She Wolves – Episode 2 – Isabella of France and Margaret of Anjou 14.03.2012


Isabella of France 15th Century Portrait
Isabella of France 15th Century Portrait

1308 Isabella of France became Queen of England age 12
Little more than a pawn in power plays between England and France
Isabella and Margaret both known as the “she wolves of France”
Isabella daughter of the King of France – living embodiment of the treaty between England and France, keen sense of her own majesty
What she found different to what she expected
First public appearance – coronation
Piers Gaveston carried the king’s crown into the abbey and sat with him at the coronation feast
Her place at Edward II’s side had been taken by Gaveston
Edward had given some of the wedding presents to Gaveston from the French nobles
Three people in the marriage
King’s relationship with his nobles was souring because of his relationship with Gaveston – king offers leadership and security and nobles protect the realm
Nobles don’t think the king is doing what he should
Nobles armed enter parliament and order banishment of Gaveston and claim that 21 of them should rule in the king’s stead
King refused to accept Gaveston’s exile = together again within 2 months
1312 age 16 and pregnant for the first time
Her, Gaveston and the king are being dragged around the country chased by a group of lords, led by the Earl of Lancaster – lords determined to capture Gaveston and end the relationship
Gaveston at Scarborough and royal family at York
Gaveston starved out and held captive
Only death would separate Edward and Gaviston = still at York when word reached them 100 miles south

Piers Gaveston
Piers Gaveston

Gaveston sentenced to death in a show trial – taken to a hillside and beheaded
1312 Isabella gives birth to a son, giving herself a lot more power as mother of the future king – possibility of real power
Seeking conventional role of a queen – not power for herself but help her husband to rule
Isabella tried to forge a peace
1314 king’s army defeated by the Scots (Robert the Bruce) at Bannockburn
Lost control over Scotland = couldn’t be held without Earl of Lancaster who had killed Gaveston
New favourite emerged at court who was more of a threat to Isabella than Gaveston ever was
Hugh Despenser = no evidence of him being a lover like Gaveston = Isabella birthed two more children while Despenser built up his own wealth and power
1321 lords had enough and marched on London threatening violence against Edward and Despenser
Isabella supported her husband (just birthed her fourth child) – Despenser banned
Isabella made the country sink to civil war
October 1321 Isabella en route to Canterbury on pilgrimage – Leeds Castle on the Kent coast seeking shelter for the night
Bartholomew Baddlesmere had marched on London and his wife refused Isabella entrance
Ordered her men to force entrance – 6 of Isabella’s soldiers were dead
Edward used this to send a message to the rebel lords – refusing entrance to the queen was treason – Baddlesmere’s family was imprisoned in the Tower
Burroughbridge, Yorkshire = king’s army defeated and captured Lancaster, who was executed
Penalties for anyone who dared to oppose the king
Families of rebels filled prisons
Edward’s rule became a grasping tyranny – Isabella was also a victim of the new regime from her French heritage
Summer 1324 crisis between England and France
England still held Gascony, but Isabella’s brother, the French king, wanted to take it
War was imminent – Isabella’s possessions were seized and she was separated from her children
Isabella 9 March 1325 left England for Paris as the king’s emissary and negotiated a truce between England and France
Isabella wanted her eldest son sent to France to pay homage and seal the agreement
When her son landed on French soil she could act as the mother of the heir to the throne
Isabella had no intention of returning to England once she had her son by her side = had been a supporting player but now moves to centre stage
Marriage is a union, but someone is trying to break the bond – refused to return until Despenser is removed, present herself to the world as a wronged wife

15th Century Manuscript with Queen Isabella and Roger Mortimer in the Foreground
15th Century Manuscript with Queen Isabella and Roger Mortimer in the Foreground

