Damien F. Mackey
“Jezebel, the wife of King Ahab in the Hebrew Book of Kings, has long had a bad girl reputation. But in the modern secular world, this is somewhat mitigated by the feminist perspective of her as a strong woman, the power behind the throne. Previously avoided as a baby name, Jezebel is now, along with the also previously avoided Delilah and Desiree, coming into use, helped by its relation to other ‘bel’ name such as Isabel and Bella”.
Isabel is a name fit for a queen — and she expects to be treated like one.
A variant on Isabella (famous patroness of Columbus), Isabel radiates class. Even if you spell it in the slightly cutesier way — Isabelle — it’s got the hard s and the soft “bel” …. She may indeed be descended from Spanish royalty — or she might just have stuck-up parents. An anonymous poster on The Baby Name Wizard writes,
I named my daughter Isabel because I thought it could be cute as Izzy or sophisticated — a girl named Isabel could definitely be President!
Please, no more Isabels, Isabelles, or Isabellas! Or Sophias. We now have five little girls named Isabel/la in a neighborhood radius of 5 blocks, and three Sophias. Not to mention an Isabel Sophia. This name is epidemic in Yuppieland.
Our Isabel is adopted from Guatemala. We wanted a name that was hispanic in origin but also crosses over culture. We are certainly not yuppies!
Ouch! Isabel may not come from yuppie stock, but her parents definitely think she’s better than other little girls. Thing is, they might be right. Isabel could be President — or she could be Isabel Toledo the awesome designer who made the First Lady’s inauguration dress. Or maybe Isabel Allende, magic realist author of Eva Luna and The House of the Spirits, and cousin to Chilean President Salvador Allende. Or Isabel Archer, the flighty yet independent heroine of Henry James’s The Portrait of a Lady.
Unlike Courtneys, Isabels are full of themselves for a reason. While the quintessential Courtney is good at being popular and not much else — at your high school reunion, you discover she’s not that interesting — Isabel is going places. In fact, she’s probably already been more places than you, and she knows it. She’s not particularly warm or friendly, but people pay attention when she talks. Everybody wants to go to her birthday party, and lots of people show up for her dance recital. She’s not quite the prettiest girl in school, but she has great jewelry, and an elegance beyond her years. She’s the kind of person about whom a book called The Portrait of a Lady might be written.
Isabel has skyrocketed in popularity recently, a fact that the non-yuppie parents on Baby Name Wizards probably aren’t thrilled about. It went from #495 in the US in the sixties to a high of #82 around 2003. It dipped down to #96 in 2008, but that might still be a little too common for nobility-minded Isabels — especially since its more fun-loving sister Isabella now clocks in at #2. If that’s the case, they can always go by Izzy, which I think of not as “cute,” but as one of those high-class names that subverts its own goofiness. Grey’s Anatomy‘s Izzie Stevens doesn’t really fit this mold, but in general the name Izzy says, it doesn’t matter how silly my name is, because you’ll take me seriously anyway. And if you don’t, you’ll be sorry when I’m famous.
In this article we are going to find that certain queens Isabella (or Isabelle, Isabel, Isabeau) have acquired the reputation of a Jezebel.
Queen Jezebel – or the Jezebel in Revelation 2:20 – are bluntly depicted therein as evil women: adulteresses, sorceresses, idol worshippers, and so on.
They were tough, ruthless, man-like women, strong enough to run over men (their husbands). Just the sort of women, in fact, that the radical feminists of our “modern secular world” might strive to glorify and to emulate.
Man-like, too, were said to be some of those queens Isabella who got called “Jezebel”.
Isabella of Angoulême
‘more Jezebel than Isabel’
“John saw Isabella for the first time there and, according to reports, immediately lusted after her, desiring her as his wife. Isabella was, at most, twelve years old at this visit but she is depicted by contemporaries as a young temptress, fuelling the king’s lust with her beauty and betraying her fiancé, Hugh de Lusignan”.
Text book history will tell us that Isabella was the Queen consort of King John I of England (1200 – 1216 AD, conventional dating), who is portrayed as a villain in the Robin Hood tales. She, whose maternal great-grandfather (it is said) was King Louis XI of France, became Countess of Angoulême in 1202, by which time she was already queen of England.
Her marriage to King John is said to have taken place in 1200, at Bordeaux.
Some of her contemporaries portrayed the Queen as a witch, a sorcerer, a murderess, in short, a Jezebel (Virtuous or Villainess? The Image of the Royal Mother from the Early …,p. 103 …):
The St Albans chronicler Roger of Wendover [d. 1236], who wrote in the early years of King Henry III’s reign, portrayed Isabella as a fitting consort for King John, whom he characterized as one of England’s most cruel and unpleasant kings. Wendover painted Isabella as a bewitching seductress in whose company John delighted when he should, instead, have been defending Normandyfrom the conquering forces of the French king Philip Augustus in 1203. …. Matthew Paris, Wendover’s successor at St Albans, famously blackened Isabella’s reputation further. In one apocryphal story that Paris included within his narrative, John sent emissaries to the emir of North Africa in the hope of seeking his assistance, only for Robert of London, one of John’s agents, to reveal the king’s true character to his Muslim host. In doing so, Robert also chose to divulge just how much Isabella hated her husband, before describing the queen herself in the most damning terms as an adulterous woman, whose lovers had been murdered on her husband’s personal orders. According to Paris, Isabella’s worst character traits carried on into her later lifein France, where her scandalous behavior, most notably herinvolvement in a plot to murder the French king, led the chronicler to claim she was more deserving of the name of Jezebel, the Old Testament figure who had brought about the deaths of prophets and holy men, than Isabella. ….
