Isabella: She-Wolf of France, Queen of England

ISBN: 0712641947
ISBN 13: 9780712641944
By: Alison Weir

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Biographies Biography England Historical Historical Fiction History Medieval Non Fiction Nonfiction To Read

About this book

In Newgate Street in the city of London once stood the magnificent church of a Franciscan monastery. Entirely paved with marble, this royal mausoleum, built in the 14th century, was set to rival Westminster Abbey. Among the many crowned heads buried there was Isabella of France, Edward II's queen - one of the most notorious femme fatales in history.Today, according to popular legend, Isabella's angry ghost can be glimpsed among the church ruins, clutching the beating heart of her murdered husband. It's also said that her maniacal laughter can be heard on stormy nights at Castle Rising in Norfolk. In literature she has fared no better. Christopher Marlowe's 'unnatural Queen, false Isabel' has also been described as 'a woman of evil character, a notorious schemer', and as the 'She-Wolf of France'. Tragic, cruel, tormented:how did Isabella acquire such a reputation?Isabella was born in 1292, the daughter of Philip IV of France and sister to three future French kings. A pawn in the game of international politics, she was married at the age of twelve to Edward II of England. And so began a public and private life more turbulent and eventful than any heroine - or anti-heroine - of fiction.Isabella lived through a long period of civil war. She bore Edward four children but was constantly humiliated by his relationships with male favourites. Although she is known to have lived adulterously with Roger Mortimer, 1st Earl of March, accusations of murder and regicide remain unsubstantiated. Had it not been for her unfaithfulness, history may have immortalised her as a liberator - the saviour who unshackled England from a weak and vicious monarch. Dramatic and startling, this first full-length biography of Isabella will change the way we think of her and her world for ever.

Reader's Thoughts


With this book Weir had a very clear goal that she never lost sight of; to restore the reputation of Queen Isabella of England, later known as the She-Wolf of England and the murderer of her husband, Edward II. I love it when authors have a goal with their writing, but when setting out to change the opinion of an entire world history concerning one person you are bound to walk into controversy and troubles. Many times during this book Weir discards evidence that goes against what she would like to portray, and I found myself wondering what was wrong with that evidence. It seemed to me, that Weir was making up excuses to get her own way with the sources. But in this I cannot be certain, since I have not myself read Weir's sources. Another problem I faced with this book I have recounted before, when reviewing other of Weir's non-fiction books; she has an annoying tendency to get ahead of herself and often uses the phrase; "as we will soon see." Yet another proof of her wanting to bend the sources to serve her purpose.


Unlike her book on Eleanor of Aquitaine, Weir has here chosen a subject for which there is more evidence. This makes it a better read, although parts of it have been cribbed entirely from administration documents ("27 July she was here, 1 August she was there, 3 August she paid 10s to a man who fixed her window" etc etc). But the heart of the book is the political shenanigans in early 14th C England. And these are quite rollicking. I like her theory about the fate of Edward II, in particular - it is the sort of leap of logic based on fairly flimsy evidence that I filled my thesis with. 3.5/5


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: NoWould I recommend it: NoWas prose elevated to poetry: No

Liza Lawler

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.


This was a great read about a powerful, often misjudged woman. The nonsense she had to endure was incredible. Very well written and researched.


