Sunday, 21 February 2021

The widowhood of Isabella of France


But did she do it? Isabella, Queen of England was widowed on September 21st 1327. But there were no widows weeds for this consort. Isabella had already helped usurp her husband in a coup months before his timely death in Berkeley Castle. But the question that's remained ever since is - did this Queen of England help finish off her husband?

I doubt we'll ever know the truth. Isabella, like many a royal before and since, left no written record of her actions at this crucial time in her royal life. There's little doubt that the death of Edward II, at Berkeley Castle, was a boost to the newly formed powerbase she'd made with her lover, Roger Mortimer, after they'd claimed the throne for her eldest son. But its very convenience, just months after Edward had been toppled from the throne, also helped to hasten the demise of Isabella and Mortimer. Edward had been hated by many during his greedy and gutless time as king. But the suspicion that he had been murdered to consolidate the power of the new regime cast those who claimed to bring peace and stability to be viewed with a fresh suspicion.

Isabella herself had been a main driving force in the battle to bring Edward II's tyrannical regime to an end. She had masterminded and carried out the plot which saw her vain and foolish husband relinquish control of his heir and open the door to his rivals seizing power. Isabella's canny machinations to bring the couple's first born child, the future Edward III, to France had given her the upper hand in the battle for the throne of England. She had used it wisely. She soon came back to her husband's realm but with an invading force and her hand in the military as well as PR moves that followed played a large part in the deposition of Edward II and the installation of her son as Edward III, puppet king.

But did she help to kill her former husband? Edward II had been sent to Berkeley Castle on the orders of Roger Mortimer when it became clear that opponents of the new regime were seeking to free the fallen king. Given that Mortimer would have been nothing without Isabella and that the Queen of England had plenty of reason to despise her husband, she was at least complicit in the decision to move him to the secure isolation of Berkeley.

However, Edward's death remains shrouded in mystery. There are even those who still doubt whether he did die on September 21st 1327. All that is known is that Edward III was told that his father had passed away on that September day and that several of those involved in keeping Edward II prisoner later fled. The body of the one time monarch was shown to local leaders and dignitaries but by the time he was taken to Gloucester for burial, three months later, his remains were beginning to deteriorate despite embalming. Edward III attended his father's funeral on December 20th 1327 but Isabella stayed away.

She was now queen dowager of England, mother to the monarch and lover of the man who actually ruled England. Within three years, Edward III had deposed Mortimer and had him executed for treason. Isabella was spared and lived until 1358, enjoying a generous income and a very regal lifestyle though no doubt always closely watched by the son who had seen her political ambitions and abilities close up. She died a nun having developed a close interest in religion towards the end of her life. Whether that involved any confessions around the death of her husband will never be known. Isabella, Queen of England, is one of the guardians of the secrets of what really happened on September 21st 1327.

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