Isabella of Angouleme has one of the most grim reputations of any queen of England. She led a tumultuous life that was filled with high drama and intrigue and she was infamous across Europe even during her lifetime. Isabella is remembered today as an adulteress, a disloyal mother and a poisoner. One contemporary writer even went so far as to describe her as ‘more Jezebel than Isabel’. Today, Isabella is considered dishonourable like her mother-in-law, Eleanor of Aquitaine, but with none of the older woman’s admirable qualities. In short, she is seen as the sort of consort that her husband, King John, deserved. There is no doubt that Isabella was hated and feared but how much she deserved this amoral characterisation is debatable. Isabella was the wife of the disastrous and highly unpopular King John and it is not surprising that much of his bad reputation infected hers. She lived in turbulent times and, as a prominent landowner in her own right, Isabella often found herself at the mercy of the changing fortunes of the English and the French on the continent. Therefore it is not entirely surprising that she sometimes sought to play the two off against each other in an attempt to preserve her lands. ….
… it is likely that Isabella was very young at the time of her marriage to John in 1200.1 She is often described as being twelve years old in 1200 but since this was the legal earliest age for marriage, this may have been an official age. It has been suggested that Isabella was as young as eight or nine in 1200.2
It is often claimed that John’s marriage to Isabella was driven by lust with all the criticism of Isabella that this implies.8 In the summer of 1200 John set out on a progress through Poitou. During his progress he visited the Lusignans at Le Marche.9 John saw Isabella for the first time there and, according to reports, immediately lusted after her, desiring her as his wife. Isabella was, at most, twelve years old at this visit but she is depicted by contemporaries as a young temptress, fuelling the king’s lust with her beauty and betraying her fiancé, Hugh de Lusignan. ….
On 23 August 1200, Isabella was informed by her parents that she was to marry John the next day. Her feelings concerning this are not clear and she must have been bewildered at the sudden change in her fortunes. Both Hugh and John were considerably older than her and she is unlikely to have been emotionally attached to either man. It has been claimed that she wept and protested12; equally, it has been suggested that she greatly desired to be a queen.13 ….
In 1201, trouble broke out in Poitou and John charged the Lusignans with treason. The Lusignans turned to Philip Augustus for support and, in 1202, Philip declared that John had forfeited Aquitaine, Poitou and Anjou and gave them to John’s rival, Arthur of Brittany.16 John seems to have blamed Isabella for the loss of his French possessions and apparently told her this in 1205.17Sources also blame Isabella, claiming that following their marriage John and Isabella would lie in bed together rather than attend to business, again suggesting that Isabella’s precocious charms kept the king from his proper duties.18 ….
John and Isabella’s personal relationship also does not seem to have been a success. John is known to have had several illegitimate children with at least two born to noblewomen.24 In 1214 John abducted the noblewoman Matilda FitzWalter, forcing her to become his mistress.25 It is likely that this action both aroused Isabella’s jealously and stirred up baronial opposition to John in England. Sources also refer to John’s ‘lady friends’, one of whom he sent roses to in June 1212.26 It seems probable that John took mistresses throughout his marriage to Isabella, something that a woman as strong-willed as Isabella cannot have accepted easily. For her contemporaries of the opposite sex however male infidelity was acceptable and Isabella would have been expected to simply ignore John’s conduct. The only reason he was chastised for his affairs was his preference for abducting noblewomen, the implication being that he could have relations with women of lower status with impunity. However as is the norm for the medieval period, there was one standard for men and quite another for women. Although John has largely escaped censure for his affairs, a great deal of Isabella’s poor reputation stems from her supposed infidelity. A contemporary, Matthew Paris, described her as guilty of adultery, sorcery and incest.27 One suggested lover is Isabella’s own half-brother, Peter de Joigny, and this would account for the accusation of incest. Peter visited England in 1215 and possibly 1207 so Isabella and her brother may have formed a close relationship with each other.28 ….
A further story grotesquely narrates how John had one of Isabella’s lovers strangled and his corpse suspended over her bed.29There was probably little affection between John and Isabella. She was not mentioned in his will and, after his death, Isabella issued three perfunctory charters for his soul then never mentioned him again.30 She may also have taken lovers during their marriage; if so, she was no more at fault than her husband but because of her sex, such accusations were enough to damn her.
Isabella had little contact with her children by John. It is unclear whether this was her choice or not but she never seems to have built a relationship with them. ….
Isabella was never given the opportunity to be a mother to her children in their formative years. These early separations and, perhaps, dislike of their father, may have been major factors in Isabella’s subsequent conduct towards her children.
