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.


So not a page-turner, but it wasn't written with the casual reader in mind. If you're looking for an in-depth biography with lots of history, and critical evaluations of myth vs documented fact, this is a great book. It dragged a little around the middle, but picked back up near the end, and was certainly interesting. I like how Alison Weir explores the possible motivations for the actions of Edward II, Isabella and Edward III. One thing that struck me was how easy it was for people to lose everything they owned, just on the whim of the king/queen really, and everyone in the family would suffer, whether they had done anything or not. Anyway, it was a fascinating portrait of a very compelling character.


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.


The individuals in this book are very interesting. Isabella, Edward II and III, and Roger Mortimer all led fascinating lives. Sometimes you marvel at their political astuteness and sometimes at their amazingly idiotic decisions. The reading did bog down at spots. Sometimes it seemed they were just continually moving around England with another batch of nobles, and who was loyal to whom today? All in all, Alison Weir is a tireless researcher and draws rational conclusions from the information she uncovers.

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. . . .


If you have ever watched the movie "Braveheart" then you are familiar with Isabella of France who married Edward II of England. Unfortunately her depiction in the movie is completely wrong. While Isabella married the "poof" or "homosexual" Edward II, the son and heir of Edward "the Longshanks" I of England, she did so AFTER the elder Edward was dead. So he would have never been at the wedding or sent her to meet and confer with William Wallace. She was a small child when Wallace was executed.Isabella was a very smart and strong woman, even for her time. Also, unlike her movie portrayal, she did not despise her husband until much, much later in her life.They had 4 children together. Granted, he pissed her off and she got back at him by successfully invading England, deposing him and placing their son Edward III on the throne, then proceeded to turn around and commit crimes against England and the people that loved her. Typical politician. In fact, with out Isabella doing what she did, most of the democratic freedoms that the world enjoys today may never have come about. That is not to say she would have enjoyed that. She was a firm believer in the rule of a king and their exercising their prerogative. I thoroughly enjoyed this book. I read it fairly quickly because the writing flows so well. Weir is amazing in her detail and historical story telling.


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.


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

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.


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


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.

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.


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


Well, now I know. As far as I am concerned, Alison Weir is a much better writer -- she keeps up my interest better -- than Stacey Schiff. I had no idea who Queen Isabella was. When I first started the book, I thought she was Queen Isabella from Spain, the mother of Kathryn of Aragon. But then I found out that she was another queen of England, and she ruled two centuries before Kathryn of Aragon. But even though I had little background knowledge, Alison Weir made the biography very interesting.Okay, there was murder, treachery, love, and lust in this book, so there were a lot of things going on to keep my interest up! But Cleopatra had those same things in her life, too, but I just wasn't as interested in her story -- at least not the way Stacey Schiff told it. So I'm thinking I should lower the rating I gave Stacey Schiff's book.But what a pity "Queen Isabella" wasn't historical fiction! If Philappa Gregory had written about Queen Isabella, that would have been quite some novel. So even though I like Alison Weir, I still prefer historical fiction to straight history.On a scale of 1 to 10, I would give this book a 6."Queen Isabella" was Book No. 23 for 2011!


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.

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