Tag Archives: Medieval Monarchs

Maddest Medieval Monarch Week: Isabella of France

Many times history is more interesting than fiction if we just look in the right places.  Follow me as I venture into the lives of some of the most scandalous, most murderous, most insane monarchs of the Middle Ages.  Day two of Maddest Medieval Monarchs Week brings us to a monarch made legendary by literature and cinema, Isabella of France.

Article Written by Andrea Cefalo

Isabella “She-Wolf” of France

English: Isabella of France, wife of Edward II...

English: Isabella of France, wife of Edward II of England. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Most of us equate Isabella of France with the kind-hearted and lonely English princess from the movie Braveheart or the she-wolf of plays by Brecht and Marlowe.  Based on her life, it is easy to conclude that Isabella was lonely in her marriage to a bi-sexual English king. However, determining whether she was the she-wolf, as literature labeled her, or the sweetheart, as Hollywood made her, is not so easy.

Isabella was wedded at twelve to Edward II of England.  Edward, however, was in love with Piers Gaveston whom he openly showered with gifts. Isabella learned to tolerate Edward’s relationship, but some of the English barons never did. Four years into their marriage Gaveston was murdered.  Isabella consoled her grief-stricken husband and the two became closer.  They even had three children together, but in 1319, another man, Hugh Despenser the young, gained Edward’s affections. Despenser was ruthless, greedy, and insanely jealous.  For six years, Isabella’s power, influence, and income were reduced upon the advice of Despenser.

English: Illustration of the execution of Hugh...

English: Illustration of the execution of Hugh the Younger Despenser, from a manuscript of Froissart (Bibliotheque Nationale MS Fr. 2643, folio 197v) (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

When Isabella visited her brother, King Charles IV of France in 1325, she met and fell in love with Roger Mortimer, a former English general who had since turned against the king and Despenser.  She and Mortimer raised an army, overthrew Edward, and tried Despenser for treason.  Despenser was hanged, drawn, and quartered.  Edward was imprisoned, tortured, and starved, but did not die until 1327.  It is rumored that he was killed under Isabella’s orders by a red-hot poker being inserted into his rectum.   Edward’s heart was placed in a silver coffin and given to Isabella.

Isabella served as regent for a short time until her son Edward III was old enough to take the throne.  Mortimer turned out to be every bit as greedy and ruthless as Despenser.  Edward III, with the support of English barons, arrested and executed Mortimer.  Isabella was imprisoned for two years in Windsor Castle, where she was rumored to have had a nervous breakdown after the loss of Mortimer.  Isabella was later cleared of any wrong-doing and lived a comfortable life.  Upon her death, she was entombed with Edward III’s heart, though buried next to Mortimer.

In literature and legend, Isabella is often remembered as a king-killer, but no one knows for sure who gave the orders for Edward II’s murder.  So was Isabella the she-wolf or simply a desperate woman trying to save England from a careless king?  No one really knows, but we can certainly speculate.

Article written by Andrea Cefalo, author of The Fairytale Keeper: a novel of corruption, devotion, and the origins of Grimm’s fairytales

To follow Andrea Cefalo and hear more about The Fairytale Keeper series, please visit:

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Maddest Medieval Monarchs Week!

Many times history is more interesting than fiction if we just look in the right places.  Follow me as I venture into the lives of some of the most scandalous, most murderous, most insane monarchs of the Middle Ages.  Day one of Maddest Medieval Monarchs Week, brings us to a little-known monarch, Queen Joanna I of Naples.
Article Written by Andrea Cefalo

Joanna I of Naples

Queen Joanna I of Naples: Murderess, Madam, Madwoman

Queen Joanna I of Naples: Murderess, Madam, Madwoman

Power-hungry Joanna inherited the throne from her grandfather at an early age. Joanna knew she might have to share power with her cousin, and soon-to-be husband, Andrew of Hungary, who, through his lineage, had a strong claim to the throne, but the thought of sharing power enraged Joanna. She and her allies convinced the Church that she should rule alone and she was crowned on the orders of Pope Clement VI .

Murder of Andrew, Duke of Calabria, painted by Karl Briullov.

Murder of Andrew, Joanna I of Naples first husband, painted by Karl Briullov.

Not surprisingly, Joanna’s marriage to Andrew was not a happy one. Andrew was in constant fear for his safety.  Two attempts were made on his life while in Joanna’s court. The first attempt, a staged hunting accident, was foiled.   Andrew was not so lucky the second time around when a group of assassins strangled Andrew and threw him out of the window. Joanna’s disinterest in catching Andrew’s killer not only made her look guilty, it made her an enemy to the Vatican and the powerful Hungarian empire.  To this day, her guilt has never been proven, but she seems a likely suspect.

Medieval painting of reading nuns

Medieval painting of reading nuns

Joanna had a taste for money, as well as power.  To increase her wealth, she opened a brothel entitled “The Abbey” in 1347.  The brothel looked just like a monastery.  The women attended daily mass, abstained from work on Sundays, and served only the most elite Christians.  While it may seem that this façade was meant to disguise the base entertainments inside, it wasn’t.  The Abbey was widely known as a whorehouse.

King Charles III of Naples

King Charles III of Naples

In the end, Joanna made many enemies.  She landed on the wrong side of a papal dispute in 1380 when she backed the French anti-pope Clement VII against Urban VIPope Urban VI took her crown, imprisoned her, and gave her throne to her niece’s husband, Charles of Durazzo.  Charles had Joan suffocated with pillows to avenge Joanna’s suspected murder of her first husband, Andrew.  Her corpse was put on display in Naples and then dumped in a well.

Sources:

Mad Kings and Queens:  History’s Most Famous Raving Royals by Alison Rattle and Allison Vale

Wikipedia Article of Joanna I of Naples: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Joanna_I_of_Naples

Article Written by Andrea Cefalo, author of The Fairytale Keeper: a novel of corruption, devotion, and the origins of Grimm’s Fairytales

To follow Andrea Cefalo and hear more about The Fairytale Keeper series, please visit:

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