The last few years of John’s reign were racked by civil war in England. It has been suggested that Isabella was imprisoned by John during these years but it is more likely that this refers to her being guarded for her own protection.33Isabella was one of the most unpopular figures in John’s regime and under considerable threat from the people of England. Isabella spent the last years of John’s reign in the relative safety of the West Country.34 ….
In early 1216 John’s relations with his barons took a turn for the worst when they held a council in which they decided to elect the Dauphin, Louis of France, as king.35 Louis landed at Thanet on 20 May 1216 and quickly took Rochester Castle. He was received with joy in London and by autumn 1216, controlled most of southern England.36News of Louis’ progress must have filled Isabella with dread as she waited in Bristol. In the midst of this chaos, John died on 18 October 1216 and was buried at Worcester.37
When news reached Bristol of John’s death, Isabella immediately showed the strength of character that would underpin her widowhood. Isabella travelled at once to Gloucester where her nine-year-old son, Henry III, had been brought. He was hastily crowned on 28 October, with one of Isabella’s gold collars.38Despite this decisive action, Isabella was not given a position in the regency and William Marshall was appointed regent at a council the following day.39This must have been galling for her but it is, once again, a measure of her unpopularity in England and a demonstration of her inability to build a political party of her own during her time as Queen of England. Certainly, Isabella’s position in England following John’s death does not appear to have been good. Denied any political role, Isabella also seems to have had trouble securing her property.40 This explains Isabella’s decision to return to Angouleme in June 1217, leaving her children in England.
Isabella’s behaviour on her return to Angouleme in 1217 illustrates her forceful and independent character. She quickly established her lordship in Angouleme, gaining control over Cognac even, a region which had been lost to Angouleme in the 1180s.41 The English minority council seem to have expected Isabella to govern Angouleme for the benefit of Henry III, but, in 1220, Isabella once again demonstrated her self-direction, marrying Hugh de Lusignan, son of her former fiancé and the man betrothed to her own daughter, Joanna. Isabella appears to have had no qualms about robbing her daughter of her fiancé and she may have reasoned that the same had happened to her when she was a young girl and that, after years of a loveless marriage to John, she deserved a little happiness. ….
Isabella would also have known that her marriage would not be looked upon favourably in England and her letter to Henry III, explaining her actions, provides a strong indication of her character:
We hereby signify to you that when the Counts of March and Eu departed this life, the lord Hugh de Lusignan remained alone and without heirs in Poitou, and his friends would not permit that our daughter should be united to him in marriage, because her age is so tender, but counselled him to take a wife from whom he might speedily hope for an heir; and it was proposed that he should take a wife in France, which if he had done, all your land in Poitou and Gascony would be lost. We, therefore, seeing the great peril that might accrue if that marriage should take place, when our counsellors could give us no advice, ourselves married the said Hugh, count of March; and God knows we did this rather for your benefit than our own.42
The reasons Isabella gives to explain her marriage seem implausible. It is clear that it was Isabella’s own desire to marry Hugh and her excuses were merely an attempt to avert Henry’s anger and try to persuade him that she was actually acting in his best interests. By marrying Hugh, however, Isabella created the very political crisis that John sought to avert by marrying Isabella in 1200. It is possible that, in her second marriage, Isabella also allowed herself to enjoy a little revenge at John’s expense and, certainly, she had never been well treated in England. It is therefore easy to see why she might not have proved loyal to a country where she had been so unhappy.
Isabella’s excuses convinced no one and her marriage caused anger in Henry’s minority council, who responded by confiscating Isabella’s dower. In retaliation, Isabella refused to release her daughter Joanna, Hugh’s jilted fiancée, until her rights were reinstated, essentially keeping the girl as a hostage.43 The dispute dragged on until October 1220 when Henry III finally agreed to reinstate Isabella’s dower. Hugh then escorted Joanna to La Rochelle where she was taken back into English custody.44 The negotiations following Isabella’s marriage show her to be a shrewd negotiator. The incident was also the first indication of the troubled and manipulative relationships Isabella would have with her English children and it is clear, from her behaviour, that she saw Joanna as a bargaining chip in her attempts to get what she wanted. Again, however, she had also never been allowed much contact with her English children and she may well have reasoned that they could fend for themselves without their mother, as they had always done. In any event Isabella’s relationship with Henry’s minority council was tense; in 1224 she and Hugh defected to the French and Isabella was granted a pension in return for her dower lands forfeited in England. In 1230 Isabella entered into another agreement with France at Henry’s expense, increasing the size of her pension.45 There is evidence that, from 1228, Henry III’s government were petitioning the Pope to annul Isabella’s marriage to Hugh. This, however, came to nothing.46
It is likely that Isabella’s second marriage was more satisfying than her first. She and Hugh enjoyed a more equal relationship, issuing charters together.47Isabella also had a great deal of influence over Hugh. For example in June 1241 Hugh swore fealty to the French candidate for Count of Poitou, a title to which Henry III also laid claim.48 This enraged Isabella, who had also been slighted by the Queen of France when she attended court at Poitiers; she was not inclined to make any further agreements with the French crown.49 Furious at her husband’s conduct, Isabella stripped Lusignan Castle of its furnishings and returned to her own castle at Angouleme with Hugh’s possessions. Hearing of his wife’s activities, Hugh followed, but Isabella would not admit him to the castle for three days, forcing him to sleep in a building in front of the castle.
