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


** spoiler alert ** Genre: BiographyThis purports to be a biography of Queen Isabella of England, the wife of Edward the Second, the first English monarch to be deposed by parliament... but I really didn't get a sense of who she was from reading this book. A large part of that is probably the sources Weir had to work with -- there was plenty of information on what Edward the Second was doing, but what there seemed to be to work with for what Isabella was doing was her account books, and records of whether she wrote letters and to whom (NOT you'll notice, the actual letters). In the first third of the book you get a real good sense of who Edward was (an unobservant, self-centered ass) -- and I suppose one can be amazed that Isabella continued to support him for as long as she did, as loyally as she did... but... not a lot of sense of who she was other then that. Politically active, yes - she was involved in various negotiations both within and outside of England... She must've had diplomatic skills. But since you're determining that by inference, it's hard to get a real sense of the woman.Then Edward falls in with Hugh Despenser the Younger and her position as Queen starts to be persistently undermined... We still don't see her reaction to what is done to her; no one is going to like having all her lands and money taken from her, and having all her French courtiers (including her nursemaid who'd been with her since early childhood) sent back to France and prosecuted if they didn't go) but how one reacts to things like that are very telling personality-wise, and we don't know how Isabella reacted, other then that by the time she was sent to France on a diplomatic mission she had gotten to the point of being willing to start a rebellion to depose the Despensers. She also felt disaffected enough to start an affair with Roger Mortimer, a man Edward had declared a traitor. Plus, she convinced her teenaged son, (Edward's heir) Edward the Third to remain with her in France and join this rebellion, despite many entreaties on his fathers' part. HOW she comes to this point, isn't entirely clear to me.The weakest part of the book imo, is after Isabella successfully leads the rebellion and deposes Edward the Second. She starts out as being the unofficial regent and very popular. Due to a couple missteps on the international stage (namely the incredibly unpopular peace with Scotland, although it's completely understandable how Isabella thought it was a war that couldn't be won -- as a reader I certainly agreed with her! And, in a long-term view it probably wasn't a misstep.) Isabella looses popularity and has to put down another baronial rebellion. Which leads to Mortimer being over-proud and both of them being too money hungry (in case they need ready cash to deal with another rebellion). So, Edward the Third, right before he reaches his majority, leads a coup against Mortimer, and puts his mother under house arrest for most of the rest of her life (although it's a very comfortable and respectable house arrest, with lots of visitors, and eventually some political influence as an elder statesman.) What's motivating Isabella though all of this, and why she makes the decisions she does (except the big political moves, like the peace with Scotland) are left a complete mystery. The book certainly succeeds in it's main aim, which is to rehabilitate the much maligned posthumous reputation of Queen Isabella as the ultimate femme fatale... but I'm not sure what image of her it's put in it's place.


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.

Antony Fitzpatrick

This wasnt the exact book on Isabella I read from Alison Weir but couldnt find the version I had read so used this one instead. The copy I read was entitled Isabella: She wolf of France, Queen of England.The book was well written, giving a thorough account of Isabella's life alongside the reigns of Edward II and Edward III and the unfolding political scene in Europe. Won't go into much detail for those who havnt read either book. Isabella hasnt been dealt a good hand by historians over the years, and I think it's safe to say that a lot of the criticism she has received is unjust. However when all is taken into consideration, it is just as easy to feel animosity towards her for some things that she did as it is to feel pity towards her for some of life's events she had to endure. So she will always have mixed feeling as far as my opinion goes. But what isnt in doubt is that she was a strong personality and to survive in that era of history as a leader that was a vital character trait.


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

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 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. . . .


