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


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

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.


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

Anna DunLany

I'm only giving this book two stars because I decided halfway through to pretend it was a fictional account of Queen Isabella's life--as Alison Weir did when she threw all scholarship out the window. I think it is a good thing that she switched to writing historical fiction. Also, her biography of Eleanor of Aquitaine is one of the best examples of recent medieval scholarship which made Queen Isabella all the more unpalatable.

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.


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.


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.

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. . . .


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


Non fiction. I quite enjoyed this book. I didn't know all that much about this time period in England, so I was glad to be able to read about it. Alison Weir says in her prologue that she began her research and writing into Isabella's life prepared to not like her, but that she was pleasantly surprised as she came to admire her. To some extent, I found this true. In general, in spite of her dreadful repuation, Isabella was a good wife, queen, and mother. But I eventually got annoyed with her greediness and her appropriation of English resources for herself and her lover.Isabella was a beloved daughter of Phillip IV of France (notorious for being the destroyer of the Templars), and she was married at the young age of 12 to the new king of England, Edward II. She grew into a beautiful, strong woman and bore her husband 4 healthy children, all of whom lived to adulthood. However, her life was hard and lonely because Edward II was quite clearly gay and became quite enamoured with 2 specific men during his life. Because of his adoration for those men, he allowed them far too much power and wealth, and they essentially ruled England in his name. Isabella understandably resented this--it appears that she was a very proud woman, and enjoyed the privileges of her birth and status, and in several instances, the king's 'favorites' as Weir refers to them, diverted certain amounts of her income from her to themselves. Edward was also a bad king for other reasons; he was unsuccessful in battle (a dreadful failing for a medeival king), and adding to Isabella's sense of abandonment, in several instances he left her in the path of invading Scottish armies and himself escaped with his current favorite.Isabella was able to escape her situation when she was sent to France to negotiate a peace settlement with her brother the French king. However, when her diplomatic mission was done, she did not return, much to Edward's surprise. From this vantage point, she was able to affect a revolution that toppled Edward II from power and put her young son on the throne as Edward III. She also took a lover, Roger Mortimer, one of the barons of England. The two of them ruled the kingdom in Edward III's name, and this is where I began to get annoyed with Isabella. I did pity her for being forced to be married to such an idiot of a man, but once she returned to England and began ruling, she was far too greedy and acquisitive. By awarding herself and Mortimer various gifts and privileges, she ended up bankrupting the English goverment. In fact, when poor Edward III got married, he was unable to provide his wife with her own income, because his mother had it all! I did like Edward III--he became a very good strong king, and a relatively loving family man (at least for the time).A very interesting read, and it was fascinating to read about the important precedents that Isabella set. In fact, her descendents were to use the idea that a bad king should be deposed and replaced (usually with the rightful heir to the throne). This leads to the tortuous battles of the Wars of the Roses.

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.


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.


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.


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.

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