When Hugh was finally admitted, Isabella abused him for supporting an alternative Count of Poitou to her son Henry.50 This obviously had an effect – at Christmas 1241, Hugh declared himself against the French and persuaded Henry to join a military expedition to Poitou.
The English army, led by Henry III and his brother Richard, sailed on 9 May 1242. No evidence survives of Isabella’s reunion with her two English sons. It seems likely that it was a tense meeting given the twenty-five years since she had last seen them and her political activities during that period. Certainly Henry and Richard are likely to have turned against their mother during the campaign, when Hugh deserted them for the French. The English campaign was a disaster and Henry barely escaped with his life, returning to England defeated. Henry’s disastrous campaign opened Isabella’s eyes to the reality of the political situation in Europe and she resigned herself to the fact that her sons could not defeat the French for her. Isabella therefore decided to take matters into her own hands and, in 1244, assassins were captured in the royal kitchens trying to poison Louis IX’s food. When questioned, the men confessed that they had been sent by Isabella and there is no evidence that Isabella ever attempted to deny this charge.51Isabella would have known that a military campaign against Louis was no longer a possibility without English backing and she may have considered that the death of Louis would enable her to hold her lands more securely. Poisoning, however, was a grievous sin and Isabella would have realised that with the crime discovered she would be hunted down. When Isabella was informed of the arrests she threatened to kill herself with a dagger before being restrained.52 She then fled to Fontevrault Abbey, seeking sanctuary from her pursuers. Isabella spent her last years safely immured in the Abbey and died there on 4 June 1246.53
In England, news of Isabella’s death was met with a brief display of mourning. ….
Isabella of Angouleme is not the most ill-famed of English queens but she is remembered as among the worst. Bad King John and Isabella of Angouleme were described in the sources as a well-matched couple – both were portrayed as devious and self-interested figures. Isabella of Angouleme’s legacy is so disreputable that it is now difficult to see the real woman behind this characterisation. There is no doubt that Isabella often acted in a self-interested way, sometimes at the expense of her own children ….
There is no doubt that Isabella was hated and whatever the truth of her life, to the chroniclers and later writers she had few of the redeeming features of her daughter-in-law, Eleanor of Provence, who although notorious, is noted for her devotion to her family, or her granddaughter-in-law, Eleanor of Castile, who enjoyed a remarkably happy marriage. Although these women were attributed with dubious morality, neither suffered the iniquitous image borne by Isabella.
Isabella of France
‘iron virago’, ‘Jezebel’
“… Geoffrey le Baker in the 1350s, who was trying to promote Edward II as a saint and who detested Isabella, calling her an ‘iron virago’ as well as ‘Jezebel’ …”.
What was it about these queens “Isabella” (of Angoulême, of France) that they acquired reputations as other Jezebels?
It may be partly due to the name itself.
“The name Isabella, like Isabel, has long been considered a form of Elizabeth, meaning “consecrated to God,” but it probably came originally from Jezebel, meaning “consecrated to Baal,” Baal being the “false god” of the Hebrews”.
However, it seems to go beyond that factor, to embrace character, life style and reputation.
Actress Sophie Marceau famously played the part of the mediaeval Queen Isabella (Isabelle) of France (1295-1358 AD, conventional dating), alongside Mel Gibson in the film Braveheart.
According to Kathryn Warner (Isabella of France: The Rebel Queen), the queen was “condemned as a wicked, unnatural ‘she-wolf’”
Isabella of France (c. 1295–1358), who married Edward II in January 1308, is one of the most notorious women in English history. In 1325/26, sent to her homeland to negotiate a peace settlement to end the war between her husband and her brother Charles IV of France, Isabella refused to return to England. She began a relationship with her husband’s deadliest enemy, the English baron Roger Mortimer, and with her son the king’s heir under their control, the pair led an invasion of England which ultimately resulted in Edward II’s forced abdication in January 1327. Isabella and Mortimer ruled England during the minority of her and Edward II’s son Edward III, until the young king overthrew the pair in October 1330, took over the governance of his own kingdom and had Mortimer hanged at Tyburn and his mother sent away to a forced but honourable retirement. Edward II, meanwhile, had died under mysterious circumstances – at least according to traditional accounts – while in captivity at Berkeley Castle in September 1327.
