THE 12 YEAR OLD GIRL WHO STARTED A 100 YEARS WAR

You cannot blame a hundred years war on a 12 year old girl.

Isabella, Edward II, BraveheartBut you could perhaps blame William the Conqueror. When he took the English throne in 1066 he retained possession of the Duchy of Normandy in France.

Under feudal law, this meant that he and all future English kings owed homage to the king of France for their lands on the other side of the Channel.

Really? The situation was always going to be a stone in the shoe of both monarchs.

Two hundred and fifty years later, Isabella’s marriage to Edward II of England was an effort to resolve the problem.

Instead it made it much worse.

Braveheart, Edward, IsabellaBorn in 1295, Isabella was the only surviving daughter of the wonderfully named Philippe the Handsome of France. At 3 years old she was already proposed as the bride for the King of England’s eldest son, Edward, to smooth negotiations for the Anglo-French truce of 1299.

Phillipe was not just a pretty face; he was thinking ahead. His own dynasty was secure – after all he had three healthy sons.

And if his daughter married England’s son, then his grandson would be King of England one day.

It must have seemed like a good idea at the time. 

Braveheart, Isabella, Edward IIEdward was ten years older than his bride when they married. He was the youngest of fifteen children and his mother had died when he was 6. He had endured a miserable childhood and his father, the formidable Longshanks, took little interest in him.

But with exquisite irony, Edward was the only son to survive.

He lived in his father’s shadow then and always would, for despite his strapping good looks he just wasn’t king material. In fact he has been described by some historians as one of the most unsuccessful kings ever to rule England.

He was certainly outfoxed by Isabella.

In 1325 she left England to conduct delicate negotiations with France over Gascony. She returned with a mercenary army and threw him off the throne.

By then her father was dead and two of her brothers soon after him.

Some blamed the curse laid at her father’s door by Templar Grand Master Jaques Molay when Phillip burned him alive outside Notre Dame cathedral. 

385px-JacquesdeMolay

When her other brother Charles died as well in 1328 there was no clear successor to the throne of France. All three had died without a male heir.

Well done, Jacques.

Isabella transferred her claim to the French throne to her eldest son, Edward, and actively encouraged him to pursue it, as the closest living male relative of the late King Charles and the only surviving male descendant of the senior line of her father’s Capetian dynasty.

By the English interpretation of feudal law, it made Edward III the legitimate heir to the throne of France.

Braveheart, Edward II, IsabellaYes, well – the French didn’t quite see things this way. Under French Salic law, males descended through the female line were disqualified from the succession.

Besides, the French didn’t want an English king. So they crowned the dead king’s cousin, Charles of Valois, as their new monarch.

Though Isabella’s reign as regent of England was short – her son removed her and executed her lover when he was just eighteen – she continued to have great influence at court and kept up a healthy correspondence with all of Europe’s leading figures.

She persuaded Edward to pursue his claims with full vigour. In 1337 Edward refused to pay homage to the French king for his lands in Aquitaine – so the French confiscated them.

In modern parlance – hostilities escalated from there.

Hundred_Years'_War_montageThe dispute led to the Hundred Years War, (although the name is actually a later invention of historians; it was actually three separate wars divided by periods of truce.)

From it grew the legends of Joan of Arc, Agincourt and the Black Prince.

The war had consequences Isabella could not have foreseen for her beloved France. The country was devastated – it lost half its population. It also brought about the fall of the French tongue in England, which had served as the language of the nobility and trade from the time of the Norman conquest.

Yet it had all started with a marriage that was supposed to bring a lasting peace.

It was inevitable really, from that day in 1066 when Harold caught the arrow in his eye.

Or was it the Templar curse laid by Jacques de Molay?

The tangled webs we weave; it is ironic that the woman who so prided herself on being a daughter of France should bear the son that started the war that brought her country to its knees.

Braveheart, Edward II, Isabella

ISABELLA, Braveheart of France.

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Holy Week, Easter, Spain

COLIN FALCONER

About colinfalconer

author of bestselling historical novels like Anastasia, When We Were Gods, Aztec and Harem. My books have been published in the UK, US and ANZ and translated into seventeen languages.
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6 Responses to THE 12 YEAR OLD GIRL WHO STARTED A 100 YEARS WAR

  1. susielindau says:

    Maybe that’s what we should do here in the States. A twelve-year-old would do a better job!

  2. dgkaye says:

    Looks fascinating, you have me hooked!

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