Like so many of the recent Weir biographies I've read, the story of Queen Isabella is filled with details, a paper trail that maps out her life. Between letters and parliamentary proceedings, Weir attempts to tell the story of a queen married to a homosexual and tyrannical king. With no previous knowledge of the history, I was biased only by a Goodreads review that criticized the author's bias toward the queen, which, as I read, did seem present.I am quick to confess to my failure to know much of anything about European or English history beyond the most bare bone facts, though my recent readings are correcting the problem. Thus I cannot speak to the accuracy of Weir's writings. I will note as I have on previous works that her research comes off as extremely detailed, though the paper trail that followed Isabella certainly was far more interesting than that of the mistress of John of Gaunt. Again, too, Weir notes criticisms, disagreements, and historical sources that differ from her conclusions and refutes them.However, I found several of her refutations felt thin. I don't know how widespread in academic circles the theory is that Edward II was not murdered but escaped is, but it felt very tenuous. And as I was thinking that DNA testing could easily solve the puzzle, Weir explains that the corpse of the true king was late smuggled into his grave, an act that seems overly complicated and complex when the current king was supposedly trying to keep the whole thing under wraps, having just put several men to death for his father's murder. If Isabella asked to be buried with her husband's heart - which I could see as fear of the after life in old age rather than hypocrisy, for what would be the point? - then she obviously thought the corpse was that of the dethroned king...Or at least that his heart was. Trading the corpse and heart seems like too much.Then there is the issue of the letter that testified that the Edward still lived. I found it interesting that Mortimer confessed to a plot that involved convincing Edward's guilt-ridden brother that the deposed king still lived, and that he lived at the location where the letter placed the actual residence of the king. Again, not knowing the strength of the scholarly works that date the letter, the simplest explanation would seem to be that Mortimer wrote or dictated it - he would have known the information Weir claims only the escaped king would have - and arranged for it to fall into Kent's hands.The aforementioned critical review also notes how Weir portrays Isabella as a strong woman who then was dominated by a stronger man. But given the weakness of Edward II, it seems equally likely that the queen remained dominant. Edward easily acceded to the demands of his favorites, the author shows, and when there was no favorite, he acceded to Isabella. As such, she had great power for a number of years, until she was displaced. Setting aside how she felt about a cheating husband in a time when men frequently strayed, or even the humiliation of having the lover flaunted and being male, Isabella obvious lost a great deal of power with the ascension of Despenar. She seems to have gone through great pains to get it back, but when that failed, she tried other methods. Even her negotiations with France made sense; invading England while it was at war could have terrible repercussions, not to mention the politics of having the two invasions combined in public memory. To assert Isabella was a strong and manipulating woman in her first marriage suggests she continued as such in her adultery, even using Mortimer as a shield to some degree.These, of course are conclusions I drew after reading Weir's work, and in truth have less validity than the author, who engaged in so much research. She does offer proofs of her conclusions, though I sometimes found them weak. In doing so, she leaves room for the reader to come to their own conclusions, which to me is a mark of good research and writing.


When I read for pleasure, I rarely pick up non-fiction, but this one was worth my time. This is painstakingly researched and I am sure there is no more that can be written about Queen Isabella. Weir has documented even the smallest details - like how much she spent on her household and how many times she traveled to the shrine of St. Thomas a'Becket (22). Along with Isabella, there is more information on her husband, Edward II, renowned not only for his bad reign, but for his ignominious death. Weir's conclusions and her proof of what actually happened are compelling. It's nice to know that Isabella, though avaricious and powerful, wasn't as bad as what everyone less informed seems to think. Enjoyed the book, learned a lot.


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.


Queen Isabella, wife of King Edward II of England has gone down in popular historical perspective as a power hungry adulteress and possible facilitator of his (suspected) murder.Alison Weir presents a well argued, brilliantly researched and evidenced case that she has been treated unfairly. The only full length biography of Isabella I could find, this book has certainly changed the way I thought of her after reading other books that include her life.Some may find the detailed research unneccessary however I felt the evidence compelling and necessary to the matter in hand. Ms Weir refers to other contemporary authors who have written on the subject and convincingly argues much against their accounts and presents supporting sources. I finished believing this is the book about Isabella that definately should be read above others. The church she was buried in was destroyed in the reformation and area destroyed in subsequent wars. Her body today lies annonymously somewhere beneath a busy London street and park. Queen Isabella was unlike any before her and actually set long standing precidents for the way English democracy and Monarchy rule was carried out in future times. A shame her grave is unmarked and lost forever.

Ray Campbell

Alison Weir really does this well. If you are not familiar with her work, she is a historian whose specialty is Tutor England, though her one offs and historical fiction from the centuries just prior are amazing. This book is non-fiction though as always, it reads like fiction. Once again, Weirs ability to incorporate quotes from documents, the work of other scholars and publications, makes the dialog flow in a natural easy to follow manner. It occurred to me reading Queen Isabella, that by focusing on a female in this period, the powerful men of the age become characters observed through the lens of the female lead. Thus a sense of personality develops in all the characters from journals, letters and diaries which are far more personal than if the sources were all the business oriented and official communication and record of the world of the men of that period. I'm not sure I'm on to anything overly profound, but something clearly makes Weir's writing stand out.Isabella is a French princess who marries the Edward II of England. The marriage is political, though they have several children. Edward is simply a bad ruler. He is also a bad husband, preferring male lovers. Isabella lives a life of intrigue and adventure which includes returning to her father and brother, both kings of France, raising armies, leading invasion and toppling a regime. I won't give away Weir's conclusions nor will I spoil the book, but Queen Isabella has a few surprises for readers familiar with other accounts. Well documented, well written and fascinating. I highly recommend.


All I knew about Isabella of England/France, long suffering wife of Edward II, was what I had seen in the movie Braveheart, in middle school! She isn't as famous as Elizabeth I or Eleanor of Aquitaine, but what a woman! She was a woman who displayed a genius for survival and reinvention and even after her enforced retirement from public life, she remained an influential figure in royal circles.I have read all of Weir's books, and I think this is her least interesting. It took a lot of focus to get to the end, it was rather dull. I wish it had been written with more flare, as I appreciate the subject matter.