Though she was mostly popular and admired by her contemporaries, her disastrous period of rule from 1327 to 1330 notwithstanding, Isabella’s posthumous reputation reached a nadir centuries after her death when she was condemned as a wicked, unnatural ‘she-wolf’, adulteress and murderess by writers incensed that a woman would rebel against her own spouse and have him killed in dreadful fashion, or at least stand by in silence as it happened (the infamous and often repeated ‘red-hot poker’ story of Edward II’s demise is a myth, but widely believed from the late fourteenth century until the present day). Isabella’s relationship with Roger Mortimer and her alleged sexual immorality, as well as her frequently presumed but never proved role in her husband’s murder, became a stick often used to beat her with; a typical piece of Victorian moralising by Agnes Strickland declared that ‘no queen of England has left such a stain on the annals of female royalty, as the consort of Edward II, Isabella of France’. Strickland’s work divided the queens of England, seemingly fairly arbitrarily, into the ‘good’ ones such as Eleanor of Castile and Philippa of Hainault, and the ‘bad’ ones such as Eleanor of Provence; Isabella of France, naturally, fell into the second category. Her reputation fared poorly between the sixteenth and nineteenth centuries, and well into the twentieth: in the early 1590s the playwright Christopher Marlowe called her ‘that unnatural queen, false Isabel’, a 1757 poem by Thomas Gray was the first to apply the ridiculous ‘she-wolf’ nickname (which had been invented by Shakespeare for Henry VI’s queen Margaret of Anjou) to her, and in 1958, exactly 600 years after her death, Isabella was still being called ‘the most wicked of English queens’. The French nickname sometimes used for her, la Louve de France – the title of a 1950s novel about her by Maurice Druon – is simply the translation of the English word ‘she-wolf’ and has no historical basis whatsoever. (Although it is sometimes claimed nowadays that Edward II himself, or his favourite Hugh Despenser the Younger, called Isabella a ‘she-wolf’, this is not true; one fourteenth-century chronicler, Geoffrey le Baker, called her Jezebel, a play on her name, but otherwise no unpleasant nicknames for her are recorded until a few centuries after she died.) An academic work of 1983 unkindly calls Isabella a ‘whore’, and a non-fiction book published as late as 2003 depicts her as incredibly beautiful and desirable but also murderous, vicious and scheming, and claims without evidence that she ‘had murder in her heart’ towards her husband in 1326/27, called for his execution and was ‘secretly delighted’ when she heard of his death.
Her contemporaries were mostly kinder. With the notable exception of Geoffrey le Baker in the 1350s, who was trying to promote Edward II as a saint and who detested Isabella, calling her an ‘iron virago’ as well as ‘Jezebel’, fourteenth-century chroniclers generally treated her well, and it is certainly not the case, as is sometimes claimed nowadays, that they called her a ‘whore’ or anything equally ugly and harsh because of her liaison with Roger Mortimer.
Most fourteenth-century chroniclers seem uncertain whether Isabella even had an affair with Mortimer at all, and a few depict the two merely as political allies and call Mortimer Isabella’s ‘chief counsellor’, which may be a more accurate portrayal of their association than the romanticised accounts so prevalent in modern writing. In the late twentieth and twenty-first centuries, writers have mostly been keen to write Isabella sympathetically and rescue her from the unfair calumnies heaped on her head for so long – an impulse to be applauded – but in doing so have tended to go too far in the opposite direction. As a result, Isabella is depicted nowadays as a tragic, long-suffering victim of marital cruelty, impoverished and deprived of her children, who is miraculously transformed in 1326/27 into a strong, empowered feminist heroine bravely fighting to end the oppression of her husband’s subjects and to get her children back. This is no more accurate than the old tendency to write her as an evil she-wolf. ….
According to another article, this one written by Heidi Murphy:
Initially contemporaries tended to view Isabella as something of a tragic figure, a beautiful, passionate French princess trapped in a loveless marriage to an incompetent, negligent husband. Isabella’s early years as a dutiful, albeit long-suffering, wife tend to be forgotten in favour of the high drama, romance and intrigue that surrounded the eventual breakdown of her marriage and continued to plague her during her brief reign as unofficial ruler of England. While many had sympathised with her plight, regarding her husband as weak and despotic, there can be little doubt that once she found the confidence to take action, Isabella’s behaviour scandalised her contemporaries and badly damaged her reputation. Casting aside her previous role as a compliant consort before finally throwing away all pretence of obedience and duty, Isabella actively opposed her husband’s regime and participated in his overthrow (and some believe in his mysterious death) all the while conducting an affair with Roger Mortimer, Earl of March, the man with whom for a time she ruled England. To make matters worse during her short time in power the arrogance and avarice her regime displayed alienated her supporters and eventually forced her young son, Edward III to take action against her.
But to judge Isabella solely on these brief but dramatic years is to underestimate the important role she played both before and after her time in power. Isabella 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. With the benefit of hindsight, and our twenty-first century sensibilities it is possible to be a little more lenient with some of her failings and it is important not to allow the drama attached to her years in power to take from the very important role she played in European history. Throughout her life Isabella was known for her fierce loyalty to her native land, in England Isabella’s behaviour helped overthrow her husband’s regime while dynastically, by transferring her claim to the throne of France to her eldest son and by actively encouraging him to pursue the French throne on the death of her last surviving brother, Isabella ‘the She-Wolf’ planted the seeds for what would become known as The Hundred Years War.
Isabella of Bavaria ‘like haughty Jezebel’
E’en she, the mother-queen, proud Isabel
Bavaria’s haughty princess—may be seen,
Arrayed in armor, riding through the camp;
With poisonous words of irony she fires
The hostile troops to fury ‘gainst her son,
Whom she hath clasped to her maternal breast.
A curse upon her, and may God prepare
For her a death like haughty Jezebel’s
I repeat what I wrote in the last article, on Queen Isabella of France: What was it about these queens “Isabella” (of Angoulême, of France) that they acquired reputations as other Jezebels?
And apparently we can now also add to this list Queen Isabella (or Isabeau) of Bavaria.
