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Queen Isabella: Treachery, Adultery, and Murder in Medieval England Paperback – December 26, 2006

4.1 out of 5 stars 110 customer reviews

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Editorial Reviews

From Publishers Weekly

Starred Review. Isabella of France (1295?–1358) married the bisexual Edward II of England as a 12-year-old, lived with him for 17 years, bore him four children, fled to France in fear of his powerful favorite, returned with her lover, Roger Mortimer, to lead a rebellion and place her son on the throne and eventually saw Mortimer executed as her son asserted his power. Veteran biographer Weir (Eleanor of Aquitaine, etc.) battles Isabella's near-contemporaries and later storytellers and historians for control of the narrative, successfully rescuing the queen from writers all too willing to imagine the worst of a medieval woman who dared pursue power. Weir makes great use of inventories to recreate Isabella's activities and surroundings and, strikingly, to establish the timing of the queen's turn against her husband and her probable ignorance of the plot to kill him. Weir convincingly argues that the infamous story of Edward II being murdered with a red-hot iron emerged from propaganda against Isabella and Mortimer. (Her unlikely assertion that Edward escaped and lived out his life as a hermit is less believable.) Weir presents a fascinating rewriting of a controversial life that should supersede all previous accounts. Isabella is so intertwined with the greatest figures of her century and the next that any reader of English history will want this book. Maps not seen by PW.
Copyright © Reed Business Information, a division of Reed Elsevier Inc. All rights reserved. --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.

From Booklist

Best-selling British novelist Weir puts her exemplary writing skills, as well as her talent for alternative and provocative insight into documents and historiography, to good use in a riveting biography of the wife of England's unfortunate Edward II (who reigned 1307-27). That the king was ineffectual is commonly accepted (he was deposed and later died; according to tradition, he was murdered in a most horrendous fashion), and Queen Isabella, born a princess of France, has borne all these many centuries the label "she-wolf." Weir, in this book all British-history fans will devour, chooses, after much research and deliberation, to see her subject in more rounded terms than as "one of the most notorious femme fatales in history." The author, in fact, takes giant steps to prove that Isabella, as instigator of her own husband's removal from the throne, contributed greatly to the decline in England of the power of the monarch and thus the rise of democracy. Brad Hooper
Copyright © American Library Association. All rights reserved --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.
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Product Details

  • Paperback: 528 pages
  • Publisher: Ballantine Books (December 26, 2006)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0345453204
  • ISBN-13: 978-0345453204
  • Product Dimensions: 5.5 x 1.1 x 8.2 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 15.2 ounces (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 4.1 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (110 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #170,011 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Customer Reviews

Top Customer Reviews

By A. Woodley on October 22, 2005
Format: Hardcover
Alison Weir admits that there is so little known about these women of medieval history. The information she has to go on is very slight. In the first of her biographies which I read a couple of years ago she even admitted that there was not even a picture of Eleanor of Aquitaine available. And with Isabella, almost equal in fascination, she comes across many of the same problems. She resorts to using all information, no matter how slight to recreate Isabella's life.

She is one of the pivotal characters of British history. Married to the king she bore him 4 children before escaping to France. She returned with Roger Mortimer and together they overthrew the King and set her son on the throne.

Using things are diverse as inventories Weir has pieced together an excellent picture of life in Medieval times, and particularly that of this powerful queen.

The Macinations of court, make a disturbing read, to live in this time was to live in constant threat it seems. It is hard to imagine just how anyone survived to any age at all. Of course the strength of the barons derives from this period too.

I was a bit unsettled with her theory that Edward had survived the overthrow and lived out his life. On the other hand I have just been reading Byron Roger's book "And Audience with an Elephant" which talks about the lost children of Wales, these were children of royalty who were put into monasterys and convents by the English Kings to keep them from marrying and carrying on their royal line. They were locked up for their entire lives where they lived sometimes without even seeing the outside to 'play'. They had no contact and it was as though they were never heard from again.
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Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
I thoroughly enjoyed Ms. Weir's biography of Queen Isabella and the demise of Edward II of England. Very well written, and much easier to read than Weir's earlier biography of Eleanor of Aquataine. Having said that, I found myself a bit dismayed by two things: 1. Very difficult to figure out what year events occurred; this author, like many others, wrote entire chapters which gave months & days, but I found myself going back in the narrative repetitively to try and determine the year...and 2. Clearly Ms. Weir's purpose was to do her best to absolve Isabella of Edward II's death! She tries very hard to make a case that Edward was in fact not killed at Berkeley Castle, but rather escaped and lived the rest of his life in exile, primarily in Italy. I found this hard to believe, and the evidence to that effect a bit lacking. One situation which really caught my eye was Weir's statement that Edward's body (or that of a substitute if he in fact was not killed but escaped?) was IMMEDIATELY embalmed and completely wrapped in waxed "cerecloth" after his death in October, 1327. The body was then kept at Berkeley until December when it was released to the Abbot of Gloucester to be buried in St. Peter's Abbey, Gloucester...at which time "the corpse had been dressed in the late King's coronation robes, including his shirt, coif, and gloves...". I found myself wondering how they "dressed" a body that was COMPLETELY wrapped in waxed cloth? Interesting! From my perspective, I don't see that Isabella needed then or now "absolution" for the death of Edward II. He was a very bad king, betrayed her repeatedly with both Gaveston and De Spenser, took away her income, seperated her from her children, etc.Read more ›
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Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
Queen Isabella of France, wife of Edward II, has heretofore enjoyed a very scandalous reputation. She defied convention at every turn, left her royal husband, embarked on an adulterous affaire and led an invasion force into England -- a successful invasion, the first since William the Conqueror. Her hapless and weak husband, owing all too much to homosexual favorites, famously died of a red hot poker inserted into his anus.

Alison Weir, a dedicated if pedestrian historian, has set out to redeem Isabella's reputation. Frankly, she does not quite succeed, as her tone throughout "Queen Isabella" is rather hestitant than firm in its ascertations that the Queen was as sinned against as sinning.

Still, it is a fascinating story, peopled by a rich array of characters and Weir, despite her rather dull style, does make the most of this Medieval murder mystery/romance/political thriller. Isabella may not end up any less villified, but she remains an intriguing woman of her -- and for these -- times.
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Format: Paperback Verified Purchase
I really tried to like this book. Inasmuch as I am an avid student of history and enjoy the tangled web of early to mid twentieth century English history, this book seemed right up my alley.

I can't say that it is a bad book, but upon reflection, perhaps the most telling fact is that it took me so long to finish it. A book of this size generally takes me about a week to finish, reading for an hour or so each night before bed. Most nights, however, found me nodding off in less than half the time. Weir's style can best be described as a dry recitation of historical facts with frequent asides in which she injects her own analysis. Hardly scintillating entertainment and simply not lively enough to keep me awake.

From the standpoint of substance, I can't say that I agree with her efforts to rehabiltate the universally condemned Queen Isabella, the wife of Edward II of England. Isabella conspired against, overthrew, cheated on and likely participated in the murder of her husband and sovereign. According to Weir, she was simply misunderstood and unfairly judged. To my knowledge, she is the only one that believes so.

In order to back up her position, Weir not only spins facts to the benefit of the Queen, but she weaves many out of whole cloth and disregards the numerous facts which clearly implicate her in the crimes for which history has condemned her. In an attempt to absolve the Queen of the crime of murder, she even trots out the old, roundly rejected canard that Edward II escaped from his captors and lived the remainder of his life as a hermit in France. This despite the public, state funeral in which the body and face of the King were clearly displayed and visible to thousands.
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