Roger Mortimer, soldier and politician joined the rebels against Edward and escaped into exile in France – within weeks of meeting there were rumours that their partnership was personal rather than political
All-consuming passion
Adultery for a queen was a sin and treason
No more safe options – had her son under her control
Decided to remove the king from the throne – not enough to remove Despenser
Wanted to depose an anointed king, but couldn’t do it alone, needed an army
Independent player – her son married Philippa of Hainault who brought ships and soldiers as her dowry – they set sail for England
Takes up arms against her king and husband with her lover by her side
Greeted with open arms – people hadn’t known how to resist, but with her son by her side there was an alternate heir to the throne
Promise of new young king and capable mother
Edward II’s power melted away – champion against Edward’s tyranny
Edward and Despenser packed and fled west where they were captured in Wales
Despenser was brought before Isabella – hanged, castrated and disembowelled – inflicted brutal punishments on her enemies
January 1327 parliament declared Edward had forfeited the allegiance of his people and that his son should wear the crown in his place
First time in English history a king was deposed
Edward was forced to sign his own abdication
Could Isabella rule in her son’s name with the old king still alive? Never happened before
Edward imprisoned in Barclay Castle in Gloucestershire but while he remained alive he was the focus for rebellions against her
Within a year three plots to rescue Edward had been uncovered
His murder was planned, done in secrecy and shadows – death announced but not explained
Rumour and speculation
Rumour had it he was killed with a red hot poker up the anus to burn from the inside
Christopher Marlowe “that unnatural queen, false Isabelle”
Edward’s murder sealed Isabella’s reputation as a she-wolf = tyrannical, corrupt, sinful, manipulative
Isabella knelt in prayer at her husband’s funeral
Still seen as the country’s saviour
Overwhelming sense of entitlement blunted her own vision = began to run the country for her own enrichment
Extraordinary luxury
Isabella didn’t know where to stop
Isabella and Mortimer rewarded themselves with estates and the contents of the treasury – behaving exactly like Edward and Despenser before them
Suppressed all opposition and kept her son by his side, monitoring his friends and giving him no freedom
“A lamb encompassed by wolves”

Edward III at the National Portrait Gallery, from the 16th century
Edward III at the National Portrait Gallery, from the 16th century

1330 her son was 17 and had claws of his own
Nottingham Castle – suspicious that her son was beginning to resist her control = darkness, a group of young knights made their way through secret tunnels into the castle and Isabella and Mortimer were surrounded
Isabella’s rule was over
Mortimer was sentenced to a traitor’s death for killing the last king and usurping the power of the current one – killed at Tyburn
What would happen to Isabella?
No public traces of her grief
Had to surrender her estates, but still got an income of 3,000 pounds a year and not allowed to meddle in politics
First person to depose an anointed king
Female power as grotesque, savage and immoral
Next 100 years England and France almost constantly at war
1444 England on the back foot and ready to make a truce – Margaret of Anjou age 15 betrothed to Henry VI of England age 23 and seal the truce
Childhood taught her the limitations of royal power
Royal power had to be fought for and a woman could rule in the absence of a husband
Good husband but disastrous king
Henry VI came to the throne as a 9 month old king – no more capable of ruling age 23 as he was as a baby
1453 Margaret gave birth to a boy, Prince Edward
Just months before, Henry VI had lost his mental capacities and sank into a catatonic state – with the heir to the throne in her arms, she had a real stake in politics
Margaret wanted all power in England – act as regent for her husband
First step on a road to the “she-wolf of France”
Country stood on the brink of civil war – years without royal leadership and a destructive rivalry between two nobles, known as the wars of the roses
Nobles divided – Duke of York (king’s cousin) vs. Duke of Somerset (Lancaster)
Both claimed the right to rule in the king’s absence, and tension was about to spill into military
Henry not physically absent – Margaret seen as trying to exceed her proper powers

Henry VI 1540 at the National Portrait Gallery
Henry VI 1540 at the National Portrait Gallery