Certainly, at least, Encyclopædia Britannica accords the queen rather little favour: “Capricious and politically unskilled … despised by both the French and the English”.
Isabella of Bavaria, Isabella also rendered Elizabeth, French Isabeau, or Élisabeth, de Bavière (born 1371—died September 1435, Paris), queen consort of Charles VI of France, who frequently was regent because of her husband’s periodic insanity. Her gravest political act was the signing of the Treaty of Troyes (May 21, 1420), which recognized King Henry V of England as heir to the French crown in place of her son Charles (afterward Charles VII), who was to be exiled from France.
The daughter of Stephen III, duke of Bavaria-Ingolstadt, she was married to Charles VI on July 17, 1385. Her husband’s first severe attack of insanity (Aug. 5, 1392) caused her great distress; for years she sought remedies, both medical and supernatural. She bore the King six children between 1393 and 1403, but, as his illness grew worse, his rebuffs (he occasionally did not recognize her) drove her into flagrant sexual misconduct. Her brother-in-law, Louis, duc d’Orléans, became her constant companion, though it has not been proved that he was her lover.
After the murder of Orléans (1407) she relied on John the Fearless, duke of Burgundy, who rescued her from imprisonment by her son, the dauphinCharles (1417), and with her set up governments, at Chartres and then at Troyes, that rivalled the administration at Paris.
Capricious and politically unskilled, Isabella saw John the Fearless desert her with the intention of joining the dauphin Charles against the English, who were preparing to attack Paris. She died despised by both the French and the English. ….
According to https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Isabeau_of_Bavaria Isabella “was accused of “incest, moral corruption, treason, avarice and profligacy … political aspirations and involvements”.”
Reputation and legacy …
Isabeau was dismissed by historians as a wanton, weak and indecisive leader. …. Her critics accepted skewed interpretations of her role in the negotiations with England, resulting in the Treaty of Troyes, and in the rumors of her marital infidelity with Orléans. Gibbons writes that a queen’s duty was to secure the succession to the crown and look after her husband; historians described Isabeau as having failed in both respects, and she came to be seen as one of the great villains of history. Gibbons goes on to say that even her physical appearance is uncertain; depictions of her vary depending on whether she was to be portrayed as good or evil.
Rumored to be a bad mother, she was accused of “incest, moral corruption, treason, avarice and profligacy … political aspirations and involvements”. ….
After the onset of the King’s illness, a common belief was that Charles’ mental illness and inability to rule were due to Isabeau’s witchcraft; as early as the 1380s rumors spread that the court was steeped in sorcery. In 1397 Orléans’ wife, Valentina Visconti, was forced to leave Paris because she was accused of using magic. The court of the “mad king” attracted magicians with promises of cures who were often used as political tools by the various factions. Lists of people accused of bewitching Charles were compiled, with Isabeau and Orléans both listed.
The accusations of adultery were rampant. According to Pintoin’s chronicle, “[Orléans] clung a bit too closely to his sister-in-law, the young and pretty Isabeau of Bavaria, the queen. This ardent brunette was twenty-two; her husband was insane and her seductive brother-in-law loved to dance, beyond that we can imagine all sorts of things”. Pintoin said of the Queen and Orléans that they neglected Charles, behaved scandalously and “lived on the delights of the flesh”, spending large amounts of money on court entertainment. ….
Isabeau was accused of indulging in extravagant and expensive fashions, jewel-laden dresses and elaborate braided hairstyles coiled into tall shells, covered with wide double hennins that, reportedly, required widened doorways to pass through. In 1406 a pro-Burgundian satirical pamphlet in verse allegory listed Isabeau’s supposed lovers. She was accused of leading France into a civil war because of her inability to support a single faction; she was described as an “empty headed” German; of her children it was said that she “took pleasure in a new pregnancy only insofar as it offered her new gifts”; and her political mistakes were attributed to her being fat.
In the 18th and 19th centuries historians characterized Isabeau as “an adulterous, luxurious, meddlesome, scheming, and spendthrift queen”, overlooking her political achievements and influence. A popular book written by Louise de Karalio (1758–1822) about the “bad” French queens prior to Marie Antoinette is, according to Adams, where “Isabeau’s black legend attains its full expression in a violent attack on the French royalty in general and queens in particular.” Karalio wrote: “Isabeau was raised by the furies to bring about the ruin of the state and to sell it to its enemies; Isabeau of Bavaria appeared, and her marriage, celebrated in Amiens on July 17, 1385, would be regarded as the most horrifying moment in our history”. Isabeau was painted as Orléans’ passionate lover, and the inspiration for the Marquis de Sade‘s unpublished 1813 novel Histoire secrete d’Isabelle de Baviere, reine de France, about which Adams writes, “submitting the queen to his ideology of gallantry, [the Marquis de Sade] gives her rapaciousness a cold and calculating violence … a woman who carefully manages her greed for maximum gratification.” ….
Compare: I Kings 21:25: “Surely there was no one like Ahab who sold himself to do evil in the sight of the LORD, because Jezebel his wife incited him”.
