Intercessor, rebel, regent : the political life of Isabella of France (1292/6-1358)

Allocco, Katherine Gretchen, 1971-
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In 1325, Isabella of France, Queen of England (1308-1358), raised an army and with her lover rose in rebellion against her husband, Edward II (1307-1327), whom she deposed and possibly later had killed. For the first three years of her son’s reign, she ruled as regent until Edward III (1327-1377) reached his majority. At this point, the new king ordered her lover’s execution and encouraged his mother, the “she-wolf”, to retire. Until her death, Isabella remained active in politics and patronage, retaining a strong interest in and influence over public affairs, art and regnal policy. This dissertation explores how these unprecedented events illustrate the ways that medieval royal and noblewomen influenced politics, amassed and deployed public power and created networks. I examine the nature of royal and noble women’s authority by examining the types of conventional power they possessed: householding, intercession, patronage and landholding, and analyze how these seemingly mundane tasks presented women with vii avenues to great power. I argue against the theory that power was strictly gendered and divided into private and public spheres and provide examples of how women’s power was both public and private. Isabella and her friends were not restricted by gender, but rather enjoyed the power available to their rank. Isabella’s commissions for manuscript books with images of Biblical or historical women rulers show that she had a sense of herself as part of a prestigious lineage of strong women and authoritative leaders. Isabella and her friends attracted allies through their acts and promises of intercession and patronage and with the income and influence that their estates and households generated. Throughout her lifetime, Isabella gathered a great number of allies throughout England and Europe. These allies then supported Isabella’s coup and provided the provisions, soldiers and horses, support and legitimacy that she needed to establish her own regime. Isabella, who was thrust into a particularly complicated political situation, was a savvy woman, who used her resources, friends and family and her income to realize her own political agenda.