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Queen Isabella: Treachery, Adultery, and…

Queen Isabella: Treachery, Adultery, and Murder in Medieval England

by Alison Weir

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1,0053213,173 (3.79)45
No English queen has drawn more ire than the vilified Queen Isabella. A 12-year-old French girl, she married Edward II in 1308 to forge peace between her native and adopted countries. But Edward preferred the company of his male courtiers, and a frustrated Isabella eventually fled--into the arms of Edward's greatest enemy, Baron Roger Mortimer. Together they raised an army, forced Edward to abdicate (and allegedly had him killed), and ruled England while Isabella's son was a minor.… (more)

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This was my beach read, and it took up the entire vacation to get through it. I enjoyed it a lot. The story is fascinating and the writing is good. The downsides are the slow start and the dense historian minutiae, which makes it tedious on occasion.

Isabella's story is worthy of an action and sex-packed HBO series. The daughter of the powerful French king marries Edward II, king of England. He should be so lucky having the best bred, most beautiful, richest, most diplomatically astute bride in Christendom, right? Unfortunately, he prefers men. If this was a discreet hobby, it would not be a problem - but he lets his favorites rule him and the country. The favorites are greedy and cruel, and the king alienates nobles and common people alike. The situation gets so bad tha Isabella barely escapes with her life - and ends up leading the only successful invasion of England. She is greeted as a liberator, Edward II is taken prisoner, and Isabella's son, Edward III becomes king.

There is more. We have salacious details of adulterous queens, and terrible, wide-ranging political consequences of their dalliances - including the Hundred Year War between England and France. There are plots to murder and depose, and one political takeover involving a secret passage in a castle. Yep, if this was not history, we would cry cliché. We also have a murder of a king. Or do we? Maybe it is the escape of a king that was hushed up? As Weir unveils the evidence, mind gets blown.

You have to be a bit of a history buff to appreciate this book, but if you are, it is well worth the time. ( )
  Gezemice | Oct 29, 2018 |
I have yet to read an Alison Weir book that I didn't like. She chose a fascinating subject in Queen Isabella, whose life was full of political and romantic intrigue. As a consequence, this book is every bit as gripping and page-turn-y (yes, I'm convinced that's a word) as Game of Thrones (I do wonder whether George R. R. Martin based Cersei in part on Isabella). My only quibble is that Weir sometimes takes Isabella's part a bit too earnestly; after a while you begin to feel that you're reading a zealous defense of the Lannisters. ( )
  GaylaBassham | May 27, 2018 |
In a comment on the accuracy of the movie Braveheart, Isabella of France married Edward II of England in 1308 when she was 12 and he was 26. (William Wallace had been dead for three years and Edward I for one before Isabella even saw England) It was a fairy-tale wedding, in more than one sense; Edward was bisexual and gave some of his new bride’s wedding presents away to his boyfriends, notably Piers Gaveston, an otherwise unaccomplished Gascon knight. She put up with this for years; although the English nobility were less tolerant and Gaveston was eventually trapped away from the king and beheaded; Hugh Despenser then took his place in Edward’s affections and was even ruder to Isabella than Gaveston had been.. However, when Isabella received permission to visit her homeland in 1323, she didn’t come back on schedule, instead hooking up with Roger Mortimer, the Earl of March and an escapee from The Tower. Roger and Isabella then invaded England; deposed Edward; had Hugh Despenser tied to a tall ladder in Hereford, castrated, disemboweled, and burned; and reportedly had Edward killed by inserting a red-hot poker where it would really get his attention (this last isn’t attested until much later, and Edward may have been just smothered; however, there are lots of contemporary illustrations of Despenser as the guest of honor in Hereford). Isabella and Mortimer turned out to be just as incompetent and tyrannous as Edward and were promptly overthrown themselves by a coup lead by the 18-year-old Edward III. Mortimer was hanged at Tyburn and Isabella ended up in a nunnery; either Edward III was more merciful or less imaginative than his mother.

The author, Alison Weir, proposes an interesting theory: that Edward II was not killed but escaped from prison, went to Italy, and became a monk. Her evidence is meager. Isabella’s ghost inhabits the former Greyfriars churchyard in London, where she is reported to wander around carrying her husband’s heart. I suppose she could be carrying worse things, under the circumstances. Interestingly, the same churchyard also hosts the spirit of Alice (or Agnes) Hungerford, who was boiled alive in Tudor times for poisoning her husband. The two ghosts are reported to engage in violent turf battles when they encounter each other. (There’s also the ghost of Elizabeth Barton, the “Holy Maid of Kent”; an unidentified ghostly monk; and a spectral dog. Since it’s a relatively small cemetery, it must get pretty crowded if everybody shows up at once). Certainly the church has been unlucky; it burned down in the Great Fire and was rebuilt only to be bombed out during the Blitz.

Weir is successful in her attempt to rehabilitate Isabella, who acquired the nickname “She Wolf of France” somewhere along the line. She was clearly provoked; Edward should have known hell hath no fury as a woman scorned. ( )
  setnahkt | Dec 16, 2017 |
A bit dull ( )
  ramrak | Aug 22, 2017 |
Informative narrative of the life of Isabella of France, Queen to Edward 2nd. Extensive research from historical records are used to describe the life and times of this much maligned Queen. ( )
  Pmaurer | Jun 27, 2017 |
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