2 Kings 9:22: “And when Jehoram saw Jehu, he said, ‘Is it peace, Jehu?’
He answered, ‘What peace can there be, so long as the whorings and the sorceries of your mother Jezebel are so many?’.”
Isabella of Castile saintly or satanic?
“Isabella’s fearsome reputation is one of the reasons Henry VIII would later become so afraid of his ex-wife. Henry worried that Catherina was “of such high courage … with her daughter at her side, she might raise an army and take the field against me with as much spirit as her mother Isabella”.”
Queen Isabella of Castile and Aragon seems to have quite a polarising effect.
Today she can be greatly respected, or greatly hated – with a fair range of differing views floating about in between these two extremes.
Kyra Cornelius Kramer depicts her as both brave and scary:
Isabella of Castile and co-ruler of Aragon, died on November 26, 1504. This was a terrible blow to her widowed daughter, Catherina of Aragon. Not only did Catherina lose a beloved parents, Isabella was the strongest ally possible in the battle to make Catherina’s father in law, Henry VII, behave like a gentleman and honor his agreement to wed his heir to the bereaved princess. After Isabella’s death, Catherina’s father would prove himself to be both mercenary and callous toward his daughter’s fate, more interested than using her as a pawn and political weapon than guarding her welfare.
Henry was right to respect Isabella and to fear her wrath should he mistreat her child too blatantly. Isabella’s abilities as a commander were no joke. Although her support for the Spanish inquisition and the forced conversion or execution of Jews and Muslims is heinous in historical hindsight, in her own time she was considered one of the best and bravest of Catholic monarchs because she reunited the Iberian peninsula under Occidental/Christian control. England, a small island nation that had been ripped apart by civil war for years and was just beginning to recover it’s economic footing, would have been beyond foolish to provoke Spain.
Isabella’s fearsome reputation is one of the reasons Henry VIII would later become so afraid of his ex-wife. Henry worried that Catherina was “of such high courage … with her daughter at her side, she might raise an army and take the field against me with as much spirit as her mother Isabella.” Henry fears were not just paranoid phantoms, either. Catherina’s prowess as a leader and war commander had been tested and proven, since she had ably demonstrated her abilities earlier in their marriage. In 1513, Henry left his pregnant wife to act as regent and defend England from Scotland while he was away fighting the French on the continent. Like her mother before her, the stalwart queen didn’t let the fact she was carrying a baby slow her down or curb her readiness for warfare. During her regency the English army defeated and killed the King of Scotland, James IV, at the Battle of Flodden. Not one to be squeamish in military victory, Henry’s exultant queen sent her husband a blood-stained piece of the dead Scots king’s coat-armor as a trophy.
Catherine was no shrinking violet; the warrior-queen apple had not fallen far from the warrior-queen tree. ….
Lisa J. Yarde depicts her as “a cruel villain” (Herstory: Isabella of Castile – the queen at war):
… For me, Isabella of Castile will always remain a cruel villain. She couched the quest for Spain’s trade domination across the Mediterranean Sea and control of the kingdom of Granada’s gold supply from Africa as a religious crusade. She ensured the aid of the Catholic Church for her dynastic aims and brought about the ruin of Moorish Granada; ultimately, the end of Muslim Spain.
Civil war among the Moors allowed Isabella to take advantage of an already worsening situation. Through guile and ruthless calculation, she exploited the divisions between the last Nasrid rulers Abu’l-Hasan Ali, his brother Muhammad al-Zaghal and their rival Muhammad, respectively a son and nephew to both men.
|Within a few years of Muhammad’s departure from his homeland, she had violated each of the terms offered on behalf of his people in the Capitulations of 1491, specifically the stipulation allowing the Moors to “…live in their own religion,” and “…not permit that their mosques be taken from them….” She unleashed the Inquisition on conquered southern Spain and bore responsibility for thousands of fiery deaths among innocents of the Muslim, Jewish and even Christian faiths. – From the author’s note of Sultana: The White Mountains.
Historians have often portrayed the Catholic monarch Isabella, the queen at war as a shining example of female courage in the struggle between Moors and Christians from 1482 to 1492. The sight of her on the edge of a battlefield or at a lengthy siege could boost morale and lead to victory. Against all odds, including difficult terrain and a determined enemy who could strike hard and fast against the Spanish Christians before disappearing through the mountain passes, Isabella and her husband secured the official surrender of Moorish Spain on January 2, 1492.
Isabella may have never anticipated a future as queen of Castile. In the line of succession, two elder brothers Enrique and Alfonso preceded her. She might not have imagined a union with Ferdinand of Aragon or how their marriage would lay the groundwork for a future Spanish dynasty. Like her ancestors, she could have idled and watched the Moors of southern Spain destroy each other in foolish civil war. Instead, she pursued a ten-year campaign against them and sought the hegemony of Spain under Christian rule.
The campaign against the Moors didn’t begin at the direction of Isabella or her husband. For centuries beforehand, Isabella’s ancestors had struggled against the kingdom of Granada, which encompassed most of modern-day Andalusia, in a series of intermittent border raids and sieges. When they were not fighting. [The Castilian sovereigns accepted payments of tribute from the Moorish rulers, whom they considered their vassals. It’s clear the Moors did not always accept this subordinate role because several Sultans refused to submit the gold coins. Last among them was Abu’l-Hasan Ali, known among the Spanish as Muley Hacén.