Heather Meyer

I had never read anything about Queen Isabella before, but I started to feel bad for her. In the beginning and in the end of the book, she appeared to be a good person. She did seem to love her husband even though he treated her cruelly and ignored her most of the time so that he could be with his lover. She tried to deal with it the best she could, but the situation got the best of her and she wanted out of her unhappy marriage. I think she also thought her husband was a horrible king and wanted to better the kingdom by having him step down and their son crowned king in his place. The part where I started to change my feelings for her was when she let her lover, Mortimer, take control of her life. I agree with Alison Weir in that Isabella would have suceeded in ruling the kingdom if she had never met Mortimer. Her misrule caused her downfall. I los think that Mortimer and the others would not have tried to kill Edward II if he hadn't been lovers with Isabella. The book was very detailed and provided a lot of information.


After reading some of the reviews on this work and others that focus on historical figures that have evil reputations, i find it interesting how many people hate them. These kind of biographies are written to make the subject more of a person rather than a just a dark reputation. Those that write angry reviews presenting facts that only describe the person as evil are simply ignoring other sources. It is true that many of the people that have gone down in history as villains have done terrible things, and the authors who write these works do include this. New facts are discovered every day by historians, especially from this time period, and they can present these people in different lights. These works are not meant to be sympathetic, they are meant to be a more realistic portrayal of the times. Women also acquired terrible reputations for merely being in positions of power, because they were not supposed to be in power. Women who dared to betray their husbands in any way were severely punished and seen as evil, yet men betrayed their wives with no consequences. Queens were supposed to bear children and be submissive and beautiful, not to rule countries. In the case of Isabella, she has gone down in history as a "she wolf", a woman who betrayed her king and country, ran away with her lover, planned an invasion and then killed her husband. While some of this is true, many circumstances added up to cause these events. Sent away from France to England while she was still a child to marry Edward, she soon was put aside for his favorites. She endured years of a loveless marriage and being second best. She was caught up in the turbulence of his reign. Roger Mortimer was a way out. Weir acknowledges that he was a greedy man, hungry for power. When Isabella and Mortimer stage their rebellion, dethrone Edward II and put Edward III on the throne, she also acknowledges that both Mortimer and Isabella became more and more greedy and used Edward as a puppet to do what they wished. Weir doesn't use Mortimer as a scapegoat, she does hold Isabella accountable for her misdeeds. I do not see how one who actually read the book could say Weir was too sympathetic.


Alison Weir has a commanding knowledge and understanding of English history, focusing on that country's kings and queens and notable nobles and the scoundrels ever present in the lives of those in or craving power.Isabella,daughter of Phlip IV of France, was known as the "she-wolf of France". She was married, at the tender age of twelve, to Edward, Prince of Wales in an effort to link the two dynasties politically, ending the never-ending threat of war. Upon the death of Edward I, the Price of Wales became England's King Edward II. A more disappointing king, and husband, he could not be. His offenses to the his queen, the English nobility and the common people were many and often grotesquely cruel. Upon his death, his young son became Edward III. Queen Isabella became Regent for the young king in conjunction with the nobility. As regent, she her innate political and diplomatic abilities became apparent. Everyone was happy. Except the commoners. But they liked Queen Isabella and she was kind to them.However, things changed and Queen Isabella was to be as vilified as her husband had been. Hence the moniker, "she-wolf of France". Underlying hostilities within the nobility, with England's historical enemy, France, came to the fore. Ultimately Queen Isabella chose the wrong political adviser and the support of the nobility and people of England. One of Ms. Weir's strengths as an author of book about people who lived in times far removed from ours, is that she never loses sight of the differences in the principles and mores of those times. Additional, she shows no favoritism to her subjects. They are what they are. Reading Queen Isabella it was fascinating to see how she evolved from a lost princess in a foreign land, to a respected and admired queen and finally, to the woman who inspired such a hateful reputation.However, things changed and Queen Isabella was to be as vilified as her husband had been. Hence the moniker, "she-wolf of France". Underlying hostilities within the nobility, with England's historical enemy, France, came to the fore. Ultimately Queen Isabella chose the wrong political adviser and the support of the nobility and people of England.

Nicole Marble

This Queen Isabella is not the Spanish queen who sent Columbus off across the ocean. This Isabella was a 14th cent. English queen, sister of the French king, wife of Edward II, mother of Edward III. She had a tumultuous life and this book examines it quite thoroughly - quite. As an aside, this books time period was during what is now called he 'Little Ice Age' in Europe and, curiously, no mention was made of it at all.

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