As a work of academic history, this would get 5 stars, but this is written for the scholar and serious history buff, NOT the average layperson. Still, I have waded through the entire audiobook while I washed dishes and cooked meals and have found the details of life during this period of Medieval Europe quite educational. The details of Isabella's life are terrific. I want a fabulous historical fiction writer to do this biography justice, like maybe Hilary Mantel who did such a bang up job with Henry VII and Anne Boleyn. It actually took me a few chapters before I realized I was learning the life of the queen featured in the Mel Gibson movie, Braveheart. A beautiful French princess married to a neglectful and very gay English prince (Edward II) who was, without doubt, a truly idiotic politician. Still Isabella and Edward had a golden age of their marriage that produced children and seemed happy and collaborative (largely helped by Edward I banishing the prince's arrogant gay lover from the kingdom--he did not, I must add, chuck him out a tall tower to his death as the movie Braveheart portrays). But then, Edward II went and took another lover/favorite who was cruel and arrogant as well. Isabella was pushed to the side. Lots of other noblemen were pushed to the side. Unrest came to the brink of civil war. Isabella finagles her way out of the country on a diplomatic mission to France, with her eldest son (and heir to the English throne), whereupon she takes her husband's mortal enemy as her lover, returns to England at the head of an army, deposes her husband, makes peace with Scotland, and rules on her son's behalf until he comes of age. How awesome is that? Isabella was no saint, but that's not a bad biography for a medieval woman. Now I am going to have to watch Braveheart again. Although, sadly, there seems to be no historical evidence that Isabella ever met, let alone slept with, William Wallace of Mel Gibson fame. God bless Hollywood.


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.


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


I enjoyed this biography of the notorious Queen Isabella, wife of Edward II, who by all accounts was a formidable character. She managed to depose her unpopular husband with the aid of her lover Roger Mortimer in favour of her 13 year old son. This was enough to grant her a very bad press in France and in English accounts in later years. In many respects this is not her biography, but a history of the period; the factional struggles between powerful baronial groups; the weakness and incompetence of her bi-sexual husband, the King; the greed and rapacity of those with patronage. It is also about her struggle with the kings favourites, Piers Gaveston and later the Despensers. It says much for her son Edward III, that he managed to unite the kingdom.Weir dispels several myths such as the 'red hot poker' murder and the Braveheart story convincingly. There is no evidence that Isabella had any knowledge of the murder, and when it is supposed to have occurred Mortimer was in the driving seat. Weir produces evidence that Edward was not murdered, escaping to live out his life in a hermitage in Northern Italy and met with his son in later years. I was a little bored by the detailed descriptions of all the historical houses and missed out several sections because of this.Fictionalised and based predominantly on Isabella this would make an excellent story.


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.

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.


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.

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.


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.


I initially enjoyed the book very much, aside from the page-long discussion about what year Isabella was born in, but the writing style quickly became monotonous. I got annoyed of Weir saying "as we shall later see" or things of that sort. Either she should have continued her train of thought at the moment, or else worked on much better transitions. I know I'm sounding a little petty/picky, but it really did get to me.I also felt as though the relationship between Isabella and Mortimer was brushed over. Weir said repeatedly that the two did their best to be discreet, but that it was known that the two of them had a sexual relationship. Okay, but was Isabella really attached to him? How much of the decisions were hers? How much did he influence her? It seemed to me that Weir blamed Mortimer for every bad/evil decision the two made, while only once pointing out that, in the end, it was all Isabella's fault since she was the one who gave him the power and authority to make those decisions. It seemed as though Weir was trying to present Isabella in the best possible light, yet she could not make her out to be a saint. Isabella was greedy and obviously cared more about her own wealth and well-being than that of the state - or her own daughter-in-law, for that matter. Weir praises her for having the foresight to see that the war in Scotland was a waste, when Isabella only put an end to it so that resources could be available for the war she wanted to wage against France. Yet, when that war came, Isabella made sure that her own estates were exempt from the taxes raised to fund it. The book would have been much better if Weir had presented Isabella for what she was: a complicated individual instead of some saint who dramatically changed when she got fed up with her husband cheating on her.Another thing that really got me about this book was Weir's obsession with the theory that Edward II had escaped. I did not find any of the evidence she showed convincing. I have always been skeptical when authors claim that a king is suddenly unrecognizable because he changes clothes. That really made me question Weir's authority.I wouldn't recommend this book unless the reader was well-informed about the time-period and could spot any discrepancies. Even then, it's a bit annoying to read a book and have the author's interference with history because she likes the main character be so blatantly obvious. Technically, Weir lays most of the evidence out there, but she does so in a biased sort of way.

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