1454 Margaret presented with a way forward 16 months after Henry VI had slipped under he returned to his senses and acknowledged his son
York and Somerset’s rivalry had become deadly
Margaret believed Somerset supported her husband, and had him close
York wanted the king near him
May 1455 Battle of St Albans – political confrontation became civil war – first battle of wars of the roses
100 men died
Henry VI took no part in the battle but sat in the middle of the market square
King only a pawn in a game
Duke of York’s army had won and Somerset was dead – battle changed everything and was a turning point for Margaret – York still claimed to be Henry’s loyal subject
York a threat to Margaret’s son, Edward, as he is too close to the throne
Left London for Tutbury in Staffordshire
Attempt to match York with territorial power base of her own – castle enlarged and improved, imposing residence for an increasingly imposing queen
Prepared to fight for husband and son
Invoked a reaction – sexual slurs, suggesting her son was a bastard or changeling
Take more than words to defeat her
Summer 1456 waiting for a confrontation between Margaret and York
Margaret needed to raise an army in the name of her husband and son – defend them by any means necessary
No middle ground = anyone who wasn’t with her was an enemy of the crown
September 1459 Blore Heath in Staffordshire – after 4 hours 2000 men lay dead on the battlefield and Lancastrians were defeated by York
Three weeks later York was defeated and he, his son Edward and Warwick scattered
Margaret declared them guilty of treason
Margaret alienated the south – battle at Northampton Margaret lost the battle and her husband was taken prisoner to London
York was claiming the crown for himself – he was the rightful king by line of descent
Couldn’t get the nobles to back him and a compromise was reached = Henry would rule, but on his death York would succeed
Margaret’s son would be disinherited
Margaret raised support from loyal nobles and Scotland
York ambushed and killed at Wakefield December 1460 – head spiked on Micklegate Bar at York topped with a paper crown to mock his ambitions
York’s son, Edward, and nephew, Warwick, wanted revenge
Met again at St Alban’s

Margaret of Anjou from an illuminated manuscript c. 1445 by Talbot Master
Margaret of Anjou from an illuminated manuscript c. 1445 by Talbot Master

Margaret waited in the Abbey – Yorkists defeated and King Henry released, reunited with Margaret
Power came from the royal trio – king, queen and prince
Margaret kept the royal cause alive = all for her son to rule England as king
Greatest enemy was dead, but faced a greater threat from his 18 year old son, Edward, tall and charismatic, claiming to be King of England through his royal descent
London agreed with Edward, proclaiming him Edward IV
Battle of Towton in Yorkshire – royal family took refuge in York
After 8 hours thousands were dead and Margaret had lost = Edward IV was unchallenged as King of England, and the ex-royals fled north as hunted fugitives
Margaret wouldn’t give in, trying to raise support from the Scots and the French
Margaret struggled to gather support, as she is a foreign queen
Husband captured and imprisoned 1465 in the Tower of London with nowhere else to turn so fled to France
Her son was 10 when they moved to France
Petitioned the crowned heads of Europe for help to regain the throne of England
Yorkist regime’s capacity for self-destruction = Earl of Warwick “kingmaker” driving force behind Edward’s campaign for the throne
Fallen into a bitter rivalry – needed another candidate to wear the crown = Lancaster
Margaret despised and distrusted Warwick so had to make a difficult decision
Warwick was Margaret’s only chance to seize her son’s inheritance back for him = 22 July 1470 Margaret faced Warwick and her son married Warwick’s daughter, Anne Neville
Warwick sailed for England, but Margaret and her son stayed in France
Edward surprised by Warwick’s attack and fled to the Netherlands

Edward IV
Edward IV

Easter Sunday 1471 Margaret and Prince Edward landed in England – but their world fell apart as Edward IV had also returned to England and had clashed with Warwick at the Battle of Barnet where the latter was killed
Margaret was exposed and vulnerable
Future decided on a battlefield – made her way west to join supporters
Edward set out to intercept her, promising death for anyone who helped her
Battle of Tewkesbury = Margaret’s son was on the battlefield, would either win the crown or lose his life
Prince Edward died in the midst of the battle, and Margaret didn’t try to run with nowhere to go and no one left to fight for
Next day Henry VI’s body was brought out of the Tower – official story that he died of melancholy, but little doubt that Edward IV ordered his execution
Margaret was imprisoned for 4 years before Edward allowed her to return to France where she died

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