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

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Queen Isabella: Treachery, Adultery, and Murder in Medieval England + Eleanor of Aquitaine: A Life (Ballantine Reader's Circle) + Mistress of the Monarchy: The Life of Katherine Swynford, Duchess of Lancaster
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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: 4.0 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (100 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #86,658 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

More About the Author

Alison Weir is the New York Times bestselling author of the novels Innocent Traitor and The Lady Elizabeth and several historical biographies, including Mistress of the Monarchy, Queen Isabella, Henry VIII, Eleanor of Aquitaine, The Life of Elizabeth I, and The Six Wives of Henry VIII. She lives in Surrey, England with her husband and two children.

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Customer Reviews

Most Helpful Customer Reviews

127 of 143 people found the following review helpful 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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48 of 54 people found the following review helpful By Jerry K. Belew on June 26, 2006
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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95 of 113 people found the following review helpful By Kathryn Warner on March 12, 2006
Format: Hardcover
Isabella of France, queen of England (c.1295-1358), has been unjustly vilified down the centuries as `the She-Wolf of France' and condemned as wicked and unnatural by writers of the nineteenth and early twentieth centuries incensed that a woman could rebel against her lawfully wedded spouse. Nowadays, however, she is almost always portrayed as a long-suffering, put-upon victim of her neglectful husband who is miraculously transformed into an empowered feminist icon, striking a courageous blow for women everywhere by fighting back against marital oppression and finding an opportunity for self-fulfilment by taking a lover. Depictions of her reflect the way society currently views women who step outside the bounds of conventional behaviour rather than the real Isabella, who was neither a modern feminist and believer in sexual equality transplanted to the Middle Ages, nor an evil unfeminine caricature. Alison Weir's hagiography, oops I mean biography, of Isabella follows the usual modern trend, depicting Isabella as miraculously changing from a Great Helpless Victim to the Great Saviour of England in 1326/27. Her victimhood is hopelessly overstated here, as it always is these days, and Weir tries too hard to absolve Isabella of blame for her later actions, when she and her favourite Roger Mortimer ruled England for her young son from 1327 to 1330. There are numerous factual errors in the work, nothing too big and important, admittedly, but they made me grit my teeth.

One example of Weir's endless whitewashing of her subject - and ohhh boy, does she go out of her way to whitewash her subject - is what she says about the widow and children of Hugh Despenser, her husband's 'favourite' whom Isabella and her paramour Mortimer executed in 1326.
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