. However, the widowed Catherine would fall in love with a Welshman, Owen Tudor, and her grandson (Isabella’s great-nephew) would rule England as King Henry VII.

3 thoughts on “Let’s Talk About Queen Isabella of Valois

  1. This makes me want to cry, ESPECIALLY with the results of the election. I think of my young granddaughters and thank God they were not born into a family with royal connections. Women today might be somewhat better off, but the line is a lot thinner than I used to think.

  2. Am descended from the Valois….but glad I’m not buying your book.

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