Royal of the day: She-Wolf Isabella

ALEX FENSOME
Last updated 05:00 02/04/2014
Royal of the day: She-Wolf Isabella

SHE WOLF: Isabella of France - and then England - seen in an engraving (left) and as played by Sophie Marceau, albeit historically incorrectly, in Braveheart.

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Born daughter of King Philip the Fair of France in 1295, Isabella was a golden child who grew up to become the most notorious woman of her age - Queen Isabella, aka the She Wolf Of France.

She was strikingly beautiful and showed intelligence from childhood. As with most young people in the Middle Ages, she was married off early, at 12, in a diplomatic alliance.

Her husband-to-be was Edward, son of the famous warrior-king Edward I of England. Edward junior was good-looking, albeit a bit dim, and enjoyed outdoor activities like boating, thatching and crafts.

The problem was that he was gay. Well, ''gay'' wasn't really a concept they had in the Middle Ages, but he was extremely close to a young French knight called Piers Gaveston. Plenty of chronicles gossiped about their relationship, with then dark rumours of ''sodomy''.

Whether they actually were lovers is still disputed and we'll never really know the answer. Male friendships were more physical in the middle ages than today. It wasn't unusual for men to kiss or hold hands and even share a bed. 

That said, the closeness of Edward and Piers - and the blatant favouritism shown towards the low-born Piers by the King - is very clear, and Isabella at first allied herself with Piers. 

While Edward may have been gay, he was at least willing to sleep with his beautiful wife occasionally: the couple had four children. The first son, Edward, was born in 1312.

In-between babie Isabella found time to dob in her sisters-in-law, back in France, for adultery, setting off a scandal which led to them being imprisoned.

Back in England, Piers' influence over his apparent love, the King, only grew. Eventually the barons had had enough and so killed him.

The King was devastated after Piers's death and had some of the barons involved executed, but a few years later took up with another man, Hugh Despenser.

Unlike with Piers, Isabella hated Despenser and his family - she was not alone in that feeling, for so did most of the lords. She eventually left her husband.

Hugh Despenser used his sway over the King to become the de facto ruler of the realm and when Isabella refused to swear loyalty to the Despensers, her youngest children were taken into custody and all her lands confiscated.

Despairing, Isabella left for France, where she met the powerful English baron Roger Mortimer.

Mortimer was everything Edward was not - decisive, intelligent and unafraid of spilling blood.

Isabella had met the love of her life. The pair began a passionate relationship despite the Medieval double standard around female infidelity.

Crossing back to England in 1326 with an army of mercenaries, inciting a revolt, Isabella and Mortimer captured the King, defeated the Despensers and became rulers of England.

Hugh's father was fed to wild dogs, while Hugh the younger was castrated, hung, drawn and quartered.

Edward was eventually killed as well - allegedly by having a red-hot poker shoved up his arse. 

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For four years Isabella and Mortimer ruled the kingdom, but her son had ambitions of his own.

Young Edward gathered a group of his friends, sneaked into Mortimer's castle one night and overwhelmed his guards.

Watching her lover succumb to the weight of numbers, Isabella flung herself at Edward's feet. 

''Fair son, have pity on gentle Mortimer!'' she cried. But Edward executed him anyway.

Abruptly, Isabella's time at the top came to an end.

Initially a virtual prisoner, in time she was awarded an allowance and able to travel to France on diplomatic missions for her son.

When she died in 1358 Edward had established himself as a great ruler. It's often said kings breed their opposites and that he took after his grandfather, but he certainly had his mother's will, intelligence and cunning.

- Stuff

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