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Isabella of Valois, The Child Bride of Richard II

In medieval times royal brides were often quite young when they married, though consummation was usually forbidden until a more appropriate age was reached. A certain young bridge might ring a bell as the founder of the Tudor Dynasty. Lady Margaret Beaufort was first married when she was just 12. Another ‘marriage’ happened when she was just one, but she never recognized this marriage to John de la Pole and it was dissolved before she was four. At the age of 12 Margaret was married to 24-year-old Edmund Tudor. The marriage was certainly consummated as Margaret was 7 months pregnant when Edmund died of the plague on 3 November 1456. Margaret had a particularly difficult childbirth, most likely due to her age and almost died. She gave birth to the future Henry VII on 28 January 1457, but although she married two more times she never had anymore children, perhaps rendered sterile by the difficult childbirth.

Her story shows how perilous marriage could be for young girls but these dangers had never stopped princesses just out of their cradles being used as marriage pawns.

Forty-five years before Margaret Beaufort, there was Isabella of Valois. Isabella was the daughter of Charles VI, King of France and Isabeau of Bavaria, born on 9 November 1389 at the Louvre in Paris. She would be their eldest surviving child. In an attempt at peace between England and France, Isabella became Richard II’s second wife on 31 October 1396. Richard was 29 years old and a widower. His first wife had been Anne of Bohemia, who died of the plague on 7 June 1394. Isabella was just six years old at the time of her marriage.

Isabella and Richard on their wedding day. Public domain From:

Isabella and Richard on their wedding day.
Public domain

They possibly developed a mutual friendship, despite the political nature of the marriage. Isabella was made a Lady of Garter in 1396 and she received a coronation in Westminster Abbey the following year. Richard tried to protect her while he was on campaign, by moving her to Portchester Castle. It shows he cared for her at least a little bit. The marriage wasn’t very popular however, as an heir was desperately needed and Isabella certainly wouldn’t provide one in the near future.

Also due to her age she didn’t have much political influence. Isabella spent most of her time being tutored by Margaret de Courcy away from her husband. He visited her from time to time and she probably saw him last in the spring of 1399 while she was at Windsor. He had kissed her hand and promised he would let her come to Ireland soon.

While Richard was away, Henry Bolingbroke saw his chance. Richard was forced to abdicate and Henry Bolingbroke became Henry IV. Richard was arrested and he died at Pontefract Castle in February 1400, possibly of starvation.

Isabella was now a widow at the tender age of 10. The new King Henry had planned to marry her off to his son, but Isabella went into mourning and bravely ignored him. It would be her youngest sister Catherine who married the new King’s son in 1420. As she had not reached the age of consent for the marriage, she was not technically a Queen dowager and her parents were frantic to have her return home. They urged her not to marry anyone the English King recommended. Isabella requested an audience with Henry himself, which was granted.

‘In seeking to obtaine our purpose of others, it is an ordinarie endeavour to move ether by prayers pittie, or by promises hope, or by threats feare. But as with men cruell and ambitious and in theire owne opinion mightie, these meanes are of litle force, soe with them whose miserie is beneath all releife they cannot bee of any use. Being now therefore in that distresse that there remaineth to mee nether thing to desire nor thought to obtaine, I am come only to putt you in remembrance, what benefittes with what ingratitude you have required, that in my heaviest misshape, I may conceive this vaine satisfaction to have reproved you openly to your face.’

And albeit ambition (an unquiet humour) hath hitherto blinded your judgement, yet shame will shortlie cause you to discerne that you possesse onlie an appearance of honor sett upon you by a few flatterers which will easily bee escared [defaced] by those infamies which our just complaintes shall blazen through the world. Your owne conscience alsoe shall torment you and compel you to condemne your selfe to the severest punishments which treason and parricide cann deserve. And albeit it may seeme by successe that god in his secrett judgement hath furthered your proceedings, yet assure your selfe hee hath not favored them. But your dominion begunne with crueltie shall in you, or in your progenie, end with contempt. As for my dishonour, I will not offend the law of modestie in being overcarried with remembrance therof, being fullie purposed to make light accounte of any disgrace of fortune afterward, yet I make litle doubte but it shall alsoe appeare to be instantly recompenced with revenge.’ (taken from England’s Queen, From Boudica to Elizabeth of York, by Elizabeth Norton)

In May 1401 Henry IV promised to return Isabella to France with her jewels and her property and she was handed over at Calais on 21 July 1401.

She married for a second time in May of 1406 to her cousin, Charles of Orléans, later Duke of Orléans. Just three years later her life was cut short. Isabella died on 13 September 1409 after giving birth to her only child, Joan. Isabella was first buried in Blois, before being moved to the Orléans chapel in the Church of the Celestines in Paris. It was a sad and unlucky end for a woman, who was once a child bride and Queen.

And England’s Queen, From Boudica to Elizabeth of York, by Elizabeth Norton is published (2015) by Amberley.

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