His soldiers seized the city of Zahara in December 1481, provoking the response of Rodrigo Ponce de León, Marqués of Cádiz, who then attacked and claimed Alhama. Isabella and the Marqués did not always enjoy good relations; at the death of her elder brother Enrique, Rodrigo Ponce de León first supported the rival claim of the princess Juana, Enrique’s daughter and Isabella’s niece. The propaganda of Isabella’s supporters made the supposed heir of Castile the illegitimate child of another man. Juana eventually resigned herself to a convent. Although Isabella and Ferdinand had not ordered the reprisal at Alhama, they planned to use it as a base for future conquests. Ferdinand came south to attack Loja, but the forces of Abu’l-Hasan Ali turned his quest into a resounding defeat.
What happened to the momentum after the victory at Alhama? At Loja, Isabella’s husband became aware of the difficulties their campaign would face in every Moorish territory. The cities of Andalusia were not only defended by stout walls and cannon, but the terrain itself made the movement of massive armies and siege weapons a struggle. Men and artillery required money the monarchs did not have. So, the king and queen sent a delegation to the Pope Sixtus IV seeking a papal bull.
The words, “We have not been moved to this war by any desire to enlarge our realms…but our desire to serve God, and our zeal for His Holy Catholic faith, made us put all other interests aside….” had the intended effect and the Pope granted the bull. It turned centuries-long warfare between the kingdoms into a religious crusade. The indulgences the Church gave to those who fought against the Moors, including absolution for any violence committed, bolstered the numbers in the army and brought the funds the king and queen required. To secure future victories and avoid the embarrassment at Loja, they employed the services of Francisco Ramírez de Madrid, Master of Artillery.
Internal divisions within Granada also buoyed their efforts. Abu’l-Hasan Ali’s eldest son Muhammad then claimed the throne in the summer of 1482, relegating his father to the area around Malaga, which was then the governorship of Muhammad Al-Zaghal, brother of Abu’l-Hasan Ali. During April 1483 in an attempt to raid the Castilian border, the new Sultan fell into the hands of Isabella and Ferdinand. They gave him an ultimatum; he would gain release if he fought against his father and turned his toddler son and younger brother over as hostages. In the interim, the Castilian forces kept up the attacks on Abu’l-Hasan Ali. They also built up the Castilian navy’s presence in the Mediterranean Sea and interrupted the centuries-long supply of Muslim troops from Morocco in defense of Granada, as well as gold from the mines of Africa.
Isabella and Ferdinand released the young Sultan in exchange for his son, whom they kept at their court until 1492. Then they began the campaign in earnest with the siege weapons the master of artillery had developed. Faced with merciless bombardment under heavy mortar and cannon, city after city fell into their hands. Ronda surrendered in 1485, as did Marbella. Then Malaga in 1487, Vera in 1488, Guadix, Almeria and Baza in 1489, and finally Granada in 1492. At almost every siege, which sometimes occurred during Isabella’s numerous pregnancies, she joined her husband, even with their children as at Los Ojos de Huescar where an eight-month siege culminated in June 1491.
Despite the ravages of the campaign and the abandonment of the treaty terms between the Catholic monarchs and the last Muslim ruler of Spain, Isabella is largely responsible for the preservation of the fragile beauty of Muhammad’s Alhambra palace as we see it today. She lies buried at Granada, the city she claimed through determined efforts, accomplishing in ten years what none of her ancestors had done in centuries past. ….
“… controversial … no female leader has done more to shape our modern world …”, is what we read of her in this review of Kirstin Downey’s book, Isabella: The Warrior Queen (2014):
An engrossing and revolutionary biography of Isabella of Castile, the controversial Queen of Spain who sponsored Christopher Columbus’s journey to the New World, established the Spanish Inquisition, and became one of the most influential female rulers in history Born at a time when Christianity was dying out and the Ottoman Empire was aggressively expanding, Isabella was inspired in her youth by tales of Joan of Arc, a devout young woman who unified her people and led them to victory against foreign invaders. In 1474, when most women were almost powerless, twenty-three-year-old Isabella defied a hostile brother and a mercurial husband to seize control of Castile and León. Her subsequent feats were legendary. She ended a twenty-four-generation struggle between Muslims and Christians, forcing North African invaders back over the Mediterranean Sea. She laid the foundation for a unified Spain. She sponsored Columbus’s trip to the Indies and negotiated Spanish control over much of the New World with the help of Rodrigo Borgia, the infamous Pope Alexander VI. She also annihilated all who stood against her by establishing a bloody religious Inquisition that would darken Spain’s reputation for centuries. Whether saintly or satanic, no female leader has done more to shape our modern world, in which millions of people in two hemispheres speak Spanish and practice Catholicism. Yet history has all but forgotten Isabella’s influence, due to hundreds of years of misreporting that often attributed her accomplishments to Ferdinand, the bold and philandering husband she adored. Using new scholarship, Downey’s luminous biography tells the story of this brilliant, fervent, forgotten woman, the faith that propelled her through life, and the land of ancient conflicts and intrigue she
brought under her command. From the Hardcover edition.